9 months ago


The Icon Exhibition

The Icon Exhibition “Kissed again and again” | 173 architectural context, and create closeness between icon and visitor. In this way we wanted to avoid what often happens when the museum institution approaches religious phenomena, namely ‘museification’. 11 Instead we asked: How could the sacred values inherent in the icons be maintained in our setting, and the intrinsic religious meaning of them be preserved – or even restored? 12 How could the relational dimension be given a visual presentation? If the Romanian icons were just hung on the walls like paintings in an art museum, they would appear as a number of rectangles, one little distinguishable from the others. The design had to avoid that, in some way separating each icon from the others. Furthermore the exhibition design intended to restore some measure or reminder of the original context, by and large wooden churches or houses. Finally the design wanted to promote closeness to each icon, since the idea of the exhibition was not simply to display a number of icons, but to emphasize the relational dimension by making it easier for a visitor to relate to each icon separately. The risk was that designing for an immediate relation to the icon might be viewed as promoting a certain religious practice – and, indeed, it turned out to work this way – for Orthodox believers. To house the exhibition, three rooms were chosen, two for the icons, and one for the photographs of church interiors and exteriors. The icon exhibition proper was displayed on some 165 sq. m. While the photographs were displayed directly on three walls in the third room, it was from the beginning the idea to break up the straight walls of the two other rooms. This was done by a “carpet” of new walls creating a variety of forms and receding small “chapels”. (Fig. 8-9) In some ways, the inspiration was a disciplined late Baroque. The new walls was made in 19 mm mdf plates, using the height of each plate, 244, but breaking the walls up in a multitude of various planes, between 25 and 122 cm wide, creating various levels, some receding, some protruding, some places marked by a concavely curved “apses”. An additional bonus was the fact that the walls would block most of the windows, and making it possible to avoid mounting any icon directly on the outer walls of the rooms. (Fig. 10) In two instances special features were introduced: a chapel for the miraculous icon from the Dragomireşti monastery in the county of Maramureş, and an iconostasis for the icons by Iacov from Răşinari. Both were made as abstract stylized features in accordance with the overall design concept. The mdf walls were left unpainted, the brown of the material giving associations to the timber walls of Transylvanian churches and homes. As background for each Fig. 9: A small section of the wall system mounted on the 18 th of September 2015. Fig. 10: In October 2015, the museum carpenter was busy assembling some 250 pieces of 19 mm mdf plates in order to produce the exhibition walls. icon, the mdf was coloured blue in a dusty and transparent colour which left the fine structure of the plate itself visible underneath. (Fig. 11) No other colours were introduced than light brown and dusty blue. The floor was oiled pine wood, some 20 years old, and it worked well with the mdfwalls. It was considered to render the painted 17 th century drapery of the katholikon of Lupşa, (Fig. 12-13) but in the end it was decided to ensure an abstract character of the walls without copying any specific kind of decoration. To serve the focus on the icons, and avoid a certain ‘schoolbook character’, the texts were made on transparent acryl to make them fit in better, the background of the text lines being the light brown of the mdf walls. There were two kinds of texts, one which gave factual information, and one which explained the relational aspect. The factual texts were in dark red brown Tahoma font, and the other in beige Papyrus font, size 60 pcts, in order not to appear intrusive, but respect the contemplative atmosphere. (Fig. 14) The letters were transferred onto the plate from behind, so as to be protected by the plate itself. In order to make it easier accessible, each text was centred, and each text line stopped where you would usually pause. The necessity to keep a low lux level supported the contemplative mood which was enhanced by covering the windows behind the walls, thus creating a black box like interior. In a few places oil lamps were hung with electric flickering candles (due to safety regulations), and other larger such candles placed on low tables to act as references to the original context as well as contributing to the contemplative mood. Unfortunately, the photos cannot render the actual light adequately, it was softer, more refined and with more fluent transitions between lighted and shadowy areas. In addition three videos were shown continuously, all of them having the enhancement of the contemplative or prayerful atmosphere as their objective. At the entrance we had made a small film with a video where an icon was shown in a dark nondescript room in front of burning candles, persons then coming in an even rhythm to bow down and kiss the icon. The persons were dark, really only shadows, but the video at the entrance rendered visually the very title of the exhibition. In another part of the exhibition burning candles were shown in a video, the flickering flames in the dark adding

