Praznine 08_20. 11. 2015

Janko G. Zlodre (1949-2015) Architecture speaks

'In the second edition of the program Arhitektura govori (Architecture speaks) in November 2011 Mateja Kurir and I talked with Janko Zlodre. Our telephone conversation, which involved some pauses, lapses and overlaps, revealed that Zlodre was not a fan of the rigid form of the program featuring short, direct and seemingly general questions; he did not provide the answers to all of the questions and labelled some of them as ideological. This experience shed a new light on the art of interviewing in my eyes, as well as on the program as a whole. I could not observe it as neutral in its general topic orientation anymore, but as always connected with specific discourses on architecture. The conversation ended on a note of a certain incompleteness, which was probably the reason why Zlodre later sent us the manuscript of the answers he had prepared for the program and did not manage to get across during the interview.'   Izidor Barši
Janko G. Zlodre
Praznine 07_20. 11. 2015

Jon Derganc: Landscapes (Kolkata, Varanasi, Goa), 2014

Jon’s photo series (Abysses, 2010-11; Petra is reading erotic literature, 2013; Landscapes (Kolkata, Varanasi, Goa), 2014)) provoke a question of what photography is able to show. Not a rhetorical one, assuming the impotence of photography as the answer. The question is about what is even (ever) possible to be seen on photographs. More than with the object itself, this dilemma refers to the observing subject and to the location, from where he or she is observing.   As the title itself suggests, the Landscape series was shot in Kolkata, Varanasi and Goa, during Jon’s two-year stay in India. Even though it is a kind of documentary series, the Indian landscape is not documented in a way that we are used to, from images from travel shows or magazines. The series consists of 25 black and white analogue photos in a smaller format, which depict two types of motives – sandy/stony structures or wavy surfaces. Although Jon’s series themselves seem 'non-narrative' at first (they are structured against the formation of a coherent storyline, as the scenes do not add up or complement each other, but keep bringing us back to the same problem), the context of their creation does in fact provide some kind of story, which is also highlighted by the titles, that are as such essential for the understanding of the Landscapes series. They concretize and attach these fairly 'abstract' motifs to a specific time and space, thereby also giving meaning to the gesture of photographing, since, as Jon himself puts it, he would have never taken photos like that had he remained in Slovenia. Introducing the broader context diverts the focus from purely formal problems of the photographic medium or its language. In this case this does not result in the domination of text – also the photos structure their own context (hence the problems regarding the medium should not be completely pushed aside). In the Landscape series, the caption is not in an explanatory relationship with the image – even though I am at this point writing down the fact that the photos actually show piles of construction sand on the streets of Kolkata and Goa and sheets spread to dry on the banks of Varanasi, this does not mean that they can’t at the same time evoke many other images or that the viewer can disregard the symbolic network, that distinguishes their meaning. In the photographs from the Landscapes series I can actually never see mere sand and sheets. Among other things, the series produces the effect of fluctuations between the near and far, which undermines the tendency of photography to clearly show the object of its interest. Individual photos are focusing on excerpts of 'landscapes' in a way that does not allow one to distinguish the “measure” – our closeness or distance to the observed object. Or vice versa: a loss of the sense of size of the photographed object occurs, which thus seems monumental and tiny at the same time. Although we are always dealing with a detail, this does not however provide the definition of the whole it belongs to.   So what do Landscapes bring? Romantic, exotic, monumental or other perceptions the viewer has of India, are exposed as the result of his own projection. These perceptions depend very much on the context (social, political, personal ...) in which they were formed. One could even claim that it is rather about the mapping of the observers view, as bases of its attitude towards the observed (unfamiliar) space, than about the mapping of foreign landscapes. Jon’s photos do not offer the alternative image, the „true“ identity of India, no other answer than the fact that we are repeatedly forced to stop at and face the surface, since photography (and our gaze) cannot penetrate any deeper. In this respect the main object of the Landscape series is maybe not so much Indian landscapes, but the limit of photography itself. This limit is not so much a problem of technology, as it is the problem of the gaze. That is why technology is not expected to deliver the most realistic portrayal of the motive as possible anymore and thus the chosen analogue photographic procedure is legitimized most of all by the conceptualization of its materiality. While showing me the photos, Jon namely also talked about how the processes of sand erosion (due to rain that causes the photographed shapes to form) and the old techniques of washing and drying of clothes on the banks of Indian rivers, in terms of meaning, match the processes of development of analogue photograph. Maybe this should be regarded as a footnote to the debate about the role of this type of  photography today, when its use often seems obsolete or fetishised.
Tjaša Pogačar
Jon Derganc
Pokrajine (Kolkata, Varanasi, Goa), 2014
25 fotografij, 17.5 x 17.5 cm
Praznine 10_14. 2. 2017

Sign or thing

Is architecture a “sign” or a “thing”? Is this question even relevant today? In order to answer this, we have to begin at the beginning. The question of what is architecture or what is architecture today leads us to the question of what is its basis. Today’s architects should take a clear stand on this issue, or at least find some footing from which to tackle this question.


As already pointed out in the title of this paper, I wish to stake out a position with respect to two different views regarding the basis of architecture. The first position, put forward by architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, states that architecture is modelled after a decorated shed. The architectural critic Kenneth Frampton has interpreted this position as an “all too prevalent syndrome in which shelter is packaged like a giant commodity”,[1] in which architecture is thought of as scenography, merely representing, and leaving out any kind of structural logic; in short, architecture conceived as a “sign”. On the other hand, Frampton claims that architecture is something tectonic, ontological, present—a “thing”: “Thus one may assert that building is ontological rather than representational in character and that built form is a presence rather than something standing for an absence. In Martin Heidegger’s terminology we may think of it as a ‘thing’ rather than a ‘sign’.”[2]


The main difference between defining architecture as a “sign” or as a “thing” is the way in which their proponents (Scott Brown, Venturi in Frampton) approached the question of the basis of architecture. For Robert Venturi, the basic footing for finding the “new” resides in the prevailing architecture of Las Vegas, or in a broader sense, in today’s global architecture. His view is two‑dimensional or dual: he locates the architecture’s basis in an architectural system that is composed of space, structure and programme (the functional and useful part of the building), and one the other hand ornament, decoration and a decorative membrane of an object.[3] He also points out that both parts are intertwined (fig 1). The first example given by Venturi is the example of a duck where decoration completely denies the architectural system and where the object is turned into a symbol. The second example he gives is one in which the two parts are separated from each other in the sense that an architectural system forms a whole onto which ornament is applied independently. He names it the decorated shed. In an attempt to justify his own practice, Venturi opts for the latter.


Frampton on the other hand stresses that we should insist on the fact that architecture cannot be substituted by any other practice and suggests for its basis structural form: “If one poses the question as to what might be a comparable ground for architecture, then one must turn to a similar material base, namely that architecture must of necessity be embodied in structural and constructional form.”[4] He also stresses that by adopting such a perspective, we are moving away from a two‑dimensional understanding of architecture: “Needless to say, we are not alluding here to mechanical revelation of construction but rather to a potentially poetic manifestation of structure in the original Greek sense of poesis as an act of making and revealing.”[5] The move toward the three‑dimensional is achieved by introducing a new term, a third segment of the basis of architecture—tectonics. It is this segment that turns architecture into “something more” than merely its materiality, that turns it into art and substantiates its existence. The fundamental element of tectonics is the joint: “This brings us back to Semper’s privileging of the joint as the primordial tectonic element as the fundamental nexus around which building comes into being, that is to say, comes to be articulated as a presence in itself.”[6] From this we can conclude that for Frampton, one of the essential components of architecture is represented by the joint. “There is a spiritual value residing in the particularities of a given joint, in the ‘thingness’ of the constructed object, so much so that the generic joint becomes a point of ontological condensation rather than a mere connection.”[7]


Peristyle, the central square of the Diocletian Palace in Split, was found painted red one morning in 1968 (fig 2). The red paint, with all its revolutionary connotation, was a gesture made by the art scene of Split as an answer to the contemporary state of society, politics and culture. “The Red Peristyle”—the name of the artistic intervention—, which could be interpreted as an ornament to the Diocletian Palace, a sign, is preserved (materialized) in the photographic slides of Zvonimir Buljević. They depict a multi-layered understanding of the space of the Diocletian Palace, an understanding that the Peristyle (a thing) can also adopt the function of a sign. The Peristyle as a sign remains topical even after 1968 through the various interventions that succeeded it (Yellow Peristyle, Black Peristyle etc.).


Let us return to the beginning, to the question of the basis of architecture. In order to better understand what I am trying to point out, I wish to put forward the example of social housing building Nemausus, designed by the architect Jean Nouvel in Nimes in 1985 (fig 3). I consider this case successful since in confronting the question as to what the central issue of today’s social housing is, the architect refused to think in terms of the prevailing conviction that a flat of social housing is merely a scaled down version of a “normal” flat. This way of thinking about an apartment is actually completely erroneous if one considers the fact that socially underprivileged families very often have more family members than other families. For this reason, Nouvel defined anew what a good apartment is. He came to the conclusion that it is an apartment that is spatial, with two‑sided exposure to the sun that enables easy ventilation and with a flexible layout that allows for quick and efficient rearrangements. These principles were materialized by using cheaper constructional and prefabricated industrial elements (for example balcony doors, stairs etc.). In a similar vein and a few years later, the today very topical work of architects Lacaton & Vassal emerged.


By this, I do not wish to say that Frampton is wrong. I would even agree with him to a large extent, with the exception of a small but important difference. I think that an opportunity should be given to rethink Frampton’s joint. A joint is more than just the joint itself—the joint is simultaneously also a “dis‑joint”. I think that the beauty of the joint is not in its irreversibility, but in the possibility that it can (in the same way as it was put together) also be pulled apart or undone. Let us not forget the pair Lacaton & Vassal, which clearly demonstrates the possibility and importance of such a disjoint. In their projects, the joint is a sign. The sign of rethinking the uses of a greenhouse and the potential it holds in the field of architecture—these are, for example, duplicating living space or saving energy. In short, a new way of building within given constraints. In addition to creating joints, the authors have also taken into consideration that the buildings they design have a limited life span. Materials such as lexan or flooring elements that can be easily replaced by the user once they become worn out (as seen in the Maison Dordogne Project). Here, the joint is not considered as eternal, unchanging, joined once and for all, or as something that would determine the future (in a material sense) and from which all future generations could learn from, but quite the contrary. The possibility of change and of substitution has been placed in the very centre of the architectural object and it is this that gives it the possibility of “eternal existence”. In this case, it is the sign that creates the joint. I think that the point of the joint is not in poetics or tectonics, but in the capability to rethink it.


In conclusion, I would like to mention the Japanese temple Ise Grand Shrine, built in the 4th century B.C., as an example of the reinterpretation of the joint (fig 5). The temple is taken apart and reassembled every twenty years (perhaps as a metaphor for mortality, renewal of nature and transience of things that surround us). In this way, a thing becomes a sign. Perennial rebuilding is a way of passing on building techniques from one generation to the next precisely on the point where a sign again becomes a thing. In this sense, architecture is a continual tension between a sign and a thing: architecture is a thing changing into a sign, and a sign changing into a thing.





– Frampton, Kenneth, “Rappel à l’Ordre: The Case for the Tectonic”, in: K. Nesbitt, Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture: An Anthology of Architectural Theory 1965–1995. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996.

– Martin Heidegger, »The Thing«

– Venturi Robert, Scott-Brown Denise, Izenour Steven, “Learning from Las Vegas”, MIT Press 1972.

– Jean Nouvel, Nemausus, documentary film:

[1] Frampton, Kenneth, “Rappel à l’Ordre: The Case for the Tectonic”, in: K. Nesbitt. Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture: An Anthology of Architectural Theory 1965 – 1995. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996, p. 518.

[2] Ibid., p. 520.

[3] Venturi Robert, Scott-Brown Denise, Izenour Steven, “Learning from Las Vegas”, MIT Press 1972, str. 87.

[4] Frampton, ibid., p. 519.

[5] Ibid., p. 519.

[6] Ibid., p. 522.

[7] Ibid., p. 522.

Roberta Jurčić
Praznine 10_14. 2. 2017

Necromancer’s Architecture

In the chemical process of sublimation the solid matter directly transits to the gaseous state without becoming liquid in the intermediary phase. In such a way solid matter literally evaporates into the air. The sublimation of solids is, however, never complete. A certain part of matter always falls down on the ground in the form of crystals. In other words, full sublimation is impossible; the process necessarily includes a certain part that becomes waste. The remainder of solid matter becomes a reminder, the only visible and tangible trace of the process. Without such a trace as an indicator of the sublimated substance the elevation of solid matter would become illegible. It would lose any connection to the visible and tangible world of solids and would become meaningless.


The waste therefore functions as a retrograde medium between the realm of solids and realm of sublimated, elevated matter. Leaving the science of chemistry aside, this can be read as one of the variations on an age‑old theme: the elevated sublime world can communicate with the everyday physical world only through indirect traces or signs. Ghosts leave behind footsteps, sounds or markings; never pieces of their clothes or bodies, since they don’t have any tangible ones.


But does that mean that it is also possible to recreate the effect of sublimation with reproducing its supposed consequences? Does the presence of traces or waste of the sublimation process guarantee the existence of sublimated invisible matter? Since it cannot be perceived directly and is therefore dependent of indirect indicators, a possibility of manipulation with sublimation opens up. It seems that in post‑modern reality the obsession with revitalizations of disused and decaying buildings draws on precisely these possibilities. It is as if authentic traces of decay in architectural revitalization projects would by themselves guarantee a sublimation of architecture into an elevated object. The act of utilizing the decaying or outdated structure and combining it with a new intervention elevates the building above its pure functional demands. The post‑industrial reality seems to have invented a sublimation machine that successfully reproduces the effects of sublimation. Unity of the architectural act is here divided into purely functional contemporary intervention on the one hand and pure surplus of an outdated remainder utilized by the intervention on the other. It is this remainder that functions as an indicator of a real or imagined sublimation. And it is this remainder that elevates—that is, sublimates—the building above its original meaning.


Throughout the Western world, the pace of revitalization and gentrification of former industrial areas in the wake of de‑industrialization and globalization processes has been gaining momentum since at least the seventies. What started out as improvised low‑cost inhabitance of former production spaces, converted into artistic lofts, escalated into extensive public projects covering whole city areas left derelict by the migration of production and capital to the developing countries. These emptied areas offer a space for new economic and cultural investments of the post‑modern world. At the same time they seek new meanings to be imprinted on such areas, replacing the all‑important role of commodity production in the economy of the 20th century, which has in retrospect become nostalgic. The cultural industry and consumerism centers so prevalent in the revitalized areas seem to be the 21st‑century answers to this search.


One of the more ambitious post‑industrial revitalization projects of the past decade can be found in the former industrial quarter of the once important industrial center of Zürich, Switzerland. North of the picturesque city center by the Zürich Lake, extensive renovations and new constructions in the area of former foundries and ironworks are taking place, reinventing the area as the city’s new financial and cultural center. The heart of the complex is the new Turbinenplatz (Turbine Square). The name itself suggests that preserving the identity of the area as a former industrial complex is crucial for the project. Different types of utilization of industrial remains and their incorporation into new structures can be found in the vicinity of the square. Roughly three different tendencies of such architectural sublimation can be discerned. The goal of all three is to suggest the elevation of architectural work through careful preservation or even (re)construction of traces of decay. Examining each of these types helps us to understand the fundamentals of such post‑industrial architectural nostalgia.



Schiffbau or Squatting Nostalgia


In 2000 the Schiffbau (former shipbuilding hall on the Turbine square) became one of the first buildings of the industrial quarter to be redeveloped for new cultural and commercial functions. The industrial hall was converted to an alternative national theatre venue and jazz club. The intervention preserved the outer facades of the building intact and was limited to minimally equipping interior with technical facilities needed for sustaining three theatre halls seating up to seven hundred people. The preservation of the Schiffbau didn’t consist only of using the old walls and roof, though; the original glazing, steel doors and installation pipes of the old industrial hall were also consistently preserved. Even the broken glass is carefully preserved in its lead frames. The walls of the auditorium remained bare and unplastered, retaining the worn‑out feel of the old factory. It is as if such “squat‑theatre” would try to underline its distance to the building it inhabits. The Schiffbau in this respect is not the new theatre building itself but only a host site for the new venue. This may well suit the more alternative productions of the city theatre that take place here but there is also a broader perspective that emerges from this observation: the preserved outer layer of the building has to retain the feel of decay, while the interior has to function perfectly using the most advanced technical equipment. Only at first glance is the suggestion of decay in conflict with the high‑tech interior. The degradation that is one of the two necessary parts of the process of sublimation has to be kept visible in order that the building as a whole achieves the elevated status of a nostalgic object. It is this feel of outdatedness rather than supposed inherent suitability of industrial structures for the new functions that draws more and more cultural institutions into squatting the former industrial halls of the de‑industrialized West.



Puls5 or Enveloping Nostalgia


Four years after the Schiffbau Theatre, the extensive 19th‑century foundries of the Escher Wyss Steel Company on the edge of the Turbine Square were redeveloped into a mixed commercial and residential complex named Puls5. In contrast to the nearby Schiffbau the Puls5 doesn’t reveal its industrial heritage on the exterior; only when we enter the complex through a minimalist facade of glass panels do we find ourselves in an extensive former foundry hall, which functions as the heart of the building. The hall is left empty and seemingly intact; the industrial machinery complete with cranes and chains is still hanging from the steel beams below glazed ceiling. It is only on its edges that the new function of the shopping mall, consisting of three levels of shops and offices enveloping the hall, becomes apparent. The extraordinary effect of the foundry hall cannot be sufficiently explained only by an almost wasteful abundance of space in the middle of the complex; the emptiness of the industrial hall almost sanctifies it. Instead of visiting a shopping mall, we feel as if entering a crossbreed between a cathedral and a ruin. Such elevation and degradation at the same time, crucial for the effect of sublimation, is here produced with a radical change of the function of the space. Seeing the foundries at work with the machinery on the ceiling transporting molten steel and casting turbines, impressive as it would be, wouldn’t reproduce such an effect. It is only when the present function of the space conflicts with the original one, preserved only in the architectural character of the building, that such sublimation becomes possible. Only inhabiting the seemingly abandoned structure sublimates it. The abandoned character of the foundry hall plays the part of the waste produced by the sublimation, which is why it is crucial it remains empty. In such a way the contemporary envelopment of shops and flats that would seem banal without their utilization of the industrial heritage frees itself of any need for independent architectural invention. The post‑industrial void takes care of that instead of the architect.



