“Triumph of Religion” – Sargent’s Murals @ BPL

In my 11 years in Boston I’ve spent a lot of time at the BPL and it’s been a treat to spend even more there recently.

One of my favorite discoveries a few years ago are the John Singer Sargent murals, The Triumph of Religion, on the 3rd floor of the original building (up the stairs past the giant lions, then up one more).

Something about these paintings really speaks to me for this project. I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about early culture’s cosmologies: folk tales and myths. Just about every culture has a flood myth or apocalypse myth. There are creatures in Sargent’s paintings that are part human, part animal – a god with a bull head; a snake whispering; a sphinx with eagle ears and a feline body.

Something about Cataclysm brings out these hybrid creatures in us and I’ve been thinking of that as well. How will Boston – a huge leader in the medical and tech industries – adapt to rising waters. Will we have gills? Will we design something that allows us to live underwater in ways we can’t do now? In envisioning the future I’m looking at the past: the mythic creatures who have appeared in stories told centuries ago.

I am also very interested in religion in the world of our play. How do cultures react in cataclysmic events? How do current beliefs embrace new developments; how do new religions spring up to explain the unexplained. Children of Men and The Leftovers are two stories recently that explore how religion comes alive in new ways after an end-of-the-world type event.

Boston is a deeply religious place, in a variety of ways. I cannot help but believe that – if and when the waters rise – belief and faith (whether ancient or newly sprung) will play a big part in the culture.

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