In conversation with: Paul Roorda


Paola Pluchino. Paul Roorda, giovane artista canadese poliedrico ed estremamente interessante. Dallo stile riconoscibile, Paul Roorda interroga la religione fin nelle sue più profonde ambiguità, inscenando un simbolismo sensuale e arcano.  Reduce dalla permanenza presso la berlinese GlogauAIR, le sue opere sono adesso in mostra alla Dadian Gallery di Washington DC. Nell’intervista 

che segue, egli racconta il suo percorso artistico, le sue ambizioni e le sue speranze, svelando infine anche parte dei suoi progetti futuri


What would you say to a gallery that wants to take you under his wing?

This is an interesting question.  I know that galleries, like artists, are concerned with discovering and promoting good art, but in the end must have “the market” in mind as well.  I often think of both of these things too.  But in the end, even when I am tempted to make


art that may be seen as more marketable, I follow my creative inclinations.  The result is work that I think is more intriguing, challenging, and conceptually sound than work that is done with a possible sale in mind.  I think the viewer is more drawn to creatively honest work as well, even when it might not be as practical.  I also like the freedom to try out new techniques and materials when the subject calls for it rather than sticking with what has been successful in the past.


What are the key features of your research?

I deal with ideas of belief, ritual and the construction of truth in religion, but also within the fields of medicine, environmentalism and science more generally. I’m interested in examining the religious qualities of those science-based institutions by juxtaposing scientific and medical instruments and texts with those of the Christian tradition.  I’m suspicious of absolute certainty whatever the context and often examine the inclination towards black and white thinking.  I create art that exposes the grey areas and poses layered questions rather than providing answers.  I’m also very interested in looking at the tension between traditional ways of understanding and new ideas that challenge those traditions.  Much of my work is meant to challenge people to really deal with some of the troubling aspects of religion while at the same time acknowledging that religious behaviour is very much ingrained in our culture.  In my art I transform found objects and use natural materials, and often religious texts, including the Bible.  I love exploring the story and symbolism that each object brings to my art and the layers of meaning the manipulation of these materials can create in the sculpture and two-dimensional work that I do.


What do you admire in your peer artists?

I admire work that has a strong visual appeal with an equally strong conceptual foundation.  Work that draws me in visually is important.  I really enjoy art that provides a rich initial experience in the viewing, work that provides an element of surprise or emotional impact.  But I also like there to be ideas to discover beyond that.  I like to be challenged by a complex layering of ideas and associations that I can explore with further examination.


What are your cultural models of reference?

I find that I skim the surface in a lot of different historical, social and art-related traditions, without going into depth in a way that I know some artists do.  Perhaps that is a fault, but I find that that, for my art, I prefer to take in a broad set of related and unrelated cultural references and information and make connections between them.  I take this approach instead of doing in-depth research into a smaller set of traditions.  If you ask me who are the artists or schools of thought that have had most influence on my work, I find I can never answer in a way that satisfies me.  I feel like I take in a lot and pick and choose elements from many sources and traditions to create my art.  In that way I don’t feel boxed in by ideas or techniques or traditions.


When is the next show?

I’ve just installed a solo exhibition at the Dadian Art Gallery, which is part of the Henry Luce III Center for the Arts and Religion in Washington DC, USA.  That show runs until May 24, 2013.  My next solo exhibition will be at the Doug Adams Gallery, in Berkeley, California, in February 2014.  That art gallery is located in the Badè Museum of Biblical Archaeology, so I plan to exhibit work that explores the use of ritual and artifact in the construction of theological truth.


Why did you choose to be an artist?

I didn’t initially choose to be an artist.  Perhaps art chose me.  In university I completed degrees in psychology, sociology and education, without taking a single art course.  It was only in the years after leaving university that I began to enjoy making art as a spare time interest.  Much later I discovered the possibility of using art to ask powerful questions and examine complex and contradictory ideas and emotions in a way that I couldn’t do in academic writing.  It was because of this that I felt a strong need to pursue my artwork seriously as a profession, and when I really felt I could call myself an artist.




Below is a summary of recent research and new explorations in my art.  This is from an artist statement I wrote just a month ago to explain what my work is all about (Paul Roorda)

By transforming found objects and discarded books into sculpture, installation and mixed media collage I investigate changing belief systems, the construction of knowledge and the practice of ritual in religion, science, medicine and environmentalism.   Amid overlapping narratives of personal disaster and scientific warnings of global climate change, I explore an apocalyptiphilia which has reached biblical proportions.  Recent projects looks at the way this kind of narrative has been created and propagated in various forms of text from illustrations and photos to books and public notices.  Using a collection of vintage objects the art features images that repeat and reflect, are magnified, or suffer damage and distortion thus exposing the undercurrents of a societal need for disaster and the accompanying fatigue and cynicism with our most recent warnings of catastrophe. 

 Another persistent theme in my work is the tension associated with the collapse of traditional religious belief.  While it continues to thrive, for many, traditional religion is something for scrutiny and often faith is abandoned in skepticism.  Using fire, gold leaf, ashes and elements of discarded books, this work transforms traditional Christian art by creating ceremonial vessels, reliquaries and icons which reflect a post-devotional, neo-liturgical approach to the disposal of aged and damaged sacred texts.  The art recalls religious acts of devotion yet, at the same time, points to the loss of what is held as sacred. Each creative work is also an act of destruction.  Beauty embraces its shadow.  Each sincere moment is betrayed by duplicity.   This art draws attention to the absence of an authoritative ritualized tradition for the disposal of sacred text in Christianity and in creating new rituals it fills a liturgical void with uneasy possibility.

 In examining both religious and scientific institutions with the same kind of critical lens, I create work that questions the certainties and assumptions of each and the strong mutual influence between seemingly separate worldviews.  Recently, I have begun to add kinetic elements to my art, with a particular interest in “slow” sculpture.  In these works, ice melts or water drips slowly and mechanical devices unwind to create sculpture whose gradual movements create a sense of anticipation in viewers.  At the same time, these works test the viewer’s patience as “events” in the sculpture take hours if not days to unfold.  Using the element of time in my art, I’m able to explore the sense of urgency about environmental issues as well as the opposing complacency about a global climate change which is occurring so gradually it is almost impossible to perceive.


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