The Inner World of the Outer World of the Inner World
About the artwork
About the artist
Opening remarksChristiane Heuwinkel
A line and nothing more.
A look at the poster and invitation card and Jaro Varga’s work for St. Jodokus Church — the artistic intervention whose opening we celebrate today — seems more than simple: A black line cuts across a red floor plan showing the monastery complex, including its main sanctuary and cloister, at a precise 90-degree angle. It is a clear-cut, rigorously-conceived and significant intervention, in terms of both content and design.
Implemented, the line became a church pew. Nothing unique, we might think at first. This is, after all, a church, a place where the pew is the most natural, almost inconspicuous piece of basic furniture there is.
Walking and sitting:
Consider churchgoing and its architecture more closely and the work becomes more complex: The word “Kirchgang” in German contains the words for both “walking” and “church”; add the cloister to that (the German word for cloister is “Kreuzgang,” which literally translates to “cross-walk”) and we have some idea of the echo chamber in which the artist works.
Sitting and walking:
The church has found a choreography for both basic human constellations. We sit; we immerse ourselves in prayer and song; we walk in prayer, meditating in the cloister; we go on pilgrimages to faraway places; we partake in various choreographed processions.
Although we move in the cloister (“cross-walk”), the ideal square (an intensification of the rectangle), we circulate and thus take up the contradictions in the title “Circular Rectangle”: Whereas the circle has no beginning and no end, the square is associated with hierarchy, with determination.
Born in 1982 and based in Prague and Berlin, Jaro Varga works with architecture and memory. No wonder Audrey Hörmann and Lars Hofnagel, the two “Kunst im Kreuzgang” curators, sought an installation by Varga for the St. Jodokus church interior.
It is a church that, considering the history of the Franciscan monastery and the St. Jodokus parish in Bielefeld, looks back on more than five hundred years of eventful history. A place of worship that — with its “city monastery,” courageous architectural interventions in the material substance and, among other things, mobile monastery bench installed on Obernstraße, an invitation to linger and talk — clearly shows that this centuries-old history will be carried long into the future. By virtue of its congregation, its presence.
So what defines the church interior? Is it the nave? The choir? The cloister? The inner courtyard? The monastery hall? The monastery as a whole? What about the city itself? How does it come into play?
Varga gives a comprehensive answer to this question by pushing his pew through the church body, as it were, the way a magician might push his sword through a magic box with a female contortionist (the Virgin?) inside. Please forgive the comparison, which will most certainly seem inappropriate at first: But isn’t the idea of crossing straight through, of breaking through, a complete, perfect church architecture an amazing, almost magical gesture? And isn’t this austere, coolly-calculated act broken by the artist’s carvings, the markings of someone who — channeling his experience as a boy sitting in church pews and on school benches — interjects little inscriptions that combine the austerity of the concept with a very personal gesture?
“Circular Rectangle”: the elongated rectangle of the church interior with its multitude of pew rows is pierced by a new, different pew. Although it blends in architecturally and sculpturally, a perfect match in terms of both color and material, its length of 36 meters sets it apart. It does not begin in the interior but rather outside, on the side facing the busy Obernstraße; from there it continues inward, pushing its way through the cloister-enclosed inner courtyard and into the monastery hall ... There is no need to specify how it continues from there, as we can picture its path for ourselves: from the outside to the inside to the outside. But also: transversely to the architectural axis, perpendicular like a barrier, a brake, a pause — a broken thought, a flight of mind. The pew on the outside reflects its continuation on the inside, just as the cloister interior becomes an exterior space.
A connection of inside and outside, a traversing of the cloister, a penetration meant to connect: The “Circular Rectangle” is a contradiction in terms, a mental leap that circles and crosses our usual trains of thought, frustrating linearity.
Who is inside, who is outside? Who sits in the front, who sits in the back? Are pathways in the church prescribed, or can I find my own way? Who might sit next to me out there; who am I inside? Am I enclosed, cut off from the city and the world? Or am I surrounded by this sacred space, by its atmosphere charged with a significance derived from centuries of religious practice?
