The Great Escape of Saint Sebastian




Saint Sebastian was born in Gallia in the 3rd century AD. He joined the Roman army and became a captain during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian. But young Sebastian was a Christian, and Christianity was a forbidden religion in  the Roman Empire. This restriction of his freedom of thought must have given him a claustrophobic feeling.

When his secret came out, he was sentenced to death. Archers were ordered to carry out the execution and left him for dead, but a Christian widow took care of him and he survived. Sebastian then offered his services to Diocletian again, and was consequently sentenced to be beaten to death. His dead body was dumped in a sewer, where it was found by another woman. In her dreams Sebastian told her to bury him near the catacombs. His grave became a pilgrims’ site.

In this performative work of art I put Saint Sebastian in a stainless steel cage, without arrows in his body, literally imprisoned. The idea behind the project is to allow Sebastian to escape from his cage. The sculpture, made of beef fat and glass beads, is exposed in different positions to an infrared beamer. The heat from the beamer causes the sculpture to melt and deform slowly. The glass beads fall and slide down.

An escape during which one loses one’s life, or one that prevents you from returning to your original state, is, of course, not an escape at all. And yet, in this case, unexpectedly, new life arises. Inside the sculpture, where Sebastian’s heart is located, there is a little bird, possibly just small enough to escape from the cage while the sculpture is destroyed.

The story of the early Christian Sebastian inspired many renaissance painters and sculptors. While they depicted Saint Sebastian mostly as a prisoner or a victim, in this sculpture he is metaphorically transformed into a free little bird.





Impression of the melting process. (Recordings by Ako Versweyveld)