The first church of Stigtomta (Södermanland, Sweden) was built in the 13th century – possibly even earlier. Later rebuilt, re-fashioned and embellished in many ways, it now forms a complex 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. Our resulting works were exhibited in the church over a period of time, and finally a sculpture by Ann Fransson was acquired. This is the proposal I put forward (never realized).
Expanding the church
An ancient house of worship, overflowing with tokens of remembrance, hope and piety… Sitting alone at the back of an aisle, I couldn’t help but wonder what an outsider like myself could bring into the sacred space; feeling that any appendage would appear like chitchat interfering into sincere dialogue… On the other hand, the parish had expressed their sense of something missing. So, what could it be?
Space, perhaps; a little more space. Expanding by going deeper.
The cruciform floor plan of the church suggests an intervention be made in the very center… What if a number of those large stone slabs covering the floor were removed? then a round hollow could be dug out, sloping by an even curve down to a centerpoint… Obviously, the pit had to be quite shallow, in order not to restrain free mobility for visitors; I reckoned a maximum depth of five to seven centimeters within a two metres’ diameter would do. To replace the stones, I figured the circle coated with black mosaique tiles.
Shifting focus forwards and upwards from the floor reveals one of the church’s most distinct features: the altarpiece, painted in 1812 by Swedish artist Pehr Hörberg, depicting Christ washing the feet of Peter. The painting is surmounted by the words Gloria in Excelsis Deo – the beginning of a Gregorian hymn, dating back to the very first centuries of Christianity, and known as the Greater Doxology. The musical notation used in those days consisted of plain square signs, which conforms well to the technique of mosaic tiling… and the next words of the hymn go Et in Terra Pax Hominibus Bonae Voluntatis. I felt this line belonged in the piece, like a response from below.
Having arrived at this, I decided to make a model scaled 1:2. I found a rare type of dark clay, and a pottery workshop where it could be fired – and started manufacturing hundreds of small black tiles, a few of them imprinted with a letter to compose the words. For the notation signs, I used mirror tiles. The floor coating would then literally reflect the altarpiece, just like the hymn lines reflect each other; Glory to God in the highest / and on earth peace, goodwill to all people. The lettering was laid out in two arms spiralling out from the tile/note corresponding to the word Pax.