Freitag Tower or Building Nostalgia


A few blocks away from the Turbine Square stands the smallest but perhaps most striking example of post‑industrial architectural sublimation of the area. The Freitag Tower, the flagship store of the famous Swiss designer bags company, was constructed in 2006 out of 19 recycled freight containers piled 26 meters high in the form of a tower. At the top level a small observation platform offers a panoramic view on the industry quarter’s ongoing revitalization, a process of which the tower became a sort of a beacon. Utilizing the industrial aesthetics is not an innovation in itself, being used so often and especially in shop designs, nor is the use of containers, which has been a fetish of environmentally conscious architecture for at least half a century. It is interesting, however, to observe how the Freitag Tower builds its relation to its industrial surroundings in a different way than Schiffbau or Puls5. Instead of utilizing an existing ruin, it builds a new one out of rusty old containers. The decision has its logic, since the tower is situated immediately beside the railroad tracks that still transport hundreds of such containers every day. But the message of this seemingly contemporary industrial construction becomes clearer only when the Freitag containers are compared with the “authentic” freight containers and the containers that are so plentiful on construction sites throughout this quickly developing neighborhood. Whereas the latter are as a rule well-kept, immaculately clean and function as parts of high‑tech construction sites (this is Switzerland after all), the Freitag containers unambiguously communicate their past usage through diverse colors, logos of different companies and rusty surfaces. The tower, although being one of the newest buildings of Zürich’s industrial quarter, seems to be by far the most weathered‑down structure in the area. And with good reason: the rust on its walls communicates the outdatedness of industrial modernity.  The perceived added value of the Freitag Tower lies not in its usage of recycled materials or its “shabby‑chic” industrial aesthetics, but rather in its nostalgia for an irreversibly bygone era. It also serves as an example that the architectural sublimation through post‑industrial nostalgia doesn’t have to use only existing empty industrial structures but can also build new ones, even with the same degree of success. In this light the Freitag Tower is not unlike the mock ruins so commonly found in aristocratic parks of the 18th century: the lack of authenticity of the structure doesn’t hinder the picturesque effect that is produced by combining the degraded and elevated components of the architectural sublimation.



Necromancy and Manipulations with the Uncanny


The feel of decay and the conflict between past and present functions that are communicated through architectural projects therefore constitute the main framework in which the post‑industrial architectural sublimation occurs. Such projects are not so much revitalizations—that is, giving new life to buildings. They are, in a way, more of an architectural necromancy: keeping the buildings visually dead and decaying while simultaneously squatting them with new functions. Ghosts can be summoned only from dead bodies. And this is what such sublimation seems to imply: sustained creation of the death of industrial buildings conjures up ghosts out of our recent but past industrial modernity. The architectural act in these instances creates and manipulates the doubt whether the buildings are decaying or inhabited. The elevated spirits of former industrial halls are not the result of some new post-modern aura; rather, they are conjured up by architects who recreate the debris supposedly left after the unseen process of architectural sublimation had been concluded. In fact such processes may have never occurred—the manipulation is retrograde and wishes to suggest that since the end results are tangible, the process must therefore also have fully evolved.  The decision to keep the old structure seemingly decaying while at the same time squatting it with new functions captures and expands the doubt into the realm of uncanny. It is precisely the conjuring of the uncertainty “whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or conversely, whether a lifeless object might not be in fact animate”[1] that constitutes the uncanny as described already by Ernst Jentsch and Sigmund Freud.


As with other ghosts, the ability to walk through walls and transcend the apparent physical barriers is crucial for the ghosts of the post‑industrial world as well. Spirits are conjured up at the contact of the decaying and the new, of the outdated and the contemporary. It is here that the boundary between the living and the dead is at its most unclear and the contrast strongest. Such a creation of an intermediary space that could be taken as an architectural variation of a spiritual medium combines the uncanny with the sublime, “an intermediate space which is disavowed: we all know it exists, but we do not really accept its existence—it remains ignored and (mostly) unsayable.”[2] The elevation and degradation of the sublimation process meet in between the surfaces of the old and the new. Here such industry of spirits is at its most intensive, using rust or overgrown brick walls as its medium. The industrial heritage is becoming an allegory of optimism long passed—a nostalgia‑machine that continuously recreates something related to Robert Smithson’s “memory‑traces of an abandoned set of futures.”[3]


The reason why the ghosts of the industrial age haunt the cities of the West so successfully seems to be linked with the ever‑shifting character of the post‑modern economy. Constant instability is its guiding principle. Marx’s famous quote: “All that is solid melt into the air,” is justifiably also the title of Marshall Berman’s book on post‑modernity.[4] The logic of constant reinventions of economy necessarily produces the empty industrial areas of the West, such as the decaying landscape of Detroit. But what specifically is that “which melts into the air”? What is the elevated part of the sublimation process of which the degraded part is only an indicator? As a rule it is the momentary effect that is sought in such revitalizations but there is no smoke without fire. The old motif of a ruin‑gazer observing the remains of a once flowering civilization and contemplating the transience of all things may have been reincarnated as a visitor of a post‑modern cultural center. The invocation of ghosts with the means of architectural sublimation produces fascination at the brink of the new sublime and couples it with anxiety when observing that the foundations of the wealth that built the modern world are now missing. The migration of production out of the developed world has left the deindustrialized countries floating in the instability of post‑modern reality. The futurism of modernity has become outdated and nostalgic. The future has become uncertain and pessimistic. Ghosts of industrial quarters remind us that the world built by modernity has irrevocably ended.



[1] Ernst Jentsch, “On the Psychology of the Uncanny”, Angelaki 2 (1995), p. 11. Quoted by Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny, accessed July 26, 2014,

[2] Slavoj Žižek, Architectural Parallax, accessed on July 26, 2014,

[3] Robert Smithson, “A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey”, in Ruins, ed. Brian Dillon (London: Whitechapel Gallery, 2011), p. 49.

[4] Marshall Berman, All That is Solid Melt into Air (New York : Simon & Schuster, 1982).

Miloš Kosec
Praznine 10_14. 2. 2017


The editor of Praznine asked me to write a text to accompany the photographs of the corner. So instead of the usual interview or a short text about the author—the author’s monologue: a few thoughts about what an object means to me and why I occupy myself with it so much. Where do the photographs of the corner come from.


For a long time, in order to avoid explaining, I quoted Man Ray: »An object is the result of looking at something which in itself has no quality or charm. I take something that has no meaning at all. I disregard completely the aesthetic quality of the object. I’m against craftsmanship.«


This is the object. A matter of relation and a thing without qualities or meanings. This is the object that interests me in photography.


First, the relation—a matter of looking. I look for example at a tree and I look at cheese, although most of the time I really look at a car, a house, parking lots and streets, forests as well. All the things that surround me and which I most often notice and also photograph in passing while I go about my daily business or on family trips. I could call them surroundings, but I prefer to use Heidegger’s or von Uexküll’s expression die Umwelt because it says more than surroundings, because it stands for a concept of the surroundings in relation with a living being. An organism receives through its receptors certain information and responds to it in a wholesome way, as if this were everything that the surroundings are, although of course an individual organism cannot perceive completely the complexity of its surroundings. (It can perceive only a very limited version of a whole—a whole which doesn’t even exist, except as an abstraction.) When I go about my errands with my hands in my pockets and really just mind my own business, I notice interesting things that I sometimes take photographs of: in this way I of course capture only that part of the surrounding which is able to sensorially connect with me. But what is very important to me is the fact or the realization that my perception has a shortfall. Although I cannot photograph it and I don’t even try to, it is important for me that it is there. That is why die Umwelt and not just surroundings. Perhaps one day, those meanings which I haven’t considered will convince me to the contrary: for example, at an opening of an exhibition titled die Umwelt in Pula, Croatia, a German visitor explained to me his understanding of the exhibited material on the basis of connecting my Umwelt with the flagship concept of the German environmental party that is currently the main right‑wing force in German politics.


Some objects that I perceive in my surroundings have the quality of drawing me in so that I find myself in them, that they completely fix my gaze. I experience them as standing opposite to me (or I place them so myself, it doesn’t matter) and then I can enter them, not just circle around them as is the case with others. Such an object is for example a corner, a street or a forest. For instance, I don’t understand a car or a house in this way, although physically I can enter them, while I cannot enter a corner, but this is irrelevant. A house is only something that comes across my way and a car an object that stands in front of the house.


But a wooden corner is for me an object which opens, which opens to me. I have a similar relation toward wooden boards that many people have towards fire, I can’t stop looking at them. And their contact with all the tree rings, various colours and patterns; when one is gazing, the entire geometry starts to spread into infinity, however far away it may be. The corner suggests, creates a space into which I position myself. A photograph is a self‑evident continuation of an absorbed gaze, the result of which is the series presented in the following pages.


The other type of objects which interest me are objects without qualities and meanings. Most objects around us are not like that, they have a function or a purpose or there is at least a general consensus on their function and meaning. But there is a certain (by no means small) segment of things that are constantly shoved aside, forgotten, and that put us in a difficult position, we don’t know what to do with them. Their use is not self‑evident: decaying fragments of something unknown which you discard or put away in a drawer. So you will fix it one day, stick it together. Find the missing piece and put it together. For sure, you’ll need it for something and (as the Slovene proverb goes) in seven years’ time everything will come in useful. I call them substitute objects.


When you have something like this literally on the table and you photograph it, such an object is a thing for itself, so ephemeral, so worn-out, so poor that the only status one can ascribe to it is the status of a spare part for a device that is no longer produced. Something that stayed at home by coincidence, what you don’t need anymore and was basically nothing more than a spare part already when you (at least in principle) did need it. This is already a step too far.


Because they fall out from the normal functioning of the world of objects, they become kind of foreign and consequently provoke a sense of uneasiness. If the rest of the world of objects seems in my eyes to have a bit of a naïve gaze, then the substitute object has a more interesting, strange, uncanny, anxious gaze. For me, there is a big difference between these gazes because all of a sudden the fact that there is nothing you can do with a thing becomes threatening. You cannot simply observe a substitute object, because to do this is strange, uneasy and forcing you into action. We cannot do without the question what to do with it, and we can never exactly know the answer. There are objects which can be both: you can observe a human figure simply as a body, say an object of admiration, while at the level of a substitute object, the body remains nothing more than a prosthesis. I find the passage between the two gazes interesting.


In truth, the substitute object is substitute for that which I wanted to create with the photograph of the corner but failed—and failed 14 times at that! All these failures have become a substitute for some foolish idea.


That is how I see objects.

Peter Rauch
Praznine 10_14. 2. 2017

Dumb Abstraction: Semper, Kracauer, and the Superficial Materialism of Architecture

In his The Four Elements of Architecture of 1851 Gottfried Semper defined architecture as an art of dressing. [1] Drawing upon anthropological claims around the origins of architecture in the crafts of weaving and textiles, his bekleidungstheorie (theory of cladding or dressing) proposed that its essence lay in the masking of its supporting and structural elements. But if architecture is essentially a practice of masking, this is not, for Semper, because it is an art of deceit. The treatment of the surface is the principal concern of architecture because this is where it communicates, through its patterns and forms, higher ideals whose values transcend its material basis.


Semper’s idealism was pitched against contemporary theories of structural rationalism in architecture, as espoused, most notably, by Viollet-le-Duc. In the ‘Prolegomenon’ to his Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts Semper writes that:


“These [materialist] theories are consistent with the general practical trend of our time, and are supported and sustained by the great building undertakings, especially those occassioned by the railway system. The materialists can be criticized in general for having fettered the idea too much to the material, for falsely believing that the store of architectural forms is determined solely by the structural and material conditions.” [2]


Today the material conditions of architectural production have effectively confined its attentions to the surface of things. Its structures are engineered by Arup and Buro Happold, its urban context—overdetermined by the imperatives of security and productivity—programmed by Cisco and Siemens, the use of its interiors optimised and orchestrated by space planners. As Benjamin H. Bratton observes, architecture now resides on an ‘impoverished perch’ from which it “concentrates expertise on the delineation of bones, surfaces, and skins at the unit level of individual architectural envelopes, hoping to capture the lightening of global forces into the bottle of programmable metallic flora.” [3]

Architecture’s current focus on the surface, rather than motivated by a recognition of this being the true essence of its practice, is resorted to now as a last refuge for any continued relevance it might still want to claim for its practice. Rather than seeking to communicate transcendent ideals, its dressings now seem intent, as a consequence, not on masking but on legitimating the material conditions that underpin it. At the same time, and through the same means, this speaks, implicitly at least, of architecture’s desire to appear still relevant, cognisant of and at ease with these conditions. If we consider, for instance, the appearance of recently designed mass transit infrastructures, we might note the preponderance of materials such as steel, glass and concrete, raw and unadorned, save for their sometimes polished or silvered surfaces. Restricted material palettes are patterned into grids, grilles and meshes; panelled across facades, inscribing every interior surface with the regularity of their austere geometries. It appears as if the calculative logics determining the order of urban space were somehow embedded in matter itself, made plain, concrete and amenable, as such, to immediate apprehension.


Does the dressing of the contemporary architectural surface under these changed conditions still assume the function of the mask? If so, what might be being dressed up in architecture’s post postmodern return to abstraction and to what ends? The significance of such questions, and the means to approach them, might be further illuminated via a detour through the thinking of Siegfried Kracauer on the metropolitan ornament of the masses.


In the opening passages of his 1927 essay The Mass Ornament, Siegfried Kracauer underlines the significance of the superficial to the practice of critique. “The position that an epoch occupies in the historical process,” he writes, “can be determined more strikingly from an analysis of its surface level expressions than from that epoch’s judgments about itself.” [4] Kracauer, the cultural critic who wrote this essay for the Frankfurter Zeitung, was a close associate of the Frankfurt School and was then engaged, like them, in the critical theorisation of the mass culture of Weimar Germany. The visual and ‘surface-level’ expressions of this culture, he proposed, constituted contemporary forms of ornament enjoyed by the ‘masses’ of the new metropolis. The specifically modern forms of cultural production classed by Kracaueur as ornamental—film, photography, newspapers, the architecture of the cinema—are interpreted as the expressions of particular historical conditions. The ‘mass and not the people [Volk]’, as constructed by and for industrial capitalism, are the producers and consumers of the mass ornament, simultaneously its subject and its object. [5] Through the interpretation of the seemingly superficial expressions of mass culture as ornament, argued Kracauer, some more fundamental knowledge about the world from which they emanated, however unconsciously, might be grasped.


The ‘Tiller Girls’ are for Kracauer exemplary of the mass ornament. He describes this female dance troupe, performing at revues and touring America and Europe in the 1920s, as “no longer individual girls, but indissoluble girl clusters whose movements are demonstrations of mathematics.” [6] On stage and screen the troupe’s strictly synchronised and tightly choreographed performance constitutes a collective ornament “composed of thousands of bodies, sexless bodies in bathing suits”. [7] The geometric patterns formed from this mass are echoed in the disposition of its audience, “themselves arranged by the stands in tier upon ordered tier”. [8] In the geometry of the mass ornament “people become fractions of a figure”. [9] Sensuality and individuality are absent from the mass ornament, argues Kracauer, because it is the unconscious product, at the surface level, of the Taylorised system of ‘scientific management’ to which discipline the industrial factory worker was then being subjected: “The hands in the factory correspond to the legs of the Tiller Girls. Going beyond manual capacities, psychotechnical aptitude tests attempt to calculate dispositions of the soul as well. The mass ornament is the aesthetic reflex of the rationality to which the prevailing economic system aspires.” [10]


In his critique of the mass ornament, however, Kracauer does not reject this rationality outright. Instead he seeks to unravel its appearance within the mass ornament dialectically. The Euclidean geometry of ‘lines and circles’ into which the bodies of the masses are ornamentally configured must itself be ‘understood rationally’. [11] Kracauer does not call for a return to the ideal of Gemeinschaft (community) as against the metropolitan order of the Gesellschaft (society). Nor does he express any nostalgia for the natural or the organic now absent from the metropolitan ornament. He adheres, instead, to an Enlightenment perspective in which reason is considered the essential motor of a historical and progressive process of ‘demythologisation’. From this perspective capitalism is but a ‘stage’ in that process, but one that now acts as a brake on the further unfolding of an essentially liberatory project of reason so as to retain its own dominance. [12] In fact, capitalism has succeeded only in constituting a ‘murky’ form of reason based solely upon economic calculation; a limited form of reason identified by Kracauer as ‘Ratio’. [13] The problem with capitalism, then, is that “it rationalizes not too much, but rather too little.” [14]


The mass ornament, the ‘aesthetic reflex’ of capitalism’s murky and closed form of rationality, bars access to reason. Its muted patterns conceal, in their abstractions, the true potential of a rationality that the masses might otherwise appropriate as an instrument of emancipation. [15] In an argument that prefigures that developed by Adorno and Horkheimer in their Dialectic of Enlightenment, Kracauer argues that reason, because of the limited form in which it is employed by capitalism, reverts to the mythic. “Viewed from the perspective of reason,” he writes, “the mass ornament reveals itself as a mythological cult that is masquerading in the garb of abstraction.” [16] The abstractions of the mass ornament are a mask in which the rational appears to the masses as a means of distraction from and consolation for their labour under capitalism: “Physical training expropriates people’s energy, while the production and mindless consumption of the ornamental patterns divert them from the imperative to change the reigning order.” [17]


Returning to the question of the abstractions of the contemporary architectural surface, equipped now with Kracauer’s analyses, this might appear already answered. We are, perhaps, again in the presence of a masquerade that distracts from the real potential of the rational by dazzling us with its merely formal and geometric abstractions. But Kracauer’s epoch is not ours, exactly. Certainly whatever rationality might still be ascribed to capitalism remains murky, at best. The reach of the calculative logic of Ratio, however, now extends far beyond the limits by which it was circumscribed in the early twentieth century. Little now escapes the integrative metrics of big data, the interpretive scrutiny of a machinic intelligence, or the performative optimisation of everything imaginable for which these are the instruments. This, after all, is the condition to which architectural Parametricism pledges its allegiance in hope of securing the ongoing relevance of the discipline. It might also be noted that Kracauer’s critique of distraction and concealment, as identified with the work of the mass ornament, is premised on the seemingly imminent possibility of the revolutionary self transformation of the consciousness of the masses in the 1920s. However, in the post political era of globalised neoliberalism this possibility seems especially remote. It is far from clear, that is, from what real alternatives to things as they are anyone need now be distracted. Rather than concealing, the contemporary counterpart to the mass ornament tends to reinforce that what simply is.


