I Don’t Know about Ikon (at the MAC)

othersI joined a few “Others” for Sunday’s Ikon gathering at the MAC in Belfast. Despite a very simple lay-out – chairs arranged in a semi-circle around a woman and a man playing chess, and a screen projecting “The Others” – there was a lot going on in this Ikon. (As in all Ikons, it must be said.)

In a blog about the event, Ikon newcomer Michael McRay owns up to the perplexity that many present must have experienced. He writes:

I do not know what my friends at Ikon intended to convey with any of their activities, for as Pádraig [Ó Tuama] answered when I asked him if they explain anything once it is over, he said (and I paraphrase), “Nothing. It is a silent canvas on which you create your interpretation.”

Indeed, one of the most potent features of Ikon is that its creators do not explain anything.

My research on Ikon (as part of a forthcoming book, co-authored with Gerardo Marti, The Deconstructed Church) reveals that there is a lot of deep thinking and purpose behind each element of each Ikon event.

But what I have learned is that Ikon desire to draw people into an experience rather than offer a tidy explanation. For Ikon, it is in experience that people can explore their faith, their doubts, and their God in more authentic ways.

Sunday’s event was based on Ikon’s 2012 Greenbelt performance, “How (Not) to be Here,” which involved two people on a stage at Greenbelt and live transmissions from “Ikonbelt” in Belfast. The dual nature of the Greenbelt event was preserved at the MAC with the two chess players, and a troupe of masked “Others” whose words, songs, and actions were projected onto a screen throughout.

A major theme of the event was “Others.” The Other-ness operated on three levels:

  1. The Other within yourself (as exemplified over the course of the event in the dialogue of the female chess player, played by Shirley-Anne McMillan, with a projection of herself)
  2. With Others who are different (as exemplified in the masked “Others” projected into the room at various points, whose activities included a reflection on otherness (written and performed by Jon Hatch) and leading participants in the singing of “Every Breath You Take” by the Police)
  3. With the Other who is God (as exemplified in the phrases repeated by the chess players throughout: “God is nowhere” and “God is now here.”)

The trajectory of the evening was to take people from an experience of the Other as frightening, and an object to be subdued; to an experience of the Other as wonderfully fascinating, and a subject to be encountered with curiosity and joy.

This was tied up with a recognition that exploration of these three levels of Otherness is always partial and incomplete. Even when we explore the Other within ourselves, we can never really know ourselves: only a small piece of ourselves is ever really visible to ourselves (and others) in whatever it is that we are doing.

Ikon enacted this ritualistically through a call-and-response (prayer?), in which the response was:

“we don’t know”

Eucharist-style, Ikon also distributed tiny pieces of mirrors, to remind us that we can only ever really know a small piece of ourselves at any given moment.

For me, these rituals remind us to have compassion for ourselves and for Others (of whom we can also only see a tiny portion during each encounter).

At least that is my interpretation, another to be painted on the “silent canvas” created by Ikon.

It is my hope that Ikon will post the words to the narrations and reflections that were part of the event, as these will convey much more effectively than this blog post the substance of the evening.

In the meantime, you can also read interpretations of Ikon by:

Michael McRay: “On Ikon”

Alan in Belfast: “Other”

(Image of the Others from the Ikon Facebook page

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