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Conversation with photographer Matthias Schaller - Purple Desk

21_17-48-2-2 Text by Kay Roberts -

Opening tomorrow evening, Thursday 19th November

PURPLE DESK is a 30 part work, a series of 30 photographs, the offices of the cardinals in the Roman Curia, the Vatican City. Matthias Schaller was given access to these rooms, making portraits of place, but without the presence of each cardinal. The series was realised between 2004 and 2008 and is now a book published by Editions Steidl, this will be shown at the chapel, along with 2 other books by the artist published by Steidl. On Thursday at 16h there will be a book signing of PURPLE DESK at Paris Photo, just a few minutes from Église Saint-Roche, where the installation is shown.

Any installation is site specific, a synergy of work and space, relating to its immediate particular environment;  here PURPLE DESK reveals itself from the moment the church is entered, the perspective down the nave gives, in several positions, glimpses of the installation, which is placed in the chapel behind the altar. There, in the back chapel, a constructed 12m x 14m purple painted wall has the photographic series, 5 across by 6 down, hung 3m above floor level, echoing the placement of paintings in the church, visible but not really viewable in detail. Behind the scaffolding of the wall is a statue of Christ on the cross. From the church nave the cross on the alter matches Christ's position exactly. Nothing in this installation is by chance.

There is the necessary physical presence of the viewer, the conceptual basis of the artist. Matthias Schaller studied anthropology: 'the study of human beings, their origins, institutions and religious beliefs'. Religion is in question, based on the unseen, it's saints and even Christ without an actual face ever portrayed. Schaller had seen the small medieval painting of St Jerome in his Study by Antonello da Messina and this is an important reference in PURPLE DESK, a visual model. St Jerome sits in his purple cardinal's robe, calmly reading, framed by his books, one of his attributes. Every object a symbol - there is a peacock for spiritual renaissance, resurrection.

In the photographs in the Vatican, Schaller styled the offices of the cardinals, carefully clothing them in pertinent objects, the desks have a front profile echoing an alter, the uniform lighting giving a feeling of artificial reality, rather like a set, these are not documentary photographs. The size of the photographs, although not exactly the same as the painting, are similar. The purple painted wall is of specific colour, although the cardinals have several hues of that colour, which denotes power in the Catholic church.

The details of each office can be seen in the edition, the installation must be experienced in the church. Here is a unique chance to see how Matthias Schaller's series PURPLE DESK works in situ, a place the artist feels is perfect for the work, along with the reproductions of each of the 30 beautiful, meticulous photographs in the book produced by the Editions Steidl.

Église Saint-Roch at 296, rue Saint-Honoré, 75001

Metro: Pyramides, Tulieres

20 to 26 November, viewing times 10-18h.

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