4 -20, December 2014
breaking A skin, weaving A sense brings together a collection of works which examine the psychological distinctions between body and space.
Space is a temptation, a pursuit. The difference between me and it ebbs and flows. Sometimes I can locate myself and others not. I am in my body but other times I break my skin and pass to the other side
The works reference architecture and its affects; how we encounter, react, absorb, camouflage and rupture from these physical structures, and the emotional and psychological responses this causes. Moments of discord are of particular interest; where normal service has been interrupted and we find ourselves within a moment of rupture. Through these points of rupture a new sensory rationale is established: where forms of chaos take over from order, where logical thought is forsaken for twisted reason and where psychological disruptions are expanded into material forms to be inhabited and embodied by the viewer.
Within each work in the exhibition a moment of discord can be recognised. These moments have developed from research into several key figures from architectural and psychological theory: Giovanni Battista Piranesi, a 17th century architectural artist, Gottfried Semper, an 18th century architect and theorist and Roger Caillois, a 20th century theorist. Each of these thinkers have been used to build a methodology that examines the break down of a distinction between body and space.
Crab Bekleidung, the sculptural and auditory installation that meets the viewer on entering the space, is influenced by the writings of both Caillois and Semper. James works with textiles and ‘soft’ materials to create a temporal form of architecture: one that moves, reacts to bodies and creates both a transparency and opaqueness. At Cole, a choreography of space and sound leads the body from habitat to habitat. James’ use of textiles has been influenced by Semper’s theory of textile being the origin of architecture and the essence of building. Semper believed that even when solid materials such as brick and stone were introduced to architectural structures, the textile forms of weave and drapery should still be evident: celebrated on the outside of a building through stucco or paint. He termed this treatment of a building ‘bekleidung’, meaning ‘covering’ or ‘dressing’ in German. It was crucial for Semper that the bekleidung should mask the solidity hiding beneath, resulting in the materiality of a building being denied. However, within Semper’s examples, the soft, flowing forms of textile are also denied by being rendered solid in paint or stucco. As a result, Semper’s bekleidung actually produces a curious liminal form of architectural materiality – neither soft nor hard. The potential of this liminal form of materiality as both a state and a form is explored in all of the works within breaking A skin, weaving A sense.
This liminality reoccurs within Caillois’ writing, however here it is located instead within a psychological understanding of space. Caillois gives two examples of a breakdown in the distinction between body and space through mimetic behavior; one embodied, the other disembodied. The first is the material manifestation of the spider crab, which camouflages itself with its environment, using the materials it finds on the seabed. The second is the distressing psychological manifestation identified in schizophrenics, who claim to know where they are but feel unable to locate themselves in that place. This form of mimesis connects directly to bekleidung: both creating a form of exterior masking, both concealing what lies beneath.
Woven Architecture translates this liminal materiality into practice. The piece acts to lower the ceiling within the basement, emphasising the hermetic and intimate nature of the architecture. The short, looped film Gestalt Narrative shows a floor cloth cut into the form of a generic floor plan and placed onto a pebbled path. Outdoor sounds can be identified, voices of passers by and traffic. The duality of the two horizontal surfaces (ceiling and film) facing one another creates an important relationship: two architectures laid bare, two spaces transposed onto a third. Scales are skewed and perspective is ruptured.
The final work in the exhibition, Piranesi Sense, is a film-sentence-collage. The film employs a text from Sergei Eisenstein’s Piranesi, or the Fluidity of Forms (1964). In this essay Eisenstein hails Piranesi’s visionary architectural drawings as creating the rupture point from which modern architecture exploded. Piranesi’s impossible depictions of space symbolise a radical new proposition for architecture, becoming intensely psychological through their frightening incredibility. Eisenstein’s writing has the tone of a delirious manifesto and this nonsensical quality is heightened in the fragmenting of the text throughout the film. The viewer is presented with both this printed text and a female voice narration. Through this interposing of the auditory and the visual, the female voice is able to discernibly edit and contradict Eisenstein’s printed words and further undermine his authority. Meanwhile the associatively collaged images ask the audience to speculate on the particular topology and logic of this disordered physical and psychological space.
James’ practice problematises the complex relationship that exists between the mediums of image and language. The slippages between what we see and hear, and what we feel and think are continually kept in motion. Further to this, the authority of who is speaking and who is listening is challenged. The architecture that is suggested within breaking A skin, weaving A sense embodies both a physical and cognitive space. Within the provisional structures built from textile and woven plastics, voice creates its own form of architecture: a headspace. The recurrent voice within the exhibition is female, and as she guides the viewer from one room to another, it is from her perspective that one is able to see more clearly.