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People in London didn't see the fog, until painters started painting it. Timothy Schmalz

Kamppi Chapel of Silence in Helsinki

ArtWay Visual Meditation 20 October 2019

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Mikko Summanen, Niko Sirola and Kimmo Lintula: Kamppi Chapel of Silence

Two examples of modern Finnish sacred space design

by Anikó Ouweneel

Finland is a largely uninhabited and protected wilderness. Besides the 188,000 lakes more than 75 % of the land is covered with forests. Respect for the surroundings, consequently sustainability, is a second nature to Finns as I experienced it at first-hand when I lived there. It not only involves their food, energy and waste management, but also their well-crafted thus durable, simple yet elegant design that has a timeless quality and is well used in everyday life.

These principles are te be found in their architecture as well. Not long ago I visited the ecumenical Kamppi Chapel of Silence, designed by architects Mikko Summanen, Niko Sirola and Kimmo Lintula in 2012. It won the International Architecture Award and keeps attracting many visitors.

This small sanctuary is located in one of the busiest places of the city center of Helsinki. The soft curvy shape is very different from its urban surroundings. It is a small, egglike construction, not much of a chapel kind of a thing at first sight. More like a Noah’s ark or a small wooden spaceship. It is certainly different and fascinating. The outer shell is made from spruce boards seamlessly connected together with horizontal joints. The structure is treated with special wax for protection.

There is an adjacent building and you enter the chapel via its glazed doors. Inside awaits a very quiet and inspiring sacral space with curved walls constructed from oiled alder planks (see the top picture). The room is simple and surprising, furnished with a few wooden benches, a wooden altar, a silver cross and a bowl. The closed but friendly space, the smooth walls and the natural light through the skylight at the ceiling’s edge, grant a ‘safe and hidden’ sensation to the visitor. As if you are at the center of something very special. A heart or a womb, in any case an embrace-like experience. Despite the lack of windows, it is not claustrophobic at all. The walls feel organic and strangely cosmic too. The impression created by the wooden planks suggests fast movement. This is what you see in movies when the makers imagine one travelling at the speed of light in an interplanetary space. The chapel seems to indicate the idea of a home in the universe. The silence and seclusion in the midst of the buzzing city offer an opportunity to calm down and pray or meditate.

Serene simplicity close to nature in modern architecture is not new in Helsinki. An earlier and very well-known pièce de résistance in modern church architecture is the Temppeliaukio Church designed by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen in 1969 just 600 meters further north-west from the Kamppi Chapel. The Rock Church is one of the best-known Lutheran churches of the country, where about seventy percent of the population of 5,5 million belongs to this denomination.

As it is hewn into a huge solid rock, the experience is very different in this space. Yet it has a similar ‘hidden and safe’ touch to it. When it was built people discussed its spaceship-like design – not farfetched, at least compared to the ways we imagine such constructions.

The vast cave is covered with a 24-meter diameter glass and copper dome. Natural light flows through a skylight surrounding the middle of the dome. It has its own organ, but no church bells here either. A special composition is recorded and played through loudspeakers outside, when required. Thanks to the rough rock walls, the acoustics happen to be exceptional inside.  

Both these modern sacred spaces are born from the locals’ intimate relationship with nature. Both these structures seem otherworldly at first glance yet are obviously very fitting to their larger context. They seem strangely ancient and modern at the same time. They resonate with spiritual and traditional connotations as well as with Finland’s modern sustainable design.  

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Kamppi Chapel of Silence, Helsinki, Finland, 2012, designed by architects Mikko Summanen, Niko Sirola and Kimmo Lintula. The Kamppi Chapel is located on Narinkka Square. Regular church services are not being held in the chapel, though it is planned to hold regular moments of prayer in the future. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamppi_Chapel

Temppeliaukio Church, Helsinki, Finland, 1969, designed by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen. Temppeliaukio Church is a Lutheran church in the Töölö neighborhood of Helsinki. The interior was excavated and built directly out of solid rock and is bathed in natural light which enters through the skylight surrounding the center copper dome. The church is used frequently as a concert venue due to its excellent acoustics. The acoustic quality is created by the rough, virtually unworked rock surfaces. Also the church furnishings were designed by the architects. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temppeliaukio_Church

Anikó Ouweneel is a cultural historian and art curator living in the Netherlands. This year she curated Art Stations of the Cross Amsterdam together with Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker. For more see www.visiodivina.eu.

