B1: By Bjarni Sigurbjörnsson, english

The altar panels by Maja Siska belong to the more interesting works which deal with the tradition of ecclesiastical art and even a reference to the building history of Icelandic churches. The material the artist chooses to paint on is  about 100 years old corrugated metal panels which had been used as cladding on the Villingaholt church. These old protective sheets of the church in Villingaholt are now reinstated in the form of paintings. To take old material and give it a new life with reference to its origin and inherent value through its history is not a new approach for Maja. As an architect and a German  she has her roots in a cultural tradition which has created the German society  and culture since world war 2. She has often worked with ideas about the redefinition of buildings concerning their use and conceptual value. For example did she present such a project as her final thesis project at the Arizona State University, where she finished her Master´s in Architecture. Instead of allowing a proposed demolishing of an important building dating back to the Nazi regime because of its historical negative image, she proposed to allow the building to exist and to give people the possibility to come to terms with it and to see in it what they wish it to be. She wanted to give people the possibility to propose future use and reinstatement of this negatively judged building in order to give it a new life. This courageous approach to architecture by Maja proposes that the building is not just a mere structure but holds whatever meaning is given to it and by the context it is seen in.

By using old corrugated metal off an old church which was being thrown out as a basis for her altar panels, Maja states how much meaning, art and history is inherent in the material which clad this old church where people went through their religious life with all its happiness and sorrow. By putting this corrugated metal into a new context, into the context of art, the material becomes full of meaning where otherwise it would have been deemed unusable. It has become a new life, which not least builds on its history.

The form Maja Siska has chosen for her work is the traditional and tested triptych altar panel, one central panel with a panel on each side, which can be closed. This was a well known form f.ex. for smaller icons which in this way were less likely to become damaged in transport.

To name an example for a triptych altar panel which has become famous in history let us look at the altar panel by Matthias Gruenewald (about 1475 – 1528). Closed the altar piece shows the Crucifixion of Christ and is one of the most influential depiction of the crucifixion in history. When the triptych is opened a completely different picture is revealed: first shown on the left hand side is the Vocation of Mary, in the middle Mary with child and angels, and on the right the Ascension. In this picture it can be said that the triptych is used to create even more impact. This same method is used by Maja in a contemporary way in her altar pieces. When the panels are closed the picture is as history and time painted it without interference of the artist. Then, when the panels are opened, pictures are revealed which are painted in the context of the corrugated metal with modern materials which provide a new layer of meaning in colour, symbol and form. I think that with this work Maja Siska is making a very influential attempt at approaching ecclesiastical art with an open mind, without any pretentiousness and exaggeration.

December 2006

Bjarni Sigurbjörnsson, painter