The Ghost Church
Nick Cave Revives An Abandoned Church For City-Wide Art Project
The Church of the Risen Christ quietly looms on the busy residential street is presides on. The church is old and grey, jaded and tired; it’s now just a shell of its former glory.
Inside, however, is a dazzling display of expression.
In 1872 Father William Dalton had a vision: a beautiful church, tall with pillars and intricate architecture to house his congregation.
He founded the Annunciation Parish and built a church for them, however after a catastrophic flood many parishioners lost their beloved church and their homes. Despite the tragedy, many remained resilient and continued worshiping in a tent.
Dalton envisioned replacing his first creation with his dream church that featured striking towers and terraces, however his “pay as you go” plan worked just enough to complete the simple church in 1924.
There were not enough funds to keep the church open, despite two other parishes consolidating with the Annunciation parish and in the 1990s it was closed. The pews were taken away for another parish, the decor was donated and the stained glass windows were removed.
Nick Cave, a Kansas city native, has used the skeletons of the building for his new meticulously thought-out art project: Hy-Dyve.
Cave has become a renowned artist over the past decade with his innovative work that utilizes sculpture, dance, video and architecture. His popularity has soared in the past two years due to his 2017 installation at Mass MoCA and 2018 installation at the First Art Museum in Nashville.
Cave had a vision for his new project, and the abandoned church was exactly what he needed.
The church is now completely empty. There are no pews, no priests and no prayers here.
Even the stained glass that was imported from Innsbruck, Austria is gone. The holes where it used to sit is covered by trash bags, refusing light to slip in.
In place of the altar and tabernacle stands a large wooden chair that peers over the display, emotionless. There are no signs to describe this strange scene, only a rope to tell visitors to tread no further.
The floors and walls, often the most neglected areas in churches, are where the magic is now.
“You almost get dizzy right when you walk in,” Cathy Eyre, a visitor of the exhibition said. “You have to brace your legs to carry you, even though you know it’s all video.”
A projection plays throughout the church as billowing winds sound, filling the room. Projectors shift shape Cave’s work to fit in different archways and crevices of the church’s interior one minute, and then spreading to fit the entire wall the next.
The projection shifted from a fiery scenery, to unrecognizable and confusing shapes, to Cave using one of his famous immersion suits. The chair is the only physical piece in the room: a tall and wooden, it feels as if it’s ominously watching visitors come and go from the building.
Eyre came to the exhibit with a childhood friend, Kim Taylor, who was a fan of Cave’s. The two heard about the exhibit after visiting another installation of Cave’s in Kansas City for the Open Spaces Project.
Open Spaces is a project in Kansas City where dozens of artists from all over the world come to display their work. The project has aimed for Kansas City to become a haven for art-lovers and an opportunity for others to become enthusiasts for free.
This year common themes that most artists seemed to focus on are race relations and the history of immigration in the US.
Some exhibits are in deserted areas like a deserted church and an out-of-order pool, while others are in elite hotels and local parks.
Megan Eisenhower decided to visit Cave’s exhibit with her husband Nathan after a neighbor gushed about it and brought Megan along. The couple are Kansas City natives and were excited to hear about the Open Spaces project.
Although there were several art displays around the city, the Eisenhowers found Cave’s the most impressionable.
“I’m just amazed how the video fits perfectly in every window,” Nathan said. “It’s so meticulous and cool.”
The couple even found Cave’s decision to use the church intriguing.
“I think it’s really awesome to use these deserted buildings being used for a different purpose,” Megan said. “A lot of different people can come out here and appreciate this church again.”
Cave’s fame and thought-provoking exhibit has brought fans from Kansas City itself like the Eisenhowers, but also attracted fans who visit from afar like Eyre and Taylor.
Eyre and Taylor were in town to meet up with a mutual friend and the two started their day at a hotel 21c. There, Taylor who was familiar with Cave’s work, was excited to learn that there was an entire church filled with one of his creations.
“I never imagined it as a space for video,” Taylor said. “And I can’t help but think about the design process…it’s amazing.”
Cave’s art is popular because his commentary on racial tensions in the US. He uses an image, very similar to the Jim Crow caricature in many of his sculptures and performances.
Cave’s exhibit in the church is considered one of the most provocative because the images are so evasive and hard to understand. The second you think you know what you’re looking at, the scene changes.
“I’m very familiar with his use of black face,” Taylor said. “In this case he used himself in one of his suits. What I’m particularly interested in his that chair.”
“It’s like a high chair,” Eyre said. “It’s just so big and striking cause there’s nothing else in there. I wonder what it means. I mean, he used the chair in his other exhibit at the hotel so, you gotta wonder.”
Even when alone in the exhibit, it’s difficult to not feel like someone is watching you. The tall high chair, whose presence is confusing, is strangely intimidating and omnipresent.
Many of Cave’s fans are not surprised that he could turn an old church, some projectors and a high chair to a piece of art that really makes visitors to think; he managed to transform the inside of a church to a whole different world.
“It’s absolutely innovative and impressive,” Taylor said. “I hope we see more from him.”