The transition to a new age requires a change in our perception and conception of space-time, the inhabiting of places, and of containers, or envelopes of identity. It assumes and entails an evolution or a transformation of forms, of the relations of matter and form and of the interval between: the trilogy of the constitution of place.
Defining architecture as one of the most important forms of contemporary interhuman and interdisciplinary communication, the exhibition “Architectures: Meta-structures of Humanity, Morphic Strategies of Exposureˮ in the Polish Pavilion of the 9th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice focuses on presenting a multi-layered polyphonic structure based on the dynamic confrontation of the visual arts and architecture with science (biology), philosophy (ethics) and the practice of everyday life (functionality). The METAMORPH in the general title of this year’s edition of this exhibition – in itself an active process, a proliferation – is understood first and foremost as a reflection on the theme of the identity changes brought on by cultural, social and, in the global sense, civilizational transformations.
In this interpretative territory of identity, architecture (or rather: architectures…) is perceived as a conglomeration of meta-structures of human activity and morphic strategies of exposure. Being challenged and challenging a variety of disciplines, architecture experiences a vertigo of its selves: it mutates and proliferates into a collection of architectures, self-reflecting coherent entities – powerful little narratives – that, as complex microcosms of their own sort, construct potential frameworks for the growing multiplicity of human tasks and obligations. As both vehicle and habitat of identity, it distributes itself through the variety of human activities, always delivering a reliable scaffolding for a construction site of contemporary multiply subjectivity.
Once an important tool for a critique of modernity, architecture constitutes principal conceptual and formal vocabularies of contemporaneity, providing firm foundations for a discourse on plurality and diversity. Functioning as the main source of communicational devices necessary in a process of approaching the complexity of contemporary notions of space and time, more than ever now, architecture defines humanity’s condition and reflect ever changing perceptions of space-time. Its structures as self-reflecting territories of form and function become the meta-structures in approaching the core of human needs and desires, shiny mirrors of the most important urgencies as faced by the world conditioned by space and thus obsessed by the spatial research.
In such a frame, architecture is perceived as a dominant agency for the morphic strategies of exposure, that evolve in a frantic choreography of their limitless mutations. It acts as a membrane which communicates, by both connecting and disrupting the layers of exteriority and interiority, and it serves as a platform where the subject enters into an encounter with the other and the world as immersed in the mental and physical dimensions of space. It is a process in itself, continuous in its nature; a never-ending performance, dynamic oscillation of appearing and vanishing, a stage where all essential dichotomies are being intensified in the post-paranoid times of contemporary society characterised by control, surveillance and an all-encompassing spectacle combined with reality show.
Mapping heterogenous trajectories of mind and bodily sensations, the exhibition concept links the space-time variables:
Constructed out of a desire to emphasise performative and existential qualities of architecture, the exhibition consists of a narrative built of a set of interconnected layers that refer to the diversity of applied medium, confronted and architecturally challenged disciplines, considered time dimensions of universal and a concrete point of reference, as well as a generational approach and complex national “belonging”. It includes architectural and artistic installations, a presentation of architectural projects together with architectural and conceptual interventions.
Installation Delay(er)ing Façade by a team of video and installation artist, Dominik Lejman and architect and theoretician of architecture, Jacek Dominiczak opens up an exhibition’s structure by being based upon playful interaction with the viewer entering (and encountering) the architecture of the Polish Pavilion, right at the moment of crossing the threshold, while confronting the façade of the building and distributing the economy of attention. At its point of departure, this project as primarily inspired by the philosophical thought of Emmanuel Levinas (as elaborated in his seminal work, Totality and Infinity) and Dominiczak’s own articulation of the notion of “dialogical architecture” aims at depicting the ontology of an encounter with the architecture of the Other: in this site-specific installation the architecture of the interior of the Polish Pavilion encounters the architecture of the interior of a city, Venice. These two interiors are connected by and actively engaged in an architectural dialogue placing a particular emphasis on the very space of this encounter, a façade which acts as both the skin of the building and the skin of the city; a primary screen on which the city and the building appear. Dominiczak and Lejman’s installation applies a particular surgery to the body of the façade: it slices it by multiplying it into a number of layers and thus turning it into a maze-like environment which resembles a quasi-experimental manipulated space resembling Alice’s adventures in the Wonderland. A space comprising a multi-layered façade becomes the zone of metamorphosis where a dialogue arises from a particular architectural expression. The act of thickening a façade and proliferating its surface is complemented by a unique version of contemporary (video) frescos as applied on the screens of the façade, which are turned into a vast surface of video projection registering an image of a viewer while entering and wandering through the façade’s layers. These are consequently played out with a computer-elaborated delay enabling the viewer to be confronted with his/her own reflection. The perception of space as well as of time is radically altered, acting out the tensions between the inside and the outside, the flat and the thick, the surface and the depth, and eventually the hidden and the exposed…
