The Church as |M|E|S|H|
Artist Edoardo Tresoldi has re-constructed the Basilica di Siponto, a ruined church from the 12th centuary in the South East of Italy, using his signature wire mesh. The architectural sculpture recreates the volume of the building that was destroyed by earthquakes and abandoned and is presently part of a wider archaeological site.
The sculpture is very pretty. It’s certainly Tresoldi’s best work that I can find, both formally and conceptually. Yet still, for the secular worlds of art/architecture/archaeology, it’s a bit of a one liner: ancient architectural form ‘updated’ or made relevent through use of a thoroughly post-modern material that subjectifies the view and makes the form both there and not-there. Or, at a push, it interrupts the divide between sacred and secular in the art world and “ summarises two complementary languages into a single, breathtaking scenery” according to curator Simone Pallotta.
Fine, that’s quite interesting. But I think this sculpture really triggers a greater depth of exploration (probably way beyond the artist’s intent) for the actual, living and not ruined Church. Hopefully, if we learn a lesson here, our churches won’t end up as ruins for the sport of academic critique — because it’s precisely got to do with not dying. Or rather, catching up with the world.
Perhaps that post-modern material of physical and philosophical concern — the mesh — is what our churches should actually look like if we’re to exercise the double listening that Jesus suggests when he says “know the times”. Because the people of “the times” don’t really tolerate the Church as institution. Institution where the primary concern is to build something so utterly concrete and immutable as a cathedral on a hill (or an industrial campus complex with multi-storey parking). Present-timers run a mile as soon as they catch whiff of that. So you’ve got to catch up and stop trying to do something that catered to a modern mindset.
I don’t think that’s how Jesus really intended His bride to look anyway. The mesh, in fact, looks a lot more like the Kingdom the way Jesus talked about it, and the early Church the way they did it.
The mesh Church is both there and not there. It speaks of a volume yet remains transparent. It carries beauty but isn’t a beauty made of stone and carved wood. Utterly impoverished but stunningly potent. It’s both permanent and temporary. It’s composed of deep time, alluding to something ancient and something future orientated. It’s interdimensional, rhizomatic, an objective space and a subjective experience. It’s viewable in its entirety from all sides and from the inside out, each offering an infinitely new perspective.
It’s the creative tension of the “now and the not yet”.
The Church as MESH is both one that looks more like Christ and speaks the same language as the world. To get the first is always to get the other, but it requires listening intently to both. And that will ensure the Church does not become a dusty ruin, destroyed by the world and left abandoned for centuries.