174 | Henrik von Achen Fig. 11: Each background was a dusty transparent blue. Crucifixion on glass, painted by a painter from Nicula in 1827. mystery and intensity to the atmosphere. None of these two videos had sound, since silence was an important part of the character of the exhibition. A third video showed a close up of an old woman praying, unaware of being filmed – her voice barely audible, again against a dark background in order not to break up the overall character. The iconostasis As soon as it was clear that the exhibition would display icons from an iconostasis, namely four icons painted by Iacov from Răşinari in the 1740s, an imperial door by his son, Gheorghe, and a late 18 th century crucifix from an iconostasis, it was decided that the exhibition structure should encompass an abstract version of an iconostasis. (Fig. 15) This was, obviously, a logical way to present the icons, and in its abstract form it did fit into the overall structure. In the exhibition it presented the icons in an instructive way, showing how the six icons were situated in the iconostasis. (Fig. 16) In a communicative perspective, however, the main task was to explain the function of the iconostasis in an Orthodox church interior. To visitors from Western Europe the iconostasis seems a strange wall barring access of the faithful to the sanctuary. In the exhibition in Bergen we did not attempt to go into any depth concerning the development of the iconostasis and its iconographic arrangement, but to give an idea of its function in a relational context. How could it be explained as something different from simply a decorated wall blocking off view of and access to the sanctuary - a wall effectively separating clergy and people? Perhaps this was an example of how the requirements of an exhibition, the need to explain to a public, sparks new thoughts and thus initiate research, or at least point to something which needs to be researched in more depth? (Fig. 18) Since a true icon makes the prototype present, it is a subject as much as an object; you are seen by the icon as much as you see it. Each icon is basically rendering Holiness derived from The Holy One, God. Seeing an icon, kissing it and bowing before it, articulates the relationship between God and the believer. Heaven and earth are connected, united as it were, through Holiness. Thus an encounter takes place. As a wall of icons, then, the iconostasis is a system of openings, of doors, through which God and man meet and converse. Therefore, the text written and mounted on the mdf wall in the area of the iconostasis, using beige letters in Papyrus font on three transparent acrylic plates, did not present the iconostasis as a barring wall decorated with icons, but as a system of openings: Plate i The iconostasis is the wall which in Orthodox churches separate the sanctuary with the altar from the nave where the congregation stands. Its most important task is to visualize the relation between God and man. With its doors, carvings and icons, the iconostasis conveys the fact that Heaven and earth are connected, stating a connection between the reality of God and this world. The wall is perforated, riddled as it were, as each and every icon creates a connection between the reality of God and the faithful – between heaven and earth. So, it is not so much a wall keeping people out, but rather a ‘complex of doors through’ which the Divine may reach out to us – and we to the Divine. It is communication, a sign of hope. Plate ii The subject matter of the icons is always Holiness, they depict the world seen from the perspective of the Gospel. Motifs may be saints, prophets, the history of the Church, or other events from the history of salvation. God is the foundation and source of all holiness, and the history of salvation is the story of the relation between God and man, proclaiming the glory of God and his will to redeem mankind. Hence, the iconostasis is not primarily a barrier keeping the congregation away from the altar, but a communication with Holiness – at the same time a picture of the Divine reality and a door to it. Plate iii The iconostasis divides the sanctuary (Heaven) from the nave of the church (earth). It has doors which are used during the liturgy that clergy may go into the sanctuary or out into the nave. Through the liturgy, and in everything preached by prophets, martyrs and saints, believers encounter Divine reality as it has been revealed to and proclaimed by the Church. Here, the patriarch Germanos of Constantinople stated in 715, heaven and earth meet. In a special way God is present in the church interior with its individual devotional practices and in the liturgy of the people of God. In addition to these three text plates introducing the iconostasis, there were short texts informing visitors about the painter, the date and the provenance of each icon. To Norwegian visitors, the exhibition was recognized as a ‘total experience’, where the visual presentation promoted a meditative mood, and a will to focus on each icon as an expression of faith rather than a masterpiece from the

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