Where Semper assigned a transcendent role to the dressing of architecture, concealing its material support so as to present the ideal through its patterned forms, the architectural surface now appears to insist on its materiality. In the presence of such surfaces it is often unclear as to whether one is looking at some representative approximation of the material order that underlies the dressing, or whether what we see simply is the material structure itself. In any case the effect is to immerse the subject within an environment that refuses to speak of anything other than its own immediately material substance. This is an architecture of dumb abstraction, not of spectacle or distraction. Writing in another essay of the 1920s, Cult of Distraction, Kracaueur describes the new cinemas of Berlin as ‘optical fairylands’. [18] The ‘surface splendour’ of the picture palaces joins with the spotlights, the orchestra and the programme of films to form a Gesamtkunstwerk that “assaults all the senses”. [19] This experience of distraction serves to compensate the masses for enduring the nervous tensions of a metropolis sustaining a population of 4 million. Rather than repelled by the assault on their senses the masses revel in the charms of the ornament. The surface effects, he writes, “rivet the viewers’ attention to the peripheral, so that they will not sink into the abyss.” [20] Today’s surface level expressions are more likely to numb the subject to the experience of the metropolis at source, largely obviating the need for any compensatory conditions of experience. The architecture of mass transit does not absorb or reward sustained attention. Instead it forms a continuous and continuously reassuring backdrop, an environmental consistency through which the subject passes undisturbed and unmoved.


The precise geometries and blank surfaces of the contemporary mass ornament suggest matter reconciled with calculation. This is all that exists now for an architecture reconciled to the affirmation of this truth. But, displaced from the centre of things, left only to the treatment of the surface, it cannot help but merely represent a truth that it cannot itself actually embody. This is the contemporary mask of architecture. Its materialism is an ideal, the limited scope of which also invites the subject, through the experience of environmental immersion, to resign itself.


July 2016, Aylesbury



[1] Gottfried Semper, The Four Elements of Architecture and Other Writings, trans. Harry Francis Mallgrave & Wolfgang Herrmann, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

[2] Ibid. p. 190.

[3] Benjamin H. Bratton, The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty, Cambridge, MA, and London, England: MIT Press, 2015, p. 161.

[4] Siegrfried Kracauer, ‘The Mass Ornament’, in The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays, trans. Thomas Y. Levin, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995, p. 75.

[5] Ibid. p. 76.

[6] Ibid. pp. 75–76.

[7] Ibid. p. 76.

[8] Ibid. p. 76.

[9] Ibid. p. 76.

[10] Ibid. p. 79.

[11] Ibid. p. 77.

[12] Ibid. p. 80.

[13] Ibid. p. 81.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid. p. 84.

[16] Ibid. p. 83.

[17] Ibid. p. 85.

[18] Siegrfried Kracauer, ‘Cult of Distraction’, in The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays, trans. Thomas Y. Levin, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995, p. 323.

[19] Ibid. pp. 323, 324.

[20] ibid. p. 326.


Douglas Spencer
Praznine 10_14. 2. 2017

There’s no place like Paris

I once wanted to visit an “Italian” restaurant and tried to open its Tuscan style door. Alas, the door was fake and my attempt to enter the restaurant in question, which was in the Guangdong province in southern China, must have looked quite awkward. Almost everyone who has wandered the neighbouring continent for a month will easily understand the urge to eat something with a more familiar taste. Whatever the case may be, it is interesting that my failed attempt to open the door is not so unusual. When exploring the new urban centres of these Asian regions, travellers inevitably find themselves in villages, streets or even cities that recreate remarkably well the feeling that one has never completely left the West.


After the turn of the millennium, China has seen centuries of European architectural history go by in a flash, accompanied by glittery replicas of the Palace of Versailles, the Eiffel Tower overlooking the avenues of Paris, crammed bourgeois houses of Amsterdam and the pompous American iconography known as Beverly Hills. In the southern part of the country, many world‑renowned architectural icons were very quickly built on locations that were up to that point empty and anonymous.


This is not specific to architecture. Throughout its history, China has successfully taken over foreign customs and habits, reshaped them a bit and then incorporated them into its own culture. Better yet, architectural appropriation is not characteristic of China alone. In China’s defence, copying architectural iconography was nothing unusual in the past; let us only consider the fact that 23 other countries also possess their own replica of the Eiffel Tower. The phenomenon of copying the tower began in Great Britain only a year after the original was completed. The United States alone boasts 10 replicas of different size. Tianducheng is not an exception, it only took the task of copying to the absurd. The fact is that in China, “theme” homes sell better and at a higher price than standard apartments in concrete buildings. Here, I am of course disregarding the economic aspects that pertain to the Chinese phenomenon of copying and the motives of the investors. It is much more interesting to observe what is actually happening with these copies of Western cities. The Chinese Paris, that is Tianducheng, was initially planned to house 10,000 citizens, while it is currently inhabited by only 2,000 people, many of whom work in the neighbouring, believe it or not, French‑themed amusement park. However, Tianducheng is not a ghost town—the majority of real estate is sold out and the owners of these properties spend their days working in Hangzhou, the capital of the Zhejiang province, and travel to the “City of Love” over the weekend. The touristic character and somewhat slower pace of the city where mostly Chinese tourists can “taste” their own image of the West are therefore not unusual. The complexes, neighbourhoods and even cities with a Western “touch” were extensively covered by the media and nobody outside the Zhejiang province would have probably even heard of Tianducheng if the city hadn’t adopted the image of one of the most widely recognised European urban centres. Consequently, a large number of tourists travelled to parts of Asia that were until recently completely anonymous.


Iconic cities are easily identifiable, that is a fact. After all, Paris was brought to the Chinese provinces for this very reason—who has the time to travel to a different continent and back in a single weekend?! However, what is easily identifiable should not be too readily equated with identity. To adopt the appearance of a certain city does not contribute to its identity but on the contrary makes even more apparent the incongruence of the city’s very core—such a city will never find “itself” but will forever stumble in the shadow of the mask it has donned. What we are discussing is the West according to the Chinese, an architectural anachronism that copies the visual appearance but does not manage to keep up with the pulse of the “original” city. If such a thing as the “original” even exists.


The point of all this is not to give some kind of a value judgement, let alone “architectural moralism”, but rather to think an other space—a city which is neither here nor there, but elsewhere and different. A city which is essentially built in such a way that it does not belong in these parts; a city that, so to speak, flew in from somewhere else. Heterotopia? Tianducheng, a city that is neither Chinese nor European, identifiable yet identityless. However, if taking up a certain visual appearance does not guarantee the identity of a location, it is worthwhile asking what is then its core? Singular objects that create identifiability and travel the world printed on postcards have little to do with identity. Wouldn’t it be too simple to claim that the world‑famous image of the Eiffel Tower is in some way the identity of Paris? Especially when street vendors in Tianducheng offer traditional steamed Chinese dumplings and not croissants and when one can quickly spot the locals sipping on a cup of green tea rather than a glass of Provence wine. This leads us to conclude that a major part of what shapes the identity of a city or a place is not characterised by singularity but by the anonymous, almost unnoticeable repetition of everyday habits. Identifiability is singular, identity falls under generality. These are the things that we pay little attention to; things that occur automatically; things that go unnoticed yet speak and compose the identity of a place to the greatest extent. Generality is not unchanging, for this is much more a characteristic of singularity. Identity is a “living thing”. Time brings changes that transform space and its characteristics. Change is therefore a constituent of the very matter of identity … All of this is not far off from the “original” Paris, the city where one can taste delicious Asian food and indulge in the sweet smell of Turkish kebab. Which is not that bad after all!

Maja Valentić
Praznine 10_14. 2. 2017

Interview with Robert Pfaller







NL You are a philosopher, but you teach at a university of art and industrial design. What is your role, or rather how do you see the role of a philosopher within a school of art and design?


RP As philosophers like Louis Althusser and Ludwig Wittgenstein have taught, philosophy is not per se beneficial to people. Rather, it can only help to cure those who already “suffer” from it. In analogy to Althusser’s title Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists, I have therefore called my program Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Artists. The problems and chances are very similar in both fields: artists, like scientists, when producing innovative artwork, also produce an implicit new philosophy—a “philosophy at a practical state”, as Althusser calls it. Yet this philosophical innovation tends to be concealed—either by what the artists themselves declare as their explicit philosophy or, even worse, by the discourse of the curators. Curators today force artists to speak the curators’ language (which is very different from the first, heroic generation of curators like Harald Szeemann who, with the utmost respect, tried to follow artists into their often idiosyncratic worlds and languages). The danger that a new artistic-philosophical discovery gets buried under a “borrowed language” which inscribes it into the wide field of the already known is therefore extremely high.


This is the situation in which philosophers have to intervene: not in order to bring philosophy to artists, but rather in order to remove the borrowed philosophy, to help artists to better understand their own ideas, and to find out what is innovative about them. If this work is not done, if artistic innovation gets misrecognized due to a borrowed theoretical language, then theory plays a detrimental role to the arts, the role of an obstacle: the next artwork will be definitely poorer, it will lack the misrecognized dimension of the previous one.




NL It seems that we are currently witnessing a certain shift in the relation between academia and art practice, often described in terms of an increasing import of cultural theory into the art school department. With regard to your own experience in teaching at an academy, what effects would you say that this process has had or still has?


RP The model for importing theory or science into the arts since the 1990s was, unluckily, not science but bad science. Artists were told they were better artists if they knew—and could explain—in advance what they were doing. As if a good scientist could ever do that! As sociologist Niklas Luhmann once said, method is what allows the scientist to surprise himself. Since it was not this understanding of science but it’s caricature that was taken as a model for the arts, the arts of the 1990s became largely unable to surprise anybody. Instead, we got very predictable and boring results of “Foucault-art”, “Butler-art”, “Rancière-art” etc. In this sense, one can say that the dominance of theory was as detrimental to the arts as the dominance of bureaucracy was to the sciences: they ruined it by the requirement of predictability.


At the heyday of these developments, many people in the art academies even claimed that the old studios (such as the wood, metal, plaster, clay etc. workshops) should be removed and replaced by theory classes. Luckily, today this childhood disease is widely overcome. Somehow it is felt that the arts depend on their materiality. Yet we have, to my knowledge, not yet found a theoretical explanation for this. Following Sigmund Freud, I would say that the “art-work” (that leads to the production of artworks), just like the “joke-work” or the “dream-work”, needs a moment when the consciousness of the producer gets distracted and when the material is taken over by unconscious processing. This moment can, as Freud has described, only be achieved with the help of some distracting materiality. Only when there is something like a matter that has its own laws and takes on forms according to its own laws the artist becomes able to say more than he or she knew until then. Thus, they become able to produce more than just something already expected, or as Freud puts it, “to say what they do not know”.




NL It is perhaps a fairly recent phenomenon that artists and architects are writing doctoral theses. On the one hand, the artist is increasingly being called upon to be able to engage and argue for his or her work verbally or in writing, while on the other, many students seem to consider writing as a kind of punishment to be postponed only until the final deadline. Must artists write?


RP My position on this has always been radical and clear. If we are ready to acknowledge art as a university discipline (which is fine given the huge variety of already existing university disciplines), then we also have to grant it all the attributes that the other disciplines have got: all the certificates and titles such as “Master” or “PhD” or (in some countries) “habilitation”. Yet here we have to be consistent: no student of economics has to do theology in order to get a PhD. And no philosopher or art historian has to make a painting or shoot a video for their doctoral dissertation. Only artists are forced to change their discipline and write some scholarly work with footnotes if they want to get a higher academic degree in their own discipline. This is an epistemological scandal. If art is regarded as an academic discipline, then the doctoral work, of course, also has to be an artwork.


We also have to take into account the fact that for a long time even in many sciences it was not necessary to write in order to obtain a PhD: in many countries, doctors of law or medicine or mathematics for example did not have to write at all.


We must not forget on the other hand that many artists were writing for a long time: think of Duchamp, Picasso, Magritte, Judd, Polke, for example. Yet this writing stretched over many different forms and genres; and it was in most cases not a self-interpretation but rather a kind of prolongation of the artistic strategy in another medium. To subject all artistic writing to the rigid form of the academic treatise and to force it to be a “reflection” does not bring about any “gain of consciousness” (whatever that may be) but will instead extinguish the richness of “language games” of artistic writing.


The whole problem hinges on a widespread misunderstanding of the notion of “artistic research”: this is often understood as if the research part of some art were the theoretical research done by the artists—for example the moment when they read works by Butler or Rancière. Yet this is not artistic research but just some scientific occupation that may belong to the art production, just as maybe some mere craftsmanship activity like putting a canvas on a frame (which of course we would never call “artistic framing”). Here again we have to follow the analogy. In every other discipline the research part is precisely what leads to the specificity of the result. So research in physics is what leads to the fact that the result belongs to physics. Philosophical research is what makes occupation with any object lead to a work of philosophical relevance. And the same goes for art: artistic research is what makes any occupation whatsoever end up in something which is of artistic relevance. This occupation may be with theory or with ideology or with fat or fur, with childishness or even with trance or madness. Yet artistic research turns it into something completely different—into a work of art.


This is what Louis Althusser taught in his theory of the “3 generalities” within the theoretical practice: “generality II” (method or research) does to a “raw material” (the “generality I”) something which is completely external and foreign to it: even against its resistance it turns it into theoretical results (“generality III”). To describe this transformation with Rimbaud’s words: “It is not the fault of the metal if one day it wakes up as a trumpet.” If some scientific activity occurs within artistic practice (which has already been the case for a long time—just think of the renaissance artists’ occupation with optics or anatomy), then it has only the role of a raw material. Artistic research, on the contrary, is what transforms this raw material into art.


Searching for the research part of artistic practice within its scientific raw material is a crucial mistake that ignores the specificity of what we can call the language of art—or its epistemology. If artistic research represents only a small bit of scientific research within art practice, then there is no such thing as artistic research.




NL Your own writing draws extensively on popular culture but also sporadically engages with contemporary art. What is good criticism for you?


RP In a number of lucky cases I found myself able to understand the philosophical innovation at work in some works of art, for example the paradoxical dimension of interpassivity in works such as the famous performance by Martin Kerschbaumsteiner or an installation by Barbara Musil or a contribution to “Steirischer Herbst” by the hilarious art collective “EKW 14,90”. What these artists were dealing with were actually intriguing questions such as “Is it possible that we prefer to work than to enjoy?” or “Would we rather prefer others to enjoy in our place than to enjoy ourselves?”. It appeared worth the effort to give this “philosophy at a practical state” in these artworks an explicit formulation and my philosophical work has profited considerably from this. I am convinced that philosophy does not have a proper object. It therefore cannot proceed by itself. It can only work as the lucky parasite of some other practice: all philosophy that we know gained its innovative insights only due to some other practice that produced philosophy as an implicit by‑product on which philosophers could then base their work: thus we have, if I may say so, science‑philosophy, politics‑philosophy, religion‑philosophy, and art‑philosophy etc. My own way of proceeding could thus be called “critical” maybe in a Kantian sense: making explicit the philosophical presuppositions that were implicitly contained in another, in this case artistic, practice.






NL Compared with Dustin Hoffman’s Alfa Spider in The Graduate (1967), today’s cars are, according to you, both “overdesigned” and “dull”. Today we tend to categorize design either in terms of a wholesome transformation of the way we think about an object and its use or as “mere” aesthetic packaging. As someone who teaches at a design school but also as someone who would not disregard superficial phenomena all too quickly, what role do you think design plays in everyday life?


RP I am quite convinced that design can never be better than its time. The fact that our current car design is far from being as glamourous as it was in the 1960s and 70s testifies to the fact that our time has much less political aspirations and much less love for life than those decades. This is precisely what makes design very important for cultural theory. It is a very explicit indicator of the current state of mind. For a cultural theorist it might appear audacious to claim that our time does not have as much hope as other epochs. But when the whole car industry indulges in retro design and repeats patterns from other epochs, this is clearly evident since the hopeful epochs never repeated anything.




NL Public buildings are often invested with the moral task of improving society or educating the young, monuments are erected in order to remind us not to forget this or that. In a certain way this could mean that we want them to do these things for us or instead of us. Is there a limit as to what an object can or cannot do in our place?


