In the far east of London, stands majestic and solitary the London Aquatics Centre. In an almost inexistent context, it emerges from the flatness of the surroundings, like a solitary wave in the middle of the ocean. At first sight, its dynamic form amazes but then the question arises: would it be as beautiful within a context? Or is it this emptiness that enhances the building? “Space is meaningless without scale, containment, boundaries and direction”, writes Huxtable – so is the aquatic centre just a meaningless wonder?
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The Art Of Mirrors.
6 March 2018
words & photos: Natalie Donat-Cattin
The SANAA Terminal – more a shelter rather than a building – disappears in the vastness of its surroundings, almost invisible but accented by its choice of materials. Countless white pillars stand in an obvious grid – placed to give rhythm to the landscape or to pace the speed of the clouds – every now and then interrupted by a mirror or a pane of glass.
While promenading along Naoshima pier, lost in the mirrors, the sea, and the horizon, my mind wonders upon freedom. Facing my trapped reflection, yet seeing my-other-self immersed in nature, I seek for a way out. Are art and architecture offering me an escape? Or is freedom just another mirror on life’s path?
Last Christmas, I was gifted Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. A note on the first page said: to a girl, who once loved saying “it was another me in the mirror”. In fact, in my childhood this piece of shiny metal nourished my imagination. Every time I misbehaved, I would try to convince my mum of how this girl, identical to me, had taken my place, committed a “crime”, to then jump back into the safe and untouchable “other side”.
The power of a mirror lies in its simplicity. A single surface allowing for endless possibilities. Multiplication’s machine, illusions’ creator, reality’s extension are just some of its magical properties.
“Magic mirror, on the wall – who is the fairest one of all?”
Much like Snow White’s stepmother, Alice and I, many others use the mirror as a medium. Michelangelo Pistoletto envisions it as an element of connection, dialogue and comparison between antiquity and contemporaneity – an illusory tri-dimensional space where everything coexists. His works, like Lightbulb and The Architecture of the Mirror, evade the pictorial space with the desire to join the fleetingness of existence.
In the same way, Robert Smithson during the Ithaca Mirror Trail challenges the idea of the locality of an object. In the world of mirrors, every item belongs to the surrounding, maintaining its independence yet merging into the landscape.
This artistic tradition finds its extreme in the work of Yayoi Kusama. Infinity Mirror Rooms mocks reality. This closed-open box is a fictitious realm of possibilities, where we are urged to reflect on our existence. More than ever we feel objectified in the vastness of the world.
Such artists have inspired the first representation of the Continuous Monument by Superstudio, exhibited in 1973 in Fragments From A Personal Museum at the Neue Galerie in Graz, Austria. A creative irony oscillates between classicism and utopia. These two concepts, trapped and transposed into a never-ending space, are freed from the weight of conventions to find new meanings and correspondences. This monument, finished but infinite, lies between art and architecture on a linear trail, that goes from Pistoletto to Smithson, to Kusama.
In the primitive space of the Naoshima Terminal, charged with magical objects, I do not find answer to my questions. I am teased by the beauty of the reflections, but at the same time enthralled by it. The building’s strength lies in its non-character: a chameleon in its context. Anonymous, silent, yet able to conjure my uncertainties.
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The Ara Pacis was and is an altar to the greatness of Rome, an altar of ideals and hopes. Forgotten but rediscovered. Rebuilt but eradicated. Idolised but caged. Now it sits imprisoned behind white bars, while the citizens invoke freedom for it. Criticism resonates from every part of the capital, loud and clear not unlike most Italians.
The Grace Farms building, designed by SANAA nestles itself nicely into its context, offering various programmes for the community- all playfully placed under a long sinous roof.
Buildings by nature seek to dominate space. At the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the experience is wholly different – in this isolated picturesque setting: space dominates building. At first sight, the architecture appears anonymous, sculptural and silent. Lost along the Californian coast, it is situated a stone’s throw away from San Diego in La Jolla. We can imagine it as an untouched gem in a post war scenario: a living ruin, capable of projecting worlds of its own.
If the essence of architecture – its intrinsic and determining constituent – is empty space, every man has experienced an archetypal feeling when visiting the Pantheon. Confined in an immense space, we can never embrace its entirety. Ignorant but curious, we marvel at how such a great dome can stand. Questions whose answers lie in subtle ploys: secrets buried within the structure and the material.