The Blessing of the Hippopotamus

If you have the misfortune of finding yourself in Turin in this period of Holy Shroud mayhem, then i send you all my sympathy but also a suggestion to make your way to the Gallery Guido Costa Projects.


The ongoing exhibition Blessing of the Hippopotamus made me discover the magnificent Reverend Ethan Acres. The artist is first and foremost an Evangelist preacher. Just like his dad and his grand father were. Born in Alabama, jewel of the Bible Belt where the percentage of non-religious people doesn’t raise higher than 6%, the Reverend performs weddings, last rites for deceased pets and he preaches on Sundays along the famous Fremont Street in Las Vegas where he moved a few years ago.


The Reverend Ethan Acres has made it his mission to “put the fun back into Fundamentalism.” He has more verve than a tv preacher, more charisma than a whole drive-in chapel and far more dynamism than a gospel aerobic instructor. The Reverend uses art to accompany his sermons and spread the Word large and wide, linking it to ancient traditions of sacred art. In the ’90s he even a converted camper trailer into a mobile Vegas-style church he called the “Highway Chapel”.


Christian faith meets Barbarella, Teletubbies, rock and metal band Kiss and pop craft in his paintings, digital prints, installations, sculptures, videos and performances. Proceeds from his artworks provide financial support for his Church of the Holy Fool.

The Blessing of the Hippopotamus on view at the Turin art gallery is a commentary, in the form of a sermon, on The Hippopotamus, the famous 1917 poem by T. S. Eliot. T. S. Eliot’s hippopotamus “is merely flesh and blood”, it is weak and awkward, contrasting with the “True Church”, that “need never stir to gather its dividends”.


The exhibition is composed of a series of artefacts and of a documentation of the performance that The Reverend gave in Turin. On the evening of March 4, he appeared dressed as a preacher to declare his love for God and tell the tale of his first love. He was a teenager when he first fell in love. He was slim, had long hair and the woman was dying of cancer. He explains how he accompanied her during her last weeks of chemotherapy, walked the dog with her, watched as suitors kept knocking on her door and kissed her on the forehead just as she was passing away. At that moment of his sermon he tore away his clothes, kept just a tiny pink slip (adorned with a padlock) and a pair of knee protectors and put on the mask of a hippopotamus. He immersed himself into a kids’ inflatable swimming pool filled with muddy water. He is the hippopotamus and immerses himself in the mud of life. After having washed up in tiny inflatable basins, he stood by the door of the gallery to bless visitors “in the name of the hippopotamus” with a muddy cross drawn on their forehead.


One of the works exhibited in the gallery hints at the Shroud of Turin which is exhibited nowadays in town. The Reverend put inside a frame an “Elvis Sweatcloth”. At concert, Elvis would take one of his dozens of scarves, wear it around the neck for a few seconds, long enough to soak in a bit of sweat and then throw it into the audience. He would repeat the operation several times during the show. Why Elvis? Because it appears that the last book The King was reading before he died was The Scientific Search For The Face Of Jesus by Frank Adams. He had requested it after having heard that it demonstrated the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, said to be Jesus’ burial wrapping.

4508317936_02a0978245_b.jpgVideos of sermons by The Reverend Ethan Acres.

The Blessing of the Hippopotamus is on view at Guido Costa Projects in Turin until Mars 30, 2010.