RP The ability of objects to do things in our place is astounding. As Sigmund Freud remarked, the fetish believes in place of the fetishist in illusions that the fetishist himself has given up. From here starts the wide field of phenomena of interpassivity in culture: TV sitcoms can laugh about themselves in place of the observers; prayer wheels or prayer flags can pray in place of religious people; gambling machines can play in place of gamblers; certain TV programs can vicariously play with our dogs instead of us; sports shoes are sportive in our place; and certain SUVs, by giving us an “off-road” touch, allow us to stay in the city without having to go to the countryside etc. The uncanny point about this is that things cannot only do work for us (like the dishwasher) but that they can also take care of acts of enjoyment or consumption (such as laughter, amusement, play, recreation); and equally that we obviously have a need for that.




NL This year’s Venice Architecture Biennale has been emphatically put under the banner of architecture as being the “most political of all the arts”. How would you draw a line between what you call a self-supposing “enlightened” practice that demands instant social gratification and its presumed opposite, normally described as hedonist, spectacular etc.?


RP It appears to me that in the last decades, the most renowned achievements in architecture belonged to the field of the spectacular, such as the museums by Frank Gehry for example. Of course, this is not a‑political either. The spectacular is “overdetermined” by the political: it is a political decision to go for the seemingly “unpolitical” or spectacular.




NL The categories of “humor” or “comic” are more likely to be associated with film, theatre or literature than architecture. In fact, as a field so closely associated with economy, security and politics, architecture tends to slip into the tragic all the more naturally. In a supposedly serious architecture, is there a possibility of maintaining a space of (comic) play?


RP In my psychoanalytical approach, I have tried to account for comedy not in terms of “comical/serious” but in terms of following the question who is supposed to be the believer in the illusion at work. In tragedy, the illusion is placed on the shoulders of the observers: we as spectators are supposed to believe that the tragic hero’s failure is connected to a great cause. Yet in comedy, the illusion is always delegated to somebody else. The characters try to fool some other characters, whereas we spectators are kept in the know and see through the illusion by which those guys are comically fooled (just think of Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be). Now it seems to me that this is precisely where a great amount of modern architecture’s light‑handedness stems from: modernity presented the building as a kind of machine and we were not supposed to believe in this illusion. With postmodernity, this has shifted. The irony at work got so very emphasized; every joke had to be declared as a joke so explicitly that it became obvious that our status of those in the know could no longer be seen as granted. As in many other fields, it was no longer self‑evident that we were adults and therefore able to get a joke. Postmodernity revoked the universal right to be treated as an adult; it became tragic—and reactionary.






NL If classical architecture effectively embodied and represented power, today there is a strong sense of discordance between authority and its public manifestation. Postmodernist courthouse buildings seem to be undermined and deflated by a general disbelief in the effective functioning of the law, whereas your boss seems to pose as your close friend, wears casual clothes etc. How is (public) appearance connected with the exercise of power today?


RP As theorists like Alain Ehrenberg and Byung-Chul Han have pointed out, power today is not so much based on authority and obedience but rather exploits the engagement, passion, creativity and joyful identification of the subjected with what they regard as their cause. Apart from the very low‑paid jobs it is difficult today to find a job where you do not have to give at least the blood of your heart. This makes it difficult for the employed to draw a distinction between work and non‑work, effort and recreation, obedience and rebellion, friend and foe. This is accompanied by a loss of distinction between public and private space—what Richard Sennett described as “tyranny of intimacy” as early as the 1970s. Today we can see clearly how right Sennett was and how much this loss of difference—which at the time was experienced by many people as a liberation from the injunctions of civilization—contributed to the neoliberal conditions of extended exploitation and loss of the political sphere.




NL “Urbanity” or “the urban” are categories that are today used in a manifold of ways. When architects, developers or authorities talk about it, it is usually tied to the rhetoric of making the city beautiful, while on the other hand this of course implies an ideology of gentrification. For others still, it is bound with statistics, density or size. What is urbanity? Where is its proper place or does it have a proper place at all?


RP “Urbanity” is a notion that was first used in the rhetoric of Cicero and Quintilianus. It referred to a cosmopolitan habitus and the ability to speak in a wittily refined way—qualities that, according to these authors, could only emerge in the city. Yet as the Austrian architecture theorist Friedrich Achleitner has pointed out, one has to account for the fact why there is so much more urbanity to be found even in a small city like Cividale than in some big ones like Stuttgart. Density seems to be more important here than size but maybe even the notion of density does not fully account for the phenomenon. The Italian city had a refined set of mechanisms for bringing about urbanity. They had promenades, central squares, and even “loggias”—spaces that could serve either as stages (for example for juridical courts) or as places for observation. In this sense, one could define urbanity psychoanalytically: as something that provides individuals with the feeling of being seen, even if they cannot tell by whom exactly. This can also be described as “triangulation”: you feel seen not only by the people you know or see but also by some anonymous third agency. This agency is, as I have pointed out, to be understood as a “naive observer” that only cares for appearances but not for intentions. This is why urbanity brought people to care for the appearance of their behavior, their costumes and their language. A lack of urbanity, on the contrary, occurs when this gaze is lacking: when people know each other too well and only care for intentions but not for politeness or for being civilized, like in small communities full of intimacy. When cities today, under neoliberal conditions, tend to become too beautiful or too proper or gentrified, then the “triangulation” gets lost. Then we are simply surrounded by similar folks and there is no need anymore to satisfy the anonymous third gaze that improved so much our appearance and our pride.




NL European cities seem to be turning into giant privately managed plots under permanent surveillance. The last undeveloped or unregulated areas within the city centers are torn between two extremes: on the one hand, they are being idealized as the abject, on the other, they are being redeveloped or revitalized into yet another cultural center. Is there a way out of these opposites?


RP It seems to me that in urban space there is a struggle coming up comparable to that concerning the time of employees: a fight for undefined areas in the city as well as times that do not have to be either intense work or intense recreation. If the overstressed can ever regain their strengththen they will fight against this double stress and for what architecture philosopher Georg Franck would call a reasonable “economy of attention”.



To conclude, during your last visit in Ljubljana, you spoke of an odd notion of Bambization? What is it?

RP In the last decades, we have seen many top‑down measures implemented in the name of some alleged powerless underdogs: healthcare bureaucracy gained power by creating the figure of a poor waiter in the bar who had to be protected from the customers’ smoke. In the universities, an administrative bureaucracy took power by referring to the alleged student from “uneducated” background in whose name curricula had to be transformed into the most boring and restrictive corsets. In other cases it was the woman, the migrant, the queer or other apparently matching candidates that were cast into this bureaucracy‑friendly figure. The assumption of an infinitely innocent, helpless being—what I call a “Bambi”–that calls for immediate action at any price is what helps to subject society to the most repressive, a‑political bureaucratic regime.

Under neoliberal conditions, when social support is not granted to everybody, the interpellation of people as Bambis has good chances to be successful. When, for example, migrants in a Scandinavian country only can get funding for a language class under the condition that they are diagnosed with ASD, it is understandable that some of them go for that. Thus the figure of the Bambi and what has been called the “competition of victims” are the symptoms of structural lacks in the social system and not, as they may appear, proofs of society’s increased sensitivity towards the excluded. They reveal the fact that society has stopped supporting people as a rule and has shifted to supporting only exceptions. Yet every sincere emancipatory politics has always emphasized not the addressees’ infinite helplessness but their agency and their ability to fight. Only in such a way can equality be achieved. What we have to care about today is the regular case of normal people who face increasing difficulties to make their lives and not only the exceptional cases of alleged total helplessness.



Robert Pfaller is Professor of Philosophy and Cultural Theory at the University of Art and Industrial Design in Linz, Austria. His many writings on philosophy, psychoanalysis and art include works such as Kurze Sätze über gutes Leben (2015), On the Pleasure Principle in Culture: Illusions without Owners (2014), Zweite Welten und andere Lebenselixiere (2012), Wofür es sich zu leben lohnt. Elemente materialistischer Philosophie (2011), Das schmutzige Heilige und die reine Vernunft (2008), Ästhetik der Interpassivität (2009) and Althusser – Das Schweigen im Text (1997). In one of his visits to Ljubljana this year, prof. Pfaller spoke at the international symposium To Think a Sin that took place on 26–27 June 2016 in the Atrium of ZRC SAZU. A tight schedule encompassing two full days of lectures left little time for a live interview, yet prof. Pfaller was nonetheless kind enough to respond in writing, for which I am once again grateful.

Nejc Lebar
Praznine 09_2. 2. 2016

Conversation with Vadim Fishkin

About title


TS I find the title of your latest exhibition – Čarov-Ni-Ja or NO MAGIC – which was curated by Igor Španjol and on view in the Museum of Contemporary Art (+MSUM) between June 16 and September 13 2015, very ingenious, well-chosen. The Slovene version of the title is in fact even more precise and ambiguous at the same time – magic and the negation of it coincide in its meaning. In this ambiguity I can see some parallels with the exhibited works, not in terms of mere denotation or naming, but more in the sense that what happens in the title also occurs in the works themselves – it seems that another kind of admiration appears when the illusion is exposed. The viewer is simultaneously en-chanted (‘o-čaran’) and dis-enchanted (‘raz-očaran’). The works are at the same time magical and non-magical, they revolve around magic (‘the magic button’) and its exposure (‘there is no magic’). This might also be suggested in the English title NO MAGIC, but I perceive it as more ‘coded’ than the Slovene version. How did you come up with the Slovene title and why did you decide to choose it?


VF Thank you for posing a question about the title of the exhibition. In my opinion, the wordplay between the concepts ‘to enchant’ and ‘being enchanted’ is truly interesting and creates a special effect in Slavic languages. The title of the latest exhibition Čarov-Ni-Ja / NO-MAGIC is a constituent part of it, and the same applies to all other exhibitions. Each title is composed of three elements: sound, meaning and visual appearance. Only when put together, these parts form an integral whole. Of course, there are some cases in which the meaning prevails, and others when the sound or pronunciation is more important. Sometimes I even refer to the written word. But in each and every case I take all three ‘ingredients’ into account. While the English version of the title NO MAGIC works and is understandable with the help of acoustics, one needs to write Čarov-Ni-Ja with dashes in order to stress the right meaning – the thought is completed only by the visual appearance. If the title does not add something extra to the work, it is completely pointless or has a mere bureaucratic purpose. Moreover, the intention of the title is not only to repeat the ‘meaning’ of the artwork it needs to make it complete.o metrov.’  Bearing this in mind we can take a look at the title NO MAGIC – in English this means that something is real. This is the affirmative side of the title. The other side is negative as the restrictive ‘no’ in the title suggests a certain prohibition or impossibility – one could say it doesn’t include any tricks. On the other hand, saying that something is real is not the same as claiming it doesn’t include deception.


TS In a sense, something which includes ‘no deception’ can always be unreal as well, while it is possible that something true also falls into the category of being a deception.


VF Every translation of a title is a new coinage, a new title which tries to recreate an adequate image, acoustics and a play on meaning – what needs to be translated is the content as a whole and not only the meaning itself. The title Čarov-Ni-Ja was selected from a long list of possible candidates as the most suitable and playful solution. It includes both layers at the same time – negation as well as affirmation, thus it is definitely not unambiguous. (laughs) I also agree with your comment regarding the ‘enchantment’ which is hidden in the Slovenian version and is not that perceivable in the English one. Of course, one has to take the difference between individual languages into account. I am not sure whether I answered your question.


TS Yes, of course you did. In short, the title should not be interpreted only as a description. Somehow, it is a performative element which co-creates the artwork.


VF Let’s put it this way – it opens up a possibility of thinking on different levels. In any case, we should not perceive the title as a closing or final act; the title is there to open and problematize the works of art. Art and the viewer


TS A lot of critical texts concerning your work focus on its connection with science. I would like to avoid this perspective for the purpose of this interview – not because I consider it to be a wrong direction, but because I would like to direct the attention to the question of the viewer. Despite being aware that the viewer is an almost universal presupposition to many artworks, I cannot avoid the feeling that your works already in advance include the view of an either naïve, curious or a very sharp viewer. It seems as if most of your works would focus precisely on ea certain automatism, on the stable nature of the spectator’s way of seeing, which is too often already set in advance. There were only two ‘interactive works’ displayed at the exhibition (Snow Show 1997 and Magic Button 2007), which openly encouraged and engaged the viewer in the production of a certain special effect of fascination and dis-enchantment. In both cases, which are also formally related (some sort of stage-set design), we are witnessing a certain turn in the museum’s disposition – the viewer slightly ridicules the art and ‘awkwardly’ takes part in the production of the work. What is your view of interactive works? Is it in any way connected to Warhol’s statement about the 15 minutes of fame – so that the relationship between the work and the viewer is exaggerated to the point of absurdity, where the uniqueness of the work, the viewer’s experience and the sublimity of the artwork need to be put into question? The position of both of the works is ‘strategic’ – we encounter the first at the start of the exhibition and the second at the very end.


VF Exactly. Regardless of the fact that this is a visual art exhibition which usually does not have a specific dramaturgy or a timeline, I have always tried to establish some kind of a structure. Similar to films it starts with an introduction, continues with a plot twist and concludes with a final part. The exhibition is designed through a temporal-spatial perspective of the viewer’s movement. Aforementioned works could be compared to propylaea (the word originates from Latin and means ‘in front of the door’). The introduction to the exhibition is an invitation to enter and gives an insight into what is happening inside, while the end summarizes and concludes this disclosure. All in all, it is of utmost importance to structure the conclusion in an ambiguous way (through affirmation and negation). Speaking of interactivity – it is true that both works are similar to a certain extent. Both of them include an action which is not necessarily an interactive one, claiming this would lead to terminology questions: is this art classified as interactive or rather interpassive? One possible denomination could also be ‘trigger art’. It is a fact, however, that both works of art put the viewer in the foreground; without the viewer, they would remain unfinished and in a way unaccomplished. The viewer becomes an integral part of the artworks.


TS Seeing the artwork Magic Button, the viewer is confronted with disappointment: ‘There is no magic … just an electronic relay, projection, some light effects … and soap bubbles.’ But from a certain aspect, Snow Show – the first artwork you set up, is even stronger in the sense of: ‘You wanted art, you wanted to be unique and have a special experience … Fine, here it is, take the whole package!’


VF Of course, this could be one possible interpretation but I did not want to appear too cynical. Personally I try to avoid a cynical attitude towards the viewer also when creating other works. I think this is more a matter of ‘external’ view – in most cases, the participant gives a positive and enthusiastic reaction rather than feeling disappointed or deceived. Exactly these feelings create a unique moment; snow and music are recurring elements but the feeling of each individual remains unique. The work is accomplished precisely with help of this ‘element of uniqueness’ and this feeling helps the viewer to avoid a cynical interpretation of the work.


TS This is something I can absolutely agree with. Art should not become too cynical … Anyhow, I certainly don’t perceive your artworks as cynical, even though they often contain certain elements of humour and surprise. But one definitely cannot equate cynicism with humour.


VF In connection with the concept of the viewer, the following question can be posed: what does it actually mean to be an art viewer? Someone who pushes the button is not a viewer anymore – he or she becomes a part of the process and their feelings make a constituent part of the artwork. The viewer is someone who does not participate in this game as an external observer. The viewers see the participant together with or inside the artwork and the participant becomes its integral part. This is why the feeling and reaction of the participant is very important – if the participant covered with snow remains happy for 20 seconds the viewer will see a completely different work than in the case of a dissatisfied visitor in the snow. (laughs)


TS You are completely right. The one who is covered with snow is always happy and surprised, but maybe an ‘external viewer’ perceives things differently …


VF With the naming of the procedures behind the work Magic Button (There is no magic … just an electronic relay, projection etc.) we are witnessing a classical presenting of facts – the title of the work Magic Button and the description of the techniques: relay, lights, balloon … (laughs)


TS Right, this is it. (laughs)


VF Yes, it is like oil on canvas. I just didn’t reveal any dimensions. (laughs)


The role of art


TS In your opinion, what is the role of (contemporary) art or what should it be?


VF I think the biggest advantage of art is not being able to give any clear-cut answers to this question. In my personal opinion, this is the only true indicator of art being on the right track. If it only had one particular function, this would mean a ‘red alarm’ – danger. I doubt one could still define something as art if it had a certain guiding principle, for example a social function which would be conscientiously fulfilled by this form of art. In this case, art would only be a matter of social research … The same applies to the context of political art – I think we have a problem if an artwork fits into one category only. Art becomes interesting when it covers different layers and has a multifaceted meaning.


TS You are trying to say that art is not unambiguous and does not give answers to only one issue. Art is not univocal.


VF You are correct, art should not be faced with just one particular task. In this case, this wouldn’t be art anymore but a claim to form some other field. At this point we are back to the previous question regarding the autonomy of art, stating that art has its own value. This does not mean, however, that it is intended only for a chosen group of people whose main occupation is art. On the contrary, it refers to a certain autonomy of a field which cannot simply be limited to bureaucratic classifications. Practice shows the evolution of many additional ‘artistic merits’; in the sense of political fights, social engagement, general design and even decoration design. (laughs) This loss of autonomy also marks the transition into the outer part of the autonomy circle. Of course, nothing is wrong with that – a problem may occur when art as a discipline totally conforms to a certain field. By doing this, it completely loses its power, complexity and becomes an unambiguous answer to an issue which has already been formed beforehand. But at the same time, this does not mean that art doesn’t have a specific function – its real advantage lies mainly in not having only one single function.


TS Considering this aspect, what if we rethink the visitor of the exhibition? Who is art for? Is it for everyone? Looking at your exhibition, I have always had the feeling you devote a lot of attention to putting yourself into the shoes of someone who stands in front of the artwork.


