Lourdes - Susan Shaw


On February 11 1858, the Virgin Mary first appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in the French town of Lourdes. Our Lady showed herself 18 times that year. Her message given, she has not manifested herself again as a woman bearing a message from God in Lourdes. Instead the Virgin now appears as a plastic vessel for Holy water, as a small plaster statuette, her figure depicted on lockets, on prayer cards, as a medallion. This is the Virgin become object, totem, the Virgin as product and memento of the Roman Catholic Church, a marketing man's dream.

Susan Shaw's 'Lourdes' points us starkly to consider the relationship between the powerful twin worlds of religion and commerce. Shaw's intention is to make us think about our role as both consumer and consumed, to think about our own desires. In this respect 'Lourdes' is not about the aesthetics of religious iconography. Shaw's 'Lourdes' is conceptual.

Religion and money, spirit and matter. Within these twin belief systems we are either a have -faith/money or a have not - agnostic/poor. We cannot buy out of either belief system, however much we believe we have or want to. In our desire to have we react against our desire to not have, and vice versa. We cannot ignore either religion or commerce, they are at the core of our society and deeply intertwined. We are slipped the penny like 18th Century sailors and we take it everytime in the case of commerce.

Shaw is making a connection which is not unique, but she makes it in a way that seduces us to consider the notion of our desire. The kitschness of the ink jet portraits of her concrete Virgin remind us of the photographs of Pierre et Gilles, only Shaw's image is much more stark. This is the cheaper end of kitsch, but only just. Acquire Shaw's Virgin for £23. Paint her luridly, paint her in her blue and white Lourdes strip or leave her concrete-bare to acquire the green patina of the British weather. If we can be seduced into wanting her, then we must have her. You can have as many or as few as you desire. And it is desire that Shaw wants us to confront. Our desire for more, for better, for something; anything as long as our desire is satisfied... until the next time.

Liz Kent - 2002