Prayer Booth Sculpture by Missouri Pastor Starts Debate on Public Prayer

October 13, 2008 at 12:00 pm Leave a comment

prayer-booth.jpgIt’s a rare sight in the 21st century to find a phone booth on a street
corner. It’s even rarer to see a phone booth that people use to pray.
And now there’s one in Downtown Jackson at the corner of Shannon and
Lafayette streets.

The prayer booth is one of five new art pieces installed for the
2008-09 Jackson Union Sculpture Tour. They were installed in the last
two weeks.

The other sculptures in this year’s tour include the
award winner, “Onus Probandi (Burden of Proof).” The piece, by artist
Chris Wubbena, will stay in its permanent position in front of the The
Ned R. McWherter West Tennessee Cultural Arts Center.

“Fire Tree”
is located at the Farmers Market, “Gendron” is at South Highland Avenue
and Baltimore Street near the Ed Jones Federal Building and the U.S.
District Courthouse, and “Purification 2” is near the Jackson Transit
Authority bus station.

Artist Dylan Mortimer, 29, helped install his prayer booth Monday.

“The
goal of the piece is to hopefully stimulate discussion about public
prayer,” he said. “Talk about where it’s permitted and prohibited.”

This sculpture is functional. A person can use this art piece by flipping down the kneeler and praying, Mortimer said.

“Some use it sincerely, some jokingly,” he said. “It creates a wide range of reactions.”

In previous cities, the prayer booth has been vandalized. Another time, it was stolen and soon recovered, Mortimer said.

As
the pastor of a church in Kansas City, Mo., Mortimer said he uses his
art to discuss prayer. The prayer booth is one of many pieces he’s done
that feature road signs or other street items.

“All of my work is
about prayer and space and how faith operates in public,” he said. “I
did a series of portable church furniture made out of those plastic
‘wet floor’ signs. Humor is a big part of what I do.”

Lee Benson
said this year’s collection of artwork for the sculpture tour is one of
the strongest yet. Benson is the chair of the art department at Union
University and one of the organizers of the tour.

The prayer booth in particular is a strong piece that speaks for itself, he said.

“It’s
poignant for this time period,” he said. “I think citizens of Jackson
can readily relate to it. This puts prayer into a context that may be
quite refreshing in today’s environment.”

On
the prayer booth, praying hands replace the symbol of a phone.
Instructions advise those who use the prayer booth to “please avoid the
booth if you are sensitive to or feel threatened by actions that are
religious in nature.”

It also says the booth exists to “facilitate and control prayer in public space.”

Mortimer’s
piece has the possibility of producing constructive dialogue about how
faith is viewed, especially in today’s culture, Benson said.

“In
a lot of spheres, the public display of a private faith is viewed as
somewhat negative. Whereas in other situations, it’s quite well
received. There’s a lot to be learned from both sides.”

The
prayer booth, and the other sculptures, are wonderful examples of how
artists can look at an idea, theory or problem and bring a fresh light
to it, Benson said.

All the sculptures were selected by a jury
panel, and the award winner was selected by Warren Green, a former art
professor at Freed-Hardeman University. All five pieces will stay in
Jackson for at least a year. Then the four that didn’t win will be
removed and new ones will be installed, Benson said.

Source: Jackson Sun

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