Longing for an image (Het verlangen naar een beeld)

With Sander Breure, Seán Hannan, Joppe van Hulzen, Mees van Hulzen, Witte van Hulzen

Curated by Julia Geerlings

21 March – 20 April 2014

Opening 21 March 2014 19.00 – 21.00
During the opening: Preaching to the choir
A performance by Seán Hannan in collaboration with Sander Breure.

On 23 March, 30 March and 6 April: visitors are invited to partake in the exhibition by making a clay sculpture in the image of Calvin

Exhibition open on Sunday’s after service or by appointment

Thomaskerk Amsterdam
Prinses Irenestraat 36

“We have found more than often; that through a horrible absurdity, that formerly led to the destruction of the entire godliness that has previously taken possession of the world, that as soon as sculptures are placed in the churches, it immediately becomes an omen for idolatry” – John Calvin

Nowhere else did French-born John Calvin (1509-1564) gain as much following as in the Netherlands, which has long been known to be a ‘Calvinist country’. It is said that the Dutch have him to thank for their sober mentality and strict set of ethics. Calvin is known for the important role his theology played in the Dutch Iconoclasm of 1566. According to Calvin the placement of imagery in churches would cause people to be led astray from their relationship with God and would lead directly to the practice of idolatry. In a revolt by the Dutch reformists all statues were either destroyed or removed from many houses of worship. The silent witnesses to these events are the empty niches of the churches.

Dutch/Irish artist Seán Hannan (1986) used to live together with his friends Joppe van Hulzen and Mees van Hulzen on the ‘Johannes Calvijnlaan’ in Amstelveen. In concurrence with their shared address they started making clay sculptures in the image of Calvin, after whom their street was named. It became a long tradition in which more and more friends where invited to produce their own sculptures, contributing to the growing collection of small clay statues known as ‘Calvijntjes’. Amongst them were Sander Breure and Witte van Hulzen, who will also make their contribution to the project. As a result a rapidly expanding installation of ‘Calvijntjes’ spread like wildfire throughout their entire house.

Het verlangen naar een beeld (Longing For An Image) brings this concept to the Thomaskerk in a participatory project that flirts with idolatry. By inviting participants to partake in workshops, this tradition lives on and gathers new meaning as it fills the Protestant place of worship with ‘Calvijntjes’. Whimsically perpetrating a reversed iconoclastic act, a spreading installation of statues in the likeness of Calvin himself instead of the ‘more traditional’ Catholic statues of saints will be brought into the church.

Are the Calvinist notions on art still noticeable in the Netherlands today? Are we still, through mentality, ideology and politics, striving to remove art from our public spheres in exchange for sobriety, unobstructed performance and strict work ethics? Questioning the influence of John Calvin on the treatment of art in contemporary Dutch society, Het verlangen naar een beeld aims to address that which unifies and binds us. Uniform yet diverse, the same image is morphed and reworked in clay, representing a necessity for expression through imagery, holy or not.

Though a deviant in Seán Hannan’s broader practice, ‘Het verlangen naar een beeld’ feeds on his fascinations for the common grounds in belief, group identity and group influence, working together with his close friends, the church community, fellow colleagues and welcome strangers to realise the project.

‘Het verlangen naar een beeld’ is the second exhibition by the Thomas Open art committee and curator Julia Geerlings that explores ways of placing art back into the Protestant church. In line with the notions of context responsive curating, art and church are brought into dialogue with each other. The next exhibitions will also respond to the context and the brutalist architecture of the Thomaskerk and will emphasize on the role art plays in churches and in society.