And the Son of God Goes Forth to War in Orange

And the Son of God Goes Forth to War in Orange
(Louis MacNeice, from Zoo, 1938)

Victor Sloan is developing a considerable international reputation for powerful leit-motifs of cultural phenomena in his Northern Irish homeland. This exhibition stakes out new directions in the form and content of his visual narratives, while maintaining a flow of continuity with the preoccupations and critiques delineated in earlier work.

The title Acts of Faith identifies thematic unity across the range of these new selected works. From Orange marches to the symbolic defence of Derry’s walls, from sham fighting to the flaunting of emblematic devices, from gospel crusading to circus acrobatics and death-defying performances, all these are theatrical public presentations which darkly engage Victor Sloan’s imagination and which he punningly encompasses as ‘acts of faith‘. The pointing-up of religiosity in this phrase is conscious and intentional, while there is a further frisson in its etymology. The term ‘act of faith’ originates as the translation of the Portuguese ‘Auto-Da-Fé’.

This was a ceremony of the Spanish Inquisition, at which, following a Procession, Mass and Sermon, death sentences were read and heretics afterwards burned at the stake.

As in his earlier works, Sloan responds to the mortal implications of dramatic display and ritualistic act by deracinating his originally pristine photographs through a reductive process of marking, bleaching, toning and colouring. By means of this interventionist technique, here refined to new levels of subtlety, Sloan represents the camera-captured appearance of an external world in complex and compelling photo works which question hegemonies in the passionate Northern culturescape that the artist inhabits.

Characterised by a tensioned balance between figuration and abstraction, these layered and oblique photoworks are deeply satisfying aesthetically, emotionally and intellectually Their symbiosis of form and content reflects an intimate binding of time and place, and so defies a simplistic response to things which are not simple. In the way of most significant western art of our time, Victor Sloan’s work insists on the primacy of meaning while compelling reflection on the means of expression.

These works invite mediation on the tribal nature of humanity, our sacred histories and our expressive capacity to give meaning and value to life. Sloan’s mysterious images are not easy or platitudinous, and are suffused with apocalypse rather than celebration. Yet in their ambiguity they are not without an affirming sacramental presence, which forces a consciousness of good and evil in a past-haunted and Christ-haunted land. These works deal with mythic acts of faith, paradoxically incorporating both certainty and uncertainty, and all are ritually cast in Sloan’s chromatically sombre, gothic North.
Michael McCaughan.

One hundred ‘Never on a Sunday’ campaigners were outside the American Circus Ltd. Big top in a bid to persuade punters to boycott the afternoon and evening performances. Mr. Woolsey Smith, Worshipful Master of the Independent Lodge who took part in the protest described it as a ‘great success’… “What we did not agree with was this further desecration of the Sabbath and the breaking of the fourth commandment. As far as we are concerned, the desecration of the Sabbath has gone far enough. The Sabbath is part of our heritage and by and large the majority of people do not want circus performances on a Sunday”

“We can’t understand it”, said ringmaster Philip Hansen. Most of the circus members had doubts about coming to Northern Ireland. They thought it was another Beirut. We managed to persuade them that it wasn’t as bad as it appeared on TV, but since arriving we have had nothing but hassle.”
Lurgan Mail, July 1990.

The Sham Fight is an annual mock Battle of the Boyne played out on 13 July at Scarva Demesne, Co. Down. The thirteenth demonstration has a special atmosphere and even though Williamite victory over the forces of James in the Sham Fight is an inevitability, adults and children watch agog as the ‘Royal’ principals jostle in sword play down the green lawns of the spacious demesne… the old Orange standards of The Sash and Derry’s Walls bring gaiety to the scene, but there is also the religious touch with the hymns of Newton and Wesley… It seems originally to have been an undisciplined affair, with all day the noise of battle rolling around the fields of Auglish (a townland beside Scarva village) as the rival ‘armies’ manoeuvred and ‘massacred’ each other, historians tell us. Only gradually did it attain the dignity of its present status, sponsored first by the Orange Order and now by the Black Institution.
Billy Kennedy, A Celebration 1690 – 1990: The Orange Institution (Belfast 1990), pp. 30-32.

On Sunday 20 November 1983, gunmen entered a Pentecostal meeting-hall near Darkly, on the border in County Armagh, and raked the congregation with machine-gun fire Three of the elders, who were greeting newcomers in the foyer, died. Seven others were wounded. One of the songs was ‘Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power? Are you washed in the blood of the lamb? In his sermon the following week, Paisley presented the attack as further evidence of the ‘Antichrist’ in the ‘end-times’. The Darkley massacre was bible prophecy fulfilled.
Steve Bruce, God Save Ulster: The Religion and Politics of Paisleyism (Oxford 1986), p. 197.

Extracts from “Acts of Faith: Victor Sloan” published by the Gallery of Photography, Dublin, 1992