David Hooker has spent a lot of this Lent playing in the dirt—specifically the dirt of students at Wheaton College, Illinois, where Hooker has taught art for eight years. With help from the Christian college's custodians, he's collected the hair, skin cells, nail clippings, and other ephemera vacuumed up in the dorms, then has ritually applied it to a 5-foot-tall corpus of Christ that he bought for $4,000 from a vestments company that resells de-commissioned vestments from churches. Titled Corpus, the dirt-covered Christ will be displayed in Wheaton's biblical and theological studies department next month.
Hooker spoke with CT managing editor Katelyn Beaty about why the piece is anything but sacrilegious, and how it provides a fitting meditation for Holy Week.
The most striking aspect of Corpus is obviously its use of human dirt—skin cells, dust, hairs, and fibers from Wheaton students. What was the inspiration?
My work has become increasingly focused on exploring the inherent properties of materials, especially materials that are very humble and often overlooked and discarded. Materials that are "mundane," not "artworthy." I try to find the beauty in them. I also like to think about the history of materials, the history of objects, the relationship between objects and memory, and the complex relationship between the sacred and the mundane.
I began thinking about dirt as a material for artwork about two years ago. I live in the suburbs, where people kind of fight a war against dirt. But I'm trained as a potter (MFA Ceramics) as well as an amateur gardener. So I see dirt as this wonderfully alive material.
Back when I was in college I had a summer where I actually ...