I stumbled upon this prayer booth in front of the Roosevelt Island tramway on my lunch break the other day. At first I thought this was a conceptual art installation, but it seems to be in earnest. My curiosity quickly turned to disgust as I checked it out. That wording on the warning, "Please avoid the booth if you are sensitive to or feel threatened by actions that are religious in nature," appeared to be a challenge. Sensitive? Threatened? No. But disgusted? Yes! How can I avoid this booth when it's in my face as I walk down the street? If people want to pray, fine, that's their problem, but prayer, like nail clipping, nose picking and maquillage, is not proper public behavior.
UPDATE - 1 PM
According to the blog Roosevelt Island 360, it is an art installation after all. I guess it's so postmodern that we're not supposed to know what statement, if any, the artist thinks he's making.
UPDATE - 2 PM
Here's artist Dylan Mortimer's statement:
My work explores how private faith functions in the public sphere. It investigates the role of private faith outside of the self. I aim to explore the boundaries of faith by blurring the lines where public expression is permitted and prohibited. My challenges lie in what it means to carry an individual belief into a world where everyone believes different things. I try to navigate somewhere between the boundaries of propaganda and censorship.
My goal is to spark dialogue about a topic often avoided, and often treated cynically by the contemporary art world. I employ the visual language of signage and public information systems, using them as a contemporary form of older religious communication systems: stained glass, illuminated manuscripts, church furniture, etc. I balance humor and seriousness, sarcasm and sincerity, in a way that bridges a subject matter that is often presented as heavy or difficult to deal with.
I’m not interested in simply reporting my own beliefs. I'm more concerned with how those beliefs relate to anyone else. I am interested in presenting ideas and issues of faith in a way that will cause the audience to question their assumptions and beliefs. The intent of the work is not to provide answers, but to create questions that allow the viewer to confront their religious and spiritual feelings.
Of course, it's clear from the above that he does indeed have a pro-religion agenda, one that has no place in public space. And that accursed word "faith!" Why do all these in-your-face religious types insist on using that euphemism? That's a rhetorical question. Of course, it's a way of skirting the establishment clause and interpretations thereof by avoiding calling a spade a spade, RELIGION, damn it! "Faith-based initiatives" indeed. The term wouldn't have seemed benign to so many if Bush had said "religion-based initiatives" (and we shouldn't let Obama off the hook for his own embrace of this direction and rhetoric). I propose we abolish the newspeak use of the word "faith" when we're talking about "religion." I challenge all responsible media to avoid the word "faith" in religious reportage unless it appears in a direct quote.