The church of Stigtomta (Södermanland, Sweden) was first built in the 13th century (possibly even earlier). Later rebuilt, re-fashioned and embellished in many ways, it now stands as a material account of local people’s lives and beliefs since mediaeval times. In 2010, the parish wanted to continue the story by adding a contemporary art piece. A group of students in post-grad education, conducted by professor Tom Sandqvist, were invited to submit suggestions. The resulting works were exhibited inside the church, and finally a sculpture by Ann Fransson was acquired. This is the proposal I put forward (never realized).
Expanding the church
Spending some time on my own in this old countryside church – overflowing with tokens of remembrance, hope and piety – I couldn’t help but feel there was nothing for me to add. Or rather, that any affix brought by an outsider would risk to appear like some excessive chitchat, interfering into sincere dialogue… On the other hand, the parish had expressed their feeling of something lacking. So, what was truly needed here?
Space, perhaps. A little more space; expanding by going deeper… that could be my contribution. The cruciform floor plan of the church suggested an intervention be made in the very center; I figured a round hollow, coated with black tiles. The stone slabs covering the floor would have to be removed first. The pit should slope by an even curve down to a centerpoint; it had to be quite shallow, though, in order not to restrain free mobility for all visitors. I reckoned five to seven centimeters maximum depth on a two meters’ diameter would be ok.
One of the most distinct features of the church is the altarpiece, painted in 1812 by Swedish artist Pehr Hörberg. It depicts Christ washing the feet of Peter, accompanied by the words Gloria in Excelsis Deo. This is the beginning of a Gregorian hymn known as the Greater Doxology, dating back to the very first centuries of Christianity. The next line goes Et in Terra Pax Hominibus Bonae Voluntatis… This I also wanted to fuse into the piece. The musical notation used in those days consists of plain square signs, which conformed well to the technique of mosaic tiling.
Having arrived at this, I decided to build a model scaled 1:2. I found a rare type of dark-coloured clay, as well as a pottery workshop where I could have it fired, and started manufacturing hundreds of small black tiles – a few of them imprinted with a letter to compose the words. For the notation, I purchased mirror tiles; the floor coating would then literally reflect the altarpiece, as the hymn lines Glory to God in the highest / and on earth peace, goodwill to all people reflect each other. The lettering was laid out in two arms spiralling out from the tile/note corresponding to the word Pax.