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ON THE WEBSITE   NEW ON THE WEBSITE   NEWS

1. CREATION GROUP SHOW LONDON, UK – 'Creation' is a group show by commission4mission artists at All Hallows by the Tower from Tuesday 15 to Saturday 26 October and Holy Trinity Sloane Square from Tuesday 29 October to Saturday 9 November 2019. The exhibitions can be viewed during the normal opening hours of the two churches. The title and theme for the exhibition can be understood in terms of emotions, ecology, personal, biblical etc. We have encouraged our artists to reflect broadly on the theme and 25 artists have responded with imagery that ranges from depictions of the Genesis Creation stories to Christ’s birth and our recreation through redemption, by way of flower studies, the creation of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance, and future creation using AI and genetic engineering. A mix of abstract and representational imagery has been created, utilising assemblage, ceramics, digital illustration, drawing, painting, puppetry and sculpture. The exhibition includes work by Hayley Bowen, Harvey Bradley, Irina Bradley, Lewis Braswell, Cathie Chappell, Valerie Dean, Jonathan Evens, Mary Flitcroft, Maurizio Galia, Michael Garaway, John Gentry, Laura Grenci, Barbara Harris, Deborah Harrison, David Hawkins, Alan Hitching, Anthony Hodgson, Jacek Kulikowski, Mark Lewis, David Millidge, Dorothy Morris, Jacqui Parkinson, Janet Roberts, and Henry Shelton.

2. LAUNCH BRUEGEL WEBSITE – The Flemish Art Collection has launched a new website dedicated entirely to the life and work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The website coincides with the 450th anniversary of the artist’s death on 9 September, and offers a complete overview of Bruegel’s oeuvre, with images, often able to be consulted at high resolution. In addition to an on-line collection portal, the website also contains a biography of Bruegel, thematic texts about his oeuvre, current press releases, reference literature and background information about the institutions that house his works. The Bruegel website can be accessed on bruegel.vlaamsekunstcollectie.be/en. Since 2010, the Flemish Art Collection has launched five ‘on-line museums’, each time around a specific, art-historical theme. The websites of the Flemish Primitives, Baroque in the Southern Netherlands, James Ensor, George Minne and Abstract Modernism have all enjoyed great success. The in-depth information in combination with the accessible texts further speaks to experts as well as to a broader public of interested persons.

3.  ARTIST RESIDENCY IN INDIA - 23 February – 7 March 2020, Art for Change, B 165 Chattarpur Enclave, PH II, New Delhi: 7th Art for Change International Artist Residency. The Art for Change International Artist Residency is an intense 2-week opportunity for seven international artists to create and learn alongside seven Indian artists in a collective exploration of a particular theme. The residency ends with a gallery exhibition of works produced. The 7th Annual Art for Change International Artist Residency 2020 will be held in New Delhi from February 23 to March 8, 2020 on the theme “What to do with Difference? - Art and Artist as Bridge.” About the Theme: Diversity is built into the design of things, difference contributes beauty and complexity to life.  Yet ethnicity, politics, religion, and culture increasingly are the cause of profound divisions in our world.  What do we do with the things that set us apart? The Art for Change International Residency will explore the reality, challenges, aesthetics, and possibilities of ‘difference,’ in the artist’s life and in a local context—with global implications.  How does art make sense of difference?  What divides and connects us as human beings? What is the potential for art and artist as bridge? International! Inter-cultural! Educational and challenging! Professional! Purposeful!  Collectively we ask: What does it mean to be an artist? What does it mean to be human? How can art shape society for the common good? For detailed information about Art for Change International Artist Residencies see https://artforchange.space/about-international-artist-residency

4. GUIDED TRIP ALONG SACRED SITES IN ITALY - 20 June – 29 June 2020, Barga, Florence, Bologna, Loreto: Sacred Sites. The Holy Land in the Heart of Italy. Christians have always felt deep reverence for the places where Jesus lived, died and rose. Medieval and Renaissance believers, for whom the Jerusalem pilgrimage was very difficult, focused their piety on reconstructions of Holy Land sites, and especially of the Lord’s Sepulchre, the mysterious origin of our Easter faith. Join Mons. Timothy Verdon, Alexei Lidov and Fr. Martin Shannon, in June 2020 for a week-long study trip and retreat exploring some of these sacred sites in Italy, offering an overview of this remarkable phenomenon. The visits to these holy places of pilgrimage will be accompanied by moments of shared reflection, prayer and discussion. The entire tour will be seasoned with the taste of Italian cuisine and highlighted by the beauty of the Italian countryside. https://mounttabor.it/events/sacred-sites-the-holy-land-in-the-heart-of-italy/

For more exhibitions, lectures, conferences etc. inside and outside your country, click here

ArtWay is a website with resources for congregations and individuals concerned about linking art and faith.

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Other recent meditations:
- November 2019: Murillo: The Birth of St. John the Baptist
- November 2019: Betye Saar: The Alpha & The Omega
- November 2019: Timothy Schmalz: Angels Unawares
- October 2019: Barnett Newman: Cathedra

For more Visual Meditations, see under Artists