What do I feel when I sit on the pew outside? Belonging? Or also exclusion from those seated inside? Coexistence, perhaps? Or even togetherness? Does curiosity prompt me to walk from the outside to the inside and enter the church space? And doesn’t this notion of coexistence-as-togetherness also reflect the idea of communion? The believer’s communion with Christ upon consuming the consecrated Eucharist wafer: communion as community?
All are questions that Vargas’s only seemingly “simple” installation poses. But isn’t the church precisely the place to develop and ask questions without feeling obliged to give simple answers or even prompts for action? Is it not a place for embracing complexity?
To me, Varga’s intervention follows on from another, also seemingly “simple” work Norbert Rademacher made in 2011 as part of the renovation and redesign of the St. Jodokus choir room: I am thinking of the 14 black panels that convey the Stations of the Cross of Christ as black slate surfaces, accompanied by short text prompts, from the image into words and then into the viewer’s own imagination.
This is no universal visualization of suffering, no predefined iconography, but rather an invitation to all of us to use our individual imagination to reflect, to feel, and allow this bottomless suffering to sink into our consciousness.
As emancipating and powerful as this “simple” gesture of renouncing images is, I also see in it a certain connection to the artistic approach of Jaro Vargas, who just as powerfully and effectively creates not so much images you can see as lasting, reverberating images of thought and memory.
Varga calls the essence of his artistic work “memory and the construction of knowledge”; he notes that “memory is not static; it is constantly changing, restructuring.”
And so with “Circular Rectangle,” the artist creates a work of thought-art that is so much more than the physical-factual gesture: It not only ties the urban exterior to the church interior; it also connects the church space with our highly individual, shifting spaces of memory and thought.
Like a handprint impresses itself on our physical memory, this artistic gesture shapes our consciousness far beyond its exhibition period. It has a lasting impact and allows us to experience community, togetherness and juxtaposition, interior and exterior space, architecture and memory, anew and ever differently from now on.
A church pew will never again be just a place to sit.
The Inner World of the Outer World of the Inner WorldNils Emmerichs, Berlin
“Circular Rectangle,” artist Jaro Varga’s artistic intervention at St. Jodokus Church, works with little more than a wooden church pew. This new pew is identical in form to those already in the space. Concealed in this simple statement are consequences that go far beyond art and art history, for they touch on areas of theology, psychology, and sensory experience to highlight some of the most basic, fundamental truths of human existence.
Varga’s installation builds on profound scholarly and scientific insights. A viewer is steeped in mysterious, experiential spaces — spaces that encourage contemplation of the metaphysical beyond the confines of what can be perceived by the senses. A church is a power-laden physical entity to which we have a primary connection. Varga handles the space at St. Jodokus the way a sculptor might mold a sculpture in clay. The wooden bench spans the entire interior, creating a kind of imaginary, intricate vortex in the nave of the church. This visual experience is precisely what one might experience in one’s own body upon entering the St. Jodokus Church cloister and finding there a several-meters-long wooden bench that almost stoically traverses the entire interior and exterior space of the church and monastery complex — leaving one uncertain as to whether it is really there. One might conclude that it is simply an irregularity of one’s own eye, or indeed of one’s own inner being.
The “Ganzfeld effect,” otherwise known as perceptual deprivation, is a phenomenon triggered by exposure to an unstructured, uniform stimulation field, the complete homogeneity of which causes a sense of disorientation. Varga’s artistic intervention makes perception the subject of his art and, consequently, sight itself.
In his 1961 essay “Eye and Mind,” French phenomenalist Maurice Merleau-Ponty describes seeing as “the means given me for being absent from myself, for being present from the inside at the fission of Being only at the end of which do I close up into myself.”1
Artists since Wassily Kandinsky have sought to formulate a way in which the intellectual, the spiritual or — to speak in Cartesian terms — the mental substance might be brought as an independent quality of experience and consciousness into the secularized age of modernity. Yet an immense space opens up upon entering “Circular Rectangle” — one that appears much larger than the building’s exterior would suggest. In the spirit of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetic phrasing “One space spreads through all creatures equally — inner-world-space,”2 the artist speaks here of a ray of light, a long sentence in a single breath; an infinite interior that is undeviating, devoid of interruption.
