by Len Lear
A young man who grew up playing ice hockey at the Wissahickon Skating Club in Chestnut Hill has invented a new religion called “Lumenignisism” for his senior thesis project at the University of the Arts.
Alex Bard, 23, who will be graduating next month with a degree in Interdisciplinary Fine Arts with an emphasis in sculpture, explained that “Lumen” comes from the Latin word for light, “ignis” is from the Latin word for fire, and the suffix “ism” is Greek in origin, noting a belief or attitude. “This new religion,” explained Bard, “celebrates the fiery lights that guide us in our daily lives, establishing an order to all our movements — traffic lights.
“I make work that re-imagines overlooked objects and re-evaluates everyday associations. For my senior thesis, I have looked at traffic lights in a fresh way. The traffic system only works if everyone follows it, and mostly, people do. It is mundane and taken for granted yet has its own complex rules and determines so much of our daily movement. Everything in our day-to-day lives is meaningful, no matter how big or small.”
The Lumenignisist religion has only one annual celebration, held in springtime, consisting of a parade of three shrines, each carried by four devotees. The shrines are made of steel and are inspired by Bard’s recent visit to Japan. The top of each shrine and its bearers’ robes are color-coded appropriately for each light of the traffic signal — red, yellow and green.
The first Lumenignisist parade took place on Sunday, April 10, beginning at 11 a.m., at University of the Arts’ Hamilton Hall, Broad and Pine Streets. The group proceeded north to City Hall, then up Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Following a brief ceremony, the group retraced their steps back to the University of the Arts.
“We are grateful for the cooperation of the Philadelphia Streets Department and the Philadelphia Police Department,” said Bard. “Our procession observed all traffic signals.”
The parade went well. There were lots of bystanders staring and asking what was going on, and there were seven people carrying the shrines. Does this religion, like most others, ask for money? “No donations solicited,” said Alex’ mom, Krista. “It’s the reverse. We gave out donuts to gawkers. Federal Donuts at that.”
Alex explained that from an early age he has been questioning religion. “Then one day when I was 22, I was having a conversation about religion with my mentor, and while stopped at a traffic light, I realized traffic lights are an established belief system that everyone believes.”
Does Alex mean his new religion to be a spoof? “Of course, but also it manages to address a human need to find faith in something greater than the individual and connect people together.”
Bard, who now lives in center city, played ice hockey on a team at the Rittenhouse Skating Club in Chestnut Hill when he was 10 and 11 years old.
Was he good? “I liked to think so, but I was more concerned with how I was helping the team. Chestnut Hill gave me the opportunity to learn about hockey.”
After graduation from UArts, Alex, who attended a boarding school in Maine for his high school years, plans to start work at a local artist’s studio and foundry, while also continuing his own artwork.
Does his religion have any adherents yet? “Yes; there are the individuals who helped out with the procession on April 10, and in a broader context anyone who follows the rules of the road and obeys traffic lights could be considered an adherent. Otherwise, people would be doing whatever they want on the road.”
Will Alex be proselytizing to get new members? “I don’t really need to, but I am always willing to share the philosophies and have people start thinking in a different way about religion … My parents and teachers encouraged me and were 100% interested in the idea.”
Alex was raised Catholic but also studied Judaism for a year, so he was never restricted to one ideology. Does he think that the Lumenignisist religion will be around 100 years from now? “Yes. As long as there are traffic lights.”
Alex’ mother, Krista Butvydas Bard, is the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Lithuania to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Born in New Jersey to Lithuanian immigrants, Bard has done a great deal to promote Lithuanian culture in Philadelphia. She once brought the work of 23 Lithuanian artists (as well as the artists themselves) to feature in the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, and she has been involved in countless cultural exchange projects between Lithuania and the City of Brotherly Love for over two decades. She is also an artist whose collection, “Sacred Words,” is a series of acclaimed metaphysical works on paper.
Ed. Note: Since wars between religious groups have tragically always been a fact of life, maybe members of this new religion will eventually go to war with people who worship stop signs. But I hope not. For more information, visit www.kristabard.net. Alex can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.