Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.


Roorda, Paul - VM - Rod Pattenden

Paul Roorda: Pocket Bible

Safe in my Pocket

by Rod Pattenden

The very material of this ‘Pocket Bible' serves to provide an initial punch line for this work. It makes a direct connection between the felt texture of the sacred book in our hands and the polished familiarity of a wallet. It provides an unexpected and visceral connection between what we hold to be sacred and secular, and in a direct manner the kind of power we might hold in our hands. It’s also a male thing. It exposes the fetishlike manner in which men hold their wealth and social power through this often beaten, sweat ridden carrier accessing wealth, identity, membership, community, affections and allegiances. I have to confess it makes me aware of the nervous fondling that goes on each day as I check for its place in my pocket. It is a constant devotion to this container of my social power. Lose your wallet you lose your life!

While this work has clear and initial visual impact, it also burrows down into essential questions about allegiances and affections that tell us who we are, and who we are becoming. These are the indications about what drives us, particularly for men, driven in some cultures to focus on success and social status. In contrast to the slim wallet containing the essential operational tools of identity for men, the seemingly bottomless mystery of handbags offers far more resourcefulness, providing anything from a first aid kit to a handy tool for fixing any household problem. In some cultures male power is found through individuality, while female identity is often expressed through collaboration, finding friends. Such generalizations based on gender roles are under rapid change as individuals attach themselves to smart phones with the promise of far greater control over their sense of self. History now becomes personal as individuals mark their progress through photographs documenting every fashion ensemble, every meal, and every cute dog they encounter on this journey towards an always beautiful future.

The artist, Paul Roorda, expresses well the multiple implications of this work. He comments:

How do we identify ourselves? By our religion, our citizenship, gender, etc., or by our financial status and power in the marketplace? At what point does the church become over-involved in financial matters? Do the tables need to be turned over once again? Or can sacred and profane identities, powers, and institutions live happily bound together?’

Money, power and devotion have long been a challenge for religious institutions who seek to provide the tools to find freedom and yet require allegiance and financial support. The visual questions posed by this tender wallet of devotion leaves the viewer with the questions that need to be held without easy resolution, so that freedom might be maintained and that humans do not become slaves to their deeply loved idols. An understanding of money is found most clearly when in the company of a sense of gratefulness, rather than through any consideration of power or control.

The binding together of the operational means of identity, such as credit cards, memberships, driver’s license with the holy pages of Scripture provides an object that exposes the anxious questions that arise in trying to straddle the realities of these two very different worlds. What belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar, is an age-old question that is never finally resolved. This work serves to hold open such anxiety as an ongoing question about where our affections really lie. It invites us to acknowledge the tension between living in the world and living by the words of Jesus. It invites us to lay open an awareness of the seductions that are present through living in a consumer society, and the manner in which our affections and allegiances are always being shaped towards products that need to be purchased. In an age where freedom is heavily marketed, where uniqueness has a cult following, we find ourselves somewhat all alike in our dependence on things sold to us as agents of life. Consumption is not the same thing as living a full life. This work provides a space for potential wisdom in making the better choice.


Paul Roorda: Pocket Bible, 2008, leather from discarded bible, personal identification cards, credit cards, and cash, 8.9 x 11.4 x 11.4 cm.

Paul Roorda is a Canadian artist who transforms found materials to create two-dimensional art, sculptures, and outdoor site-specific installations that examine the relationship between religion, medicine, science, and environmentalism. He has exhibited extensively with solo exhibitions in Canada, the United States, and Germany and has been awarded grants from the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts.  Paul Roorda was a finalist for the 2016 K.M. Hunter Artist Award in Ontario. He was Artist in Residence for the City of Kitchener, Ontario, in 2007 and at GlogauAIR in Berlin in 2012 and 2015. The artist maintains a website:

Rod Pattenden is an art historian and theologian interested in the power of images and the manner in which they illuminate our understandings of spirituality and religion. He is minister of the Adamstown Uniting Church in Newcastle, Australia, where he has developed a vibrant community arts program.

ArtWay Visual Meditation 1 March 2020