Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Sagrada Familia, Stained Glass and Selfie Sticks

I am not a religious person, but still when I walk into a church I expect to feel a sense of reverence. Although architecturally fantastic, the atmosphere of the Sagrada Familia was, somehow, inexplicably dead. I couldn't feel the mystery that surely should be part of the religious experience. Everything was wonderfully and colourfully lit. Illuminated plastic looking transparent nodes on columns blinked down at me like compound insect eyes. There were organic flourishes and details and, looking skywards, the columns grew like a forest canopy. 

Perhaps it was the hordes of tourists (including myself) in the church and the din of the ongoing building works (the church will take another 40 years to complete) that had displaced any atmosphere of religious feeling. In fact a sign recommended worshipers go down to the  chapel in the crypt where they could pray in quiet and contemplation.

I sat down on one of the stone benches lining the edge of the church and instinctively began to take out of focus images of stained glass windows and became more and more carried away until I was in a kind of trance. I think I was trying to recreate the mystery that I felt was absent in the church but soon my pictures became more and more about integrating the tourists into the pictures.

I have been fascinated by tourists and their rituals for a while. The tourists were involved in a ritual of taking selfies, almost religiously. They were unified in a common gesture, not of hands held together in prayer, rather holding the arm gracefully curved and aloft, cupped around the phone or wrapped around the selfie stick. I felt like an atheist to their cause, not having a selfie stick to hand to give blessing to our visit so that we may be granted eternal virtual life through our uploaded images on our social media pages. As a  ritual, it is perhaps profane in its self worship, but nevertheless still a ritual which responds to the fragility of being a human with an expiry date.

I found this vista of the Sagrada Familia (see last photo) where building is still underway and cranes were sweeping through the sky to be the most arresting part of my visit. "Why shouldn't a crane be as uplifting spiritually as a church spire?" says Momus in a piece on the industrial area of Osaka docks in Japan. You can make the pilgrimage to see the cranes at The Sagrada Familia until the building work is finished in 40 years and have your spiritual cake, and eat it.

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