“It’s about human intention.” Mary Griep, professor Emerita of Art and Art History at St. Olaf College described her Anastylosis Project as such when asked to do so in one sentence at her artist talk. The series of large-scale mixed media drawings of 12th-century sacred spaces has taken the artist all over the world in search of buildings to portray. It is this respect of man-made space and all that can be missed under the passive gaze inflicted by centuries of people that provoked the artist to embark on this journey through time and space.
Griep’s vision, as she explained to the mix of art majors, community members and interested students that showed up this past Thursday, began to take shape during her visits to France and Italy where she was inspired by the Gothic architecture of their world-renowned cathedrals. The light, shadows, nooks and crannies of the cavernous spaces sparked her curiosity and she began to draw them in order to discover them more fully and encapsulate the experience of a cathedral. These few drawings soon became hundreds and eventually expanded to 12th-century mosques in Turkey and ancient temples in Thailand, initiating the Anastylosis Project.
Griep’s process for getting to the final product of a finished drawing, often made up of many smaller drawings, begins with extensive research on buildings that could expand the overall project well and take her to a part of the world that interests her. She spends at least one to two years at the site itself, sketching and committing the layout to paper and photographs, as well as interviewing local experts. She envisions the original structure, the changes that were made due to political and cultural agencies at play throughout its lifetime and the potential future of the building, transferring the structures into her almost dreamlike images.
Walking through the exhibit myself, which can be found in the farthest room of the Wriston Gallery, I was taken on a similar surreal journey. While the works are mostly structured like an architecture’s blueprints and floorplans drawn exactly to scale, Griep takes their details to another level of vibrancy. Each tile and block is intricately designed to represent the time, place and the intention of those who built it. The colors cause the buildings to practically jump off the walls, calling to the viewer and inviting us to get lost in their complexity and abstraction. It is almost as if she has taken each building and unfolded it on the wall for us to view, allowing us to discover not only the physical structure, but the experiences, transformations and meanings they have generated.
Seeing the drawings for the first time, I couldn’t help marvel at the work of each architect who created their personal image of sacredness in physical form and how similarly their visions were presented. I understand more fully now Griep’s wish stated towards the end of her talk, “I hope when all the drawings are displayed together, they talk amongst themselves.” They will certainly have similar stories to tell.