ANGEL’S CHURCH

NOTES ON THE PROJECT

“Man in individuated in his existence by two fundamental coordinates: time and space, two facts which he doesn’t construct but which precede him. In time and space man is placed and determined; but it is he who qualified time and space as necessary, positively or negatively. Man moves in time, man occupies space. If in one way this relationship between man and space/time allows us to take joy from being, at the same time it highlights the very limits of human existence. So while we would want to have all the time and all the space for the pursuit of happiness, it’s the very process by which we attempt to conquer time and space which exposes us to suffering, because through it we clearly encounter our spatial and temporal limits. Time and space offer us a continuous series of points, elements which are finite, limited or limiting; from here, the desire to evade them, to escape their finiteness. Mankind aspires to escape from the prison – the beloved prison – of space and time in order to encounter an eternal reality, without succession… Man has always felt this pull towards the eternal, towards the infinite, as one of the very laws that governs him…”

The group of works which make up the project for the Liturgical Spaces for the Church dedicated to the theme of the Angel in Curno (Bergamo) should be seen as a whole but not as a unit. They would be best described as an ‘itinerary’ in which every station, every sign along the way represents a focal point and a vanishing point which opens up onto new paths while still maintaining its relation to the rest; a sort of narrative unity in which unity is not given by an assimilation of elements (shapes, colours, materials) but by the exaltation of each liturgical space in the narration as a whole. This itinerary is made up of a continuous alternation, in a sense, between full and empty, limited and illimited, light and shadow and the element keeping these moments together is the transformation of material into light. This is a narration in which this idea of alternation is seen not as an irreconcilable binary but as the simultaneous presence of opposites, the celebration of the unity of joy and pain, the high of the sky and the low of the earth.

The very theme ‘of co-presence’ inspires a dialogue with the architecture of the church. The ‘stations’ of this itinerary will appear as particularly expressive points of the geography of the building. The process hasn’t been merely a fact of ‘placing’ certain objects in certain places: the attempt has been to understand the art and the building together. Symbolic points and architectural points are woven together in a unitarian whole, constituting a landscape in common.
The introductory passages in italics are taken from ‘Liturgia e Arte, i luoghi della Celebrazione’ by Vincenzo Gatto. Bologna: EDB Editore, 2001.

THE PORTAL

To cross the threshold of the church is a gesture full of meaning, full of responsibility, for the christian… crossing this threshold implies the will to pass from one environment to another, from one situation to another… in a prophetic dimension – which art confirms – it marks a clear passage from this life to eternal life; a passage from the condition of the wanderer to one of contemplation…

What is underlined in the Portal is its symbolic, rather than its ‘constructive’ function. What prevails visually is the presence of the two letters ‘alpha and omega’ which must be crossed in order to enter the assembly. The portal immediately qualifies the church as a space of unity with Christ, representing his very essence: I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end…

The Portal is composed of two points of view: the first, external, faces the road which runs in front of the Church, with a perspective of approximately 25 meters from it. From the front the two letters (which occupy the portal almost in its entirety) are plaited together, almost slotted together, but still readable. The second vision is the one from inside the Assembly. Here the two letters are twisted together in a shape which becomes almost abstract, transfigures, synthetic: it as if, once we have entered the church, the alpha and the omega become a single body.

The Portal is imagined in its constructive continuity with the rest of the building: it is treated in the same white cement and almost melts into the continuing architecture. Hence a particular attention is given to the two letters which differ in treatment (they are in two colours, one per letter) inserted into the white concrete. On the inside of the portal, although it is treated the same way, we see a red colour, used both for the two letters and for their background.
The Portal is composed of two shutters which are approximately ten centimeters thick. Its perimeter is an extra ten centimeters smaller than the counter-frame. As such, there is a void between the counter-frame and the portal (filled in by a crystal band of the dimension of the gap), which becomes a ‘luminous frame’ obtained by the reflection of the red from the inside on the white outside the Portal. This gives the effect of making the two letters at the front stand out from the rest of the building, as well as making them visible also during the hours of darkness.
The realisation of the Portal relies on the use of weathering steels for the supporting frame and for the contour of the two letters. Technically, the work can be described as ‘Tarsian’ because the metal is visible on the side of its depth. The concrete work, on the other hand (poured into a previously prepared mould and hence encased completely into the rest) is visible from the front. All the accessories necessary for the project (hinges, lynchpins, jambs, leads, clasps) are made in such a way that they can be considered structural.

