Reredos is a project by Brazilian artist Ivana Panizzi, installed on the altar of Trinity Chapel, Trinity College, Dublin.
Although the installation’s structure is very simple (thanks to the use of common objects – bottles), Reredos is an artwork that rewards further thought. The stacks of bottles are shaped into a cathedral, but each bottle serves as a metaphor of the human body and its role as a container. And glass is a symbol for human fragility and vulnerability. The particular arrangement heightens the sense of endangerment. Take off one bottle and the sculpture will collapse.
Inside each bottle is a picture portraying either, on the one hand, saints and angels or, on the other, ‘common people’. While the former pictures are coloured, the latter, contained in the two towers at both sides of the bottle ‘cathedral’, are black-and-white. Perhaps the message is that common lives may be unobserved but they are not that distant from the lives of saints, whose pictures are held in the same everyday objects; sanctity is not as unreachable as one may think.
Panizzi took the pictures with the idea of ‘capturing the human soul’, as an old superstition has it. It was thus not by chance that her installation took place on the night between the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. 1 But Reredos is not narrowly religious, as Yvonne Scott, director of the newly established Irish Art Research Centre, pointed out during her introduction to the artwork. 2 Panizzi’s output crosses boundaries of nationality, class and religion, though this is the first time Panizzi’s work has been shown in a specifically religious setting. A work similar to Reredos is at the moment in Unisa, the University of South of Africa.
Scott stretches a point in comparing Panizzi’s project with the way Michaelangelo painted the Sistine ceiling. Clearly, the media are different, but the desire to shock is the same. Panizzi took all the bottles for her sculpture from a popular Dublin bistro, Nude. This was not a casual choice; it reflected both a desire to recycle common objects, and a historical link to the ‘found object’ or readymade of the likes of Picasso and Duchamp.
In short, these were simple ideas and objects put to ‘noble’ purpose. Behind the stacks of bottles hung a white sheet. Perhaps the intention was to refer to the marital bed, or to the shroud of a deposition, but the sheet did jar uncomfortably.
Postscript : What now remains of Panizzi’s bottle sculpture are the two black-and-white columns, still standing at both the sides of Trinity Chapel altar. The metaphor is effective. The angels and saints have left, and the ‘common people’ have now the duty to take care of the Church, meant as community. The fragility of the columns gains in significance.
Ivana Panizzi:Reredos, Trinity College Chapel, Dublin, 31 October – 9 November 2003
1 Installing Reredos in the Trinity Chapel was not the idea of the artist herself; it came from Rev. Allan McCormack.
2 Opening speech