Piss Christ’s Functionality

Ryan says in her Between Play and Politics: Dysfunctionality in Digital Art that the way in which to “judge a work experimental or ludic (or both) depends largely on the fun factor; experimental art is notorious for sacrificing pleasure to critical thinking.” I thought this was an interesting statement when I read it and I wondered how true of a statement this actually is and if it could be applied to non-digital art, such as a photograph. This made me immediately think of a piece called Piss Christ by Andres Serrano, a photograph which depicts a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist’s urine. This has always been a piece for me that where it clearly made sense what that artist was looking to say and the image was beautiful, until you realized this was urine. I have always had a bit of trouble getting past the disturbing method used by the artist. I think this is what Ryan means when she says that “experimental art is notorious for sacrificing pleasure to critical thinking.” Sarrano could have been deriving fun from shocking the viewer once they realized a revered religious icon was submerged in one of the world’s most vile liquids. That would beg the question of who determines the “fun factor” – the artist or the audience.

 Piss Christ would probably fall into the ludic dysfunctionality category based on Ryan’s definition. This is primarily based on her statement that “ludic dysfunctionality does not take itself seriously.” It’s hard to say with complete certainty how seriously Serrano meant his work to take itself, but it’s possible to conclude that due to the fact that this piece is taking a very serious image and immersing it in a non-serious substance in some way this piece is meant to be in some way fun.

1 thought on “Piss Christ’s Functionality

  1. It’s interesting to take Ryan’s ideas about digital art and apply them to analog pieces. In the case of Piss Christ, I think the work is even more complicated than we might at first think. Not to get too icky, but while it’s true that socially, urine is regarded as disgusting, biologically and chemically it’s a rather pure substance. This gives Serrano’s work more layers, as the figure of Jesus Christ is immersed in something that is both “dirty” and pure at the same time.

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