The Side Chapel (I), 2020/21

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The Side Chapel

A Triptych – Horizontal in Strata and Sphere


Side Chapel I points upward, holding manifold light. Celestial winds, nebulae and mirage experiencing cosmic forces. Vapours and ethereal streams adorn the firmament, anchored only by vessel and urn.

Side Chapel II speaks of the earth, of rural customs and biblical visions. Mist and marble by rustic soil, presaging peasant and artisan.

Side Chapel III lies as chamber down below. Trophies glint with gold – fleeces promise hidden ceremonies. Clairvoyant and prophet foreseeing storms, through crystal and song.

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The chapels are entwined. Their rapport is triangular. Recalling the trinity, each inhabits a separate plane, yet holds elements of the others.

The word chapel derives from the Latin capella, the story of Saint Martin. Whilst still a soldier, Martin cut his cloak in half, giving part to a beggar. The other half remained on his shoulders, now a small cape. Though initially synonymous with Christian and Judaic places of worship, non-denominational chapels are now common. From the earliest times, chapels could be found on remote or secluded sites.

The first places of worship were not dedicated buildings but rather single chambers within a building, often just a room within a house, spheres of solitary prayer. Those chapels conceived as part of a church are holy areas set aside for a specific purpose; these subsidiaries are still in custom, dedicated either to patrons and saints, families and guilds or baptisms and funerals. Hosting only the occasional service, they are places of shade. When not decorated by a major artist, they afford, as ‘side-shows’, shelter to regional preferences in style and sentiment, arranging different schools and epochs side by side. In common with the theatrical qualities of the window dressing, their mise-en-scene is encountered frontally, composed of a central altar, with paintings above or besides, framed by tapestries, among other artifacts.

I draw on my geographies – central European, multi-textural – the regional tonalities of north and south of the Alps, amateurish and folkloric accents of land and sea. The language of display is painting-led, from the two-dimensional plane to the three-dimensional object. The density of smaller formats contrasts with larger canvases, whilst most images exist at the edge of an identifiable form. Paintings and drawings are displayed in proximity, their distinct sensibilities in ongoing negotiation. Intricate embroideries position themselves within the wider tradition of tapestry, offering motifs and patterns. The slowness of their making is vital. Above all, the autonomy of each work is embedded within the wider syntax of the ensemble.

It is the notion of a discrete spiritual ‘unit’ that attracts me to the chapel, proposing interiority and a different sense of time. Inherently domestic in scale, it provides shelter for silent reasoning – even as grand narratives fade, and the lines between private and public dissolve.


Claudia Sarnthein, London 2021