Such paradoxical exterior-interior experiences can sometimes be had upon entering cathedrals such as Chartres Cathedral in France, for instance, or St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, where the glow of gilded interior walls creates an infinite interior space.
At St. Jodokus Church in Bielefeld, the visitor’s journey from the exterior of the building to the interior, leading from the church’s forecourt through the cloister and then along a sequence of rooms and corridors, can also be understood as a foray into one’s own interior. Vargas’s expansion of space, into which the viewer is immersed, has a mysterious but inexorable presence that invites the enlightened person to reflect on the fundamental things in life. Beckoning in this artist’s work is a hidden truth that is also a deeply felt one, for it taps into a person’s desire to become entirely human.
– Nils Emmerichs
1 See Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind,” in: Ted Toadvine and Leonard Lawlor (eds.), The Merleau-Ponty Reader (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2007), 351–79.
2 See also Rainer Maria Rilke, “Es winkt zu Fühlung fast aus allen Dingen,” in R. M. Rilke, Werke: Kommentierte Ausgabe in vier Bänden, ed. Manfred Engel, Ulrich Fülleborn, Horst Nalewski, August Stahl (Frankfurt am Main: Insel, 1996), II: 113: “Durch alle Wesen reicht der eine Raum: / Weltinnenraum. Die Vögel fliegen still / durch uns hindurch. O, der ich wachsen will, / ich sehe aus, und in mir wächst der Baum.”
About the artworkCircular Rectangle
The walls and ceilings of churches with their mural paintings have fascinated me since childhood. Churches were the site of my first complex encounter with art, from architecture and paintings to singing and performing. At some point I became an altar boy. Suddenly, my role switched from that of an observer of the Holy Mass spectacle to being an “actor on stage.” Now that I have been invited to create an artwork in St. Jodokus, I feel a similar scenario might come into play: one in which the observer becomes the performer.
I created a new pew that spans the entire church and monastery building. To me it recalls a beam of light, an arrow, a timeline, an infinite bookshelf, an infinite pew kneeler for the faithful, or a long sentence spoken in one, single breath.
In creating the new church bench, I would like to open the possibility of a new topography of movement in church. I would like to stimulate viewers’ understanding of the space, moving away from the stereotype fixed in our memory. Here I am concerned how memories are created in such a situation and how they are performed through body movement. Memory is not static, but always in flux, always restructuring itself. It is constantly “becoming.” My own memory of church, having spent hours there as a child, mostly involves me scratching hidden symbols in the corners of the pews for future readers to find. Viewers should remember the space in St. Jodokus with or without the bench.
It is about the memory of the space itself. — Jaro Varga
About the artistJaro Varga
Jaro Varga jarovarga.net is a Slovak visual artist and curator based in Prague, Czech Republic. He earned a master’s degree and doctorate from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, and also participated in student exchanges at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, the Academy of Fine Arts in Wroclaw, and Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania in the United States. His work has featured in solo- and group exhibitions at home and abroad, including "Where do we go from here?" at the Vienna Secession (2010), "Public Folklore" at the Grazer Kunstverein in Graz (2011), "Delete" at the Slovak National Gallery in Bratislava (2012), "Vulnerable Failures" at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul (2013), "City Diary" at the Triangle Arts Association in New York (2013), "Dysraphic City" at Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien in Berlin (2013), "When Artists Speak Truth" at The 8th Floor Gallery in New York (2016), the 6th Prague Biennale (2013), the 7th Bucharest Biennale (2016), "In Someone’s Else Dream" at SODA Gallery in Bratislava (2017), "Missing Something and Itself Missing" at Ivan Gallery Bucharest, "About Books" at AlbumArte in Rome (2018), "History is His Story" at NEST ruimte voor kunst, The Hague (2019), and many others.
Varga has been an artist-in-residence at Museums Quartier 21 (Vienna), Futura (Prague), Heppen Transfer (Warsaw), AIR Krems, Center for Art and Architecture ZK/U (Berlin), Triangle Arts Association (New York), and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Seoul), among others.