Intervention in a sacral room
St Moritz Church, Augsburg, Germany
22|02 – 07|04|2007
A church is located in the center of the city of Augsburg at a junction of modes of transportation, philosophies of life, and biographies, in the middle of a hectic weekday's speed. Following a history of transformative events that date back to the 11th century and that have left visible marks, the nave of the church, in recent past, appears as an overflowing collection of fixtures and unrelated objects, even though some of them are of high artistic quality.
These subjective impressions triggered the idea of not crowding the church with even more objects, but on the contrary, to propose to clear the nave of everything. The church should, for a time at least, be a space in which we are not visually pressed with answers for questions we did not ask. It should rather be a room that enables us to visualize our own inner depictions.
This concept of a void arose from a process of reversals and reductions: not to fill in, but to empty. All that should remain, would be the essential components of the liturgy: altar, cross, word, light, robe, humans, love.
The inside of the church together with all the people in it was seen as a living sculpture. Political, organizational, and administrative problems that seemed insurmountable could be resolved within a year. The Agency for the protection of historical monuments could be convinced and the project budget secured. The integration of the parish population was a long and carefully executed process. Many volunteers took part in the preparations.
The choir room was freed of a solid and disturbing wall made of reinforced concrete, thus regaining its original strength. Baroque sculptures were stored temporarily in exhibitions in the Haus der Kunst in Munich and in the Maximilian Museum in Augsburg. Individual chairs replaced benches. Large sheets of cloth on steel hangers covered the arched access to the parish halls and the windows in the apses; which as ?head? of the church should emphatically preserve the picture free character of emptiness.
A special vestment was part of the room. The icon of the cross was transposed (as a digital photo print) onto the robe in the form of intersecting vapor trails produced by two air planes – a fleeting detail of the sky. This cross, the only one remaining in the nave, had no fixed location; it rather followed the movements of the priest. For each service, he put on this robe in front of the congregation and, as such, took the cross upon himself.
One additional element, a simultaneous internet audio transmission of an alpine mountain wind was brought into the church. It was only later that I discovered that the prophet Elias, on his spiritual quest, finally found the lord 'in the murmur of the wind'.
During the six weeks of the art project, the empty room was experienced in various ways. For some, it represented a longing for freedom and for a long missed spiritual security. For others, at first a threatening barrenness. Two possible qualities of emptiness: it can be experienced as something missing, or as free space f o r something.
In times of super abundance and the overstimulation of our senses, it could be that modern human beings experience distressing terror in the face of silence. That however, ultimately gives space to our individual sensitivities. The emptiness leads to a big bang - an absolute complement and, if it were allowed to remain, one could fully experience the potential of these possibilities. A room without a detailed layout makes it necessary for an individual to fill in some of their own. An act of freedom, but not an easy project, one not determined by the statements of existing structures such as the blocking arrangement of benches in the church that have the effect of hindering lighter spiritual movement. Through the deliberate choice of location, individual and collective arrangements of the chairs by visitors on any given day corresponds more to free continuity, characterizing probing developments.
After a rocky start, the project attracted more and more people from near and faraway places. Even many non-denominational visitors felt at ease with the new arrangement, and the church had many more visitors over these weeks than usual.
Would it be a utopia of churches, to provide empty rooms of high quality – beyond denominational differences – in which man, from no matter what intellectual-spiritual background, discovers the basic conditions for finding himself, and getting support in his quest to 'become what he is'?
One of the most impressive experiences of this project was the immense amount of fullness necessary to produce emptiness.
I wanted the experience of the room
to be like listening to a sea shell.