A constructed reality
Stories & Ideas

Fri 23 Dec 2016

A constructed reality

Art Exhibition
Leon van Schaik

Leon van Schaik

Emeritus Professor of Architecture

Professor Leon van Schaik responds to Philippe Parreno: Thenabouts

In the first instalment of the Creative Response Series, Professor Leon van Schaik examines the ways we construct our own reality, drawing on eidetic recall and examining spontaneously triggered memories that remind us that our spatial intelligence is a constructed intelligence built on shared capability.

As an architect who specialises in understanding what (and how) architects do when they do it well, my research focuses on our spatial intelligence. This is a human capability, one of several such including language, mathematics, music, kinetics and inter and intra personal relating. So, having spent some time in the exhibition I elected to present my response from the base of the steps leading into the gallery that holds Thenabouts. From this vantage point the entire length of the gallery is visible, even though framed immediately by a large opening, almost a proscenium.

I wanted those listening to appreciate that we all see what we see through frames of our own making, frames that we construct using our capabilities, each of which has unfolded in different spaces and places, and each of which has been coloured by that unfurling through time.

Philippe Parreno exhibition image

From the foot of the stairs I see, as if at an immense distance, a film screening; its flickering light revealing sporadically a red carpet at its base. On the carpet some people lounge while fat, inflatable fish float above – rising slowly and falling softly. The light from the screen licks the side of a tall glass booth, inside which are stored – we are told – all the film works of Parreno. Here a technician is busy, selecting, possibly at random, films that range in length from four minutes to twenty. Periodically the technician emerges to announce and describe the next film.

Masking the glass box is another proscenium, canted this time, through which passes the angled escalator flight that regularly empties the gallery of visitors. Eerily they walk towards the screen, meeting fish, pass the box, become silhouettes along with some of the fish; becoming members of a constantly unreeling film. A film made by passages through space. A film punctuated with created, repeating rituals.

Philippe Parreno Exhibition Image 2

Claiming an expertise in spatiality, I wanted to expose the aspects of my own history in space triggered by being in this Thenabouts occupied space. The first thing that I acknowledged was that the extraordinary soundscape thwarted my understanding of the length of this immensely long gallery because the sound, no matter where you are in the space, is equally present to you. This creates for me a dream like feeling of drifting in the space, a feeling enhanced by the fish, wafted by passing spectators, drifting. Sounds, light, words and images float in the same way.

For me a succession of involuntary memories surface in intense ‘eidetic’ recall, triggered by Thenabouts. The glazed, half-hidden box evokes Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, that icon of modernity. This cannot be an accident. The title of the exhibition is sourced from Finnegan's Wake, from the foundations of modernism in literature. The films compact into their tight spans landscapes and interiors. I drift into recollections of the rolling hills that I have lived among, the rooms that I have occupied. They refer to events … Marylin Monroe’s whisper describes an interior with Lynch-like menace and Bryan Ferry morphs into Tom and Jerry, thus rolling up and in me times and relationships.

People watch a screen in the exhibition space for Philippe Parreno: Thenabouts

All of this despite the fact that I know that beyond the long wall to the left lies a railway track; despite the fact that I am tugged into recollections of the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern, of installations in it. This mesmerising show lets me drift, then suddenly tugs me back into it immediate presence. As I end my talk, the distant screen goes white and two fish are silhouetted kissing. Involuntarily, followed by the group, I become silent and swivel to look.I leave, a copy of my book “Spatial Intelligence” in my bag, knowing that “Eidetics” an artists’ book made in collaboration with Peter Lyssiotis has been bound and is being delivered … Also I carry newly awakened images with me.

Professor van Schaik promotes local and international architectural culture. His research focuses on creating and sustaining innovative communities of practice. He has developed a practice-based research program for architects and designers whose work demonstrates mastery in their field. Professor Van Schaik also writes professional reviews for internationally recognised architectural journals.