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Revealing Interstitial Spaces. Part 3

This essay offers an investigation into the notion of interstitial space and its creative exploration in various site-specific art practices as realised mainly with the use of digital technology. This is the last part of this three-part essay.

Oltrepassando i confini

The computer screen shows a deceptively unifying interface. The interface hides the algorithmic paradox that undermines the consistent function of such a multimedia device. This paradox stems from the ambiguous relationship between the operational grid, where information is stored and processed, and the visual metaphorical grid that can be described as the digital visualisation of terrain and object ‘wireframes’, other modelling elements and even, their triangulation. Although such ‘grids’ are meant to have a regularising function, they are incidental and unstable as they are multiple and multidimensional. A ‘wireframe’ can more or less be perceived as playing the role of a ‘preliminary sketch’. This stage precedes the rendering of the digital 3D model. At a very basic level of digital 3D modelling, a wireframe is the mesh representation of the three-dimensional ‘default primitives’ that have been used for creating the digital 3D model.

These are basic geometric forms like cubes and spheres etc. Usually, the primitives and their geometrical elements (points, edges etc.) can be visible and manipulated when we use the ‘wireframe mode’, before creating a rendered scene or an animation (key-framed, endogenic high-end, interactive, etc.). This scene, a two-dimensional image, is the final stage of digital 3D modelling, where the elements of texture and ‘environment’ are added to the digital 3D model. As discussed in the first part of this essay, the computations of all those stages and their transitions are far from simple and flawless.[1]

It is possible to develop new modes of non-representational creation and interactivity through exploring their algorithmic paradox.

Although not directly linked to digital technology, Rosalind Krauss‘s description of Piet Mondrian‘s progress – one of the most representative examples of the modernist transition in painting – contributes to elucidating the role of the mathematical grid in abstracting perception; a kind of ‘predecessor’ to the operational matrix of digital systems.

Piet Mondrian’s progression from Pier and Ocean (Composition No. 10) to Composition with Gray Lines is particularly characteristic of such a transition. In the first painting, the ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ elements are abstract and signify the dynamic interlocation of physical elements. Composition with Gray Lines presents a flat surface and not a picture. Whilst Mondrian used no machine to create this piece, the rigid and pristine regularity of the grid is perceived as being mechanical.

Mondrian’s progress signifies the shift from the grid that is used as a ‘neutral’ starting point e.g. a graph-paper on which the pictorial illusion of the Renaissance perspective is created, to the dominance of the grid as a flat and thus, fully controllable and self-sufficient domain. Following Krauss’s description of Mondrian’s progress, the “… regularity of the arithmetic order” is now restored through the “reinvention of the ground as figure…”.

As Krauss describes: “The scatter and gaps of the natural field would finally be closed by the seamless regularity of the arithmetic order. Now for the first time he [Mondrian] would encounter vision as fully abstract. And the grid would succeed in drawing successiveness off this space like water evaporated from a dry lake. Leaving behind only the marks of the infrastructure of the field, scoring and crossing its surface like so many restatements of its geometrical givens.” [2]

The grid is representative of the twentieth-century rationality that is characterised by the over-optimism and reliance on information technology. The mathematical grid and the computational matrix of information technology can be perceived as closed systems with a high degree of abstraction. They function as ‘veils’ that hide the limitations and inconsistencies of knowledge and its applications. The algorithmic infrastructure of the computer, which consists of various heterogeneous levels e.g. binary, arithmetic, geometric etc., is anything but fully controllable, neutral, simple, regular and robust.

Moving to an environmental macro-scale (in comparison to the micro-scale of the algorithmic infrastructures of digital visualisation systems), the relationship between built architecture and space is far from simple and settled, as space is layered and evolving, containing diverse informational and other kinds of ‘flows’. The deceptive digital interface may not only be ‘opened up’ but also creatively challenged through a kind of spatial ‘displacement’ of its visual contents, for creatively and innovatively revealing the algorithmic paradox. New modes of site-specific drawing can be developed for enabling such an unsettling ‘displacement’.

The emphasis is placed on how interstitial spaces, in terms of code and maths, can be revealed in a physical space, where perception levels can be crossed. Instead of creating a singularity, such as, translating a digital design into a building, or creating progressions and sequences as in animation, the aim is to create inter-passages between the multidimensional and heterogeneous interacting layers of architectural space. In this way, imperceptibles and intermediates would emerge, as we unravel what is observable.

Drawing as diagramming is an interdisciplinary thinking-in-progress the half/by-products of which are its visual manifestations. The potential of this kind of drawing can be expanded through the use of an interactive tool such as the computer, through which a linear mode of creation and object-based spectatorship can be challenged. In this case, we can depend neither on the assumed consistency and stability of the computer infrastructure, nor on the traditional use of digital diagramming simply as a preliminary stage of a linear production as in conventional architecture. Drawing as spatial diagramming cannot be realised through the creation of a new illusionistic or material singularity such as a place, object, image, exterior or interior built intervention or even the projection of a transformational sequence e.g. animation.