According to Dominiczak and Lejman, the main aim of this project is to create an architectural paradox which makes a reference to Levinas’ categories of exteriority and interiority. Crossing through the multi-layered façade becomes an act of transgression – a path leading from ethics (exteriority as a space of encounter which is regulated by ethics) to freedom (interiority as a space solitude and freedom – and a liberation from ethics as well). The viewer through a truly Kafkaesque act of appropriating his/her image in a sequence of delayed projections in the walls’ corners, spaces in-between the layers and gaps with voyeuristic pin-holes gets engaged in a process of co-creating the façade and thus so specifically welcomed in the very building of the Polish Pavilion. The process of entering the façade occurs simultaneously with the bewildering and uncanny act of invading the intimacy of a person who enters and is willing to participate. Here the critique of a society imprisoned in a reflection of its own image through the obsessive systems of surveillance cameras as the only credible proof of the security system is combined with the hidden desires of narcissistic nature where the politics of gazing and peering takes on a major role in the interpersonal economy of seduction. While exploring the complexity of space in her seemingly innocent journey, Carroll’s Alice becomes the victim of space and executor. Kafka’s Gregor of The Metamorphosis, being subjected to an anonymous power of deteritorialization, undergoes his unexpected transformation, where human autonomy is questioned and suspended. These two experiences seem to be combined in Lejman and Dominiczak’s project where the contemporary sensitivity and perception of space and time are challenged through entering the philosophical and ethical framework.
In its investigation of the constantly anonymous and intriguing area of the in-between, Delay(er)ing Façade becomes a prime example of an architecture of the outside: a true space of becoming which is a locus of social, cultural and natural transformations (Elizabeth Grosz). As such, it marks the edges of identity’s limits in its harmonious mixture of spatial minimalism and excess.
On its conceptual level, it constitutes a very direct reaction to the thesis of the main curator of the 9th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice, Kurt W. Forster who, in his statement, emphasizes the “evolution of architecture from its post-war identity to its current and future potentialˮ. According to Jacek Dominiczak, Delay(er)ing Façade is generated by the authors’ belief that we are witnessing architecture’s transformation from the existential paradigm to one of dialogue. In Dominiczak’s theoretical writings, this existential modernism appears as the very result of the “post-war identityˮ. At the foundation of this installation project lies the hypothesis that the aforementioned transformation does not lead towards replacing philosophy by technology but rather announces a significant shift towards “another philosophyˮ driven by a curiosity in difference and otherness, and consequently turns to “dialogical modernism”. Lejman and Dominiczak’s project aims at continuing even further the declarations of Forster, who writes: “… where membranes form a building envelope, light, atmosphere and technology transform its presence and enliven its visual impact”. It is not only about transforming the physical “building envelope” with the aid of light, atmosphere and technology, but also about itself, by its structure, co-creating such a transformation. The installation project attempts to show in what way a building’s physical presence participates in the act of transformation. According to Dominiczak, in order to achieve such physicality, one has to take on a journey which leads from the poetics of modernist illusion (as an expression of “post-war identity”) towards the poetics of reality in modernism.
Such a process – with its subsequent “membranes” – is actually being carried out by the following projects that feature in the exhibition, including the installation by Zbigniew Oksiuta which complements the mental and physical experience of “passing through” (Delay(er)ing Façade) with the experience of “being inside”, participating and dwelling within a specific concrete physical environment; apparently the only alternative awaiting us in the forthcoming age. Oksiuta’s Spatium Gelatum (i.e. congealed space) is the author’s unique version of the habitat of the future. Rendered at the crossroads of architecture, arts and biological sciences, as a result of intense collaboration of the studios of chemical industry and scientific institutes and inspired by historical and etymological studies that include legends, fairy-tales, as well as fantastic projects and utopian visions (among them molecular phenomena occurring in everyday life cooking), this exhibit examines dynamic systems that transfer information and energy through a liquid medium.
