The St. Andrew’s Collegiate Chapel in University City has been shuttered for almost 20 years.
Built in the 1920s, the stone Gothic cathedral has carved angels suspended 50 feet above the nave, and dozens of painted panels in the ceiling depicting biblical scenes.
The light from arched windows streak across soaring empty space.
“It just blows you away,” said artist Aaron Asis. “Once you walk in there, you have to figure out a way to stay in there, and figure out a way to bring other people in there because it’s so breathtaking.”
Part of Asis’ art practice is to bring people into otherwise inaccessible spaces. Through the University City Arts League, the Brooklyn-based artist created an installation called “Ci-Lines” inside St. Andrew’s.
Visitors are invited to walk through that space and see 7,000 feet of elastic parachute cord threaded through the carved wooden spires along the edges of the nave, creating a giant, pale blue “cat’s cradle” suspended in the formerly sacred space.
“When you walk in the back door [the only way to enter the chapel], from that vantage point it’s two dimensional,” said Asis, pointing out that the rope forms a flattened diamond shape. Then your eye starts to follow the lines of rope.
“Once you enter into it, it has more of an overhead effect, and you start to explore what the strings are connected to. You’re exploring the church.”
The chapel is owned by the University of Pennsylvania, which has mothballed the space for lack of anything better to do with it. It is unheated, with no working plumbing and minimal maintenance.
Asis was originally going to make a rope suspension net at the nearby Penn Alexander School, with help from the fifth-grade class. When that idea fell through, he turned his attention to the empty chapel next door, which changed the meaning of the installation.
“It has to do with awareness, of being aware that there is more than meets the eye – especially in an urban context,” said Asis.