|Senanque Abbey: Inside Out|
The Patina of Devotion
Devotion can often produce miraculous results; especially when it is applied over time to objects in the physical world. For instance, take this week’s New Arrival – a photograph of Senanque Abbey in Provence, France. It is part of the exhibition, Architecture Inside Out, opening tonight at PRIMITIVE and running through January 8, 2018. Founded in 1148 by members of the Cistercian order of Monks and Nuns, the Abbey thrived as residents operated mills, grew lavender, developed the surrounding land, and, of course, prayed. All things considered, life at Senanque was austere and simple, right up to the early 16th century. That’s when the pendulum of human behavior swung the other way. The French Wars of Religion took place. It spilled over into political conflicts between surrounding states. Fire compromised the Abbey and it was ransacked. By the time the French Revolution came around, only one monk remained. The government expelled him and nationalized the property. Maybe they thought it was too much work for one man; except they turned around and sold it to a private individual. All the while, the Abbey’s bricks, mortar, columns, fields and atmosphere remained infused with devotion. When it once again became a sanctuary in the mid-1800s, the devotion inherent in Senanque became evident for all who cared to look.
Now, take a look at this photograph of Senanque by Tom Rossiter. Like other images in the exhibition, it presents a comprehensive view of one of the world’s great buildings; in this case a classic example of Romanesque architecture. Upon closer examination, you can see into the Church, its monumental wooden cross illuminated by light streaming in from the windows on the other side. This is a no frills structure; the opposite of the Paris Opera House, another work in the exhibition. The occupants here cherish something else. The perfect rows of lavender plants adjacent to the Abbey aren’t as vibrant as years past, but they still retain their color. They seem to tint the patina of the photograph. Breathe deep and you can imagine their scent. This part of the picture was shot at dusk as the plants were about to rest. To the right one can see the paired inner columns of the cloisters, the covered walk surrounding the interior courtyard. Normally hidden from sight, it is actually in the interior on the other side of the building. Everywhere you look simplicity reigns, even the sky. There are no clouds, stars, or sun; just the pure light of dawn, the time this part of the picture was taken. This photograph is more than an innovative, artistic exercise. Its composition and individual elements take us on an austere journey, finally exposing the net effects of devotion revealed inside out.
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“Cultural objects tell stories; and in each story a simple message is found—all cultures are the same, we just express ourselves differently”–GLEN JOFFE, OWNER