Tristan Cai highlights the intersection of science and religion in an attempt to understand how people have intellectualized the supernatural throughout history. His recent series Tales of Moving Mountains: Why Won't God Go Away is an unsettling collection of multimedia works that focuses on the evolution of human-god relationships in Christianity, with a focus on developments in Asia. It combines found images, staged photos and videos into a bizarre science fiction that resembles a marriage of Joan Fontcuberta’s fabricated natural histories and David Cronenberg’s early films exploring the human psyche.
Cai organizes his idea of the human-god relationship into a three part series that he calls “The Visceral,” “The Intellectual,” and “The Philosophical.” It begins with “Healing Rain,” a three channel, ten-minute experimental video of a faith healing rally, interviews with an evangelical reverend on his healing abilities, and theatrical testimonials of people claiming to have been healed.
Its second pillar, titled “Why Won’t God Go Away” is a collection of images and historical documents that depict rituals and objects related to faith healing. These range from still lives of spiritually “healed” kidney stones, to portraits of people undergoing data collection experiments while standing in religious postures, to a “God Helmet” used to activate magnetic waves to the brain of a subject while artificially inducing religious feelings. For Cai, the varied nature of these alleged artifacts support his interest in the different functions of photography and their ability to act both as documents and interpretations of memory.
The third pillar is an installation in a stark white room with video projections, and the sounds of Franz Schubert’s Piano Sonata in E-Flat Major, D5678. An iPod sized screen is mounted on a wall under a white matte painted box depicting a composer walking into the room and attempting to write a song, as he tries to play it. The visuals alternate between a fixed wide shot of the entire stage and close ups of the composer - the wrinkles of his shirt, wandering up to the cleanly shaven hairlines on his neck and the swirls of his ear. For Cai, the entire process functions as an invitation for the audience to “play God,” by equipping his audience with enhanced hearing and visual abilities.
Cai, who was born Buddhist/Taoist and became a Brethren Christian in his early teens began working on this constantly growing “repository” in response to his confusion over conflicting interpretations of God and the afterlife. He was perplexed by a continuous evolution in how scripture is interpreted over time despite its supposed reliance on fixed scripture. “If the major religions are supposed to be non-changing, since most of them rely on the teaching from age-old scriptures,” Cai writes over email, “why are our perceptions about what religious practice is constantly changing? I am much more interested in showing how we are interpreting and improvising this God-human relationship than what actually goes on in religious practice.”
Bio: Tristan Cai lives and works in Singapore and Arizona, USA. He received his MFA from San Francisco Art Institute and his BFA(hons) from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He was a visiting student at TaiK mentored by Jyrki Parentainen of the Helsinki School. Cai has been included in recent exhibitions at the Noorderlicht Photography Festival, Netherlands, Arles Voies Off, Paris, National Museum of Singapore, Kumho Museum of Art, Seoul, Jeonbuk Museum of Art, Jeonju, GoEun Museum of Photography, Pusan, Korea, RS Projects in Berlin, Germany and Shanghai World Exposition, China, SOMArts Cultural Center, USA, amongst others. He was also recently featured in Humble Arts Foundation's online exhibition "Occultisms."