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If It Is Not True, It Is Well Built

Rossella Scalia

23:32 min

A BLANK SPACE IS A PERFECT SPACE; it contains nothing and embraces everything. By filming "The Perfect Human", Jørgen Leth imprinted in 1967 this idea on celluloid. His perfect man lives in a vacuous place clung to the habit of moving with no need to perceive sharp contours and stuck in the placid inertia of walking his body along trivial rooms. Such an amorphous space might be defined as virtual: a territory that has not been created by the will of a body but through the conscious act of a mind. A volume made of words instead of walls, a void of endless changes and fluid directions. A "City of Words" that Vito Acconci has imagined as a complex maze-like locus whose flimsiness and malleability may easily contrast with the obscure Piranesi's "Carceri", in which a pseudo-materiality has instead the murky weight of millions of stones and the eerie noise of creaking gears and rusty chains.

If man, in the chaos of life wonders whether anything he sees is real, he will certainly face a doubt that involves not only the surrounding built world but also the very shape of himself. The physical disposition of architecture has been for centuries used by humankind as a means to protect the body from atmospheric conditions and vicissitudes; in the contemporary world architecture has found a new dimension in which to exist, a realm that belongs to the so far little-structured space of virtuality. What has seen life transformed and projected into a sphere that has just brushed up against man, is the transition from a past reality that appears today as a fact and the risky uncertainty of a finely constructed illusion in which man may find himself dwelling tomorrow, or perhaps where he has always been living in. The advent of the Internet has made the space that weighted before on man's shoulders and pressed beneath his feet, an extensio which allows such a space to overcome the world of tactility pushing man to be unconscious of his own existence. On the contrary the same means of communication has made what man was previously unaware of - as too far to be reached merely by senses - so close to him that almost seems possible to touch it with the eyes. Tactile world has become visible; we take for real only what we see, forgetting that illusions not always reflect expectations.

ACCORDING TO BEATRIZ COLOMINA in "Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media", architecture only becomes modern in its engagement with the mass media, that is to say through photography, film and advertising. It might be hypothesized that architecture is increasingly becoming contemporary by using the visual attitude of cinema as a means to spread across a new medium defined by the triple repetition of a "W", the idea that architecture may be an object to look at in a state of contemplation. The space of cinema, unlike the theatre defined by Vladimir Mayakovsky as "a magnifying glass", is often imagined as a mirror that has the power to displace man in a world where he is not, although in a time-lapse he thinks he is. Contemporary architecture is recently taking the form of a mirror, an entity that alters permanently the edge that distinguishes an interior from an exterior. In so doing, the element that has always ruled the distinction between what is outside and what is instead kept intimate, that is to say the window - or broadening the discourse to a human dimension, the body - becomes now a conscious enclosure of any perceptive horizons. One might wonder whether the white space in which the perfect human moves is an outside or an inside, whether it is real or virtual and if the viewer is drawn into a world that is other or if he eventually comes to be a whole with it.

Going back to the window matter, the dispute between Auguste Perret and Le Corbusier on the issue of the "fenêtre en longueur" might be employed to spark more thoughts (Beatriz Colomina, "Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media", 1994). The modern application of a horizontal strip that trims the wall in a way that allows the outside to appear as a movie screen to be watched from the private space of the house, has led to exclude the window's classical verticality from modern life, thus interpreting the delicate line which was before a space definer, as a space occupier. As a result, the boundary between two different spheres of human life whose only common point was previously the place where both explained their own distinction has lost its frankness. If we pause a moment on the image of a person looking at a computer monitor, thus exercising the very modern attitude of watching, it might be realized that man has drastically chosen to make exclusive use of only one of his senses, the sight. What distances us from nearby things is exactly the view of what is far. Internet has allowed architecture to be seen from a distance, to reach an audience that does not need to touch any surface to feel it, but simply to see things to believe them real. The question does not want to lead to a debate on what may be considered as real and what is deemed as such, because it is precisely the questioning that makes us have faith in what we see, feeling afterwards the need to grab it with the eyes to sense it closer. Michel Foucault has described the mirror as an heterotopia, that is to say a place where I see myself where I am not (Michel Foucault, "Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias", 1967); is it perhaps the way to define a computer monitor, a movie screen and Le Corbusier horizontal window?

ARCHITECTURE IS A TACTILE AND MUTABLE ORGANISM; its chameleonic ability to adapt continuously to the world changes has brought it to enter the white space of the Internet and surf thousands of miles to be where it is not, to give the viewer the possibility to dwell with the sight an artificial realm different from the one that lies right behind his back. These other architectures own a visual rhythm that does not sound as any melody; image sequences that find expression in repetition, reappearance and replacement; as if a pair of imaginary fingers played on a black and white invisible keyboard. Hans Richter in his experimental film shot in 1921, "Rhythmus 21", concludes the composition of a series of silent geometric forms with the words: "music composed and performed by Sue Harshe", thus crossing the line that encloses music in the perceptual sphere of hearing. Many years later, the avant-garde German music band Kraftwerk launched the revival of visual rhythm by bringing electronic music in the field of watchable sound.

The other space of architecture is currently an embryonic one; it might be thought that man - who has always shaped the world he lives in, donning the role of architect of his own life - will also find a way to organize the newly arrived semi-blank world, taking into account that shaping a space means exactly making architecture. Such a place will be inhabited by moving eyes that will earnestly try to comprehend it through a direct involvement in the construction of puzzling emotional impressions.

The crisis of architecture is often linked to a concept of limit; the mirror tends to persuade us to ignore the threshold of imperfection by erasing any signs that might help us to create a distinction. To communicate means to identify confines and recognize the intrinsic diversity of a segment. If architecture has decided to establish a dialogue with cinema, engaging the latter in the building of an allusive projection of the former, it may be important to remember that the "Ideal-I" that the mirror reflects is an imago of the "I", thus it is not to be considered neither a model nor a compensation. The "Ideal-I" in the form of eternal entity does not change over time nor grows old, it is indeed other (Jacques Lacan, "The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience", 1949); it is a city that is currently under construction, it does not know what it might be, but will definitely enable man to grasp the difference.

moto perpetuo

Simone Muscolino, Francesco Monaco

Don't stop moving: another city will be revealed.

"Moto perpetuo" is a documentary about an urban trekking through the outskirts of Turin. In this short movie, Francesco Monaco and Simone Muscolino observe the most peripheral and abandoned area of the city. Beyond deserted factories and bypasses, spectators can discover these places from the perspective of an authentic itinerant camping journey.

For three days and three nights, two cameras filmed about seventy kilometers of walking, including the reactions of people involved, architects, friends of the authors and whoever was interested in this original experiment of urban exploration. The video seems mostly conceived to register suggestions from the margin of the contemporary city, with its black-and-white, blurry vision made out of fragments of everyday moments of the hike alternated to glimpses of the suburban cityscape.

The absence of dialogues and an original soundtrack that seems to be coming out from the disturbed frequencies of an old radio station underlines the power of the images used to narrate the ‘perpetual motion’ of the peripheral city.

The experimental short movie was produced by Cliostraat for the section "Interventi metropolitani d'arte" within the Biennale dei giovani artisti dell'Europa e del Mediterraneo (Turin, 1997).


Architect: Cliostraat
Mentioned project: Urban Trekking in Turin (1996)
Project location: Turin, Italy

Italy 1997
Duration: 8'42''

Selected for the 1998 edition of the International Festival for Architecture in Video (then BEYOND MEDIA Festival) organized by Image.