Follies of Truth
text: Drs Kevin Zdanieki
Firstly, to begin, the definition of architectural folly, according to Wikipedia, an ‘online free encyclopedia’, is as follows:
“In architecture a folly is a building construction primarily for decoration, but either suggesting by it’s appearance some other purpose is merely so extravagant that it transcends the normal range of garden ornaments or other class of building to which it belongs.”
Secondly, this essay or article is written to underpin the exhibition A Trolley of Folly, an installation involving the fusion of three artists work in the combination of material, sound and action into something that exceeds more than just the sum of it’s parts. These educated, skilled and remarkable artists include Liam Crichton (sculptor), Calvin Laing (a performer and video artist) and Lorenzo Tebano (a sound and installation artist) in conjunction with artist, Keef Winter, of Bruno Glint, as curator of this exhibition designed for Art Licks Weekend. The three artist’s input will be discussed later. Suffice for now to say that the ‘architecture’ of this installation carries with it the combination of philosophies, artistic innovative ideas, energies and creations, as well as the discussion pointsoutlined below under the umbrella of architecture and its follies.
Architecture and its spatial concerns, notably in Westernised structures, has been regarded as an art form arising from its projective origins within individuals and society. Perhaps from our childhoods in fact, the putting of structure and form ‘onto paper’, or whatever medium current technology determines as appropriate within our schools or homes, is regarded an essential form of so-called ‘development’. It forms, and is considered as, an enormously important part of realising an inner concept, or feeling, as an object in a physical space along the spectrum between inner and outer spaces. The psychological and analytical value of this cannot, indeed should not, be diminished in any way. Our individual tool bags are full of introjections, as well as projections, and are put to full use, or in some cases even abused say for theological and political ends. The importance, therefore, of how we comprehend the hermeneutics of these projections and introjective mechanisms in our everyday world is addressed, with the all-important critique, by these art installations. This is alongside understanding the truth of architectural follies or perhaps the follies of truth itself. This will be discussed further, later in this article.
For now, however, it would be better to continue with the emotional significance of these architectural packages which themselves are intrinsically bound to both socio-economic and theo-political confines.
Arguably, all our childhood stories reach further than these architectural ‘boxes’, be they of post-Renaissance or post-modernistic conceptually theoretical or pragmatic ilk. Yet within these structures even our pathologies or non-patholog- ical desires, aims, hatred, loves, curiosities, romantic and/or erotic encounters, compassions, empathy, etc all find place. Even the social and spiritual meanings of our psyches ‘walk the corridors’, rest, open and close doors between the mentally internalised, and physically symbolized, emotional living spaces, irrespective of how architecturally dismembered these embodied constructs may be.
Some people desire to be in these places, non-threatening and non-abusive ‘safe places’, for others these are places of appropriate regression. It might be seen that it is out of hope of finding such a place in reality the emotional embarkation might result in tragedy, anxiety, depression or inter- or intrapersonal conflict. It may also lead to some regression, to retreading childhood or adolescent romantic pathways, or the stereotypical long-gone roads, or alleyways, with a childlike and youthful curiosity and excitation about life. Only to find that all of this was like a dog farcically chasing it’s own tail, no development or evolution and never really moving on to anywhere. Although our home as a child may physically be gone, that same childhood emotional space becoming in itself, partially or wholly, ‘the home’. This might well be regarded as ‘folly’ if not tragedy. For architecture to embrace this state in the actuality of this homelessness; albeit unspoken and unconscious, is no small demand. Possibly, such are the questions architects ask in their art, and philosophy. Importantly, the emotional experience of architecture and architectural spaces, in ‘the home’, in cinemas, in theatres, in music and art installation venues, in these and in other transformational spaces, are what is attempted by this installation A Trolley of folly. Structures, objects of desire with respect to others not to mention immigration and identity are all part of the many quests facing these artists. Creative and thoughtful architects, such as the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, have sought to tackle such quests for answers. He addresses ‘the role of the psyche’ in the creative process of architecture.
