St. Cornelius is a neo-gothic Catholic church in the center of Dülken, a district of Viersen, a small city of about 75,000 residents in North Rhine Westphalia, Germany. The church, built in 1871 is based on the design of architect Heinrich Wiethase and is one of the few churches in the Lower Rhine region with five naves.
Above the North entrance of the church sits a statue of Mary with child, buttressed by angels and ornaments. Blocking access to the entrance and statue, you are confronted with a construction site, surrounded by movable fencing and red and white striped safety signs. Tools and building materials lay around the area, but the central element is a heap of small Jesus figures, identical castings of the child in Mary’s arms. At first glance this appears to be an ordinary construction site, but taking a closer look, examining Mary's gaze and the cluster of Jesus figures on the ground, this explanation becomes clearly insufficient. The discovered situation appears perplexing and mysterious, existing somewhere between a miscalculated restoration attempt and a biblical miracle of sorts. It is this moment of wondering that allows the opportunity to see this church and its art in different and contemporary context.
In Germany, the Catholic community is confronted with shrinking numbers of congregants. Consequently, within this contemporary context, church buildings often lose their original purpose. Due to their central location in a town or village and their impressiveness as a landmark, instead of their traditional function as a place of worship, they increasingly fulfill a role in the town’s promotion and marketing. These architecturally and historical interesting structures become a part of the atmospheric background for a shopping afternoon, a piece of stage scenery with a reproducible image allowing for high recognition value from the public.
Bringing to mind souvenir shops at places of pilgrimage, where mass-produced devotional objects are offered, the castings of Jesus figures in The Jesus Construction Site investigate the contemporary situation of churchly art, touching on the age old theological question of whether humans should be allowed to reproduce images of gods or saints.
This temporary project was a part of the larger project “Blickwechsel” in 2010, organized by the Kultursekretariat Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany.
photography: Garvin Dickhof, Carsten Gliese, Helmut Dick