“I couldn’t say I’ll make it the same or I’ll make it different, there were no things to copy, nobody knew what a line was, straight or curved, or even a dot, or a protuberance or a cavity.
I conceived the idea of making a sign, that’s true enough, or rather, I conceived the idea of considering a sign as something that I felt like making, so when, at that point in space and not in another, I made something, meaning to make a sign, it turned out that I really had made a sign, after all.”**
* **Italo Calvino, The Complete Cosmicomics – A Sign In Space, Penguin Books Ltd, London, 2010
Buildings retain the testimony of time like a continuous progression of their existence. Some will grow old and count the centuries, while others exist as temporary spatial manifestations of weeks or even days. Yet no matter the timeframe, buildings have to endure traces of use, modifications or other external forces that leave their mark upon them.
We travel constantly in architectonic space and through time, it is an inevitable, continuous process of existence. As much as architects are often unable to influence the time and its impact upon a building, authors explore their ability to do so. A novelist can build up a storyline that embraces the entire history of the universe in 432 pages or turn 1076 pages into a sole event, on a single day, in a specific place. Time is an inherent part of storytelling, whether it exists inside or outside the words on the page. Time can be sped up or slowed down, manipulated or enhanced. Time is of the essence.
How can working with the concept of time in literature open up the way we understand and create architecture?
To explore is to search and discover something, we often set off into the woods without being sure of what it is that we will find. We might have an idea, a sensation, a feeling or a fear, but we don’t know for sure. Where do we start looking, and what tools you are we going to use? Or, better perhaps, what tools do we have?
Could it be our hands as they reach inside the belly of the cosmos? We grew accustomed to the dark, we were in it. Breathing slowly, scratches on the door became the Milky Way. We opened our eyes and entered the repetition of a hallway, a space broken by voids. Is it here? Is it in our head? The sun play tricks on us as its light falls into the hallway trough the windows on the right and we project its reassuring repetitive pace into our own routines and sequences.
Follow traces of sand. Traces of shoes caught in a rectangular representation. They are bound to take us somewhere, even if they stop in the middle of the room. Burgundy sandpaper with stripes in hues of mellow ochre hangs on the wall. In their afterlives, actions become traces, and traces become stories. We discover fragments of space; glass panes breaking solid images and creating layered space. the WC hovers in the courtyard. The shed penetrates the building, looking through it, again, again, again. The building is an irregular triangle that keeps us walking around in circles. We begin to understand its vastness.
We hover outside our physical boundaries. If reflections crawl onto us, they disappear. Bit by bit we discover the space that we inhabit. Old things, new things, things that we don`t know whether they are old or new. Go upstairs, go downwards, go horizontal, go vertically. Hypnotized by the slow, fast, irregular beat of a staircase. Can our steps be guided? Can they stretch? Or bend? Place it in the centre. Take it away. Place it on the wall. Action follows thought as we watch the rhythm of the beat on a tiny screen inside a tiny box. Keep spinning. Try to capture a work by tearing it apart. Ivy is in my eye. They turned around and saw it. And now we see it too. Traces of nature, traces of the past. The box is a machine and we are the machinist.
On a wall not very different from the rest we discover remains reminding us of other spaces. Can it be the same scratch? Can the scratch in our bedroom escape and crawl inside our school? Can scratches be knocked back, from one space to another? What kind of scratches are they? Like the time we hit the wall with a chair and the scratch became a dent. Trust our hand; its lines, its perseverance, its insecurity.
As we step into an elevator we turn away from our surroundings as we are transported into new ones. Perhaps the medium is the message. The wall is a forest and the sky is under our feet. Shift of vision or a sense of place as an attempt to manipulate our understanding of solid ground, or solid space. Who are we together? Where do we move? What are our tools? Do we know what our ground is made of?
COSMICOMICS* – was a three-day workshop by Annee Grøtte Viken in collaboration with Jorge Mejia Hernández and Mark Proosten, as part of an event by Writingplace laboratory for architecture and literature on time, storytelling and space at ArtEZ, Zwolle. The workshop followed lectures on the theme by Klaske Havik, Rob Hendriks and Jacob Voorthuis and explored how time is conveyed in literary narratives and how it can be translated into spatial structures and experiences. A selection of storylines touching on various conceptions of time formed the program for a 1:1 exploration of time, storytelling and space. The preceding text is a brief account of the conversations around the process and works produced by students from Corporeal, MA Interior Architecture, during the workshop.
With Alana Jansen (NL), Mandela Jap-A-Joe (SUR), Malgorzata Gniatkowska (POL), Mariska Boer (NL), Qi Liu (CHN/NL), Rosie van Beuningen (NL), Fenne van den Heuvel (NL), Phuong Duy Dao (VIE), Xiaomin Deng (CHN), Cille van den Brink (NL), Ashley Hoekerd (NL) and Maarten Mulder (NL)
Images show fragments of works by; from top – 1. Ashley Hoekerd 2. Cille van den Brink 3. Author’s drawing-notes 4. Maarten Mulder