If magic shows leave you awed, you will dig Jonathan Allen’s artworks. Intriguing, controversial and daring, they comprise a series of black and white photographs depicting Allen’s artistic alter ego, Tommy Angel. These bold visuals (which may be offensive to some) are speckled with references to theatrical magic, politics and Christianity, provoking the viewer to rethink religion and culture.
Allen explains the significance of Tommy Angel. “In the West, there seems to be a complete fixation on the face of Islamic fundamentalism, but there has not been any visibility of the Christian side of that same fundamentalism. Tommy Angel series is an attempt to find or visualize some kind of iconography called the Christian face of fundamentalism that is being shaped in art, politics and social life at the moment. Tommy Angel is a cross between the evangelist Billy Graham, magician David Copperfield and Donald Rumsfeld.”
Allen deconstructs religion by revealing the phoniness of Angel. “You can see the exhibition as visiting different chapels, or watching a magic show, one act after another. I want people to be compelled but also to see through Tommy Angel. He is a very transparent illusion. The main way you know he is a constructed fiction is that you’re in an art gallery, knowing this is the work of an artist. I’m trying to unveil the constructed nature of the face of fundamentalism in a way.”
So is he anti-religion? “I am not for and I am not against religion,” states Allen. “I’m just interested in stories. God is the most interesting fictional character there is. He is a great story and the Christian narrative is a great story. But they are stories, and the product of the human imagination.” Allen further adds, “The problem is when these stories start limiting rather than liberating the imagination. Unfortunately religion has made culture a bit like a haunted house—it’s a bit scary to be in. I guess, in the haunted house of life, art is the only stairs that don’t creak. You can be sure you’re on a solid foot.”
Allen’s photographs are thought provoking, and destabilize the conventional take on religion. It has been a long time since we’ve had a good conceptual show in town. And this definitely makes the cut.