Christian Jankowski, Casting Jesus (2011)

As with any 21st century talent contest, the three judges in Casting Jesus are impatient, cutting and at times cynical. They praise as well, of course, but not always with great sincerity.

But unlike the panels we know from primetime TV, these worldly starmakers are a Vatican priest, a Vatican newspaper art critic, and a representative of the Italian Bishop Conference.

Their snarky attitudes are thrown into relief by the purity which the 13 contestants are doing their best to exude. After all, the contestants are trying out for the role of Jesus.

The studio setting is an 8th century hospital complex in Rome. A crucifixion can be seen on the wall. It is quite a sober place.

But the search for Jesus is funny. Contestants overact, stagger under the weight of their cross or drop to their knees in a moment of inner turmoil.

One soulful, serious man comes out the winner. And the judges tell him to lighten up. It seems a pity he really has no powers. Perhaps that is the pity of religion in general.

No film, stage play or hit single results from this process. And as the winner is announced part of the film crew comes into view, so the second coming has been a media event.

Or an art event. Because casting jesus is an artistic pursuit as old as Western art. Negotiating with clergical clients was also once, likewise, something of the essence of painting.

Jankowski has brought this process out of the shadows and into the light. It reveals how art and film still matter to the Catholic church. But suggests television would serve them better.

Casting Jesus can be seen at Lisson Gallery until October 1 2011. See gallery webiste for more details.

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