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Mystic Bones

The desert has long been a theme in Mark C. Taylor’s work, from his inquiries into the religious significance of Las Vegas to his writings on earthworks artist Michael Heizer. At once haunted by absence and loss, the desert, for Taylor, is a place of exile and wandering, of temptation and tribulation. Bones, in turn, speak to his abiding interest in remnants, ruins, ritual, and immanence. Taylor combines his fascination in the detritus of the desert and its philosophical significance with his work in photography in Mystic Bones.

A collection of remarkably elegant close-up images of weathered bones—remains of cattle, elk, and deer skeletons gathered from the desert of the American West—Mystic Bones pairs each photograph with a philosophical aphorism. These images are buttressed by a major essay, “Rubbings of Reality,” in which Taylor explores the use of bones in the religious rituals of native inhabitants of the Western desert and, more broadly, the appearance of bones in myth and religious reality.

Meditating on the way in which bones paradoxically embody both the personal and the impersonal—at one time they are our very substance, but eventually they become our last remnants, anonymous, memorializing oblivion—Taylor here suggests ways in which natural processes can be thought of as art, and bones as art objects. Bones, Taylor writes, “draw us elsewhere.” To follow their traces beyond the edge of the human is to wander into ageless times and open spaces where everything familiar becomes strange.

By revealing beauty hidden in the most unexpected places, these haunting images refigure death in a way that allows life to be seen anew. A bold new work from a respected philosopher of religion, Mystic Bones is Taylor’s his most personal statement of after-God theology.

120 pages | 40 color plates | 10 x 8 | © 2006

Art: Photography

Philosophy: Philosophy of Religion

Religion: Philosophy of Religion, Theology, and Ethics


“With his bold and rapturous meditation on bones, Mark Taylor offers more than just startling encounters. He shows us how to look for unexpected truths, how to see in new ways, how to appreciate unfamiliar beauty. The subject here is the strange, intricate artistry that makes life possible.”

Joanna Scott

“Natural forms have always had their allure for artists. But skulls and bones have an added mystique of life and death close to home. I must admit I’ve looked at bones and even emulated the horse skull or my fantasy of it in the conference room of the DZ Bank of Berlin. It was an intuitive expression, not an intentional one, and I only recognized it after the fact. What mystical process led me there, Mark Taylor might speculate on that. His book leads from the religious and mystic to the spiritual and aesthetic. His insights give depth and reason to the ephemeral subject and may open some doors for us form givers to walk through.”

Frank Gehry

“Death? Forget roses. A bone is a bone is a bone. Can you get more basic? Like stones, bones mean everything and nothing. Because they are speechless, they are eloquent. Because they are deader than dead, they are surprisingly alive. Sparse and dry like the desert bones of cattle filling this unique book, Mark Taylor’s images join an art of nature to the art in nature, thanks to the captions the bones emit like hardened chips of themselves. Death? Bones like this gives us mortals the grip we need to deal.”

Michael Taussig, Columbia University

“Mark Taylor’s exploration of the desert and the skeletal remains scattered over the landscape is a personal, visual, philosophical, and yes, religious journey. As with all his writings, the book is grounded in reality, but these hauntingly beautiful photographs of bones take on spiritual qualities that allude to their ‘anonymous sculptor’ and the silence that gives them a powerful voice.”

Linda Shearer, Director, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati

“Like the desert in which they were found, Mark Taylor’s Mystic Bones hover between abstraction and figuration. Considering Taylor’s moving photographic and written meditation on bones through art, philosophy, and religion, we may divine our own understanding of the creative space between death and life.”

Michael Govan, Director, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

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