VF Absolutely, this is something an artist always has in mind, but at the very beginning, this dialogue evolves from a monologue within yourself … Only afterwards you include others. The more layers of viewership you include, the greater diversity you achieve within the artwork topic. Still, this should not be the only goal, otherwise we immediately end up inside the concept of popular art.


TS In relation to some of the works you refer to an ‘artistic language’, which you see as a contrast to the language of science. During the guided tour you talked about Prometheus Electronic which would refer to a logical and real work in the physical sense, while Disconnected is a matter of deceit. Despite the logical difference between them, the language of art has supposedly accepted them as something which makes sense. Which is the core difference between them?


VF Personally I would not have used the word ‘contrast’ as this example does not point to a contradictory relationship but rather to a certain similarity. Similarity can even be found in the working method or the way in which both works are structured. If I may use some unfounded and non-theoretical expressions (laughs) – then I would like to point out the difference between subjective truths and personal truths. In everyday language, art gets swept under the carpet of expressions like subjectivity/subjective practice, while science is defined as being objective. I consider this separation to be very disputable – both of them, science and art try to find a certain concept of the truth. For example, when talking about subjective truths, we immediately find ourselves facing a problem of relativity in the sense: ‘Nothing is true, everything is relative and merely a question of different opinions’. Exactly this perspective represents the same issue for art as well as for science. As soon as we try to figure out a different perspective which I labelled with the expression personal truths – as a position where your own opinion needs to be justifiable enough and independent from the common opinion – we realize that this expression could describe both art and science. Similarly as an artist stands behind personal truths in his or her own language, a scientist is positioned inside everything connected with science. The history of science is full of stories about blaming and exclusion as the scientists opposed the beliefs of individuals who later on prevailed as an objective truth and proven theory, despite of being at its early stages at that time. Already since the times of Giordano Bruno we know that a scientist needs to stand behind what he himself denominated as personal truth – maybe this could even be the most thriving phase of thought evolution and theoretical speculations. Objectivity comes later, after the phase of development and demonstration. In most cases this means that science as well as art are able to develop something which will achieve a status of an objective truth only if they go through the personal truths phase. Most evidences in the world of science are not immediately accepted. A similar phenomenon can be observed with art as well, only that it is more a matter of specific thought than a matter of proving something. In my opinion, science and art should not be too dependent on expectations of the economy and society or succumb to the desires of the audience. If we return to the contrast versus similarity, I would definitely decide for the latter. Of course, these examples include a different language but the method itself is much more similar than it seems.


TS You are saying they have the same structure and similar building procedure despite the difference in building material?


VF In the case of Prometheus Electronic and the work Unplugged I mainly used scientific language: Prometheus has a real, physically- logical function which is absent and subliminal in the second work. The latter is somehow illogical and looks like deception. Exactly through this juxtaposition I tried to show the third part of the vision (third function) which cannot be broken down to the categories of the logical vs. the illogical, or science vs. deception – it is an art function which is real and logical regardless of the fact that it includes deception as well. Art function cannot simply be reduced and divided in a pragmatic way based on the laws of physics.


TS I am aware this statement is too general and also problematic, but isn’t there always a certain measurement scale within science? At first glance, art seems to be freer.


VF Of course, there is a difference in this perspective. But even science loses its scale at one point and needs to be ‘measured’ anew. I expect to see some ‘measurements’ also in the field of art. (laughs)


TS Yes, I hope that as well. (laughs)


Light & time


TS A number of your works revolve around something completely ordinary, established and obvious, experiencing a shift in its foundations and consequently causing the viewer to lose the ground beneath his or her feet. Ordinary concepts become unusual – time and light are certainly one of them.


VF Self-evident answers always obscure the view. Somehow, it is similar to Brecht’s enstrangement effect – keeping distance, moving away from the object in order to see other possibilities within the same matter. It sounds funny, but no one will ever ask you what an hour is. A hour is an hour … Yet still, with self-evidence put aside, the following questions immediately pop into our minds: how is time formed anyway? How do we observe time? Where does astronomical time come from? This brings us to very important issues. If the first approach includes a view from a distance, then the second possibility includes approaching everyday objects or a so-called ‘hacking principle’ which means discovering secret possibilities hidden inside of something. In the programming language, alternative possibilities are always available, deliberately concealed by software companies to prevent them from coming into general use. Both, the lightbulb and the hairdryer have a particular function but I use them for completely different purposes …


TS Light is a recurrent element in your artwork. Soon you will even give a lecture titled Light Matters.


VF I deliberately left the title in English because I always try to avoid a reading which is too simple and direct. As you can see, this is a pun – light can mean brightness or easiness/ lightness, while matter refers to a substance, material or a question. In this way we get four different meanings: casual questions, lightweight substance, questions about light and light matter. Light has material properties and is also a transient occurrence. It mainly interests me from its material perspective. On average, light is perceived as a very ephemeral phenomenon, although science would oppose to this statement, mainly because light is a rather physical matter. On the other hand, some questions regarding light frequency still remain unexplained until this day. And exactly this duality of physical presence and ephemeralness or the simultaneous visibility and invisibility of this phenomenon is what I’m interested in the most.


TS We can see 24 hours passing by in a single minute (A Speedy Clock 2014) or a day that is over in 2.5 minutes (A Speedy Day 2003). You are also suggesting that time can rush or stand completely ‘still’ on the same point (Sun Stop 2003).


VF Sun Stop is dedicated to A. L. Chizhevsky, a cosmologist and founder of helio-biology. The cultural and philosophical movement Cosmism cultivated a special mind-set which was not based on academic knowledge – they saw themselves as thinkers. At the core of Chizhevsky’s theory lies a belief that everything is co-dependant. A logical deduction which followed was a statement that everything in our solar system depends on the Sun, the biggest celestial body. Chizhevsky even wrote a book with a title The Terrestrial Echo of Solar Storms, in which he made a statistical collection of common events on Earth like wars, diseases and epidemics, unusual migrations etc. In these occurrences, he saw a dependence on the solar radiation. Of course, many would link these beliefs with esotericism – but for him, his discoveries were strictly limited to materialistic science. Interesting fact: in those days, he was too materialistic for the Soviet Union and his ideas did not match the Marxist doctrine, so he was sent to the Gulag. The purpose of my work Sun Stop was mainly to reverse the sunset symbolism. On the one hand, this is something very banal and sentimental, an everyday cliché, which can also point out to complete dependency on this phenomenon. From the most average perspective we get to the proportion of man in the cosmos.


TS There are also other works which persist in the sphere of the motionless, nonsense or even the absurd – time, which runs forward but does not cause any change – I am referring to works such as the Don Quixote Pact or the Prometheus Electronic, which are probably the most communicative in these terms. Chris Sharp used a witty coinage for this state of motionlessness – ‘poetic pessimism’. The first response is always accompanied with a certain kind of humour, but a question always follows – aren’t these works commenting the society in some form?


VF When it comes to Don Quixote Pact, many people would find allusions to the society as we are all aware that we waste much more energy than we actually consume – however, this does not stop us in doing so. (laughs) This little light-emitting diode needs a fair amount of electrical power in order to squeeze out the minimal portion of light. Of course, this work was not commenting on perpetuum mobile.


TS My interpretation of the title Don Quixote Pact was as follows: the tilting at windmills was supposed to be pointless and lost beforehand. In your work, a pact was established – a small, fairly visible light was lit. However, this is no indicator of any existing hope – all of it is much more humorous and probably even tragically hopeless. Despite everything, we constantly accept new pacts, even though it is clear these actions are completely absurd. In other words: consumption is much bigger than efficiency.


VF True. I would like to add that by definition, the battle of Don Quixote is a battle without a compromise. Despite of this I made a pact here – and this always means a certain degree of indulgence. Is it really possible to come to an agreement with Don Quixote? (laughs) I was interested in absurd turning points that bring you back to the beginning and take you to the same path again … a never-ending pendulum.


Visible / invisible


TS This comparison might seem odd to you, but I have the feeling that some of your works address similar problems than the paintings of René Magritte. I am not trying to enforce some sort of false connections, but I have to admit that this was one of my first associations in relation to the drawings of the Geo_Graphic series. Magritte’s La trahison des images (The Treachery of Images), which is often referred to using its caption Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe) came to mind. Your series walks in the opposite direction – although on the same path as Magritte’s ‘pipe’. By this I mean that Magritte is trying to deny the completely self-evident meaning of a visual image – the equation mark between the real pipe and the painting. When I see the image of a pipe, I say to myself ‘this is a pipe’ and herein lies the mistake. The catch of the image is much more complicated – even if we would say ‘this is only a painting of a pipe’, the shadow of a doubt would soon appear – a question if it is really only that or rather the statement trying to get close to the image. In this way we fall into the pit of endless references and denotations. But if we stop at the first catch of the work Treachery of Images – at the painting of a pipe with a caption (this is not a pipe) – we are faced with words that deny the image by stating that what you see is not really what you see. The series turns the relationship between the image and its naming upside down. What we see in front of us is a number of drawings-graphics, with the minimum number of graphic elements (dot, line, hatching), which results in the works resembling each other to a great extent. When faced with these works, I am in a way looking without seeing or at least without knowing exactly what I am seeing – I see some images, but I don’t know what they depict. The subject matter of each individual drawing becomes clear only upon reading the caption – the words affirm the looking which then slides into seeing. The thing that I was looking onto was actually a cloud and a UFO, a plane and a UFO, a roof and a UFO … The caption is no longer a negation of ‘something that should be completely obvious’, but an affirmation of something that is not yet visible – the word makes the graphic visible. The word-caption is needed in order to see. Here, I see a turn of Magritte’s structure, in which what I see is denied by the word. On the one hand this would be my interpretation of the reviews, which claim your work to be an experiment of making the invisible visible. But I think that things are not always that simple. Geo_Graphic is one of your oldest works, which is still in full swing … Over the years it seems like you have managed to create a certain alphabet of symbols – even though they get constantly turned around, blurred, or they lose their self-evident nature and visibility (for example: the pattern which presents a lake on one graphic, can depict a stone on another).


VF I am glad you mentioned Magritte – he is my favourite artist among the surrealists. I think what I like most about his painting is the fact that he never let go of logic, as opposed to other surrealists who are claimed to be ‘led by their dreams, imagination and the subconscious’. Margritte tries to analyse dreams, to construct or re-construct them. His ideas are very close to mine, to some kind of logic of nonsense.


TS I agree with you, Margritte definitely operates with logic, together with paradoxes of representation.


VF I am interested in the logic of nonsense and not mysticism – and in this sense, Magritte comes closer to my ideas than any other surrealist. This logic is very clearly developed through the image exploration which makes mysticism much less interesting. I am also very fond of scientific language which doesn’t explain everything – but it follows a logical development of posing questions.


TS I consider mysticism the weakest art instrument. I always find it problematic when I hear someone saying: ‘I’m expressing my feelings! These are my feelings, my dreams, my subconsciousness …’ I cannot get rid of the feeling that someone is obviously messing with me.


VF I remember this from the times of my schooling, when even some of the teachers tried to explain themselves by referring to their feelings. ‘Why? – Because it’s the way I feel.’ This was always my favourite statement. (laughs) In this case, one cannot think of any counterargument, there is absolutely no answer to it. But if we return to Magritte – I really liked the comparison of the postscript on the painting (this is not a pipe) and titles of the individual sketches from my collection.


TS I just turned around the sequence of the name and image.


VF In reality, the function is the same.


TS Definitely.


VF By function, I am referring to the issue that the visual and verbal language face when they get stuck in a vicious cycle of not being able to function without each other.


TS This brings to mind the thought of the French writer René Daumal who you often quote: ‘The door to the invisible must remain visible.’ The invisible becomes visible, but then it again disperses and dissipates into invisibility. Doesn’t your work involve a certain dimension of exposure (making something visible) while at the same time trying to show that in doing so we do not evade the real invisibility – that under the surface of an obvious visibility there is a certain kind of non-obvious invisibility? To put it more clearly – it is not about the invisible hiding below the layer of obvious visibility, but more about the fact that the obviousness of the visible is becoming ever more invisible and non-obvious? Doesn’t your work make the obvious somewhat unusual – not obvious anymore?


VF The quote originates from a legendary book Mount Analogue which was part of the Beat Generation. The story is actually quite long, but what I liked the most about it is a strong faith/belief into the existence of something – even though it is not seen at the first glance. The question is how to get to certain connections, how to enter the unknown … My door (Doorway), however, represents some kind of a twist of this story: in reality, the door doesn’t exist even though we can see it. Apart from that, the work contains an internal ambiguity as well – the door as a whole is a product of light, a light effect. Even though the door doesn’t exist, we see the light coming from its direction which is perfectly real. Again, this is about juxtaposition of two concepts: reality and illusion.


TS Interesting, this has never occurred to me.




TS The shifts between visibility and invisibility add a specific dimension to your works, a dimension which could be called illusory. I am not referring to a simple deception, but to the charm of the illusory – the fascination with the illusion, with its discovering, concealing, as well as its occurrence and dissipation. In some of the works you clearly reveal the deception and ‘throw it in the face’ of the viewer, who had already presumed it beforehand – Pfaller would say that you offer an impersonal and technical answer to the question of deception. ‘You wanted to know what’s behind all of this?! There you have it!’ Some of the works clearly expose a simple technical solution – we see the illusion and its conditions, its technical solution. The proof (solution) of the illusion’s catch is problematic and non-satisfactory exactly because it was expected beforehand. The wish of the cynical viewer is backfired. He or she sees in front of him a clearly stated answer to the question of the trick of the illusion … There are no secrets, ‘no magic’! And through this ‘overly simplified’ satisfaction of the desire, by exposing the trick in a blunt and banal way, your work makes us pass through a naive place of spectacle, expectations and longing for a miracle, on the way toward a much more ambiguous questioning of our own position. Coffee & Ink, miss Christmas – both of these examples are a ‘painting’ trompe l’oeil translated into an installation. We see an image-illusion of a coffee cup or a palm tree even though we could easily touch the anonymous object, which is ‘throwing’ this unusual shadow. The viewer is enchanted with the charm of the illusion – regardless of the discrepancy between the object and the image, the in-credible ‘shadow’ and the obviousness of the projection. The non-deceived viewer believes by being enchanted. The deception itself does not occur on the account of the illusion, but on the part of the enchantment and awe of the audience. Here, a much deeper question arises – it is not so much about who will fall for the deception, but more about us as spectators being ready to overlook deception in our desire for astonishment. It is not about the effect of the object on the viewer, but rather about the viceversa. Which leads me to my next point – I feel that your work is mostly about the non-obvious nature of things. Things are not necessarily ‘as they should be’ – the fact that something appears to be a logical entity or something appropriate is merely an established image or an opinion and often more or less a matter of coincidence than indisputable necessity. In this manner we return to the ‘Magritte question’ – just as a shadow does not necessarily match the object, the surface/reflection/ apparition of the window does not match its own background.


VF Illusion. Again, this leads us to the problem of visibility and invisibility. In a sense, illusion leads to bringing the invisibility/ambiguity onto the surface – invisibility reaches visibility. However, when creating most of my projects I try not to create deception but rather an explanation of another state or condition. Out of this reason I never hide technology. If I take A Speedy Day as an example – as soon as I approach the window, I can see all the technology: computer, lights, projector etc. The main characteristic of illusion is definitely not the fact that it’s hidden – it’s a certain element of surprise, despite of knowing how something was created. In my works, illusion is used as a framework for understanding!


TS This is exactly what I was pondering regarding the difference between illusion and deception. To start with, deception is all about something being hidden so that someone is deprived of knowledge – the viewer is not supposed to know how things are formed or how a certain effect has been achieved. Illusion, on the contrary, is understood as an effect of enchantment … The moment in which the viewer knows exactly what is happening in the ‘background’ and goes with the flow of the event nonetheless. In my opinion, enchantment is a much stronger feeling than deceit.


VF Definitely, enchantment has a positive connotation; it is an ‘invitation’ to understanding. Deception, at best, lacks the possibility of understanding. For me, the real charm is not to hide something and by doing so deceiving the viewer, but to show how something was made. If the charm still fulfils its function, then you’re on the right track.


TS Enchantment gives me an insight into a certain way of approaching or inviting the visitor (to use your formulation) – your works are not meant exclusively for art experts which was often the case with high modernist works. I think your works could be as charming to a child or anyone who doesn’t know art that well … With the help of enchantment and curiosity it is much easier to enter the mindset of the artwork. However, these are only the first steps that don’t reveal much about its complexity. This is a very rough division but I always try to establish two entry directions: one of them starts with ‘I know’ and is consequently followed by ‘I see’, while the other one starts with ‘I see’ and only after that changes into ‘I know’. The first one starts with knowledge and continues with the work, while the second one derives from the work and only afterwards transforms into knowledge. Of course, this does not mean that they exclude each other. Modern art is extremely heterogeneous and very often I am in the role of an ignorant viewer … Could we say that an artwork is on the right track if it makes a certain difference and causes curiosity or thinking?


VF This point brings us back to the specific language of art. On the one hand, I think a certain accessible point should be enabled into the understanding, although we should not identify it with simplification and lack of complexity. On the other hand, this does not mean the understanding of art requires a certain amount of knowledge – language is similar in this case, since it is also based on knowledge: terminology understanding, development and correlations between various words and meanings … Art needs to be multifaceted and should not let itself get caught into narrow interpretations. One of the layers is definitely an open invitation to people, however, this does not mean we need to lead them by the hand and be their guru. In its core, art is not exclusive. It causes thinking and allows people to think freely, which I definitely find very important. This is why I believe in the significance of these ‘child-like’ illusion moments. By using the concept ‘childlikeness’ I aim at the openness of mind, curiosity, and wish for understanding; thus at the state which comes before self-evidence we talked about before. In a way, ignorance is the reason why the child’s mind is so creative. The whole world lies in front the eyes of a child who eagerly waits to consume all knowledge. This is the reason I have always tried to build on the illusion of something that opens the door – but still, this doesn’t mean I dedicate a lot of thought to how to make the work popular with everyone … It’s not even about guessing who will enter or not. I just want to make sure the door is open. To understand the illusion, to see the projector and the shadow is definitely not the same as to comprehend the work itself. However, it is always possible to take the first step. As an artist I can only hope someone will step further, across the borders of technical illusions.


