By Guðrun Henrysdóttir
In 2014 Absalon Church situated in the district of Vesterbro in Copenhagen closed after almost a century of service. Shortly after businessman and founder of Tiger, Lennart Lajboschitz, bought the church and made it a culture house or as it is called in Danish, “folkehus”. As such, Absalon intends to function as “the extension of your own living-room”, with daily communal dining, baby-yoga and swing dance, to name a few of the scheduled activities (www.absaloncph.dk). A considerable deviation to the traditional use of a church, I would argue. But how so?
Inspired by Martin Radermacher’s study of agency of space in religious practise, he finds that religious and secular spaces are becoming increasingly difficult to separate. He draws on the notion that space has agency in the interplay of materialisation of ideas. Firstly, ideologies and imaginations are reproduced through built environment and secondly, material space facilitates and restricts certain movements of the body. How can the re-conceptualisation of the religious space of Absalon church be perceived by the senses, taking into account the ideologies of the built environment of the church?
Having gone to church for most of my life – not that it is a prerequisite for my following assumption on what constitutes a church – when entering a church I expect to see a cross at the centre of the altar, I expect a pipe organ, and I expect to sit on a padded bench facing the alter depicting Christ. Then, shortly after the chiming of the church bells calling for service I expect the priest to take his or her position and begin the service. At Absalon this was remotely the case. Firstly, the ‘standard’ interior associated with Christian churches had been removed from the space and there was no priest. This absents of religious elements of course had to do with Absalon not functioning as a church in the sense of a space of religious practise. Rather, the space I entered was completely refurbished into a colourful, playful area. Secondly, the slightly elevated area where the altar originally was placed was replaced with sofas and coffee tables and that changed the dynamic of the space entirely. In addition, I found it peculiar to take the position previously reserved for the priest and view the space from a different perspective. What I experienced at Absalon was a disturbance of my imaginings of behaviour and expectations.
The disturbance of my sensory expectation has to do with the exterior of the building. From the outside Absalon looks like a church (the prominent signifier being church bells) and thus my sensory perceptions were disturbed as well as my expectations of behaviour disoriented when I entered the church. As such, the agency of space can be understood as significant to social understanding and behaviour. On the one hand, in the case of Absalon the agency of space has changed because the idea of the space has changed, consequently de-territorialising the religious space of the church. On the other hand, from the outside Absalon is still a church building and thus the division of the religious and the secular becomes blurred. Consequently, Absalon contributes to the dedifferentiation of space.
Radermacher, Martin (2016) Space, Religion, and Bodies: Aspects of Concrete Emplacements of Religious Practice. Journal of Religion in Europe, Volume 9, Issue 4, pages 304 – 323.