Exploring places and non-places through a phenomenological view and their links to art, architecture, and society as a culture.
Linking places via art – architecture, and culture
Nine years back, in my tenth grade while my father was building our new house with the help of an architect. I also wanted to get involved in this project as a designer. Every structure and design I had imagined on paper or in my head was rooted solely in relation with the fulfilment of my desire about fantasy home which I had always been looking at while growing up in estate architectural buildings of Rajput's and by getting fascinated from modern interiors shown in Indian Bollywood movies. Although the ideas I had designed for the house with not much sense of its functionality ended up been used partially. This experience was not solely the outcome of musing about dwelling, it is equally embedded as a concrete acknowledgement in my practice today.
I often think that my memories of formerly lived places in the homeland are relived as I recall this experience and endeavour to connect it to the yearnings of the present, thus, compelling me to think critically about my native place. In the book "poetics of space" (1994), Bachelard see the house as a sort of initial universal place of intimacy describing them as Unitary and complex, now this is clearly understood to me that the most meaningful relationship with building takes place inside the most intimate places like home, a place that Freud proposed as a womb "The home is a womb, it is a place whence we all emerge and to which we like to return for safety, warmth and substance"(2017, pg. 17) and also been described by Bell hooks (2017) that "The feeling of safety that many (not all) individuals fell when coming to a space of familiarity, of comfort is often the home". I did not think critically of the way that psyche of an interior we inhabit can alter or create a sense of resistance while buffering against the outside politics and domination in the world. For me, to begin with, the value of a place is borrowed from the intimacy of my relationship to a place that is home. The home place is full of ordinary objects, I know them through use, they are almost part of my selves, too close to be seen, I feel existent at home, its important but paradoxically it goes unnoticed mostly.
We live in an environment of our construction and I am interested in understanding the idea of this constructed space differently, to perceive spatial experiences, to organize, to structure arrangements and to link between my imaginary anatomy and the acquisition of representations of space using interior architecture as a tool in my practice. I aim to reanimate the ways I inhabit a surrounding space in my work.
In this manner, my practice focuses on the environment in the interior space dimension. Also, Interior space elements shape the image of a place and in design study, these elements give identity to space, especially living environments like houses directly reflect the cultural identity of a society. It is known that interior architecture professionals aim to create an environment that satisfies the needs of functionality, aesthetic and cultural identity. And the IFI (international federation of interior architects and interior designers) widely known as the international committee of interior designers define the profession as "A creative enterprise interior design and interior architecture are a mode of cultural production. They are a place maker that interprets translates and edits cultural capital"(2019). In other words, culture is an effective factor that shapes how humans perceive a certain environment. Moreover, I believe every culture consists of its patterns of living habits, attitudes, and beliefs that shape a way of understanding the world around us. To me combing relevant past information and experience is directly affected by my cultural background in a way that it shapes my perception, also illustrated in Rapoport perception model below as:
Real-world – cultural images – Personal images – Perceived world
Rapoport’s Perception Model (2012)
One example of this interaction that I have experienced can be seen in vernacular houses built in a desert climate of the Thar desert in Jaisalmer, the western region of the state Rajasthan. These are distinguished by its yellow sandstone architecture which also are the physical appearances of the society's cultural heritage, beliefs, lifestyle and values since these are the outcomes of those people's life and cultural continuity.
Terrace view of the yellow sandstone housing in the town of Jaisalmer, (2010)
At the same time, even this is true that in today's global era, when it comes to Interior lifestyles people across different locations tend to seek ideas from other places, cultures and times. I am fascinated by the linking and employing of such spaces in my paintings using spatial dimensions, colour, cultural perception plus applying fundamental elements of interior architecture as primary points of reference.
Over years I have seen the way visual arts opened its practice to the architectural space and during the same time many architects became involved in art too. As per Hal Foster, this collaboration where art and architecture juxtapose or combine in a unique complexity indicates how the capitalist subsumption of the cultural into the economy often causes the repurposing of such an art-architecture combination as points of attraction or site of display (2011, pp.1-3). Often where art and architecture communicate is also where the question about new spaces are one to analyse. I feel my position here is of an observer of my surroundings/ the built environment around me. This includes the inside interiors and the outside architecture. I feel being involved in art, I am in an unusual stand of being the observer of these two disciplines of art- architecture. My dealing with these disciplines is relatively peripheral and I have been able to do it in my terms of relative self-rules in my paintings.
