15 MIN. OF FAME (2013)

"A church is normally a building intended for public worship," explains Tom Herck. "A church exists, so to speak, as long as man exists. And yet the last few years we have seen a dramatic exodus from the churches. If this movement continues, churches will be completely empty in a few years. While the church still plays an important role in society.”

“The exodus from the churches is the result of a widespread secularisation, a consequence of the fact that people are increasingly oriented towards the world, the earth, rather than towards an otherworldly, transcendent reality. But the Church, as I said, fulfills an urge and you cannot just take that away. Therefore, nowadays there are other things like institutions, organisations, even political parties which respond to the same function. One of the principal substitutes of the Church is modern media, television in the lead, followed by new social media such as Facebook. However, it is all too easy to forget that mankind is very susceptible to a preconceived truth.” Hence Herck’s 15 MIN. OF FAME project.

For 15 MIN. OF FAME (2013) Tom Herck transformed an abandoned Quick fast food restaurant into a surrealistic church and baptized it as an exhibition space. The church was completed with a satellite equipped tower. Next to the ‘church’ Herck composed an art installation from a container, decorated with SMPTE colour bars suggesting a TV test screen. A 9 meter high wall, painted in a bold and colourful graffiti-style, showed a Bible scene (Isaiah 40:11). ‘Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom.’ Looking up on this wall, the visitor felt like a small frail lamb, overruled by His almighty powers. The face of Christ was replaced by a TV screen transmitting subliminal flashes from reality TV shows and the eye of God wandering around constantly, symbolizing mass media worship and the lack of privacy in current society.

Criticizing TV is a well-worn concept today, but it was a theme that Tom craved to bring to attention in 2013. In a satirical manner Herck shows us God is in mortal peril since he is worshiped less and less, whereas television and social media thrive by the worship of the masses every day. Just like religion, television determines the worldview of it's spectators. Television viewing is a ritual, almost like a religion. The classic setting for TV watching is similar to an environment for hypnotism induction. Also called ‘the electronic church’, the ‘moral majority’ and its political allies magnetize and control people. The reliable TV ritual appeals by confirming fears, feeding hopes and cultivating assumptions television shaped in the first place. 

Between 2013 and 2015 Tom Herck produced several works analyzing the notion of TV and new (social) media, demonstrating the cultural clash between religion and modern media. In Christianity everything is seen through the eyes of God. Nowadays everything is seen and judged through the eyes of modern media. The King in World domination (2015) is a powerful symbol for these menacing new media. Tom printed his studies on Dibond, in a colourful design recalling Medieval stained glass windows. In Nun Fiction (2015) the nun comes across as surreal, her face being replaced by a sheep skull, with lasers shooting from her eyes. The sheep skull is a reference to 'people and sheeple'. Sheeple is a derogatory term highlighting the passive herd behavior of ‘cattle people’ easily controlled by a governing power. In Tom’s eyes sheeple are eagerly fed off the mammary glands of television.

In See all, hear all, say nothing (2014) Maria's mouth is gagged. Ruthlessly condemned to watch in silence, she gazes through her 3D glasses. The mythological phoenix and its historic PlayStation video game form the starting point for Rise of the phoenix (2015). The ‘resurrection bird’ is depicted within a heroic coat of arms, observing everything with the third -All Seeing- Eye in his chest, once bearing his heart. The three points on the triangle represent God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. The phoenix demonstrates a globe in his left claw and the Rod of Asclepius -a deity associated with healing and medicine- in his left claw. Throughout his oeuvre, the artist links mythology and religion to the Vanitas theme in a highly personal contemporary manner. Connecting tradition to modernity through humor is an unmistakable Herck feature. To create an abstract illusion of church architecture the artist changed the Quick doors to church doors and grayed out the windows. On the side of the 50 minutes of fame church he noted 'In TV we trust' in Gothic script. 

The title of his project was inspired by the Andy Warhol’s celebrated quote "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes". The statement was never more fitting than today. Fame has completely changed in the last 20 or 30 years, primarily because of reality TV and also the internet and social media. In the past, fame was associated to developing a skill, such as dancing, but today we can carefully curate our lives on social media, creating a false ‘celebrity’ persona to project to the world. The celebrity eagerness of today’s society seems driven by vanity and egocentrism, and it is therefore deemed to be fleeting. "What I want to convey with the title of my project and with my artwork is that in earlier times the Church imposed how we should make art and create things, while modern man today is only easily charmed and convinced by television and social media. Call this project a reminder,” concludes Herck.

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© text by Lara van Oudenaarde