TS This is why, when observing your ‘illusions’, you reveal all the cards to the viewer – we can see all the technology behind it. All of this in order for the viewer to realize that not all magic lies in the technology.


VF Yes, exactly. This is why one needs to search for something else, too.


TS The first time I asked myself a question about the role or power of illusion was at your exhibition. To rephrase the question: I was interested in the difference between enchantment/illusion (I know the ‘mechanism behind it’ but still ‘the magic’ works) and deception/scam. In form of a scheme: Enchantment/illusion: artwork <—projection— viewer Deception: artwork —invisibility—> viewer Deception means non-transparency of the mechanism – it is mainly led by misunderstanding. Enchantment, on the other hand, runs in the opposite direction and works even though we can see how something works. In other words, enchantment is in reality my projection into the work.


VF I am very glad we came to the word ‘enchantment’ – I see it as a fundamental step on the path to my work. Therefore, enchantment is a matter of curiosity and awe … And this is the path I would like to establish – the one leading from enchantment, curiosity to a certain form of understanding.


TS This is an interesting point of view, but at the same time, curiosity is something which gets lost through self-evidence – something which is self-evident is gradually becoming invisible, overseen, automatized. Curiosity is the first step towards letting self-evidence go. Air Ballon in the Cave: the majority of the so-called American blockbuster film production adapts ‘reality’ to the needs of the film industry. Sets are being built, that occupy whole city districts for the sake of the final image or a shot. It is interesting, that while the final product is often already close to science fiction, a fictional world is created, while the ‘behind the scenes’ extras show us how the set was actually put together – that it was built and not computer-edited. Fiction is the goal, reality the means. On your guided tour of the exhibition you stated that a photograph which looks edited, is an actual photograph of a hot air balloon inside the Postojna cave. What is the relationship between reality and fiction in this work?


VF The main question of the exhibition regarding the balloon was the question of representation – how to present the actual event in the Postojna cave on a white gallery wall. How to transform the event into ‘another body’? There was some documentation available but I didn’t want to spend too much time on it. However, I considered the actual event very important and also tried to put it on display. When I saw the pictures I realised they looked like a photomontage – hereby, the essence of the documentation was lost. They looked so unreal that the viewer simply could not believe them, which is why I tried to do an impression of the whole presentation with the help of a fictional, three-dimensional pseudo-hologram. I wanted to persuade the viewer to pose questions about why things were made that way. The falsification is so overblown and unreal so it could occur to the viewer that the event truly was recorded.




TS On your guided tour of the exhibition you stated in relation to miss Christmas something along the lines of being interested in the traditional problems of painting. This does in fact come forward in this work – the play of light, colour and shadows.


VF This statement was not something I dealt with on purpose – I mentioned that it refers to classical painting issues; similarly as Snow Show which refers to a stable belief that art should be unique. Anyway, this was not my remark, it was a comment of the critic who saw classical art references in my work – light, shadow and colour – even though it’s a bit contradictory to discuss separate elements. Personally I have not tried to paraphrase classical art, I haven’t even given it any thought. However, I thought it was nice that others see it that way – as a sublimation of classical painting. Imitation of nature is connected with the palm tree shade, the use of light and shadow accounts for the projection/ projector and the third element, colour, is literally represented by a jug of paint on the floor. (laughs)


TS The technology you use for your artwork is selected carefully, but also quite freely, the devices are never state of the art – it is not trying to be sophisticated, up-to-date or even concealed. The technological ‘machine’ is on view. Is this point of view also a thought or a statement about contemporaneity and the past? Can something that derives from the past be contemporary as well?


VF Definitely. Above all, contemporaneity should be seen as a functioning mechanism which is at the same time still problematic and ambiguous. One has to avoid connecting contemporaneity with a style label. The same issue is looking at art through a glass of technology and material which in fact don’t have not much in common with it. First and foremost, art is a way of thinking; an open way of thinking probably falls into the category of contemporaneity. This is a reason why even a work from the past can still be considered contemporary.




TS With visual art, which never lacks in seriousness, a critical view and a touch of drama, I mostly miss humour. Humour can be connected to a certain share of naiveness and lightness, but at the same time it also involves a critical distance towards one’s own utterance and the unusual power of subversion of even the most somber thoughts. In many cases, lightness is only the first impression of humour and I believe, that your work is no exception here. Any particular thoughts on humour?


VF I think the answer lies in the question itself. (laughs)

Tomo Stanič
Praznine 09_2. 2. 2016

The Bežigrad Central stadium Of Ljubljana

The Central Stadium in Ljubljana, located in the district of Bežigrad, was built in the period between 1923 and 1953. In the first phase after its completion, it was mainly used by the Roman Catholic youth sports association Orel as well as for rallies and fire drills. Later on, the stadium took on the role of a venue for sporting and cultural events. Since 2008 the entire area of the stadium has been closed to the public and left to decay. The degraded and unused space is in need of a fresh programme, infrastructure and landscape.


Ljubljana is a green city with several parks located also in its central area. Each of them offers its own programme. A new city park outside of the core city center would introduce an upgrade of the wider city area and help establish its identity as a place of social interaction and as a green atrium of the city of Ljubljana.


The revitalisation project of the Central Stadium involves a new programme, which – together with discretely placed new volumes and greening – forms the dynamic landscape of a new city park. Recreational areas meet the needs of different users. The central stadium functions as a green atrium of the city. Its diverse program attracts visitors and guarantees continuous use, which is a key characteristic of open spaces in cities. Existing biuldings are used to support the programme – the management, restroom, restaurant – making sure the space is functioning smoothly.


The revival of the new city park strictly follows the legacy of its architect Jože Plečnik and his principles on the design of open spaces. Structures, which are inadequate in architectural or programmatical terms, are to be removed. New interventions involve a city beach with a swimming pool, a big and small event stage, an outdoor coffee house pertaining to the restaurant, sports areas for volleyball, chess, bocce, table tennis and a children’s playground in the arena by the grandstands. Picnic spaces, hammocks and benches where one can relax amidst the greenery are located in the center of the arena. All additional spaces that the programmes need are built into the ground and blend in with the landscape of the park.


An important component of the project is green vegetation, which becomes the main building element of space. Only indigenous Slovene plants are chosen, which additionally contributes to the development of the main theme of the park. Tall and low green vegetation designed in a non-formal way is partially placed in the area of the arena, creating a dynamic landscape. The upper running trail leads around the arena amidst low vegetation and bushes.

Nika van Berkel
Praznine 09_2. 2. 2016

Margins of architecture

The ancient contrast between autonomy and its role in society is probably carved into the very essence of architecture, and nothing polarises this dichotomy more than an attempt at defining the margines of architectural work. Despite the fact that the leading or predominant architectural school of thought, which by definition operates at the centre of its discipline, can always be defined by itself, it also inevitably collides with other fields of knowledge. In architecture, as with all disciplines, the core is only truly defined by its edge. As recently pointed out by esteemed sculptor and architect Jože Barši during a panel on architecture and the arts in the Musem of Contemporary Art Metelkova, the role of every discipline is to insist in closing in on and extending its edges and in doing so, redefining itself on its margines. Even though extending these edges has somewhat lost its intra-architectural momentum in the last few decades, recent socio-political developments in Europe have led to a new collision with the edge and have forced many of us to consider an inevitable lesson on border dynamics.


After decades of proselytism about the end of history after 1990, the wheel of history has shown itself to be more of a stuck cogwheel which has started to rotate in an unforeseen and turbulent manner, triggered by an enormous accumulation of energy. Establishing a symbolic border as well as putting up an actual barbed-wire fence is one of the many social – as well as architectural – disillusionments in these unpredictable months. This process is still quite selective at the moment, although control lines have been established. At the same time, an absolute but often overlooked truth appears before our eyes – each and every control, regardless of how abstract it is, has its own definite spatial manifestation. In these days, the alleged space of freedom is being narrowed down for the sake of security. Similarly, the field of architecture unavoidably clashes with the borders of the world of bureaucracy and administration. In the context of such borders, liberal pluralism cannot be understood in the sense of ‘anything goes’ in the same benign manner as only a couple of years ago.


My favourite border is the Trail of Remembrance and Comradeship in Ljubljana. During World War II, this barbed-wire blockade fortified with bunkers was erected by the occupying forces to isolate the rebellious city from its surroundings. From the very beginning, the purpose of a barbed wire fence was not the protection of Ljubljana’s residents, but their repression. On 9 May 1945, which marks the day of liberation, the barbed wire was removed after 1170 days of isolation. Today, the trail is used as a 32km long recreational walkway lined with trees. Every year, thousands of people take a walk along the avenue to commemorate the day of liberation. The reason this gesture is exceptional has nothing to do with populist rhetoric in the sense of how the former wire and soldiers were replaced by walkers, runners, and cyclists. The uniqueness lies within the fact that walking exactly on the borderline means refusing to choose one side or the other, defined by the line of division. In doing so one subverts the border itself, as pointed out by architect Léopold Lambert in an interview in this issue. Walking along the border is also something that awaits the field of architecture in the upcoming years, whether it so desires or not. This is a dangerous step out of the comfort zone, which means that architecture needs to gather enough courage to avoid being stopped by the fear of falling on one side of the borderline or the other.

Miloš Kosec
Praznine 08_20. 11. 2015

Janko G. Zlodre (1949-2015) Architecture speaks

‘In the second edition of the program Arhitektura govori (Architecture speaks) in November 2011 Mateja Kurir and I talked with Janko Zlodre. Our telephone conversation, which involved some pauses, lapses and overlaps, revealed that Zlodre was not a fan of the rigid form of the program featuring short, direct and seemingly general questions; he did not provide the answers to all of the questions and labelled some of them as ideological. This experience shed a new light on the art of interviewing in my eyes, as well as on the program as a whole. I could not observe it as neutral in its general topic orientation anymore, but as always connected with specific discourses on architecture. The conversation ended on a note of a certain incompleteness, which was probably the reason why Zlodre later sent us the manuscript of the answers he had prepared for the program and did not manage to get across during the interview.’


Izidor Barši

Janko G. Zlodre
Praznine 06_20. 11. 2015

Is There Still Room For Poetics?

Understanding And Responding To The Language Of Designed Landscape

Is There Still Room For Poetics?


In 1981, an article by Stephen Krog for Landscape Architecture significantly titled “Is it Art?” expressed the author’s fear that “the art in landscape architecture in experiencing  uspended animation”[1]. His point was that twentieth-century landscape architecture cannot be viewed equally among other forms of art as it lacks a critical and theoretical forum within the profession and is heavily dependent on a design program, function and client’s needs. As a response Catherine M. Howett wrote in 1985 that at the turn of the century works of landscape architecture should accommodate our needs while giving expression to shared values, something that cannot happen isolated from larger currents of ideas and influences in contemporary society or from creative collaboration between different art fields. “Art alone, after all, can make those new places meaningful and memorable”[2]


What we can observe in the recent years with the more and more complex environmental issues that we are facing is that the concept of sustainability is actively promoted, which clearly shows in landscape architecture as well. Many projects deal with diverse environmental challenges in the fields of sustainable development, environmental planning, urban forestry, landscape urbanism, energy conservation, water management, landscape ecology, and so on. Given the current situation of the global environment it would seem irresponsible or even ethically questionable not to do so. But one could still question where did all the art and the meaning behind a design go, the poetics of landscapes that established the profession as a form of art and made some of the greatest works of landscape architecture relevant to society while using artistic means to respond to the social, cultural, economic and environmental conditions of that time.


When describing and debating gardens and landscapes throughout the history, meaning that they convey is often one of the main points of discussion. In order to properly understand what landscapes can express and how and why the message they carry is different, we first have to look at what we understand under the word meaning. When describing what a certain thing means we usually talk about what it expresses or represents, what it stands for, what is its purpose or significance. Apart from that, many texts devoted to the history and theory of landscape architecture argue that the expression of meaning does not come solely from an object itself, but it consists of an interaction between people and nature.[3] Just as in 1945 Merleau-Ponty identified in his work Phenomenology of Perception that there are no events without someone to which they happen (“Time is not a real process, not an actual succession that I am content to record. It arises from my relation to things… Let us not say that time is a datum of consciousness, let us be more precise and say that consciousness deploys or constitutes time”[4]), so there is no landscape without the presence of human consciousness and viewer’s own experience of a landscape, and consequently there is no meaning. Gardens and landscapes are addressing individual experience, interaction and perception, the relationship between the viewer and the viewed. Besides, they can be regarded as visual maps hiding complex meaning behind mere functionality and relatively simple landscape elements: “The most overtly metaphysical Japanese garden, Ryoan-Ji at Kyoto, of all the world’s landscapes most like a philosophical text, takes a strictly controlled number of elements and arranges them in a stultifyingly clear pattern like a map …”[5]. Harbison mentions that landscapes can be read as texts as well. It has nothing to do with writing the stories, plots and especially not definite conclusions but it has a lot to do with the autonomy of interpretation, projecting individual experiences to the landscape in order to understand it. What happens if we do not know the right language to read the landscape or we do not know how to find the hidden message on the map? Do we get lost? Do we have to entirely understand the landscape in order to respond to it or does that happen in an automatic and subconscious way?


Rod Barnett states in his paper Gardens without meaning that “meaning is encoded in the garden, and if the observer/visitor cracks the code the true of fundamental significance of the work is revealed”[6]. From his opinion we could question whether we really have to project our own experiences and memories to the landscape in order to relate to it or is there one ‘fundamental significance’ which reveals to us if we figure out the code. While looking back on the history of landscape architecture, certain landscape styles, Baroque gardens or 18th century English landscape style for instance, stand out with the power of message they were able to carry. We could say that the meaning was carefully encoded into the landscape and the designs in their enormity were mastered into perfection, something which was impossible to execute either before or after the time they were created. Individual experience was more or less put aside, the main aim was to tell one, clear and believable truth. What stood behind the strongly representational landscapes, were there particular design ways in which the landscapes were constructed and how was the message conveyed? What happened with the understanding of landscapes nowadays in our global society and is it even possible to tell one story and one truth or are there always many?

This paper will look at the English landscape style of 18th century, particularly at the design of Stourhead. The background and the relation to the social and cultural context as well as the message and the design means with which the message was told will be examined. Garden elements, their origin and the way they contribute to the overall story will be described. For comparison and contemporary view on the topic Peter Walker’s Tanner Fountain will be discussed in the same manner as Stourhead, pointing out the differences and potential similarities. After Marc Treib’s Meaning and Meanings: An Introduction up until 1980s discussions of meaning in landscape architecture held little interest. Modernism was busy in denying historical styles, grounding its work in debating form, function and zeitgeist and while in late 1960s architecture was eagerly searching for its theory, borrowing and applying external ideas and resources to include in its own theoretical framework, landscape architecture was occupied by embracing ecology as the main guide on how to design spaces. Ian McHarg’s ground-breaking book Design with nature, published in 1969, set a ground on which designers built and justified their work. It was seen as its own ‘theory and concept’, but different than in architecture, it was using resources from its own field to form a new ground and a set of criteria on which landscapes were evaluated. Ecology was much more important than place making or implementation of meaning and for more than a decade ecology was the only active topic of discussions, letting meaning and significance aside[7]. After the dark period in debating landscape meaning, in 1988, Anne Whiston Spirn guest-edited an issue of Landscape Journal which was entitled Nature, Form, and Meaning. The essay which at that time represented a rare interest into the topic, but was seen as a reference for discussions that followed, was Laurie Olin’s Form, Meaning, and Expression in Landscape Architecture. The paper is based on the starting point that “Historically landscape design derived a considerable amount of its social value and artistic strength from three aspects of the endeavour: richness of the medium in sensual and phenomenological terms, thematic context, the relationship of society and individual to nature, and the fact that nature is the great metaphor underlying all art”[8]


Olin points out that sensual aspect of the design is important, it’s through our senses that we first experience landscape, we see it, smell it, hear it and are able to touch it. It’s the prime, instant feeling that we get when we find ourselves in a new environment, something that happens in a rather subconscious way. It’s from here on that we decide whether we find the place pleasurable or not, whether we like what we see, hear, smell or touch. If we look at landscapes as texts again then we can say we can find the pleasure when only flipping through the pages, evaluating what we see, looking for an aesthetic value of the landscape. It’s something that can affect our senses directly, without even looking deeper into what does the text tell us. We can talk about ‘the pleasure of reading’ when we are closely examining what we see, exploring and evaluating with our mind, trying to figure out the message behind the text, the deeper meaning that the author was trying to carefully insert between the lines. And if we have the sufficient knowledge and experiences, paired with our social and cultural background that affects the way we interpret and perceive the things around us, then we find even greater pleasure when we figure out what the text is trying to tell us and what is the message behind it. It is hard to talk about pleasure or aesthetic value and meaning as being completely unrelated, one has a lot to do with how we see the other one, and what is clear is that they are hardly the same. They are dependent one of each other, complementing and sometimes opposing, but never interchangeable. Yi-Fu Tuan gives an interesting example on the topic when he debates the differences between architectural impact and the impact of literature, comparing Chartres Cathedral and Dante’s Divine Comedy: “Whereas a devout man ignorant of architecture can enjoy the cathedral unreflectively as a landmark or an ambiance, the Divine Comedy will reward the reader only if he is able to make a sustained imaginative effort in line with that which enabled Dante himself to create his masterpiece”[9]. Architecture and landscape can offer something literature can’t give us – provide pleasure when simply being there, affecting our senses directly and therefore addressing our mind even when we don’t feel like reading.


