Image-Mixing and Interreligious Encounter

In his book on religious syncretism, Karl Starkloff outlines his concept of the “in-between” – a “metaxic,” inclusive space between religions only navigable through participation. This experience of blending and betweenness finds visual expression in the creative films of Canadian artist Peter Mettler [http://www.petermettler.com]. Mettler has been recognized as a unique and innovative documentarian both in Canada and internationally, including a major 2013 retrospective at Lincoln Center. Part spiritual travelogue, part metaphysical meditation, his poetic style has been described as “teledivinitry” at the boundary of cinematic technology and mysticism.

Mettler’s most recent work employs new software to perform what he calls “image-mixing” – the improvisatory, “real-time” blending of multiple moving images to unearth “surprising new narrative or lyric constructions and associations.” For example, one recent performance (“The Vortex Perspective,” commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, 2016) blended images of Sufi whirling dervishes with imagery of a stylized forest. This performative image-mixing is an apt metaphor for the radically improvisatory, participatory practice of the “in-between” in teaching and learning religion – interreligious encounter is not merely about comparing doctrines, but overlaying and “mixing” pregnant symbols and images in a synthetic, creative mode.

The visual language of cinema can thus serve as a model for interreligious studies. Film theorist Catherine Russell has described Mettler’s documentary films – especially the explicitly religious “Gambling, Gods, and LSD” (2002) and “The End of Time” (2012) – in terms of an alternative “cinematic epistemology,” a self-reflexive, liminal mode of self-knowledge. In this presentation, I explore the concept of “image-mixing” as a metaphor for the encounter between religions and, using clips from Mettler’s recent work as well as other examples of image-mixing draw attention to the ways cinematic language can help us conceive of a common space for dialogue “in-between” diverse religious traditions.

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