As developed over the years, Spatium Gelatum at the current stage concentrates on researching new methods of creating polymorphous, multiple forms and dynamic spaces with the main focus on physical phenomena in liquids; particularly the surface tension of liquids and the transformation from liquid to solid states. The creation of spatial forms under water in a state of relative weightlessness, the use of biological polymers as a material and the generation of forms as dynamic pneumatic creations are the basic principals at the foundations of innovative architectural and scientific pursuit by Zbigniew Oksiuta. In order to visualise his studies of Spatium Gelatum, this designer plans to transform the central part of the Polish Pavilion into laboratory space. The congealed polymeric object of amorphous form as a transparent membrane will float on the surface of the swimming pool-like lake filled up by the liquid glycerine, inviting the viewer to enter its habitat interior with the aid of a pneumatic lifting device. Such liquid technology, Spatium Gelatum which combines both virtual methods of generating forms and biological morphogenesis, is, according to Oksiuta, a very significant step towards the future, opening up new horizons for the creation of human habitat by putting an intense emphasis on a research of biological space, methods of epigenetic development of living organisms, as well as physiology of movement and exchange of energy and information. The author (researcher) sets up a very ambitious task: “my preoccupation is to map a place of the individual in the scale of a universe”. To achieve this, Oksiuta concentrates on reducing his research of space to the very necessary minimum: to the physical existence based primarily upon the verifiable physical and chemical parameters, putting aside historical, social, urban-planning and aesthetic factors. “Our age is the age of biology, and the future will be shaped by biological space” – the author adds. As an architectural project and scientific research, Spatium Gelatum exemplifies an unavoidable fusion of architecture, art and science, where architect, artist and scientist are partners in developing a universal code and scale according to the technology which unites materials, technique and form. Inspired by such unquestionable masters of amorphic structures as Buckminster Fuller and Frei Otto, Zbigniew Oksiuta consequently revitalises the legacy of the experimental architecture of the 1960s and ‘70s and unfolds his only apparent utopian vision of the future habitat going much beyond the horizon of both the always nostalgic world of fantasy and a current trend in architecture which so desperately seeks a possibility to realize the forms generated in virtual space. Conquering the virtual, Spatium Gelatum generates an environment which redefines elemental desires in the field where science conspires with art on the way to achieve a structure of ambiance and homely materiality.
Another economy of vision and another study of production have been undertaken in the second layer of the exhibition which focuses on the projects of younger architectural offices, nsMoonStudio and Coqui Malachowska-Coqui and Jürgen Mayer H.
For nMoonStudio (Agnieszka Szultk and Piotr Nawara), architecture constitutes an act of constructing and building one’s dreams but at the same time, as a specific state of consciousness, it is based upon a network of concepts comprising systems of signs and cultural values, mental icons and metaphors from the history of civilisation. As such, it is driven by the logic of both the dreams and the cultural transmission and results in constructions that exemplify the spectacular conspiracy of reason and fantasy. Design of an exhibition to Krzysztof Penderecki’s musical score drafts (“Itinerariumˮ, Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Contemporary Art, Krakow) was born out of the desire to create an environment composed of the polymorphous tissue of contemporary music. Here the transparent world of music corresponds with the labyrinthine sterile structure implemented as a new skin into an existing gallery’s space. The architects emphasise the coherence of the subject-matter and the spacious solution: “the transparency of the glass frames of the scores adds to the matt, white and blue surfaces the hardness of sound and a repercussion of sonority. The world of music is freed from the laws of gravity and space is freed from the perpendicular and the horizontal”. Challenging the traditional space of a minimalist interior, rendered on the promising threshold of a pop-like ambient and spiritual environment, it is a truly seductive and ambiguous site where the usual potential of perception is exposed to the vertigo of senses and stylistic references. The profound research of factors, such as time and light, as well as sound and material led towards what appeared to be the stylistically contrasted projects, Shingle House (Multiple Family Residential Building, 2002, Krakow) and COM 40 (Office Building, 2003, Nowe Skalmierzyce) where the radicalism of form is smoothed by the lightness and transparency of materials and spatial strategies.
The intimacy of a homely environment and sterility of an office building are complemented by the openness and transparency of Park and Pavilion of Culture Theatre Island Gubin (expected date of realisation 2005/2006), conceived as a collaboration between the Warsaw/Berlin based office of landscape architects, Coqui Malachowska -Coqui and Berlin based architect, Jürgen Mayer H.– a true example of architecture performing as a communication platform in a town whose historical identity has been rendered schizophrenic as a result of its partition by the post-1945 border between Germany and Poland. Symbolic processes of (cultural) shifting and (historical) redefining are reflected in architecture and landscaping that are exposed to a constant metamorphosis of the meaning and transgression of values as the fluid arenas of inter-human exchange and cross-national vibration. The architectural project of the pavilion of culture and the design of a landscape in the park of the theatrical island are coherently interconnected, exchanging roles and communicational skills in the interdisciplinary spectacle of cultural interactions while simultaneously preserving their own autonomous identity through a friction of structural elements – contrasting on the one hand (solidity of the shape and fragility of the natural surrounding) and complementary on the other (openness of the form and invitational-confrontational character of landscaping solutions). As such, Park and Pavilion of Culture Theatre Island Gubin functions as a dynamic site of discovery where history is constantly rewritten and the new multicultural horizon is shaped. New and old, memory and a pulse of contemporary moment are intertwined in an organic, maze-and dream-like playground which successfully translates transitoriness into a language of stable values and ideas in spite of being opened up to the limitless universe of imagination and fantasy.
