Churches have been closely linked with art, even before the Renaissance, so it stands to reason they make excellent settings for contemporary art too. Certainly this is the case with the belfry of St. John on Bethnal Green — currently hosting a small immersive art installation, Tales from the Autumn House.
Piles of leaves and candles mark the way in, as visitors follow the trail upstairs to the entrance of the darkened belfry. The room itself is full of surreal autumnal imagery — trees appear to break out of the walls, keys hanging off the branches. Further exploration reveals tableaux on either side consisting of leaf litter, fruit and framed photographs.
A religious soundtrack mixes with that of the traffic outside. Crows caw and leaves crackle underfoot, further adding to the feeling of being in a forest not far from a main road. The low lighting and use of candles lends Tales from the Autumn House an eerie atmosphere, and we enjoyed experiencing it on our own — simply losing ourselves in this make-believe world.
There is a loose narrative to the exhibition, around unlocking the secrets of the season and nature. But only snippets are revealed through abstract texts; it never feels cohesive but this adds to the ethereal nature of the experience.
This collaboration between artists Renaud Haslan and Joanna Vale is a surreal multi-sensory experience, and the church belfry is the perfect setting for it.
Tales from the Autumn House is on at St. John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9PA until 2 October. Entrance is free.