‘I’ve never really done a “normal” art exhibition in a normal space,’ says Australian artist Cj Hendry. ‘They’ve always been a little left of centre. But the thing that has changed is the concepts are getting bigger; I want to tell a bigger story, and I enjoy scale.’
Her debut London show, sombrely titled Epilogue, fits perfectly in this mould, taking over the cathedral-like interiors of the former Holy Trinity Church in Bethnal Green as the stage for her ten-day-long exhibition.
Now known as the New Testament Church of God, the Georgian structure was designed by architect G Austin in the 1830s when congregations were booming and churches plentiful; rivalled in the East End only by the number of pubs. But even among them, Holy Trinity stood head and shoulders above other houses of worship for its vast size. This factor likely hastened its demise and meant the building has been in varying states of disrepair over recent decades.
Epilogue has been three years in the making, paused temporarily by the pandemic and located in the UK by serendipity.
After initially exploring venue options stateside, Hendry was tipped off about the Bethnal Green church by a friend from her architecture school days.
‘They said, “A friend of mine has been working on this church in London, but they haven’t gotten very far as there’s not enough funding but they might be interested [in hosting your show].” It was really natural; one thing led to another.’
Hendry’s crew renovated the building’s roof, ensuring the ceilings were safe after many years of disuse and installing custom-made confetti machines to turn its interiors into a giant snow globe.
Ten tones of recyclable white petal confetti will cascade from the ceiling through the nave of the building, blanketing the interiors below.
‘Architecture and space really inform how people feel – I think this exhibition is so interesting because the space is so grand and so elegant, and it’s just so ephemeral,’ she says.
Epilogue comprises 30 small and medium artworks of flora, drawn by Hendry in her signature hyper-realistic style (they look more like studio photographs than sketches.) The collection is part two of a series of falling flower petals she completed in colour back in 2020.
‘These works are a bit more sad and eerie,’ she explains. ‘That’s what I needed at this stage. I wanted it to be very black and white and melancholy. The works have changed a lot and the petals falling from the ceiling inform that sense of decay and death’.
Hendry has mounted them above the altar, further highlighting the scale of the building. More importantly, it is also a reminder of how integral drawing is to her process.
‘I don’t have the words to use, but I guess it feels kind of fitting, ‘worshipping at the alter of the artworks’ and everything else,’ says Hendry. ‘The artworks are at the core of my practice; drawing is the core of my practice. The exhibition, and everything else around it, leads from the concept, so it’s at the altar of this one.’