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2007 02 26
Angle of Incident #42: Seminar 4, Rethinking the Status of the Natural, Part 5
Johnathan Wong’s presentation of portal, passage, place, and the nature of “in-between spaces” as notes towards a “typography of the unconscious” was a refreshingly palpable and lyrical contribution to the demandingly theoretical colloquy in progress:



Interior and in between spaces
A recurring motif in twentieth century visual art is the domestic interior, a subcategory of which is the empty room. Take, for example, these four rooms:—What’s the significance of emptiness here? Specifically, what is the subject matter that lends them their particular unsettling quality? Is it in the material objects that describe a condition of inhabitation, or rather the space that surrounds such objects? What about the walls, floor and ceiling planes which circumscribe the spatial volumes while implicating the viewer through a careful manipulation of perspective?

It occurs to me that the emotional power of these images lies in the fact that they do not have a subject per se, but rather succeed at evoking something—an atmosphere, a lurking presence if you like—that escapes pictorial description altogether. Here emptiness, that is negative space, is assigned a positive value, creating in effect a moment of tension between what one expects to see (an object) and what one is presented with (a non-object). This subtle use of inversion is what I think gives rise to that curious sense of surreality or the ‘presence of an absence’.

Not so much representations of physical places as metaphors of the mind, the rooms further suggest a sort of topography of the unconscious in which interior spaces such as rooms, closets and corridors describe a private landscape of thoughts, memories and desires. As in those dreams of wandering one’s childhood home, the experience is one of feeling both familiar and foreign at the same time.

A similar line of thinking is found in the Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, who in his introduction quotes Carl Jung:

“We have to describe and to explain a building the upper story of which was erected in the nineteenth century; the ground-floor dates from the sixteenth century, and a careful examination of the masonry discloses the fact that it was reconstructed from a dwelling-tower of the eleventh century. In the cellar we discover Roman foundation walls, and under the cellar a filled-in cave, in the floor of which stone tools are found and remnants of glacial fauna in the layers below. That would be a sort of picture of our mental structure.”

Image Source
1. Vilhelm Hammershoi, “White Doors or Open Doors, 1905,” in Anne-Birgitte Fonsmark, Vilhelm Hammershoi, 1864-1916: Danish Painter of Solitude and Light. (New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1998).
2. Walker Evans, “Upstairs Room, Walpole, Maine, 1962,” in Time-Life Books, eds. Great Photographers. 2nd ed. (Alexandra, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1983), 160.
3. Edward Hopper, “Rooms by the Sea, 1951,” in Gail Levin, Edward Hopper: the art and the artist. (New York: Norton, 1980), 295.
4. Antonio Lopez Garcia, “House of Antonio Lopez Torres, 1972-75.” http://www.timlowly.com/a/lopezgarcia.html

Works Cited:
Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969. xxxiv.

[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 02/26 at 06:22 AM

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