When the only remaining light

When the only remaining light in the sky seems to be thrown back over the horizon like the strangely peaceful hair of a drowned woman the light in the windows of the studios stacked in the north wall of the courtyard arises. I’ve had an affinity for the archetype of the glowing window at dusk since I worked a construction project on a farm in central Georgia in my early twenties. Their warmth and their ability to telegraph a completely identifiable spatial tone I felt was strong enough to humor the guts like a pull of brandy from a real St. Bernard as I died across the snow from a Swiss chalet and its twinkling purr. Of course that transcendent interior space of milkglass lamps, wood and upholstery settees, and beapron’d grandmothers pulling hot olive boules from the oven to nibble with some Glühwein is a statistically improbable confluence. It is the obstruction of the sheer curtain that makes this illusory phenomenon possible. It both allows the light to escape and protects the reality of the situation. The process of uniformly distributing light across the fabric surface turns the window solid, an object that distinguishes itself from the night air and from the building being consumed by shade. It is alone and it speaks. The windows of the architecture studios weren’t doing quite that. They lacked the sheer curtains and a worm’s eye view of the rooms could be seen through them, mostly ceiling. They still transmitted a uniform glow from bouncing throughout the large white rooms that seemed to hit the glass and stop there, halted by the not-yet-complete darkness of the courtyard. This potential for flatness, depth, independence, and atmospheric communication was all too many nodes of the night’s thoughts coagulated that, although it was intensely memorable and tangible in the looseness of my breathing, it would not paint the situation intellectually until much later, several trips later to the Kimball after it had closed and I sat quietly on the travertine patio by the bubbling pools.

Academic thought is duration dependent, and for me it is a complete mess. I’m not sure I could ever construct a lucid argument. My impetus for putting pen to paper was a kitchen midden of recollections, associations, and misunderstandings hung beneath a single precipice, like fictional mountain whose pinnacle is a point lacking gradient or surface, just a point where a climber could find no purchase. That peak was the notion that the field drawings hung on the wall behind glass in the gallery were not just architecture (which conventional wisdom allowed us to corral into the term) but that they were ‘a building’ (a much less arguable term) or at least some constructed, real aspect of a building, or at the very least the illusion of that aspect. In my estimation they were windows. Somebody argued to me that architecture was only architecture if it “kept the rain out.” I maniacally separate myself from that assertion. However I could at first blush think of applying that prerequisite to ‘a building.’ Not ever having had significant interest in pinning things down I quickly wonder whether this would be true, or a beneficial assertion to have on the table. I think a building creates a space. That is easy; many sculptures do that (Serra’s large steel pieces, a Robert Therrien dinette set). A building should also be an object constructed at the scale that it was meant to be constructed at. By that I mean this it is not a study or a maquette, it is not ‘on the way’ to something else, it doesn’t represent some other version of itself. Absolutely a building can represent something else whose scale it doesn’t share (NYNY in Las Vegas) or even something whose scale it does share (the Parthenon in Nashville), but it is after that thing, not towards it. Simply, a building should be what it is. Obviously sculpture does this as well. Finally, a building is constructed to serve a purpose, to serve man or beast. That purpose may not always be shelter. Most sports stadia do not protect their occupants from the rain. Are they not buildings? Are they not subjected to (some of the most stringent) building codes? This is probably where the parallels with sculpture dissipate. Few sculptures purport to do anything besides exist. Often they have agendas, whether hermeneutic, political, or even spatial, they rarely exist to serve man. Man and sculpture have a relationship that typically lacks hierarchy. Can a building be a building without that last characteristic? Just how limp might the purpose be allowed to slouch? I wonder about in betweens. What is a roofless stone cottage in ruins, what are Turrell’s sky spaces? Neil Denari’s 1996 Gallery MA installation is considered his first built work. It has been revered and poached by a decade of architecture students for its emptiness of expression if not solely for its formal vision. It is completely enclosed by the envelope of the gallery space (the gallery not even a building itself) and does not form an envelope of its own within the other. In most documentary photographs it sits, its interior surface illuminated, within a blackness, the building which calls its status into question reduced to a black velvet backdrop. More pertinent however to the codification endeavor initiated above would be the servitude of the structure. Whom does it serve and how? As a gallery installation it functions almost as a gallery within a gallery, as if stating that “No, the type of outmoded space we found here does not contain the space of our contemporary world any longer,” and that this new capturing of space within the usurped would itself be left empty to foreground its own characteristics. It exists for no other reason than to allow itself to capture space and be occupied. Of course Denari, who I fondly recall seeing shopping for remaindered Halloween candy on November 1st at the Mar Vista Sav-On, enumerates other communicative functions of the installation, its smoothness, its birth from globalization, etc. The ways in which Denari’s installation ‘functions’ are frail at best. The main argument for the installation’s ‘buildingness’ comes from its intent. If it has a lock on the first two criteria above, but it was created by an architect, one whose art is the building, is it a building? Not that everything an architect does is a building, but if they say it is, and it is reasonable, then why would it not be (See Design =/ Art catalogue)? By the same token, or the other side of it, what if what I experience is a building, even if it is not posited as one.

Bits of images and sensations gather in my thoughts. It is starting to watch a movie I had watched frequently as a child and feeling the dialogue forming like some patterns of light playing down through the murk. I can almost say the words before the actor says them, but not quite. It takes a prompt or a structure, like recalling a dream in a face or a room. Again, this is less the Proustian trigger than it could be. I think it is possibly more fantastic. Out of the sterile boring air of my office I tasted pepperoni and cigarettes on the back of my palette. I was in the Pizza Hut on A1A in Indialantic, 1984, but I only saw dark wood and dimpled red glass lamp shields. In the conference room on the morning of a full day meeting coffee and oranges diffused in the white air partially form my grandmother’s kitchen around my thoughts, but only some surrogate wallpaper pattern and perhaps the view of the freezing ocean’s horizon just above the window sill. So much is jettisoned. Of course those are as complete pictures as my mind is likely to assemble without some more robust assistance. The world speaks too much. The mind can’t help but talk back. Nothing strigils the mind’s filthy tongue better than a long, bleak drive, not even a night of sleep. Austin to Fort Worth fits the bill. Waco swells a moment from ashy green to built beige. I went in on foot on this trip and rose little out of the bleary stupor of the drive. I recall unnecessarily the population skewed towards teenage girls and Baylor’s live bear mascot who now makes appearances without the promise of a cold Dr. Pepper to cap off his act. Then the highway again.

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