When I talk about breaking boundaries between art and design, the architect Zaha Hadid drawings and paintings are a significant example for me. As quoted by Gopnik (2011), Hadid said ‘I am an architect who really was inspired by art, as a starting point'. She is an Arab woman and Britain based architect, Her work reflects in a combination of the culture, identity of Iraq and the new thoughts from modern Avant grade art and design. To further develop an abstract language for her practice, Hadid practiced drawing and painting throughout her career, particularly influenced by the suprematist abstraction of artist Kazimir Malevich. Her drawings and paintings provide me with a welcome scope because I see drawing for me has become the simplest way of self-expression leading me to produce more diverse forms of a composition or idea.
Zaha Hadid, Metropolis, (1988)
Metropolis is a painting by Hadid in which the landscape is expressed in prismatic forms. I like the way the fluid shapes seem to hover above the surface. It embodies what I can understand as the architectural unconscious. It appears as an abstract autonomous artwork and a self-enclosed exterior floating into an interior composition. Regarding Hadid painting and drawing, Parviz Mohassel in Husserl: Phenomenology of Architectural Drawing, has described in general her impressive drawing that looks like as if they are computer-generated‘ because of their accurate way of painting even concerning small details (Mohassel, 2008, p.ii). In general, Hadid paintings were universally recognized by their professionalism. By analysing Hadid’s painting It can be concluded that her perception of architecture first as an art form could be used to evolve forms that can later be used to employ the needs of people and the requirements of building‘s function in form of interior architecture design.
Equally, with my ongoing engagement with interior architecture where Interior is first a geometrical object of calculated lines and right angles, I have employed drawing as a systematic and obsessive construction in my painting that reveals a complex and subtle rearrangements and reinterpretations. In other words, this helps me tell the history of the painting's development. Although I have never studied optic mathematics and my use of maths is rudimentary and only confined to such things as equalizing, halving, quartering and simple progression. Drawing has given me a line as a tool for architectural exploration and to help me suggest a way to stitch together complex geometries and shapes, order or Chaos, it helps constitute boundaries in my paintings as a primary method. Lastly, I agree that the art and architecture are frequently differentiated in terms of its function, but I find interior and architecture not in its functional guise but as a site of desire, memory and doubt, home to personal eventuality and a source of collective histories, a point of clashing of cultures and merging of subjectivities.
Changing relationship with physical surroundings & Staged interiors
Conventionally place formation can be defined as the attitude the individual forms towards a certain environment. However, unlike conventional inhabited place the term what anthropologist March Augé proposes to call as "Non- Place" (2008, pp.63-70), fascinates me. It is a place of being in between, or in other words something I would perceive incoherently, in which he critically claims we experience alienation. These are areas that lie between destinations such as hotels, theatres, staircases, terminals. I have always been to such spaces mostly every day of my life, for instance, while sitting in a movie theatre I feel the situation is artificial and fictionalized therefore lending degrees of realism to the fiction going on screen.
For me, It is a place of in-between real and imaginary, to explain further it is more like that new places are generated and new relations are constructed. Now here, Interiors spaces serve as a significant metaphor for my imaginary/invented world as my imaginary world is rooted in the real but exists in my mind. One doesn't find a person in my pictures, just spaces void of human presence. The sturdy line of interior architecture forms swings between desire and reality, idea and function, existing and imagines situation operating an invented space composition.
My paintings are a model of fully invented space, The structure is usually divided into partial representative and partially abstract interior composition, for which I am borrowing ideas from architectural elements of hotels, domestic spaces, historic architecture and Indian miniature paintings. This approach towards my practice encourages me to take interior tourism that allows me to assemble and invent spaces behind my desire. I also think it is about me trying to find a way of giving the subject an openness for a viewer to enter, interpret in space to think. I have always been fascinated by architecture as a cultural and social phenomenon, so using interiors such as hotels in my work which also resonate with people offers a great opportunity. Concerning such non-places and linking it to hotel experience I often feel hotels creates the illusion of forged exotic location by hermetically blocking outer reality. They offer escapist experience in faraway worlds from reality. In such artful places, new perceptions and venues are designed to astonish and engage with its artifice. The famous example of these non-places are the theme hotels of las Vegas, where guest can have the manufactured experience of being transported through Venice canals or the streets of Paris (Harkison, 2016). I have even heard of a hotel in Switzerland where the guestroom ceiling dissolves into film images. Moreover, the nature theme hotels continue to offer places to detox from stress and provide respite from cities.
