In modernity there are no more steady rules of connections. Connections are elliptical and changing. Syntax and grammar are relational; however, they are not whatever. Modernity is about the freedom of connections which are not reducible to pure logic or rationalism. Modernity is dreaming new languages which are beyond representation. Language is tied to dreaming freedom. Whoever destroys language destroys himself or herself.
Language is a second body. Delaunays' paintings, their "window to the city", the surrealist novel, the nouveau roman all explore language as a second body. It is the materialized soul. With Novalis the body becomes the stream, the night, the day, the cosmos. His "liquid girls" are the secret of language. To know that "milk is black" is also one of the many secrets of language linking us directly to the cosmos. Language is a secret naming.
Language is that which closes itself over the void. Mallarmé and Duchamp show us, that if the universe is language,-its face is empty. Their works are trajectories in search of meaning. Doing Architecture is a love for language. It is like going to the desert and absorbing the lessons of the stream. It is being alone: the horizon and earth meeting, vastness, emptiness, movement, change and space. It is the courage to be able to face the "empty face" of the universe that allows for new possibilities of languages and forms of life.
Language is always somewhat ahead of our thoughts, just like writing or drawing. Surrealist writing, the drawing or sketch in Architecture, are the flow of language, it is a form of swimming, diving into something which is already there, like the city with all its superimpositions. As with the superimpositions found in Cezanne or Schindler's work, the superimposition and layering of space, volumes and colors. Language is ahead of our thoughts. It is more than just a matter of the brain. The heart, the soul, emotions and the body make for the corporeality of language. Language has an intimate connection to experience. It is a part of an intricate weave, like the air we breathe.
This is why language, writing and drawing have a deep and secret power to promote being. The imagination hungers for images. Drawing is not a depiction but a way of thought of expression; it is a figurative language like a form of writing. Scarpa says: " I draw because I want to see." It is a seeing and knowing in the mind. Scarpa's work doesn't so much take place in an arena of visual perception as in the vicinity of a linguistic competence. He never fell into historical styles because his interests were of a relational nature: " A Transparency of relations". According to Octavio Paz "Light is time thinking of itself." Scarpa works the light critically; it is a criticism in the romantic sense, not one of exclusion, but of inclusion of the object and work of art. The work of art becomes aware of itself.
Language is a place; there is a desire in language to orient and to have a standpoint. The language of Architecture is like the eye of language, it is about another kind of seeing. Language is like a plan or a section, it is generative, and it is a relational instrument. Architecture like language is polysemous, polyphonic and polysemantic. Architecture is about giving time and space for the articulation of different visions, voices and their multiple interconnectedness. Architecture and language are, like paintings, in the words of Clemenceau: "A way of looking deep into the eyes of the world."
Questioning and doubt are internal to language and architecture. In Chinese "but" is the radical root of the ideogramme "mouth" and "who" is the radical root of the ideogramme "language". Questioning lies at the heart of language. Words, like walls, planes, light and space, desire to enwrap and to show themselves; to traverse their own space. The issue perhaps is less to just let "words run loose", as to keep them within reach of their possibilities and within reach of their suggestive powers. The desire for words to show themselves also speaks of the strong relationship between language and joy. Words, like materials, space and light are the heaviness of emptiness. Language is that which closes itself over the void.
Language and Architecture are a kind of writing into the void, into the black, the dark and the shadow. It is in this black or shadow where words and architectural elements meet. The darkness of language is like a protection from too much self-reflection.
Language is more than just communication or understanding. It is about being alone and about taking risks. When I enter a building, it is like entering language with all its nuances, shades and inflections; and just like poetry, it likes to have a voice, it likes to be read, to be experienced and it likes to be a challenge.
To hear one word as if it were thousands of words is about the superimposition inherent in language. Language and Architecture exist as superimpositions. There is a presence and absence of language. The passivity of language is a kind of center which allows language to exist, and we should allow a word, like a house, the possibility to open itself unto all possible worlds or experiences which live in it. Writing is a kind of forgetfulness; it is the subconscious of language. Matisse's figures in blue are a kind of writing with the scissors into color. Similarly Yves Klein's body paintings, it is always the whole body which is involved in language and in architecture.
Language is another way of seeing and imagining. It is language which thinks and suffers, just as it is also the imagination which thinks and suffers. There is a subversive power in language, a magic beyond communication. Brancusi's Endless Column has a magical rhythm with which we can catch a glimpse of infinity. The Endless Column is like a revelation. Naming, the innermost nature of language is about naming the unnamable it is about doing the impossible. Herein lays the heart of architecture.
Language is a place and like writing it is about a return to the Zero Point. It is like writing on a blank page. It is about changing the world. Architecture has a memory of this desire for wanting to transform the world. The banal memory is like a dam against creative memory. Banal memory secures against loss, when, on the contrary, loss is a necessary part of memory. Memory is possible because of repetition. It is repetition of metaphors, symbols, words, myth and figures that give to language, to architecture and to the city the space and time to remember.
Language is a promise.
This text has been inspired by Paola Iacucci's
Three Houses and other Buildings by Gangemi
Gabrielle is an architect, artist and writer. She completed her studies at Columbia and Princeton Universities in the USA. She currently lives in Switzerland where she has her own architectural practice. Her websites are: http://www.gabriellevonbernstorff.com and http://www.gabriellevonbernstorff.ch.
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