A guy in Russia thought he could stop a train and killed himself trying. Ten people in Tanzania died trying to walk on water. A man bludgeoned his girlfriend with a Bible on Halloween.
Religion inspires horrifying acts of devotion. We all know that, but we seldom stop to consider how dramatically faith can suddenly open or close peoples' lives. Local artist Rose DeSloover, who has spent more than a decade living as a nun, is moved by the passion that faith arouses. She has spent the last 20 years pulling misery out of its newspaper context, finding the irony and sharing it creatively with others. Since 1987, she's mailed out thousands of postcards to Detroiters called "Sacred Moments in the News." The 4-by-6 Xeroxed card arrives discreetly among bills and junk mail, with only her initials imprinted in the corner and no statement of intent or explanation. Stamping her signature on each card is the art moment, when DeSloover pauses to notice life's current.
She has sent out 48 editions throughout the years, amusing acquaintances and occasionally confounding strangers with the unsolicited mailing. Most Sacred Moments link religion to politics, women's issues, the supernatural, or to the sting of plain old bad luck. Of course, there's the occasional news item that ties in more than one of these, such as the news brief about a woman who's sure veteran war correspondent Peter Arnett is an incarnation of evil and another who claims a house plant died when he appeared on her television screen.
DeSloover, who is Dean of Fine Arts at Marygrove College, says her 14 years as a nun in the '60s and '70s helped her realize that art happens every day and limitations inspire imagination. She says the biggest challenges in her obedience, poverty and celibacy vows were the limited freedoms. While the church was encouraging of her artwork, even paying for grad school in Claremont, Calif., she knew she had to do her own thing. "I need to be able to buy a belt sander, give it away, and keep the package if I want to, without justifying that to anybody," she says.
DeSloover's never bothered to document her work, such as keeping track of where and when she finds her news. "I'm not an anal conceptualist," she says. When she talks about life's serendipity she is expressive with her hands and her blue eyes flicker.
"My parents named me Rosemary because I happened to have red cheeks," she says. "They didn't mean for my initials to spell out the color red [her middle name is Elizabeth], but when I was younger, I also had red hair, so all of that combined made me very nervous, like it was supposed to mean something. I have always been aware of it. It felt very personal to me."
Mail art is DeSloover's way of suggesting the bigger picture, interrupting peoples' day-to-day routines, staging fleeting moments of contemplation that defy explanation and expectation. Her work can agitate too, like happenings held by Fluxus artists in the 1960s. Seldom, it seems, is it unwelcome. She says most folks seek her out and respond enthusiastically, and only one woman went through the effort to mail a card back calling her crazy. And DeSloover's elderly mom did take her aside to let her know she was worried that some weirdo was sending her cards. It's ironic that by mailing out Sacred Moments, DeSloover becomes one of the eccentrics she so often features: "No, Mom. That's me."Rebecca Mazzei is the arts editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]