In Albrecht Dürer’s 1506 painting, Madonna with the Siskin, the divine child holds an early form of pacifier, often a piece of linen wrapped around a balled core of sweet bread, meat, or seeds. Food as practice and ritual was crucial in Christian theology; after all, the eucharist was seen as the most direct way of encountering God. Four centuries on, the modern pacifiers would be patented and marketed as a “baby comforter.” No longer containing a kernel of sustenance, today its rubber teat is used to soothe infants in the absence of the mother.
For Fin Simonetti’s exhibition Our Denomination, the artist has recast this early transitional object, perverting the pacifier’s typically pliant head with the visceral hardness of stone. Continuing her earlier work for which she carved protective objects out of alabaster, the artist has swapped the handle of the coping device with the shackle of a steel padlock. If Simonetti previously used hand railings in lieu of traditional plinths for displaying her stone works, here, a stage of bleachers serves as the safety armature-cum-display for the stone pacifiers. Meanwhile, three inlaid rose windows overlook the scene, their scalloped lobes of trefoil and quatrefoil motifs variously adorned, too, with steeled security arches.
In medieval spirituality, breast milk symbolized transmuted blood, and the flesh of Christ was associated with Mary. Birthed into a world of dislocation and confronted with our original helplessness, we are compelled to transfer our attachments from the mother-environment to transitional objects, to seek nourishment and relief through rituals of connection and communion. Here, Simonetti marries the sacred and profane through her updated theology, a kind of contemporary devotional literature that encourages viewers to reflect on the search for that suspended moment, a déjà vu, an existential, uncanny memory of union.