Pleasure is an aspect of design that certain authors believe is missing from contemporary landscape architecture. For instance, Marc Treib argues at the end of his essay Must Landscapes Mean? that pleasure and its appreciation was an important part in the gardens of the past, but nowadays we prefer to ground landscape architecture work in meaning and significance rather than in pleasure or rarely in both, even though pleasure is something which is easier to address than meaning. We all share roughly similar senses and how through them we perceive the space around us might be partly dependent on our culture, but not at all as much as understanding what the meaning behind a certain landscape is[10]. Designers seek to find ways to carefully tell their stories, hide secret messages into their works and provide clues for understanding of their designs, rather than designing spaces only for pleasure, something which might seem less worthy when compared to some of the greatest works of landscape architecture. According to Peter Walker: “Being appropriate or pleasant is not sufficient to sustain interest. Once a work of landscape design is visible it is dependent on its exhibition of conceptual strength. It must have something to say or be about”[11]


Second aspect of endeavour in order to achieve ‘social value and artistic strength’ that Olin touches is the thematic context and the relationship of society and individual to nature. Context is the way in which we link places to one another and make comparisons. It is connected to our previous experiences, enabling us to see the place, interpret it and construct meaning from it[12]. According to Taylor, cultural context is something a design idea and action should consider in order to have the opportunity to gain, over time, layers of symbolism, meaning and significance. If taking 18th century England as an example, society back then, or better, the wealthy upper class who commissioned the new gardens, was relatively homogenized, they shared the same beliefs, values and ideas and the task of an artist designing a new landscape was at least from this point of view clearer than it is today when there are many semantic channels and not many symbols commonly agreed upon. To design a landscape that will or could over time acquire significance is in our diverse society with people coming from different cultures with various experiences, personal views, knowledge, feelings and relationships towards nature, certainly more puzzling than it was when connections between form and intention were commonly understood. Or as Robert Riley argued: “Such a lack of shared symbolism does not rule out the garden as a carrier of powerful meaning but it does discount the likelihood of meanings that speak strongly to the whole society”[13] Semioticians would say that even though ‘the signifier’ can over time stay the same, ‘the signified’ greatly varies between people and contexts. The signifier is stable, it’s a form that designer creates and the signified is content, concept or meaning behind it. It’s created in the perceiver and is therefore individually created mental image behind the signifier.

While Saussurean semioticians have talked about the arbitrary relationship of the signifier to the signified, many postmodernist theorists claim that there is no connection between the signifier and the signified: “An ’empty’ or ‘floating signifier’ is variously defined as a signifier with a vague, highly variable, unspecifiable or non-existent signified. Such signifiers mean different things to different people: they may stand for many or even any signifieds; they may mean whatever their interpreters want them to mean”[14]. On the other hand Jane Gillette argued in her paper Can Gardens Mean? that the idea that the more user-interpretations of a landscape the better is not the position we should take when debating meaning in gardens and that of course a design can mean anything a person wants it to mean but why would it? She continues that humans share physiological and intellectual mechanisms which enable us to experience all artistic media, landscape architecture being one of them, and from that we could question if user interpretations are really that different[15]. Is it really that difficult to design a landscape with one fundamental idea behind it, a place clearly and fully understood? In response Susan Herrington wrote in her essay Gardens Can Mean that “the meaning we take from things is culturally constructed, it is unstable, like language, and subject to multiple interpretations or meanings”[16]. Based on that we can conclude that without the differences in the cultural context we find ourselves in, in our previous experiences, knowledge and in our relationship towards nature the comprehensions and interpretations of landscapes would not greatly differ among different people and, like in 18th century England, without the lack of shared symbolism one fundamental idea behind a design would much easier be commonly understood.


Apart from that, Treib nicely put that designers should always keep in mind the resulting difference between “the intended perception and the perceived intention”[17]. In order to interpret the work in the right way, one should be familiar with the artist’s intention in the first place and in order to tell a clear story both, artist and its audience, should share a common knowledge so that the design and the idea behind it is not only an expression, but a successful two-way communication and therefore a clear representation of a concept. “Any symbolic system demands education for comprehending both the medium and the message”[18]. What is in favour of landscape architects when they try to tell a clear story is the palette of natural materials they use to express their ideas. The signifier (grass meadows, clumps of trees, water elements…) stays the same, but the signified changes – “we can still decipher the original garden elements and translate them into our own contemporary terms”[19]. And even if we do not try or we are not able to connect what we see with our knowledge and experiences in order to correctly respond to the representation of ideas we still read landscape in a way we couldn’t read other design or artistic works. Ann Whiston Spirn debates that the language of landscape is our native language, landscapes were the first texts, read well before the invention of other sings and symbols and therefore patterns of shape, structure, material, formation and function should be clear to read by most of us[20]. Besides, natural elements have been with us for so long that they by itself carry a certain meaning, they are not entirely abstract. Water, for example, is by itself already a meaning carrier – we associate it with purity, fertility, life, cohesion, motion and so on. But just like with the meanings of words also the meanings of landscape elements contribute to the overall story only if the context shapes them in the right way.


Last aspect that Olin addresses in his paper Form, Meaning, and Expression in Landscape Architecture is nature being the great metaphor underlying all art. Throughout history we can observe that man started to understand, respond, to relate and explain the world around him by different forms of art. Landscape has been one of the constant themes in art as “Nature provides us with the essential metaphors for life and an understanding of our existence”[21]. At the same time landscape designers have looked to art as an inspiration and foundation for their designs, creating new worlds inside their own medium. “Humans express ideas to other humans through the physical world, whether ink and paper, paint and canvas, or mud and stone.”[22] It’s the collaboration or the exchange of ideas between the two fields that produced some of the greatest works in the history of landscape design, Stourhead as one of the study cases of this paper being only one of them.


Until the eighteen century landscape architecture was based on formal principles of forms and symbols dictated by the style, cultural and social background of that time[23]. In the 1700s the shift from the formal to the naturalistic occurred, with the changing of the political climate as the main cause. Aristocracy was removed from power and in England there were long and intense discussions on how the new English landscape should look like, with Joseph Addison and Alexander Pope writings and works that highly influenced the course of the English landscape movement. The social and cultural guidelines of the previous periods had been rejected and changed and there was the growing need of an applicable and appropriate way in which the new landscape should be constructed. They borrowed and reshaped to their own purpose ideas from previous cultures, especially ancient Greece and Rome with its classical traditions. Literature and art were the main source of inspiration, with Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin being renowned for their landscape paintings which depicted melancholy and untamed nature with sentimental images of classical architecture set in an idealized Arcadian landscape where all creatures lived in harmony.


English upper class reshaped their land in order to express the integration of agriculture, art, property, power and politics. It must be clear that garden designers that transformed the land at the time were not trained in landscape architecture design skills, composition and representation; at best they were educated as painters, gardeners or architects at later age. Therefore they looked for inspiration in older disciplines of art, creating landscapes that can still be seen as the three-dimensional realization of an artist’s idealized vision of nature[24]. Miles Hadfield wrote on the new conception of gardening that “horticulture and (except incidentally) architecture played no part in it; most of its early practitioners were concerned with poetry, philosophy, aesthetics, painting and historical or literary allusions… Their aim was to create illusions of ideal worlds, which they professed to think was inspired by irregular nature herself”[25]. English landscape gardens were therefore designed in a series of different landscape pictures and in a thoughtfully planned way the visitor moves from one picture to another, carefully observing and examining it like a painting. Palette of elements used to imitate nature was very limited and basic, they used existing elements known from previous periods or from agricultural landscape – undulating lawns, curving paths, irregular water elements, tree clumps and later on new plant species introductions. It was the recombination and transformation of them, the vastness of their works and the correct response to a particular moment in the economy and social structure of that time that enabled the designers to design unique, influential and representational pastoral compositions that still speak to the visitors today.


Stourhead is one of the best examples of a garden designed in English landscape style with a clear story behind it and probably the most clear example of a picturesque garden inspired by the landscape painters of the seventeenth century. It is filled with meaning, some of it accessible only to those who made it, some of it available to their contemporaries and some of it revealed to those with sufficient knowledge about eighteenth century cultural, social and economic background. It embodies the Enlightenment thinking that “there was only one possible answer to any question implied and that the world could be controlled and rationally ordered if only we could picture and represent it correctly”[26]. Apart from that it evokes feelings, thoughts and possible uses unintended by its authors and for an average visitor today it could quite simply only represent “a huge and beautiful visual and sensory extravaganza”[27]. For making it possible to read, English landscape gardens were designed as a carefully ordered, self – contained world, a coherent system of signs and references, using different landscape structures, sculptures, buildings and written Latin inscriptions to tell the story (see Fig. 2). Stourhead, designed by Henry Hoare II and laid out between 1741 and 1780, is one with the most complex narrative, strongly controlled routing and sight lines.


The elements and garden structures such as a grotto, a miniaturization of the Pantheon, the Temple of Apollo, a five – arched stone bridge, Temple of Flora and the rest of them all tell the story of Virgil’s Aeneid, a Latin epic poem which was back then completely clear and familiar to Hoare’s contemporaries. The Aeneid starts when you first enter the garden and look at the panorama, a composition in a manner of Claude Lorrain (see Fig. 3). There are six paintings by Claude illustrating episodes from the Aeneid and they were the main inspiration behind Hoare’s creation[28]. His intention was to “paint with nature” or as he put: “The greens should be ranged together in large masses as the shades are in painting: to contrast the dark masses with light ones, and to relieve each dark mass itself with little sprinklings of lighter greens here and there”[29].


Relation to art was of great importance for eighteenth century England and its aristocracy; it provided the appropriate language for the transformation of landscape as it reflected beliefs and values of the ruling class and therefore affected the way people perceived landscapes and how we still interpret them today.


It was not only in England where art was a means in landscape design by which man attempted to understand, explain and reshape the world around him. Our relationship with nature has changed dramatically over the centuries and so has art which landscape architecture took as an inspiration and a starting point for the designs. After Jellicoe and Jellicoe man came to truly understand himself as part of nature in the second half of the twentieth century[30]. People started to realize that the Earth’s natural resources are finite and that along with the increase in population and the growing rate of resource’s usage since the Industrial Revolution we will eventually exhaust them. Garrett Hardin’s essays The Tragedy of the Commons in 1968 pointed out the problem of the depletion of shared natural resources by individuals, acting independently and accordingly to one self’s interests while realizing that the constant usage of a common resource is not in favour of the group’s long-term best interests[31]. Along with that came the realization that scientific man was living inside a theoretical frame that was eventually leading to self-destruction. A new system of values and beliefs was introduced, giving artists a new focus and the need to express themselves.


Environmental art and the environmental movement grew in the 1960s. Along with environmental issues of the time, artists rejected museums and galleries as settings for their works and as a way of protest against the ruthless commercialization of art at the end of the 1960s in America. Artists were moved out into nature, creating public works and large scale landscape projects, often inspired by minimal art and conceptual art. They wanted to show that a piece of land has much more potential than merely solving technical and functional problems of a site. In the same year as Ian McHarg published Design with Nature the film LAND ART was made to introduce the new artistic movement to the public. As Gary Schum described the land art movement’s artistic means presented in his film: “It was no longer the painted picture of a landscape, but rather the landscape itself of the landscape marked off by the artists that became the actual art object… the studio – gallery – collector triangle, within which art had previously been played out, was disrupted[32].


The environmental issues that art was trying to address were the same in landscape architecture which became clear with McHarg’s Design with Nature in 1969, combining hydrology, geology, ecology, etc. to set a new ground in the profession. Landscape architecture at that time was dramatically changing, on one side it strictly dealt with ecology, regional and suburban planning, spatial analysis and land uses and on the other side landscape architects responded to artist’s works of environmental art with works of their own, which became even more evident in 1980s. As the diversity and difficulty of projects was increasing landscape architects had to combine both – technical knowledge and design and artistic skills to solve complex problems. They were combining many fields in order to address them, looking to a large number of sources for inspiration.


Peter Walker, one of the most significant landscape architects of the twentieth century, began his practise in the period where modern vocabulary of free form and space prevailed, then he continued through the time when ecological concerns were dominating landscape architecture and was very close to environmental art when looking to artistic sources for inspiration. His work is often seen as a more adventurous form of landscape art combined with mystery, classical concepts and past traditions, challenging conventional ideas about space, form, material and symbol and responding, appropriating or arguing with the prevailing trends while providing intellectual engagement[33].


From the beginning his works clearly show his on-going dialogue with modern art, but as Lisa Roth, a former senior designer in the office of Peter Walker and Martha Schwartz, states: “Different then artists (who may create works of art without social justification), we accept the constraints of function, client, and context as integral to the creative process”[34]. Function and the relation to the surrounding context is something that distinguishes landscape architecture from being solely seen as art. Landscape is both, used and seen, and is therefore a functional space and an artistic expression.


In Walker’s landscapes we often find references to minimalist artists and minimal art, a form of artistic expression which is at the same time very abstract and very representational. “I consider minimalism, with its emphasis on reduction to an essence, one approach toward achieving mystery”[35]. For Walker gardens should be more than beautiful and useful – they should be moving and mysterious as well. Besides, what interests him is that minimalism has many compelling affinities with classicism and classical thought, it leads to examination of the abstract and the essential, design and function become equally important. With its artistic expression and reduction of form to its essential perfection, drawing inspiration from minimalism provided Walker with the right approach to make environments that are “especially needed at this time in human history: environments that are serene and uncluttered, yet still expressive and meaningful”[36].


The Tanner Fountain, designed and built by Walker in 1984 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, one of the most popular places on the Harvard campus, is a clear example of how the admiration of minimalist art was translated to the work of landscape architecture and how the message behind it is closely related to the minimalist reduction of form, abstraction of materials and the use and placement of its elements. The fountain was designed in collaboration with sculptor Joan Brigham and it consists of 159 granite boulders, randomly positioned in concentric circles (18 meters in diameter), overlaying existing asphalt pathways and parts of the lawn, creating an open geometric form (see Fig. 10). Water emanates from the centre, visually dematerializing the central stones. In spring, summer and autumn water appears in the form of mist and in winter as steam from the university’s heating system. During the day, when the mist is refracted by sunlight, rainbows can appear and at night lights illuminate the mist and the stones lay under a mysterious glow (see Fig. 6 & 7). The fountain was designed to be inhabited and explored and as the ASLA jury stated when handing out the 2008 Landmark Award: It is one of the first examples of a landscape architect creating public sculpture. It set a precedent for the profession and has stood the test of time remarkably well, retaining the full power of the original idea. The landscape architect designed it to be accessible and recognize the four seasons and to celebrate water without a traditional body of water. Transformational. It lives in your memory” (ASLA, 2008).  As one of the few open spaces on campus the area is much used and therefore the designers’ challenge was “to make people aware of the place and its identity, without hindering their normal movement through it” (Sasaki, 1989, p.94). With the selection of stone, which was cleared from local farms at the turn of the century, Walker recalled a memory of rural New England and the hard process by which the first settlers cleared the fields. Apart from the stone he used water, which is in contrast transitory, it appears and disappears, it is “of the moment” and in that way connects the memory of the past with the present. Besides that it is engaging, it attracts and especially in the form of mist brings the mystery to the design (see Fig. 8 & 9). Artificial materials such as asphalt, on which the stones are placed, have an association in our culture “with the mechanistic and artificial, even to the point of abhorrence, whereas, stones and water are quintessentially “natural” and are almost universally enjoyed by people, both old and young” (Olin, 1988, p.153). There are many associations one could think of when considering Walker’s work – from the relationship between nature and man’s work to the change of seasons, the power and energy of water, the natural landscapes of violence and erosion, the mutability of matter, and so on. It is a powerful, successful and engaging work of landscape architecture, it draws people into its inner circle, while staying sophisticated in its simplicity, abstracting the material and employing traditional artistic devices for the representation of meaning. The circular configuration of the stones cites the work of artist Richard Long and especially the public work of the minimalist sculptor Carl Andre, Stone Field Sculpture in Hartford, from 1977[37]. For Treib, “from sculpture, the designer receives both the instigation of ideas and, to some degree, of validation”[38]. In that way landscape design correlates with art forms of the time, it becomes part of the culture and the character of the era and after time establishes its own identity as an art from.


Even though being built in two very different periods of human history, responding to completely different set of values and beliefs, both case studies show that it’s not only the vastness of the design, the use of various materials or numerous landscape elements that can bring meaning to a landscape; it’s the strong representation of ideas, complexity and richness of work seen in the possible uses, interpretations and associations that can add an additional value to a landscape. Stourhead, as well as the Tanner Fountain, use a very basic palette of elements, but it’s with their recombination, abstraction, relation to the socio – cultural background and art forms of the time (being 17th century painting or minimal art), that they permit different readings and provide intellectual engagement. “In the end, it is the synthesis of social purposes and artistic expression that may give the landscape meaning”[39]. Apart from that, they give pleasure to both, an educated visitor who can read the hidden message behind the design and someone who isn’t able or doesn’t wish to put sufficient effort into revealing the story and conceptual side of the design, but can still enjoy the landscape merely because of its sensual aspects, aesthetic value and the feeling of participation. Moreover, people find pleasure in solving puzzles, in figuring out the message behind the design, in landscapes that still pose questions after the first examination but in return engage users intellectually and emotionally, provide certain mystery and address individual experience, interaction and perception.

We’re not living in a period similar to 18th century England anymore, where gardens and landscapes were immediately understood by people who owned them and by others in the same social class. After John Dixon Hunt (1991) they represented a commonly shared view of seeing landscape as ideology and political entity, whereas today society consists of different groups with different ideals, beliefs and values[40]. But nonetheless, as previously stated, meaning is connected with the representation of ideas, physical signs and symbols which are capable of interpretation by users through associations. Therefore designs can have meaning for those who understand the language of signs and symbols, being either part of a shared system of beliefs or signs that lead the user to investigate more about the intellectual origins of a landscape that he can later on relate to his own sense of place.