THE ALTAR

… we must notice certain physical peculiarities: first of all how the altar, structurally, doesn’t have a front or a back: its four facades are, and appear, equally important…

The Altar is considered here as both the evolution and the memory of the first Christian altar, no longer a sacrificial altar in all its coarseness, but votive cumulus of stones places one on top of the other with grace, remembering the locus of an exceptional, superhuman event. Here those stones have become spheres of different dimension. Each spheres is a world (either known or potential), and these worlds collide and hold each other up, delineating a movement which is at the same time an ascent and a descent. Places on this mass of spheres lies the table, which with its horizontal movement, proposes itself as overarching space of serene flatness. It is substantial but not heavy on the eye, something powerful which nonetheless stretches out with the lightness of a feather upon the spheres, an act of love. The area occupied by the spheres is hence identifiable with a breath, with its constant movement of opening and closing, constantly relating the low to the high, and as such it elevates the table and offers it to the people, reminding us that the ‘low’ of sadness and the ‘high’ of happiness have the same origin in one body. That body of Christ which, reaching down into the earth, becomes a source of rebirth.

The Altar is, then, in two parts: the first is the huddle of spheres, made of copper painted in white, and held together by a steel structure which weaves through each and every sphere making them appear as a whole. The table, place on top of the spheres but suspended at a slight distance is a plate of light blue marble, painted blue on its underside, on the side which isn’t visible to the congregation; this blue, then, lightly tinges the uppermost layer of the white spheres below. Where the mass of spheres touches the floor (also made of white marble), some of the spheres are cut and only the top part is used, as if the shape rose ‘virtually’ from below, as if a continuation of the depths of the ground. A number of lights placed on the level of the floor shine upwards onto the bottom of the marble, intensifying the blue reverberation and adding body to the volume of the spheres and to their chromatic composition more generally.

THE APSE AND THE CROSS

In ancient times, the gem-encrusted cross devoid of the crucified body of Christ was the sign of the mystery of Easter in its entirety of death and resurrection. Only later was the body of Christ placed upon it… Christ began to appear in his suffering, in a crescendo of intensity which over the centuries insisted more and more on his drama, even on his despair. This image gives man the reflection of his weakness, more than the serene or even joyful surrendered suffering of love…

As is written in the Gospel of Matthew, the cross ‘…was the instrument chosen by God for the salvation of mankind…’. It should be seen as an in-between space, a station of transit between the (visible) worldly here and the (invisible) celestial there.

My work considers these themes and restores them in their essentiality: it is a ‘wall’ placed in front of the curve of the apse, cut with an incision of the sign of the cross approximately 10 centimeters wide. This ‘wall’ assumes the sense of a ‘plane’, both a ‘formal plane’ (a surface in conversation with the roundness of the apse behind it, made of the same luminous material) and a ‘divine plane’ (that is, Divine strategy put into place in the act of crucifixion). In both senses, here the Cross is represented as light. In fact the reflected colour which makes the cross visible and exalts it is literally obtained by the paint on the back of the plane: of which the cross forms a part, by which the cross is generated.
On the front of the ‘plane’ is the ‘drawing’ of the body of Christ. A dry, quick drawing. More than a drawing it is a gesture, a scratch, shadow of the body and body at the same time (body of the drawing as well as body of Christ). The two terms which inspired this Crucifixion for me were ‘plane’ and ‘drawing’, which seem to me to represent Divine Will and at the same time the practice of art.

The Plane almost originates from the floor (it is zipped to the floor and sustained), again with a slight gap, and reaches up to almost touch the uppermost margin of the apse. It occupies a luminous surface (not illuminated, for it is in itself an originator of light) which alludes to a celestial curve which embraces it and towers around it. The position and the dimension of the Plane (the distance from the apse, the slight inclination etc.) are imagined as closely related to the dimensionality of the apse and to the natural light flow organic to the building.
The axis comprehending Portal, Altar, Crucifixion, Apse is to be seen as a narration of an event which has its centre in the close dialogue between body and light. The alpha and the omega of the Portal open up to let the Christian into the home of Christ, and the first element the faithful encounters is the horizontality of the altar’s table; this element starts the dynamic transformation of body into light, in a sense it supplies its trampoline, its base: from here we will be able to traverse the tight cut of light of the Cross bearing the drawing of the body of Christ, and enter the luminous curve of the apse. The luminous curve acts as a ‘mirror’: it reflect the light captured in the space but it also indistinctly reflects our own image, allowing us, our consciousness, to enter the luminous background, to be projected into an unexpected, new, joyful perspective.

THE TABERNACLE

…the heart of the problem was the distance between the tabernacle and the table of the altar… this separation used to generate suspicion and doctrinal implications on the Eucharist, because in current mentality and spirituality the tabernacle and the altar were part of the same whole… separating the tabernacle from the altar separates two things which in their origin, in their nature, should have remained together…

