Re: Re: reorganisation and destruction of irish catholic churches

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From the blog Always Distinguish(ed).
ab ambiguitate ad claritatem.

A Christian Critique of Minimalism
Saturday, March 21st, 2009
This is going to be fairly straightforward, actually. I’d just like to draw your attention to a contrast. For those of you who read my post about John Pawson’s monastery of Our Lady of Novy Dvur and saw the clean, polished, magazine-quality photograph of the chapel that I posted (from the Novy Dvur website)—and especially for those of you who did not like it—you might appreciate this photograph that I found on Flickr, taken by Lorenzzo. For copyright reasons I can’t post it to the blog, but I recommend that you go see it and compare it to the one in this post (on the right).

So, go check out the one on Flickr. You’ll see the chapel in a whole different light. And why do I call this a Christian critique of minimalism? Well, minimalism is almost like the newest kind of dualism. Consider the (in)famous motto of minimalism: “Less is more” attributed to Mies van der Rohe. The implication in architecture has a tendency to drive one to a puritan-like rigorism that produces buildings that only look good when they are not occupied and used by people. Consider even the magazine photo above: yes, it has the monks in it, but you might notice that conceptually the monks appear more as an extension of the space, an ornament to the furniture, than as the owners and users of the space. What I delight in about the photo on Flickr is that it shows you how the space is actually used. Suddenly you see benches that appear in front of the choir stalls, clearly not designed for the space, a couple of folding chairs, flowers in front of the altar, the appearance of a presider’s chair along with accompanying stools, and not the most flattering of daylighting.

The punchline to the minimalist enterprise, it seems to me, is that humans are not minimalists. We accumulate things, we get things dirty, we don’t all do the same things, we don’t all pray the same way, we don’t all look the same, we have bodies, for heaven’s sake! This is why I called minimalism almost a kind of dualism. There seems, to me, an underlying message that we must blot out the material world because it is uncontrollable. There’s another photo of the chapel at Novy Dvur that I have seen that lacks all the usual liturgical furniture you would expect in a monastery oratory: choir stalls, altar, ambo, tabernacle, etc… you only see the blank walls, the bare forms, the play of shadows and light. You lose all concept of scale (there are, of course, no humans in the picture) and it becomes a meaningless composition, perhaps pleasing to the eye. It is a strange worship of shadows.
Now, all of this is said in contrast to the ‘praises’ I sang of the monastery in the last post. I think there is something lovely about it, but it is the same thing that is lovely and romantic about a monk’s life to someone who is not a monk. That is to say, the contemplative life, though it may appear so to the observer, is not minimalist, it’s ascetic, and in this life the distance between the two is like the east from the west.

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