The world is on the move by breaking geographical borders as people can increasingly travel anywhere, anytime for business or leisure. As per the data by Our World in Data (2019) the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNTWTO) estimates as an average of 1.4 billion international people move for travel in a year across the globe. As travel and tourism have become an integral part of people social, economic lifestyle hotels are one of the largest providers of accommodation to travellers. Usually, now hotels are the buildings that get reinvented and reimagined for many years more so than ever. Although thinking about the experience of having been cloistered in a hotel room before being exposed to the outside world is one way to draw out this contrast between spatial experiences of the in-between situation of staged interiors and the real world.
Since the 19th century, hotels whether in cities or remote oases, have evolved from simple places to sleep while on road into elaborate destinations that combine all the luxury facilities of city life (Albrecht. p.7), Besides, all such spaces are mostly designated by comfort and attraction. Such interior architecture is one of the major components of tourist experience and one of the first services that is demanded by a tourist on arrival at the destination (Santoro, 2015). Interiors have become an experience, in this context, I mean identifying the experience as a creator through settings of the staged spaces across the hotel, the ethos of the property, smell, touch of the materials, the actors' performances and the coordination between guests as participants. Besides being a guest I also experience hotel interior like a theatre and myself as an actor in there to play, with the hotel providing the ambiance as a backdrop to the story. I also feel Hotel rooms seem to be designated unnamed or hard to name places through the fact of its lack of characteristics to the non-indicated isolation from the contrasting outside world. A lot of hotel leaflets suggest this reversal of gaze, by offering the would-be images of musing perfect settings. Although it seems like a chance to escape seemingly remote from the real concerns and duties.
One such experience I remember was in my school summer vacations. It used to fascinate me when every year I had a family trip, and one of these trips was to the sand-dunes of the Thar desert in the town of Jaisalmer, West Rajasthan. I got very excited to think about fancy heritage fort now turned hotel where we were going to stay.
Heritage Hotel in Thar desert, Jaisalmer, (2019)
Hotel exterior, Jaisalmer, (2019)
The property is situated in an isolated rural area with a breath-taking view of deserted land around everywhere I look, although there is a major town nearby. At that movement, there was a real sense of wow and curiosity in me when I entered and start walking around the main lounge of the hotel. It had a sense of calm, with soft music, scented rose smell with few folk paintings hung on the walls. Once I entered this world, today I could say I feel like I was saying goodbye to the real world with extreme heat and entering a surreal, peaceful haven where the temperature is controlled unlike outside. However, I realized later and often get disturbed to see categorization of geographical and political difference between the nearby town of yellow sandstone vernacular houses and estate buildings. On one side I can have a comfortable experience in a managed environment with swimming pools, bars and spas in the hotel but on the other side, the town for most part of the year suffers from heatwaves and drought with no opportunity for the poor's for even agriculture.
Through the years luxury hotels have been closely associated with hospitality but now Luxury hotels have become a part of the visual experience and economy as well. I agree with what Marg Augé defines as "The global structure is made up of networks, "a system defined by parameters that are spatial, but also economic, technical, scientific and political"( 2011 p. 11). This means such structures are not just confined to its aesthetic beauty and comfort, it also reflects a place or a city/town political and economic situation because the creation of demand for superior level of places to stay is said to have come from the increasing number of higher classes travellers ( O'Gorma, 2002), hence a city then is capable of investing money into more hotel infrastructures thus increasing employment and economy. In the same manner, the governments objective of creating the new palace-like heritage hotels or converting the fort in Jaisalmer into hotel is to select few five star establishments that symbolise excellence and perfection, luxury and timelessness by making them as a site of attraction so in order to highlight something unique in the hope to attract tourist. On the contrary, in context to Hadid's career, she always insisted as per guardian magazine review that architecture should be a unique thing leaving its influence in the area and related people's life as a whole and with a concern of attracting people to experience as well (Hattenstone, 2010).
Nevertheless given this situation what concerns me most is when the connotation of beauty, design, and arrangement of an interior space is only associated with class people. The luxury interiors have continued to inform ways locals are guided to see themselves in relation to living spaces. Unfortunately so many poor people in the area have been socialized by the politics of consumerism to see themselves as lacking in taste and style when It comes to issue of architecture and aesthetics and their incapability to imagine and create rather it is visible that it's due to their unavoidable consequence of poverty and extreme weather and water conditions. Consequently, due to the tourist boom as per local government estimates, the hotels, restaurants, and shops import nearly 50,000 gallons of water daily. Hence, international heritage foundations, such as the World Monuments Fund, are urging both tourists and residents to scale back their water use (Smithsonian Magazine, 2019). However significantly even during the direst circumstances of inequality this is constructive to see people found ways to express their creativity to display artistry.
