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Tony Phillips: 20th Century Chapel

The ‘20th Century Chapel’ is a collection of murals which tell story of the last 120 years. A site specific installation, the work juxtaposes the technological progress of the 20th century with its concurrent social catastrophes. Objects of human invention adopt a divine status, while the decades are chronicled in sequence as if verses of a religious narrative - begging the question, what lessons are to be learnt from humanity’s recent past, and are they applicable within the post-industrial, commercially driven world of today.


The Chapel is presented as if a relic of human civilisation, and by decontextualising everyday objects such as washing machines and televisions, we are afforded a sense of detachment and in turn an objectivity about ourselves.


Electricity pylons become wardens of enigmatic and ethereal objects (hairdryers, WiFi, and brands), while the gas pump becomes a kind of transcendent, life-giving fountain.


The Chapel is the centrepiece of ‘Above Us Only Sky?’, an art trail comprising hand-painted panels displayed on buildings between the Bluecoat and the Bombed Out Church.


The chapel is now available for viewing during open days. A £2 donation is requested on entry to continue the upkeep of the building and fund future arts, cultural and community projects.


'The idea started with the installation of ‘Temple to the Sacred Automobile’ in 2010, which was a comment upon how modern society has become dependent upon the motor car, which in turn has become an object of adoration.

In 2019 I discussed the idea of turning the whole space into an artwork dedicated to Man's endeavours over the past 120 years – extending the comment beyond the motor car to include all inventions, political ideals and cultural phenomena – in short, the idea of human 'progress'. 


A church partly ruined by aerial bombardment in WWII became a significant site for making a comment on the tragedy of progress in the modern age. Moreover, the tradition of art decorating places of worship allowed me to pursue an art form – fresco wall-painting – which was the ideal format for illustrating the history of the last 120 years, converting the mural painting into a collection of sacred narratives and icons which ironically celebrate human achievements as diverse as Coca Cola and the atom bomb.


This converting of our recent history into something that - like the church – is a remnant of a 'bygone civilisation', helps us to get an objective idea of who we are as a species – detached as it were from the remarkable phenomena of the 20th century. At the heart of this story is the dichotomy between the achievement of flight (1903) and the destructive power of airborne warfare, evinced so clearly by the ruins of St Luke’s.


This prompted me to create a trail of images (painted plaques) through the streets of Liverpool which charts the history of aircraft, from the first powered flight to drones today. 


This Art Trail starts at the Bluecoat and leads up Bold street to St Luke's – at which point it is represented by a plaque of WWII bombers. It continues back to the Bluecoat via the Ropewalks area.  


Thus, an important Liverpool art institution and an important memorial building and community venue are linked in one Art Trail, in which St Luke's itself becomes the living testimony of the story told in the plaques.

I wish to thank all those who have supported the project at St Luke's from 2010: Arts Council England, the Bluecoat, Liverpool BID Company, Frenson Ltd, Duggan & Parr, and St Luke’s Bombed Out Church.

Tony Phillips'

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