The relation between Altar and Tabernacle is the crux of this project. The shape of the Tabernacle isn’t, obviously, assimilatable to that of the Altar: if anything, it assumes its implicit reason. In the Altar, as I have previously explained, the spheres which hold up the table insert a dynamic movement which counteracts the static shape of the table, a dynamic which isn’t only formal but essential to the work. Similarly, the Tabernacle is composed of two (virtually continuous) planes in expansion. They have their origin in the six sides of a cube (of approximately fifty centimeters per side) but rather than closing in on themselves, they are open as if the cube from which they originate were in itself the result of a dynamic extension of space. Each of the six facades of the cube carries two surfaces of the same measure and composition, resulting in a cross oriented at 360 degrees in the space. The last facades (the external ones) are entirely painted in blue, the second are painted in red, and both colours reverberate on the back, as well. As the shape opens up, it reveals its ‘precious’ heart, entirely covered in gold. The act of opening up hence shifts the shape in luminosity: we go from an external light of blue and red ribbons to an internal unitary light of gold. This juxtaposition of colours makes the Tabernacle the only ‘object’ containing all the colours seen elsewhere in the composition. The Tabernacle is hence the ‘collapsed’ version, formally and substantially, of the entire itinerary described so far: it is the true locus of hospitality where everything finds its reunion. All the other elements used in the making of the works are also repeated here: colour, plane, spatiality, dynamic transformation, surprise, etc.

n.b. the model of the Tabernacle is, as yet, unavailable in its definitive version; as such it is the only element of which I present a technical drawing as I work on a more precise elaboration of its attributes and characteristics.

THE AMBO

…here what is highlighted is the uniqueness of the locus of the Word. In fact, the symbolisms expressed here are manifold, for example there is the symbol of the garden. What is also manifested here is the image of Eden, in which what echoes is no longer the word of condemnation or of death, but the proof of love and of rendition… Its essential component is the column, a clear reference to the ‘column of fire’ which guided and accompanied the Jewish people in their exodus from Egypt…

Although the Ambo is the ‘locus of the Word’, it is not a lectern. It is a stable, non moveable sign: it is the ‘temple of the Word’. Its structure combines an architectural dimension with an ‘imaginatory’ one.

The architectural nature of the ambo consists of a physical delimitation of a space which inserts itself in (and partially itself substitutes to) the elevated plane of the chancel, posed on the limit between the chancel and the floor of the assembly. In a sense it supplies a connection between the two levels, elevating itself from the lower level and putting the two in communication. From a space cut out of the stairs that lead from the floor to the level of the chancel, a parallelepiped rises, made of seven sheets of grey stone, each ten centimeters deep, that is two centimeters inferior to the size of the cut-out space, a tiny difference made to make the shape noticeable in its weight and in its volumes. From this mass a vertical element originates, made of the same material, and upon this element another two sheets are posed at an angle, as if following the shape of an open book facing the people. On the inside, a metallic sheet folded at the same angle is painted white; behind, that is on the side invisible to the public, another is painted red. The red, reverberating onto the white, gives the sense of a welcoming screen. On the front, the area between the excess of the sideway panels and the floor of the assembly (about 208 cm wide) is traversed by a crystal column with a red colour running along it, with a twisted wrapping itself around the column and changing shade four times. At the ground, the column produces a black disc of silica gel which the column is reflected on, appearing ‘infinite’. At the two sides of the oblique panels, another two sheets of grey stone are installed in an almost disorderly, broken, airy, irregular fashion.

The volume the structure bases itself on (and originates from) is the teutonic basement, the earth, also the sepulcher of Christ which carries the whole. From this basement the vertical plane originates, as is the case in many figurations of the resurrection of the body of Christ, for example in Piero della Francesca. This plane holds up the angular planes of the open book and offers it to the assembly with its hidden light. The side sheets of stone, possible enclosures, would have given a sense of ‘podium’, the declamation of terrestrial, political, belligerant, tremendous words. Instead, here their irregular disposition gives the sense of something that has happened, the breaking through a grave, as if Christ, in his resurrection, had escaped. What comes to mind is the image of paintings of Romans asleep at the sides of sepulchers.
This complex space, riddled with tensions, is the locus of the Sacred Word, made, in itself, of tension and complexities. Never violently used as destructive arm yet never a pointless pat on the back. Possibly, this is the space of interpretation.

THE BENCH

… the episcopal bench expresses the general direction of the community, and underlines in particular the role of the Bishop, which is the role of the teacher, of he can communicate the Word…this concept used to be expressed in the past sometimes by the etimasia, that is by representation of an empty throne on which the sacred scriptures are placed, or the glorious gem-encrusted cross… In this iconography the absence of the image of Christ wished to express its invisible, but real, presence, the presence of he who has been resurrected…

The Bench is imagined as a single seat, made in all-wood, approximately ten centimeters deep. It is conceived so as to become integral to the building (it is painted white) but it still distinguishes itself from it, thanks to a colour painted once again onto the back of the bench on both sides, which reverberates on the white background wall. The colour, in this case, is obtained by ‘writing’ a Biblical text in red on the hidden surfaces of the bench. The writing is dense, thick, and its appearance is almost ‘monochrome’. What we see, then, is literally the reflection of the writing on the bench.

Alfredo Pirri

projects.

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