He himself has been described as a modernist attempting to ‘humanise’ architecture. Most other architects at the time, in various countries, were innovated by The Machine rather than the more individualistic, even idiosyncratic, needs of ‘the little man’, in whatever perspective, be that of tragedy or comedy.
Furthermore, from my psychological perspective, there is yet another folly dramatically ‘burning’ into our lives - that of the effects of architecture on our identity, precipitating for many, even today, an identity crisis in the light of modern, or so called post-modern reflections in questions of social and
individual estrangement, alienation, exile and the previously discussed psychological homelessness. Eric Erikson, written about as an ‘identities architect’ wrote Childhood and Society, while Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno’s Dialectic of enlightenment and Herbert Marcuse’s one Dimensional Man all excoriated conformity and revealed alienation. Although Erikson placed pivotal importance on the resolution of developmental ego struggles, Lacan, however, saw the ego as an inauthentic agency functioning to conceal a disturbing lack of unity.
This further demands seeing the individual as a composite of social and linguistic forces. Before you associate this with respect to the sculpture of Crichton, the performances of Laing or the mood-setting sounds of Tebano, reference will first be made to post-structuralist deconstruction.
From readings and understanding of this deconstruction, it might best be described as representing a complex response to a whole variety of theoretical and philosophical movements of the 20th century; most notably perhaps Husserlian phenomenology, Saussurian and French structuralism as well as Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis. Derived from Martin Heidegger, so-called radicals like Jacques Derrida, who is understand by many to be one most important thinkers of the 20th Century, dissembles structural layers in the system. In fact, more or less, in Derrida’s own words it is a translation of ‘terms’ and what is translated is ‘architectural’. He ‘loosened’ past ways of thought and perceiving ‘reality’ in what may be seen as a similar way to Heidegger and even Nietzsche. As perhaps so too Freud did in many ways. Derrida talked of ‘de-centering the universe’. A destablisation in fact.
This in turn might be seen as perceiving ‘reality’ from a different, more relative, position. However what makes Derrida so remarkable is his suggestion that the meaning of words, and perhaps extrapolated to the art inherent in architecture, never escapes the text or the whole or gestalt of the ‘build’ or ‘installation’. In other words, the only reality they say can be known to us is the one constructed in the text or gestalt of the ‘build’. Derrida stated that there was ‘nothing outside the text’ and that ‘the absence of the transcendental
signified extends the domain and the play of signification infinitely’. Hence opening radical insights into the ‘follies’ of so-called truths that are empirically held and deemed falsifiable (Karl Popper). The distinction between truths and fiction, ideologically or perceptually, is in fact redundant. Thus, the installations of A Trolley of folly might well be associated with this definition tied between architecture and philosophy, both to be understood as inseparable effects, of the same transaction, discourse or dialectic. Non-linearity, non-temporality
are perhaps to be seen as features of this installation which may well impact on the viewers/audience’s engagement, possibly positing subtle questions as to reality and thereby the related variety of follies both in and of ‘architectural truth’. But to discern, or not, the artists intentions would perhaps detract from not only the title of their installations and their ambiguity but also, importantly, whether or not the exhibition is in fact a folly within itself, even should there be a secondary intentional purpose or use to the installation.
To return to Derrida, however, he had close connections with, and impact on, such architects as Bernard Tschumi renowned for his famous design for the Parc de la Villette in Paris (1987). Derrida in fact referred to the project in Points de folie - Maintenant Architecture (1985). Such a link to this French thinker was denied or played-down by COOP Himmelblau (1988). Nevertheless, these deconstructionalist architects loudly opposed the ‘well made’ previously anthropocentric architecture. To quote Wolf D. Prix and Helmut Swiczinky (Himmelblau 1988):
“We don’t want architecture to exclude everything that is disquieting, We want architecture to have more... Architecture should be cavernous, fiery, smooth, hard, angular, brutal, round, delicate, colourful, obscene, voluptuous, dreamy, alluring, repelling, wet, dry and throbbing.”
In this or possibly any other respect, parallels to the artists’ installation in material terms would be worth noting.