In general, by mapping, the cultural genealogy western and non-western architecture surveys reveal an intimate relationship between interior and society and it is evident here when I see the way people of this desert region has used imagination in homes and exterior architecture to surpass their limits of not being materially privileged. I believe space must exist for everyone to think, to talk about and theorize interior architecture as a cultural art practice. Thereby more understanding of spatial dimension may make the vernacular spaces as relevant as any other form of interior architecture practice.
Engagement with Pattern of architectural forms in domestic space.
My perception of an interior place is imbued by several factors one of such factors is when subject and place combine in a fashion each shaping and reshaping the other. Here, by the subject I mean the notion of pattern and spatial dimension engaged with the fundamental principles of formalism. In the same sense, YI- Fu Tuan explains his experience of a place and space "Place is a type of object, places, and objects define space giving it a geometric personality" (2003 p. 17). Furthermore, I have impelled myself forward in understanding the use of patterns in my work. I have done this by questioning the breakdown of spaces simply through colour, forms, and patterning which displays the integration of fine art with decor, and has helped me bridge the gap between the design world and the art world.
I am intrigued by symmetry and thus to the repetition. Moreover, patterns for me has never been only an aesthetic affair. I believe this sense of self-consciousness has developed through looking at Indian Miniature paintings and architecture. Unlike painting, patterns do not conceal mystery rather it reveals surprising conclusions and complexities within it.
Thus, these patterns in domestic spaces and patterns in the overall design and architecture of places have led the curiosity in me to study aspects of society's relationship with their inhabited places. As can be seen in the films by the artist Rosalind Nashashibi. I recently saw her film Hreash House (2004) through the art organization LUX, it incorporates motifs that are pulled from her everyday environment.
The film is confined to the domestic interiors of a Palestine home in Israel, it shows a feast and its aftermath during Ramadan. It arose some key questions about the complex relationship between art and politics and about the nature of visual language and its potential to create contemplative space.
Still image from the film Hreash House by Rosalind Nashashibi, (2019)
The house is in Nazareth which has a Palestinian population and Hreash house family are one of those extended family group all living together in one single concrete block. The film conveyed a subtle outline of an internal visual language with many still gazing movements of patterns set on every corner of the house from floor carpets, wallpapers, blankets, sofas, curtains to the bathroom tiles. It also conveys the inner movements often considering the politics of relations in the community and the extended family while merging everyday life observation of the family with fictional and mythological elements to create abstract figurative work like this film that combines lush colours and forms to develop it.
I felt the film gave me enough space to think associatively rather than imposing and affecting the logical structure. Although the film is limited to four walls of the interior and I only happen to see the inside of the façade because I really felt the depiction of the place; the house is the only place that could really feel as a place of healing and safety even though there seems to be no immediate physical danger outside the house in the film. Throughout the film, I observed patterns not just on things around but also the everyday patterns formed by activities and surroundings in the House. The best part is that the film is not critical of its subject matter. It articulates what is sympathetic about the subjects, what I can identify with the patterns. It could be said that the context of the art of patterning enables artists to comment on social, political situations like in her films Rosalind emphasis the way that patterned works alters traditional depiction of human psychology. The film is political not how the way we see in the media rather it is the other way, there is warm humour here to do with reserving my judgement. It is like observing societies without judgement, that direct narrative can bring through the medium of art.
To conclude, my ongoing art practice has sought to develop my understanding of the notion of interior places with how it affects the way of perceiving life aesthetically, socially, economically and politically. To begin with, I speak of this journey to discuss and explore to know what a place means to me via using their specific relationship with home and theorizing the value of a home as a "potpourri of memories, inventions, and cultural interpretations. Also, this research has sought to interpret my understanding of concepts of space and place are central to modern society and culture. With this understanding, I have gained a new perspective to address the concerns of the political disintegration of society in terms of places. At the same time, I am aware that as contemporary art continues to expand its global perimeters the amalgamation of art and architecture shall always provide me as a method of expression and critique of the built environment, new era, cultural tropes, to celebrate the heritage and everyday psychology of places like interiors. Therefore, an interior place will always continue to make an impact on how I perceive and make me think again of inventing new spaces in my work, same as if inventing a place that is gone in past and a place that is yet to be discovered. Where I am constantly reimagining its reality, this can also mean creating an illusionary psyche of a place. Furthermore, I have considered drawing and architecture form as my primary start points in my process, similar to the way Hadid considers the form over all other factors of architecture. For further study, I would consider creating new spaces and forms using Hadid's perspective of art as architecture and study her rationality on perceiving a space through the medium of art.
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