When entering the intended site-specific artwork, viewers would encounter neither a mere place, nor an absolute or utopian space, but a kind of a meta-dimensional inter-passage between real conditions and thought, where an unprecedented kind of spatial experience emerges. Interstitial spaces can be creatively revealed through using material/immaterial mediums such as light and line as well as the processes of drawing and diagramming. In particular, innovative spatial intervention may involve a) site-specific drawing about and onto the actual site and b) interactive spatial diagramming as realised in a site-specific semi-immersive virtual environment.

Unreposing digital terrain

Unrepositionis a site-specific artwork that has been inspired from a digital 3D diagram the creation of which has been based on the observational sketches of a pre-existing built space.i Instead of a produced object, a built construction or a purely illusionistic space as in a cinematic projection, Unreposition can be perceived as an interpretative activity in progress. This artwork is an attempt to creatively interpret the virtual spatial configuration of unreposition through a new mode of site-specific drawing. Unreposition is one of the default (automatic and irreducible) configurations of digital space. ‘To un-repose’ means to consolidate all spatial elements together in a particular point that, in the software, is called the ‘centre of [digital] space’. The metaphors and abstractions of virtual actions like this, are exposed through this site-specific artwork that has been realised in a pre-existing built space.

When viewers enter Unreposition, they enter a diagram where, as Tschumi puts it”… he superimposition of coherent [virtual and real] structures… [results] in something undecidable, something that is the opposite of a totality..”[4]

Although the virtual configuration of Unreposition is based on the actual characteristics of its referent, it is a realistically improbable outcome. Could there be such a ‘centre’? If it exists, can it be defined as a red rectangle stuck at the particular spot on that floor? The ‘centre’ is automatically defined by the software application and geometrically described as the point [0,0,0], that is, the middle point of all the Cartesian axes of the mathematical space of VR, where these axes intersect with each other. The Y axis of all the digital solids that have been used for modelling the vertical supports of the particular built space, fully coincides with the “centre”

What is arbitrarily defined as the “space viewing mode”, is implicitly manifested in this site-specific artwork. The ‘space viewing mode’ enables the visualisation of a digital “object” in a simulation of a supposedly three-dimensional “Cartesian environment”, where a fixed absolute set of arbitrarily determined Cartesian x, y and z co-ordinates is in operation. In contrast to such an “environment”, in Unreposition, spectators walk into an actual rectangular room in real experiential time. As a spatial intervention, Unreposition operates between the physicality and locality of built space and the immaterial generalities and inconsistencies of its digital presentation.

While viewing Unreposition spectators’ movement is indirectly affected by the visually displaced floor (grey area) and the taped lines. These elements visually indicate the virtual intersection between the virtual planes and the actual floor and walls of the particular built space. The most paradoxical fusion of virtual and real space is apparent when looking at the ‘shadow’ that is painted on the floor with black acrylic paint washes. This ‘shadow’ is ‘casted’ from the virtually consolidated front and rear walls of the room that are positioned at the axis X1, and falls onto the actual floor and onto one of the walls of the built space. At the same time, this virtual ‘shadow’ also relates to the actual angle of the sunlight entering the windows of the room. In Unreposition,the virtual space does not dominate the built space or vice versa.

Spectators are aware of the scale of the invisible virtual planes and solids, in relation to their bodies and the actual limits of the room. A phenomenological reading occurs not only when a viewer encounters the undeniable presence of an object but also when she or he encounters a place. The phenomenological relationship between viewers and place can usually be established when there is a figure/ground or similarly, a building/land relationship. Moreover, according to Miwon Kwon, phenomenology involves a “… chiasmatic intertwining of body and space” [5]. This “intertwining” can be achieved through occupying a site, instead of experiencing a detached, exterior building-on-land mode of spectatorship. It is challenging to explore the notion of phenomenology in relation to site-specificity in art. As Nick Kaye describes: “Site-specificity arises… in uncertainties over the borders and limits of work and site… Site-specific work… operates in anticipation or in recollection of the places it acts out[6]

We may argue that Unreposition operates in an interstitial kind of phenomenology. Unreposition is not an object or an image to be simply “looked at”. It can be “occupied”, but it cannot be understood at a glance because viewers have to gradually “read through” it. Most importantly, Unreposition is site-specific. Its reading involves an experience of the marks of an implied spatial presence as emerging within built architecture.

In Unreposition, spatial diagramming emerges within a kind of an unsettling interstitial space that derives from the simultaneous experience of two mutually repelling realities. The virtual spatial configuration of the room is directly superimposed onto its actual referent. The reading of this site-specific artwork is neither immediate nor exclusively visual. The work can only be gradually understood through the exploration of various kinds of spatial relations and paradoxes. Unreposition has emerged from a creative engagement with the inconsistent relations between cause and effect that stem primarily from the non-neutral multiple ‘starting points’ of the digital diagramming process. The superimposition of “realities” reveals the inconsistent causality that characterises the metaphors and abstractions in digital diagramming, through which various transformations and renderings are generated.

Spaces of intersection

Space Intersection is a spatial intervention based on a site-specific drawing methodology similar to the one developed in Unreposition. This room-sized in-situ drawing presents an indeterminate and realistically impossible spatial displacement, that is, the intersection between the built boundaries of an interior space and their, often ignored, contained void.

