Post 310 – by Gautam Shah
Habitable spaces are substantially real and physical, but could also have features that transcend the reality. Such conditions occur because the human cognition sometimes functions ambiguously. The subconscious behaviour of humans also expresses itself free from the structural limitations, false rationality, and restrictive customs.
The ambiguities in cognitive processes arise, as the Time and Space that separate most elements as unique happening, get mixed up, to produce incoherent and surprising effects. The elements nominally distanced in time and space are ‘virtually’ juxtaposed in a make-believe world.
Time is seen as a measure of change, and Space is perceived for its consistency (or even lack of it) over a time. Primitive man, watching a star and noting its almost intangible movement in the sky, or watching own-self getting old, were percepts in time and space. However, to note the difference, two such distinct frames must be juxtaposed.
In case of stars, the images were shrouded in known forms such as animals, humans or objects, to record the change. The ageing process had to be realized as own image, rather then being told. First image perception of own-self in the still water or over a glossy surface was not magical for the ‘other being there’, but for the perplexity of left and right getting reversed.
The magical impact of a powerful representation in painting, a captivating form of sculpture, a transparent glass bead or stone crystals, a shadow or black colour hiding a detail, all were such make-believe situations. It was a new reality. These are replicated and soon the repertoire of make-believe becomes a nominally confirmed technology.
Reality is a state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or might be imagined. Painting, sculpture, transparencies of crystal, shadows, reflection in water or movement of a star, are real and not imaginary things. Yet, reality, was distinctly contrasted with what is unreal or dreamy and delusional. When the dream and reality transcend there is sense of ‘Avidya’ (lack of knowledge), a Maya as the cause of illusion. The unreal, was unexplained till it could be recreated, and it becomes real. Dreams and delusions are expressed in many visual ways, art, sculpture, performances, whereas alchemy was ‘magic’. To resolve the contradictory conditions of reality and dream, people have created ‘unnerving and illogical scenes’, strange creatures, grotesque forms, and queer built-spaces. These have been ways to expose the psychological truth by stripping ordinary objects of their normal significance. The disdain for literal meanings given to objects is considerable. It forces a compelling image, beyond the ordinary formal organization, and has evoked the empathy of the viewer.
Thinkers, such as Aristotle, Plato, Frege, Wittgenstein, and Russell, have made a distinction between thought corresponding to reality, coherent abstractions (thoughts of things that is imaginable but not real), and that which cannot even be rationally thought.
The real and magic are separated by the superfluous. The superfluous, is the applique carrying its own meaning. It is essentially intended to counter the mundane. It is not deep or thoroughly effective. Sir John Summerson, the architectural historian calls it ‘surface modulation’. He also says ‘Architecture had, with some difficulty, liberated itself from the ornament, but it has not liberated itself from the fear of ornament’.
The shrouded symbolism of decorations and the contempt for the explainable interpretation, led to creation of new space making elements. The first attempts were like photograph processing tools of superimposition, merging, morphing, etc. It created visual aberration for depth in space, but a deviation of objects in a time frame, a 4D effect. Films and television provided the impetus to make-believe cognition, beyond the visual frames. This is now further adopted to perceive spatially modulated forms in architecture.
What was historically the simultaneity of form and structure, is now form fitted out with a structure. Instead of moving in circles with the old adages of form follows function or the function shaping out a form, both are concurrently perceivable in virtual reality.
Salvador Dali’s painting called ‘Persistence of Memory’, with melting images of pocket watches was in rejection that time is rigid or deterministic. It suggested the theory of Einstein’s that time is relative, and not fixed. Dali works incorporated optical illusions, negative space, visual puns, and trompe l’oeil visual effects, stereoscopic images. He was among the first artists to employ holography in an artistic manner. Dali had a glass floor installed in a room near his studio. He made extensive use of it to study foreshortening, both from above and from below, incorporating dramatic perspectives of figures and objects into his paintings. Dali’s post–World War II period bore the hallmarks of technical virtuosity and an intensifying interest in optical effects, science, and religion. Dall sought to synthesize Christian iconography with images of material disintegration inspired by nuclear physics.
Experiments to involve time in built forms helped the emergence of several forms and techniques for manipulation of the reality. Both impinge on each other in various measures.
1 Ornamentation had too much metaphorical connection with the past, and very static visual impact, both restricting the time dynamism. For the process of de-ornamentation, geometry, functional, structural, and spatial aspects provided the much needed excuses. The new datum for architecture and products, etc. the ‘form follows function, purity of form and truth to materials’ became the tenets of modernism. Abstracted arts and crafts had no reliance on functionality or the materials, and the confusion continued through the cubism, surrealism and Dada-ism, etc.
2 Deconstructionists attempted to move away from such constricting aspects. They compromised the geometry of form by abrogating the functional, structural, and spatial aspects of construction, in the architecture, literature or stage arts. But in architecture they still had to deliver a building standing with the gravity and other forces and in literature and other arts it had to be a deliverable product or a recognizable entity. So in spite of running away they remained anchored to reality.
Dali was not alone in trying to project the persistence of time. Many others have followed the path but differently, characterized by fragmentation, an interest in manipulating a structure’s surface or skin, non-rectilinear shapes which appear to distort and dislocate elements of architecture, such as structure and envelope.
‘Peter Eisenman’s Wexner Centre for the Arts: Some of the grid’s columns intentionally don’t reach the ground, hovering over stairways creating a sense of neurotic unease and contradicting the structural purpose of the column’.
3 The movements in architecture and products had one major problem, one had to ‘conceive-plan and details’ the entity to execute it. For developing complex forms, the age-old means of orthographic drawings, model making and perspective like visualizations were now too insignificant tools. It had to wait the arrival of the computer to ‘conceive-plan-detail and visualize’ the complex forms.
Virtual reality can operate directly with the brain bypassing the sensorial nodes and functions. A ‘person to brain’ interface helps in executing the tasks by getting around the conscious blocks, such as the phobias, fear of public speaking, inhibitions, and vagaries of awareness and consciousness. A step further would be community based on brain-computer connections. The computer perceives, responds and moulds the interactions between ‘brains’ of the members. The participant may be induced by any number of possible means to forget, temporarily or otherwise, that they are inside a virtual realm.