MODERN TEMPLES

Text HANS LYNGSGAARD


With the title Modern Temples, unfinished Greek houses and installations are grouped in the same family as temples of antiquity. One must ask if there is anything lofty about these simple concrete constructions, which often sit for years with rusty steel reinforcement sticking out, simply because leaving them unfinished brings tax benefits. Looking closer, however, connections emerge. Intuitively we perceive them but a rational understanding needs a few words along the way. So, I will try to provide some.

A temple is a structure in which religious ceremonies are performed; thus, a sacred place. The Latin templum means place where one observes signs. That is presumably something different from a dwelling for everyday living. In these photos, what is it that activates the link to ‘the sacred’? Do Mari’s photos contribute to elevating something from our everyday life? Or has it to do with shapes and location? Everyday life I will return to later. But I do believe that the buildings shown here have a number of features in common with the building of temples in antiquity. The temples of antiquity tried to reflect the harmony between the earthly and the celestial, between the square and the circle and often they reflected the human body and the golden ratio. Also modern religious building in Sweden is based on the same rules of proportion, for example the crematorium on Erik Gunnar Asplund’s Skovkirkegård close to Stockholm, 1915-1940, which to me is an exalted place.

Looking through the photos of the book, firstly one sees that the front of almost all the buildings is proportioned according to the square and the drawing of a circle. If the proportion was skewed I do not think the association with the temple would arise. Secondly, the location in the landscape is strikingly similar to antiquity’s search for divine places. The placing of the photographed buildings appears to grow out of this tradition. Some clarification might be needed.

In antiquity a temple’s location was never incidental. Some places in nature felt more forceful than others and especially nature’s over-or underground forces were of importance to the extrasensory ceremonies of a temple. This is something that we today are rediscovering. For landscapes can be read and we can train ourselves to feel whether a place is forceful or not. The forceful is often read as a pronounced tension – or polarity – between two complimentary elements, such as fire and water. It can for example be a striking hilltop or a ledge with a lake or fiord below. The rock formation soaring towards the sky (meteora in Greek) appears to grasp the fire of the sun, and the water seems to offer mother earth’s receiving waters. Such places in nature tend to draw us humans and become favoured spots for excursions. Such places where most of us would say: ‘How beautiful!’

The central point in a landscape polarity can be characterised as the heart. Here, many will experience harmony. Such polarity can be compared to the polarity of the body between the crown and the root, with the heart as the centre. In antiquity it was given different names but there is no doubt that especially the person whose role it was to observe signs could feel these fields of tension. Not only are temples erected on forceful places, they also have the exact right orientation. That could be in relation to certain sunrises, for sacred target points and so on. One example is The Oracle of Delphi, situated between the Gulf of Corinth and the mighty Mount Parnassus. Built facing south with its back towards the mountain, and in addition on a place where a spring had its source, it is a forceful heart place.

The villas in the photos appear to sit on lush mountain sides close to the sea. These places could therefore be congruent with the temples of antiquity. In other words, the proportions of the houses, their placing in the landscape and their orientation appear to be in accordance with the building of temples in antiquity. Therefore, the association with the building of temples is not so warped – quite the contrary.

Leading on from this one could ask if the villas of the photos could become temples. And in certain cases I actually believe that ordinary dwellings can become temples. As mentioned, the fundamental conditions are that they are situated in the right places with the right orientation and the correct form. But, in my opinion, one more condition must be met: it must be the setting of a conscious spiritual activity. Since many, by now, have moved their spiritual activity from established religious structures, for example churches, to a more exceptional place in their home, I believe there is ground to assign normal houses temple attributes.

The Greek house builders almost appear to have the building tradition of the temples in their blood – certainly the basic structure of the houses – but as they dress the structure with hollow blocks, plaster and romantic unhewn stones, the temple character disappears. The houses become everyday temples where everyday living is prioritised. It is as if a chance is being wasted. In my opinion we could do with a few boosts or quiet moments in our everyday living, where we are lifted by something larger than ourselves. And then we’ll have to find some way to relate to the sublime – in whichever way we understand it.

Maybe we should consciously put more thought into Modern Temples.

 

 

Translated from danish by Ulrich Hansen.

The book consists of 10 images.

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