The above named architects, according to Anthony Vidler’s 1992 The Architectural Uncanny have been inspired by the ‘Uncanny’. Not only found in such literature as that by Philip K. Dick, William Gibson’s Neuromancer but also in films such as those of David Lynch.
A literary piece from Philip K. Dick’s book Time out of Joint (1959) accompanies the written introduction to A Trolley of Folly. This might be associated firstly to the ‘Uncanny’, so typical of Dick’s novels one of which Do Androids Dream of electric Sheep (1968) was translated into the rather well known film Bladerunner (1982). And/or secondly, perhaps, because of the very nature of it’s content, that is to say someone making a spatial mistake, banging his head into a cupboard, indeed a personal ‘folly’ amongst an apparent architectural folly involving a predicted and expected, yet non-existent, light cord. This, all whilst looking for his pill, the space, analytically, being full of ‘objects’, possibly attributes, of a depersonalised and seemingly paranoid character. Insight, as associated to the light switch and not cord, not easily found. This possibly relates to the term ‘uncanny’. Something weird in the world that makes things not only quite as they seem but questionably related to a mental ‘so called’ pathologised ‘illness’ as arguably a reflection of the socio-political-technological times. Nevertheless, this particular text excerpt chosen for A Trolley of folly highlights brilliantly the questions related to ‘what is reality?’ or ‘is reality more fluid than we supposed?’ and maybe related to personal identity issues and/or crises. Such is part of the nature of the installation of drama in this piece. So appropriately and well chosen as a short literary introduction to premise the exhibition. Most poignantly, this uncanny is to be witnessed in the disembodied energies of the installation space and the origin of the chosen materials. Or even, it could well be suggested, in the historicity and memories of the space, albeit perceived in more Jungian terms as part of the dynamics and symbolic recollections and archetypes of the collective unconscious, or for some even consciousness.
It may well be worth mentioning at this point, in terms of this personal identity, a particular existential folly which Jean Paul Sartre describes as ‘bad faith’. Sartre, not considering architectural folly, saw bad faith as designating the strategies we employ to deny the freedom that is inevitably ours irrespective of architecture and it’s defined follies. Manifest as a lack in authenticity. Sartre’s axiom, as outlined in Being and Nothingness (1943) and Nausea (1938) amongst many others of his books/works, was ’I think, therefore, I exist’. According to Sartre there can be no other truth to begin from. The related ideas of consciousness, and what he calls the ‘for-itself’, is defined by awareness of its emptiness, its nothingness. To embrace our freedom necessitates embracing emptiness. Franz Brentano who followed such pivotal thinkers as Soren Kierkegaard and Maurice Merleau-Ponty first developed the intentionality referring to the directedness of consciousness.
Perhaps also even Edmund Husserl or G. W. F. Hegel, this is but merely conjecture. Avoidance of this embrace with emptiness giving rise to such personal folly as bad faith in terms of a ‘spirit of seriousness’ according to Sartre; that is to say the serious person starts from the world and attributes more reality to the world than to his or herself. This may well be arguably somewhat, albeit it vaguely, associated with ideas related to subjectivity and the associated inner realities. However, again it is emphasised this may be a point of contention. Albert Camus’s concept of ‘Absurdity’ comes to mind, either way, perhaps the nature of reality, absurd, shared or unique, and its possible fluidity especially in terms of our perception, can conceivably be reflected and manifest itself in architectural and artistic structural relationships. Even in the aforementioned, popular subject of the ‘Uncanny’.
The above-mentioned ‘Uncanny’ is also to be found in other literary works as well as architectural art. Awareness of the Uncanny in the context of architectural art ‘builds’ is to be found in Edgar Allen Poe or E. T. A. Hoffman. The homely safe places are intruded upon by very weird and alien presences. Then came the disturbing individual alienation created by the advent of the Metropolis with its enormous psychological consequences. Certainly folly, but not that as described as architectural folly, rather something more potentially or actually damaging to the individual and the collective psyche. In this light it is maybe possible to gain insights and other formulations into agoraphobia and claustrophobia, as written about by Anthony Vidler in Warped Space (2000). Indeed, such are resultant follies of a much wider connotation than that in the ‘mere’ context of architecture. Even in the arts it seems defamiliarisation became evident in terms of modern feelings related to the Uncanny. The Uncanny, to no great surprise, also appeared in romanticism. So this architectural Uncanny emerged. Doubtless the influence of Lacan and Derrida, with their re-readings of Freud played no small part in this. So the seeming desire, innovated by this Uncanny, by art and architectural artists to provoke, rightly or wrongly, unease. As well, seen as a need for post-modern architectural art and structure to create discomfort and an ‘unbalancing of expectations’.