The following layer of the exhibition’s structure has been reserved for the so called architectural/conceptual interventions to which two renowned architects, Elizabeth Diller of Diller & Scofidio + Renfro and Zvi Hecker, were invited.
According to Zvi Hecker, who was born in Krakow in 1931 and currently is developing an architectural practice in Berlin, Tel-Aviv and Amsterdam, “architecture is above all an act of magic; not because a magician is at work or because of its scarcity, but rather due to the fact that it hides more than it reveals. What we look at, what we see, is only a reflected image of what we cannot see: the architecture’s soul”. Such gentle oscillation between what is hidden and what is exposed, what is visible and what remains concealed is paired in Hecker’s work with the tension between verbal and nonverbal expression, silence and verbalisation: “architecture benefits greatly from its partial imperceptibility, the way Chekhov’s plays gain from the inhibitions of its characters. What makes for the dramatic effect and the continuous relevance of these works is not what is said on the stage but what is never spelled out. Silence can never become outdated”. This is another understanding of architecture as a conglomerate of meta-structures comprising humanity and morphic strategies of exposure. For Hecker, awareness of the ever-changing nature of the world as well as of humanity’s archaic origins are the true stones of architecture, the architecture which interprets exposure as first and foremost a spiritual quality. His light installation Emdah (position and viewing point in Hebrew) is a sign and a metamorphosis of the most recent project of Zvi Hecker, the new office and training complex of the security personnel of KMar (Royal Dutch Military) at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam (2004, scheduled for completion at the end of 2006). A labyrinthine structure resembling parallely unfolded streams of light is yet another version of a specific surface tension where the thickness of a façade (or, indeed, its absence) competes with the interior content. As elaborated by the economy of vision, the project initially was reminiscent of a medieval walled city, while at the subsequent stage of production it underwent a significant metamorphosis and in its final form, the wall became the city.
Described as “display engineers” (Aaron Betsky), Diller & Scofidio + Renfro (Elizabeth Diller, born in Łódź in 1954 and Ricardo Scofidio, born in New York in 1935, Charles Renfro – who joined the office as a partner in 2004) belong to the most outstanding teams whose architectural practice has been developed in the close relationship with other disciplines; especially the visual arts and performing arts. The issues concerned with the impact of the technology on the identity of society and the overall condition of civilisation (especially the omnipresence of surveillance and the strategies of display on the one hand and the rituals of everyday life and domesticity on the other) are within the main areas of D & S + R’s conceptual and practical interests. Always the public versus the private is being challenged, just as the interchange of inside and outside is at stake. Presented in the form of a video projection, the multimedia installation Facsimile (2004, permanently installed in the Moscone Convention Centre in San Francisco) examines the tension on the borderline between transparency and reflectivity, (the window and screen). A 100-foot steel armature gliding along the façade of the convention centre holds a 16-by-27-foot video monitor that alternatively broadcasts real-time activity in the building’s lobby and the fictional, pre-recorded programmes that appear to be live. As such, D & S + R’s Facsimile expands the context of Lejman and Dominiczak’s Delay(er)ing Façade by combining fictive and real footages in a constant oscillation between surveillance, voyeurism and staged drama. Thus a video spectacle in its excess of time and space manipulates the viewer’s perception and examines his/her attentiveness in regards to the (ambiguous) nature of „live emissions” and a broadcasted image as a prosthesis of the surrounding reality.
Envelopes of Identity: Economies of Vision. Studies of Production
(Working on “Architectures: Meta-structures of Humanity, Morphic Strategies of Exposure”)
artists / architects: Dominik Lejman & Jacek Dominiczak, Zbigniew Oksiuta, Izabela Małachowska-Coqui, Jürgen Mayer H., ns MoonStudio: Piotr Nawara & Agnieszka Szulik
with special participation of: Diller & Scofidio + Renfro and Zvi Hecker