The altar entitled Twentieth Century Icons is a representation of 20th Century lack of spiritual belief. It shows current trends that fanatically replace religion: tattoos, S & M, cultural icons, false hero worship, body piercing, sex for sale, the sideshow, a fascination with serial murderers, and the worship of false religion like Jonestown and Waco. The shallowness of the imagery is intended to show the vapidness of a society that lives without ideals and faith. Roadside Shrine to a Mafia Monster shows an abuse of power of an individual who was involved in the Fulton Fish Market scandal, prostitution, and violence while pretending to his mother that he was a good Catholic.
The Science and Technology altar is dedicated to Jean Gimpel who brought positive modern technology, like water wheels and medicine for tuberculosis, to 3rd world countries. Simultaneously, it berates the use of earth-toxifying chemicals and their dumping: PVC plastics, dioxin, lead, heavy metals, pesticides, incineration, nuclear waste, power plants, garbage, and oil spills. The altar laments our society═s lack of planning of toxins' use and disposal. It explores environmental racism. In this altar, religion is a symbol of purity, earth pattern, simple belief and innocence.
The 223 Water Street Altar is the story of the knowing destruction of a legal loft building in Dumbo by Gutman, one of New York's infamous "10 Worst" landlords. 223 Water Street was home to 85 tenants who lived in harmony there for 20 years. Gutman purchased the building in 1997 and the building disintegrated as he cut electric and sewer lines, turned off gas: the building filled with water (and sewage) and rapidly grew toxic mold so bad that the judge ordered Gutman to "Pay the tenants to leave, or go to jail." Gutman's response, "I've been there before." Central to this altar are the 3 volumes of "Diary of Disaster," which documents and laments the loss of the soul of a community.
Rebekah Wiltshire died in the middle of the 223 Water Street chaos, partly because the elevators had all been shut down and the medics could not get her out of the building quickly enough. She was an opera singer just at the verge of greatness, and the best person. The grieving that we did when she died became inextricably linked to our loss of 223 Water Street. This altar is a shrine to Rebekah and contains many of her possessions, kindly donated by her husband and mother.
Otto's Altar is the story of the life of my dog. He died tragically, like Rebekah, of an aneurysm, 1 year after Rebekah, from the Toxic Mold at 223 Water Street. The high emotion I felt at his death might seem unwarranted, but he was a good friend whose death was untimely and tragic.
The other altars are intended to stand in contrast to the 20th Century, Mafia Monster, Science and Technology, and the 223 Water Street Altars. In the Catholic Women's Altar, for example, are objects collected at church or on pilgrimages to religious cities (Rome and Jerusalem). These objects are often well-worn plastic objects, probably all the purchaser could afford, but objects that were loved and revered. While I find these objects slightly comical, I respect the collector, and their belief. The painting "Who Bears the Burden?" depicts a woman on a cross and is intended to show that women have borne much of life's hardship.
Pennsylvania Childhood and Mexican Childhood explore my earliest years. The Power Woman Altar and the Machismo Altar (also from my childhood) are explorations of the influence of Mexico's violent culture on Catholicism, of the trans-migration of myth from Africa through the Caribbean to Mexico, New Mexico and Texas, of the pagan adopted accoutrements of the church. Fathers and Marriages is a search for my father, and the lost relationships with my husbands.
My own family's origin was in the Greek Orthodox Church. My Greek father died before I was born, and my family wandered from the Episcopal Church to the Methodist. I spent little time in church attending to the gist of the ceremony. But I loved the practice of going to church, the priest with the beautiful clothes, and the mystery presented by the music, the church with its hanging chandeliers and incense burners and its veiled chapels with the prized relics. I lived partly in Mexico, Texas, and New Mexico as a young child and traveled through Central America with my mother. I went on to college eventually to study Medieval and Byzantine Art. These contradictions in religious approach may explain much about my religious philosophy: it is a sincere belief but it is guided more by ideal than any one religious doctrine. I think the altars reflect this.
The grouping of altars is intended to create the atmosphere of a sanctuary. Each altar is more similar to a "home altar" that one might find in someone's home in Mexico ▄ with a theme - like remembering a loved one that has died, or a prayer for the protection of a home. The altars line the perimeter of a large room or a series of rooms with a density that is obsessive and overwhelming. The center of the room is filled with the "ghosts", hanging sculptures of varying heights, clothed in diaphanous materials, mostly of white and off-white fabrics. They are figures of power to me and stand as sentries and solemn spirits of past beings, each bearing a totem, which hangs from their necks as a weight. The center of the room is also hung with chandeliers and large crosses, some of sculpted concrete, some containing votive objects, some of discarded wood. Each altar also has its own chandelier to create a soft, atmospheric light. The density and soft light contribute to a feeling of mystery that is essential to the installation.
It is a complex installation that is divided into fifteen separate spaces, approximately 10 x 14' each. The altars are comprised of objects, many that I have made. These include found objects and devotional artifacts, icons of saints, relics, ointments, personal mementos, and drawings. Central to many of the altars are artist's books, which I have made for the theme of that altar. Each altar explores a different narrative.
"By amassing votive objects and religious images from different cultures, American, Mexican, Indian, African, Asian and European, from the past and the present time, Masters' concern is manifold: to go beyond the specificity of a particular religious practice; to trace the historical transgression of human belief from ancient myths to present cults; to examine the positive and negative role of religion in contemporary society and its relation to sex and politics; to capture religion's constructive and destructive power on the masses; to reveal a current cultural and psychological confusion caused by the loss of spiritual faith and the inability to feel and relate to others; and to reflect the vulgarization of human sacred beliefs and ethical values." (Vesela Sretenovic, Curator, Brown University).