Of particular note is Freud’s essay on The Uncanny written in 1919. Freud refers to Uncanny not as a word but as a theory in itself. He draws on E.T.A. Hoffman’s tale The Sandman about an evil man who visits children who won’t go to bed and throws sand in their eyes such that they jump out of their beds bleeding terribly. In this tale a boy Nathanial has the ‘living daylights’ scared out of him and takes the tale into adult life causing him to go mad, constantly plagued with the fear of being blinded and eventually he commits suicide. Freud put this down to his dreadful fears of childhood being carried well into our adult lives, as was the case with Nathanial. Freud relates this with a fear of castration. When truth reveals itself it is often in dissonance to our childhood idealisms. As with Nathanial who falls in love with a clockwork doll called Olympia believing her to be as ‘real’ as he is. And on discovering the terrible truth the dissonance drove him mad. The consequences of the inanimate becoming animate or vice versa. However, there are important aspects to this fear of the Sandman of relevance. Freud calls upon the ‘Uncanny of childhood’ as holding the fears and anxieties that we take with us into adult life. This perhaps, rather obviously, manifests itself in architectural art and design also. And so too in installations and areas that have been sculpted and contain a design or dramatically performed in, integrated or matched with music/sounds/Sonics as the most relevant, planned, overall intended mood. As is the case, specifically, in planning for the exhibition A Trolley of Folly. Such presented short-term installations, seen perhaps as containing all the aforementioned architectural deconstructional embodied and Uncanny themes. In the case of such historicity and age as emphasised by Freud’s article, this might be found to be centred on the most physically orientated types of the Uncanny - traumatic history. Feelings of disorientation, displacement, bewilderment, defamiliarisation, body as building, or installation-sculpt, together with bodily restructuralisation and fragmentation, may create feelings of dismemberment or disablement and can all be well conveyed to its spectators. And so too the conveyance of feelings, already discussed as fluid opposed to temporal linearity in relation to the nature of reality and time. An altogether very powerful, and breathtaking, installation mixed media sculpt, of design, and framed architectural art.
With all this in mind, we return once more to the exhibition at hand, to contemplate the installation dynamics in terms of the above potentialities and actualities.
A Trolley of Folly is installed in a large industrial space in an old and now evacuated Tram Depot in Clapton, a place ‘where labour and toil have been prominent and where the soon embodied energy of this place will be demolished to make way for apartments’. The exhibition embodies a form of journey along art and architectural place to pause here. Inherently and innately looking below, deconstructing if you will, the surfaces of folly with its ambivalences, ambiguities and functional and philosophical values, potentially full of personal or even collective projections.
So we have the artist and architect as a sort of archeologist. An awareness inducing medium of body as inanimate object and realising it’s threats, personal and social dynamics, it’s power struggles. The French philosopher Michel Foucault is brought to mind. In particular his work The Archeology of Knowledge (1969) in which he brilliantly discusses and contemplates enmeshment in networks of power and authority, figures in psychiatry, in politics, and in prisons where Discipline and Punish (1975) ruled the moment, especially his thoughts on what he called the ‘final mode of objectification’, which he saw as a subjectification. Here again are questions related to reality. All of these ideas and their potential possible influence on architectural art, or the artists themselves, being worth consideration.
All disciplines have both a type of archeological folly and a broader type defined folly. Albeit existing on various levels.
© 2013 DRS. KEVIN ZDANIECKI, CPsychol. Associate Fellow BPS FullMem. DCP Expert Witness.
~notes and references available on request~