In this way, Space Intersection reveals the tensions between the various geometrical and topological orders of space in a more expansive and less subtle way to Unreposition.

When wieving Space Intersection, the rules of perception and built architecture are visually trespassed. It is assumed that Boolean operations are unambiguous and an ideal tool for analysing not only the relationships between well-defined binary components, but also, material relationships. Nevertheless, the superimposition of the resulting Boolean diagram onto its actual referent (built site) unexpectedly reveals an unsettling condition. In Space Intersection, the interstitial space of the intersection between the built borders of space and the horizontally moving void is marked in black-tape lines, challenging Boolean abstraction.

The way of tracing a particular instance of such an unfinished intersection reveals how the void volume cuts through certain areas of the build boundaries of space, how the trails of the moving void appear onto those boundaries, the complexity of the diagonals which mark the triangulation of the intersecting volumes, and the acrylic paint washes that implicitly highlight the presence and scale of the void volume. In this way, the primacy, containment and limitations of built boundaries in relation to the contained void space, are challenged.

The transitions between Cartesian and actual space are re-examined and redefined in a creative way through this mode of site-specific drawing. The layers of space are, in a way, “pealed off”, so that we get a glimpse of an interstitial “instance” of unexpected tension, complexity and precariousness. Spectators gain the alienating and destabilising experience of entering what we do not normally notice, such as, the “untamed” void volume of space that is contained by built architecture

Interpassages to interspatiality

VR offers the opportunity to interactively create and experience spaces of non-actualised potential that sometimes seem to pose as a near probability. Most importantly however, the use of semi-immersive virtual environments opens up the possibility of revealing and/or subtly “activating” various kinds of intermediate spaces between various orders of reality. As we have seen in Plato’s cosmology, the birth of space and place implicitly involves a mathematical matrix, with the aid of which, diverse elements are “bonded” with each other through the use of mathematical analogies, so that, “intermediate definitions” are connected.

A challenging possibility would be to critically investigate and “unravel” the qualities of the mathematical “bonds”, for visually revealing the inherent flaws and instability of the operational grid of digital technology. The emerging unexpected kinds of interstitial spaces challenge built architecture – not only in terms of experiencing space as an end-product, but also, of the processes of its mapping and planning – VR and their relationship.

Site-specific drawing and spatial diagramming gain a new dimension and meaning. Instead of the conventional uses of digital technology e.g. creation of fully immersive imaginary or abstract worlds, scientific simulation, functional and aesthetic enhancement of reality and others, the emphasis is placed on analytically visualising how the inter-passages between the actual and virtual boundaries of architectural space can be gradually revealed during the digital modelling of a built space through the use of Boolean Set Operations within a semi-immersive virtual environment, so as to enable the progressive visual comparison between the built and digital boundaries of space. In this way, a new paradoxical kind of spatiality (inter-spatiality) emerges through visualising not only the processes, but also the inconsistencies of volume definition, layering, geometry and boundary generation that characterise computer 3D modelling.

As the virtual boundaries of built architecture are transformed, the edges and surfaces of the digital 3D model “unfold” to reveal a complex and unpredictable field of geometrical infrastructures. A multitude of infra-spaces emerges in the interlocked labyrinths and n-foldings of an unsettling heterogeneous and metadimensional environment that contracts or expands at particular instances, oscillating between built, virtual and mixed architectural spaces.

Various unknown and ambiguous types of spatiality appear as we pass through various spatial orders and geometrical paradoxes. The boundaries of digital space are highly inconsistent, undermining the solidity, stability and continuity of the built space and challenging our usual perception of it. The hidden dimensions of architectural space that remain unregulated, elusive and unbuilt are revealed.

The dynamic flux of informational space is experienced in direct contrast to built architecture that is the orderly “fossil” of such a digital drawing process in the idealistic form of a Cartesian cube. The emerging “ghost” of the abstraction and inconsistency of the algorithmic order cannot be eliminated. It undermines digital simulation, the conventions and functionality of built architecture. The manifestation of inter-spatiality enables a new philosophical understanding, experience and perception of space that inspires new types of spatial research and practice in art, architecture and the related disciplines.


Riferences:

[1] – Fratzeskou, Eugenia, Operative Intersections: Between Site-Specific Drawing and Spatial Digital Diagramming, LAP – Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010.

[2] – Fratzeskou, Eugenia, “Revealing Interstitial spaces: Part 1” in Digimag, Issue 63, April 2011, http://www.digicult.it/digimag/article.asp?id=2040.

[3]Krauss, Rosalind, The Optical Unconscious, MIT Press (October Book), 1998 (1993), p.16.

[4] – Tschumi, Bernard, Architecture and Disjunction, MIT Press, 1996, p.199.

[5] – Miwon Kwon in Pamela M. Lee, Object to be Destroyed: The Work of Gordon Matta-Clark, MIT Press, 2000, p.37 (see also pp. 35, 36, 38).

[6] – Kaye, Nick, Site-specific Art: Performance, Place and Documentation, Routledge, 2000, pp. 215, 220.

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