Stourhead and Tanner Fountain both dealt with complex issues which were part of the period in which they were created. What we can learn from them today is that if the intention of landscape architecture is to be relevant to society, to gain after time layers of meaning and significance and to raise awareness of human relationship towards nature, then it should focus itself not only on the ability to mediate environmental disasters but on a more balanced integration of science and art, combining artfulness and environmental responsibility in order to create expressive experiences of our time, where, as Garrett Eckbo proposed, “the critical attribute to be looked for is the ‘qualitative experience’ that art generates, measured by memorability, intensity of response… degrees of pleasure, emotion, inspiration, aspiration, new relations between known elements (which brings out previously unnoticed qualities in those elements), and so on” (Eckbo, 1981, p.440).


vir slik:

1 I Prezelj, B. Sheme Feeling, Meaning and Significance), 2013

2 I Moore, C. et al. Stourhead major points of interests, in: The poethics of Gardens, The MIT Press, 2013, str. 136

3 – 12 I spletni vir


[1] Krog, S. Is it Art?, Landscape Architecture Magazine, 1981, n. 71, pg. 37–-376.

[2] M. Howett, C. Landscape Architecture: Making a Place for Art, Places: A Quarterly Journal of Environmental Design, 1985, 2 (4), pg. 52–60.

[3] Olin, L. Form, Meaning, and Expression in Landscape Architecture. Landscape Journal, 1988, 7 (2), pg. 149–168. / Corner, J. The Hermeneutic Landscape. 1991. in: Swaffield, S. eds. Theory in Landscape Architecture: A Reader. 2002, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, pg. 130–131. / Treib, M. Must Landscapes Mean?: Approaches to Significance in Recent Landscape Architecture, 1995. in: Treib, M. eds. Meaning in Landscape Architecture and Gardens, 2011, New York: Routledge, pg. 82–133. / Taylor, K. Design with meaning. Landscape Review: A Southern Hemisphere Journal of Landscape Architecture, 1997, 3 (2), pg. 3–21. / Whiston Spirn, A. The Language of Landscape. 1998. in: Swaffield, S. eds. Theory in Landscape Architecture: A Reader. 2002, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, pg. 125–129. / Herrington, S. Gardens Can Mean. 2007. in: Treib, M. eds. Meaning in Landscape Architecture and Gardens. 2011, New York: Routledge, pg. 174–213.

[4] Merleau-Ponty, M. Fenomenologija zaznave. Študentska založba, Ljubljana, 2006, pg. 418, 420–421.

[5] Harbison, R. The Built, the Unbuilt, and the Unbuildable: In Pursuit of Architectural Meaning. 2001, 4th ed. The MIT Press, pg. 26.

[6] Barnett, R. Gardens without meaning. Landscape Review: A Southern Hemisphere Journal of Landscape Architecture, 1997, 3 (2), pg. 22–42.

[7] Treib, M. Must Landscapes Mean?: Approaches to Significance in Recent Landscape Architecture, 1995. v: Treib, M. eds. Meaning in Landscape Architecture and Gardens, 2011, New York, Routledge, pg. 82–133.

[8] Olin, L. Form, Meaning, and Expression in Landscape Architecture. Landscape Journal, 1988, 7 (2), pg. 149.

[9] Tuan, Y. Thought and Landscape. The Eye and the Mind’s Eye, 1979 in: Meinig, D. eds. The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes. 1979, New York: Oxford University Press, pg. 100

[10] Treib, M. ibid., pg. 82–133.

[11] Walker, P. and Sasaki, Y. ‘Landscape as Art’ A Conversation with Peter Walker and Yoji Sasaki. 1989 in: Sasaki, Y. eds. Peter Walker: Landscape as Art. 1989, Tokyo: Process Architecture Publishing, pg. 10.

[12] Taylor, K. Design with meaning. Landscape Review: A Southern Hemisphere Journal of Landscape Architecture, 1997, 3 (2), pg. 3–21.

[13] Riley, R. From Sacred Grove to Disney World: The Search for Garden Meaning. Landscape Journal, 1988, 7 (2), pg. 142

[14] Chandler, D. Semiotics: The Basics. 2nd ed. 2013, New York: Routledge, pg. 78.

[15] Gillette, J. Can Gardens Mean?. 2005, v: Treib, M. eds. Meaning in Landscape Architecture and Gardens. 2011, New York: Routledge, pg. 171.

[16] Herrington, S. Gardens Can Mean. v: Treib, M. eds. 2011. Meaning in Landscape Architecture and Gardens. 2007 New York: Routledge, pg. 197.

[17] Treib, M. ibid., pg. 114.

[18] Ibid., pg. 110

[19] Ibid., pg. 110

[20] Whiston Spirn, A. The Language of Landscape. 1998. in: Swaffield, S. eds. Theory in Landscape Architecture: A Reader. 2002, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, pg. 125–129.

[21] Matilsky, B. Fragile Ecologies – Contemporary Artists’ Interpretations and Solutions. 1992, New York: Rizzoli International Publications, pg. 5.

[22] Herrington, S. ibid., str. 190.

[23] Jellicoe, G. and Jellicoe, S. The Landscape of Man: Shaping the Environment from Prehistory to the Present Day. 3rd ed. 1995, London: Thames and Hudson, pg. 155.

[24] Matlock, E. The Search for Appropriate Form: The Relationship Between Landscape Architecture and Art in Three Time Periods. 2008, Master of Landscape Architecture thesis. The University of Texas at Arlington.

[25] Hadfield, M. The Art of the Garden. 1965, Dutton: Studio Vista, pg. 80

[26] Barnett, R. Gardens without meaning. Landscape Review: A Southern Hemisphere Journal of Landscape Architecture, 1997, 3 (2), pg. 23

[27] Olin, L. Commentary: What Did I Mean Then or Now. 2011, in: Treib, M. eds. Meaning in Landscape Architecture and Gardens. 2001, New York: Routledge, pg. 75.

[28] Moore, C., Mitchell, W. and Turnbull, W. The Poetics of Gardens. 1993, The MIT Press, pg. 136–144

[29] Laird, M. The Flowering of the Landscape Garden: English Pleasure Grounds, 1720–1800. 1999, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, pg. 45.

[30] Jellicoe, G. and Jellicoe, S. The Landscape of Man: Shaping the Environment from Prehistory to the Present Day. 3rd ed. 1995, London: Thames and Hudson

[31] Hardin, G. The Tradegy of the Commons. Science, 2013, 162 (3859), pg. 1243–1248.

[32] Lailach, M. Land Art. 2007, Taschen.

[33] McCue, G. Overview: Design in American Regions. Introduction. v: Sasaki, Y. eds. 1989. Peter Walker: Landscape as Art. Tokyo: Process Architecture Publishing, pg. 8–9.

[34] Roth, L. The Office of Peter Walker and Martha Schwartz, 1983-present. v: Sasaki, Y. eds. Peter Walker: Landscape as Art. 1989, Tokyo: Process Architecture Publishing, pg. 17.

[35] Walker, P. and Sasaki, Y. ibid., str. 27.

[36] Walker, P. Minimalist Landscape. 1997. v: Swaffield, S. eds. Theory in Landscape Architecture: A Reader. 2002, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, pg. 88

[37] Walker, P. in Sasaki, Y. ibid., pg. 94.

[38] Treib, M. ibid., pg. 94.

[39] Roth, L. The Office of Peter Walker and Martha Schwartz, 1983-present. 1989. in: Sasaki, Y. eds. Peter Walker: Landscape as Art. 1989, Tokyo: Process Architecture Publishing, pg. 17.

[40] Dixon Hunt, J. The Garden As Cultural Object. 1991. v: Wrede, S. and Adams, W. eds. Denatured Visions : Landscape and Culture in the Twentieth Century. 1991, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, pp. 19-32.

Barbara Prezelj
Praznine 08_20. 11. 2015

Conversation with Petra Čeferin

TS The themes I would like to discuss with you will be focused on your theoretical expertise as well as on the philosophy of architecture, a discipline which is often overlooked within the field of architecture. I believe that the theory of architecture should not be perceived simply as a manual for building, but rather as a platform for open reflection, which would also contribute to the philosophical discourse. I am interested in your opinion on the theory of architecture – what is it? what is its role? and what is its link to practice? Isn’t the distinction between theory and practice always slightly artificial? The book series which you co-edit, Theoretical Architectural Practice (TPA), also alludes to this premise.


The established understanding of the relationship between theory and practice in architecture sees theory as a system of knowledge and general abstract rules and principles. Practice is then perceived as the making of architecture, based on these theoretical principles. According to this, the role of theory is to assist practical work or design, like a tool, which then legitimizes the question as to whether theory is useful for us architects or not. Part of my work is dedicated to raising awareness of the fact that this kind of perception is unsuitable. The dilemma, whether theory in architecture is needed or not, is false. Architecture is a creative or intellectual practice in which thinking takes place in different types of media, i.e. drawing, building, writing. The debate should not be focused on the division between theory and practice, but rather on the distinction between different kinds of practices – between theoretical practices and design practices. They are striving for the same goal – both are searching for answers to architectural questions connected to the concept of space and how we human beings inhabit this world. The philosophy of architecture might be a better description for what I call theoretical architectural practice, since it highlights the aspect of thinking. It might be the most precise description of what in fact constitutes architectural theory – thinking about architecture. One of the reasons why we founded the book series Theoretical Architectural Practice was to contribute to the systematic development of thought about architecture in the written form and to increase recognition of architecture as an intellectual practice in our environment. In this respect we strive for similar goals to that of your magazine, Praznine.


At the moment we are translating Anthony Vidler’s book entitled Histories of the Immediate Present into Slovene. Even though its emphasis lies on the connection between history and design practice in modern architecture, the book also offers some insight into the relationship between theory and practice. Vidler brings out an interesting thought in his book. Contradicting the established belief that it was Modernism that radically cut all ties with history and that the modernists based their work on the idea of a new beginning, abstract concepts of space etc., Vidler shows that this was actually done by the postmodernists. Modernists took history seriously, they were somehow ‘fighting’ with it while trying to capture the ‘moment of direct present’ that should be developed further, evolved in modern times and improved in practice; Postmodernism, on the other hand, denotes the end of a serious interest in history. Although it might seem like a return to history, it was actually a time when history was not taken seriously anymore. This applies similarly to architectural theory – academic texts as well as the study of architectural philosophy and theory were replaced by the understanding of theory as a foundation for writing promotional texts for offices, architects or buildings.


I believe, that progress in architecture is not possible without a return to serious theoretical reflection. Rado Riha – a philosopher who studies architecture through modern French philosophy and Lacan’s psychoanalysis – names this kind of reflection, ‘architectural philosophy’. In short, we need to start reflecting again on the fundamental question about what architecture actually is, in which forms it occurs, and how it functions. Otherwise, we will just let it degrade into yet another market activity.


This is the actual dilemma faced by today’s architecture. Will we choose to insist on the premise that architecture is an intellectual practice? or will we settle for it being perceived as a market activity? If we decide to believe in and fight for its status as an intellectual practice, we need to take architectural theory seriously.


TS This is a relevant topic for a time in which the maxim ‘produce, achieve, make’ or statements about architecture being learnt by doing and not by discussing often monopolise the discourse. The majority of architectural magazines focuses mainly on appealing images or photos and devotes much less attention to the wide range of issues surrounding architectural work. All the while the fact that this ideology is entering the ‘material-space’ itself remains unaddressed. I find your comment on postmodernism interesting as well. While it is being perceived as a period of return or at least the period in which the perspective was redirected back into the past, it was, in fact, in most cases a mere collage – a visual assembling of images. Meanwhile, the problems of the historical periods remained untackled with – the perspective was focused on the sheer ‘historical façade’.


Right. Postmodernism does not take history seriously, it perceives it merely as a set of motifs and elements, which can conveniently be reused. It does not question the production of the past and is not trying to understand and repeat its core ideas.


TS In one of your lectures you raised an interesting question about the seemingly self-evident concept of space. Is it possible to talk about space in the singular form, as a whole? On the one hand we all know what we are referring to when we utter this word, but does that really hold true? Isn’t space much more elusive and less definable or logical?


I find it very problematic when basic architectural concepts and categories such as space are used as self-explanatory concepts or terms – when they are being referred to in the same way as the objects we see in front of us. Let’s take a bottle as an example: we all know, what it is, we can talk about what it should be like in order for it to be as practical as possible etc. The concept of space is as open and complex as the concept of architecture itself. When we ask ourselves the question what is architecture, we are simultaneously posing the question what is space. And if space in architecture is reduced to a volume with measureable dimensions, then also architecture is reduced to an object – a market product with a value measureable in Euro, Yen, Dollar etc. Anyone who is genuinely interested in architecture knows well that the reduction of architecture to a market product announces its end. Especially because of this threat I think it is important to take the time to reflect on some of the fundamental questions.


TS What is architecture? You often make a seemingly obvious statement such as ‘architecture is architecture’. This assertion, which seems tautological at first, refers to something very specific. What is the meaning of this definition and which question does it address? why are definitions important? why is it important to constantly question the concept of space?


About 15 years ago, when I was working as a journalist, I conducted an interview with the architects Komonen & Heikkinen in Helsinki. Even though they both stand for a pragmatic approach to architecture (as in: as architects we should build and not discuss), they are both well-read and excellent art-connoisseurs, in short, true modernists. But despite all the theoretical knowledge their attitude is very ‘real’ and not too ’philosophical’. While I was bombarding them with questions Mikko Heikkinen suddenly lost his patience and answered all of them with a single statement: architecture is not technology, architecture is not art, architecture is not sustainable design; architecture is architecture. I think this is a really good definition. It offers an answer to a question and the rearticulation of this same question – an appeal to rethink its answer. It gives us food for thought. A building can also provide a good definition. When we design or see a good building, we usually think to ourselves: this is good, this is architecture. And if this really holds true, then the building will affect us architects in such a way that we will take what we consider to be good from it and (re)use it, develop it in our own work.


The element that makes a building, a text or a sketch good, that makes it a piece of architectural work, is the element of the extraordinary which cannot be reduced to sheer architectural or some other kind of knowledge. Such a building, sketch or drawing sets our thoughts in motion, encourages us to seek for the key elements that make it exceptional. The essential point is that this element of the extraordinary is not something ineffable, which a material product such as a building would merely indicate. This added essence is always already articulated through the building itself as something ineffable. A building that is exceptional is open in its core and has a certain openness in its meaning.


TS In other words, we could say that a good definition tackles the problem from the point of view of the problem and not the answer.


Exactly. A good definition answers a question by opening new ones.


TS New questions that still require an answer.


I asked myself whether the concept architecture as a project you mention might indicate a certain elusive and questioning nature of architecture, its openness, incompleteness and the deconstruction behind it – something rebelling against the architecture in the service of the economy. Your statement about the world of today being inclined to change but only within a defined framework is very interesting. Changes and variations are welcomed, but only if they help preserve the existing situation. In other words, we need something fresh, original and interesting in order to keep everything as it was. If I understand this correctly, this concept that you named architecture of invention denotes the new, which does not really bring about any changes in the broader sphere of the society or culture. From this point of view architecture as a project would be an impediment to the development of such fast production of architecture.


Architecture as a project is a modernist formulation, based on the premise, that architecture has the power to change the world, which means that it can contribute to changes in the core of the society – that it can help construct or achieve an egalitarian society. If we want to understand how architecture can make this happen, we need to understand what it is at first. We cannot simply start changing the world of globalised capitalism through architecture if we do not understand how it is structured and in which way it can contribute to a truly open world. Capitalism is problematic in this respect since it is based on change as a system itself, based on changes that preserve the status quo, as you have already noted.


Bearing this in mind, we need to be careful when fighting for the social utility of architecture. Social utility – what does this even mean? Does this mean social utility for the contemporary capitalist society of social inequality and injustice?


TS Utility is the first difference between design and contemporary visual art that comes to my mind, if these kind of distinctions are even justified. I often come across the vague or even hollow phrase (which also concerns the problem field of architecture) stating that design is here to make people’s lives easier. We need to ask ourselves, what exactly does design alleviate? The fact that the last two design biennials (BIO 23 and BIO 50) in Ljubljana provoked negative public reactions is meaningful in this context. Does a new look of a washing machine or a blender truly contribute to an easier life or is this approach rather meant for perpetuating the economy? Shouldn’t design be more radical and enter the ‘problem-content’ of the objects it is dealing with? Jože Barši’s comment regarding this topic is interesting – he claims that nowadays the shape of the cutlery is less important than the food we ingest. Maybe the focus of design should be shifted towards the process and the core structure of the designed objects. In other words, design should insist on dealing with the broader concept of its field and not settle for mere re-design.


Yes, I agree.


TS I believe that this mentality will not be adopted so easily in architecture, since this field is more aware of the catch inherent in this statement.


I personally feel that we are moving precisely in this direction – towards projects, which are meant to enhance our comfort, our well-being. Only of those, who are able to afford it, of course. I believe that many of today’s architects make architecture, which is meant to make life prettier and easier.


TS This also holds true.


It is probably true that we nowadays tend to devote less attention to functionality, to architecture as a useful object and put more emphasis on the experience of it. But I believe we are still not completely aware of the fact that this only does not suffice.


TS I think that the fundamental element in any kind of creative work – may it be architecture, design or visual art – is to leave its core open. This openness or problem-oriented approach is also something I like in your theory. It is a thought I agree with and hope to establish in the context of art theory which I am currently dealing with. But the bottom line requires a footnote – the open core does not imply that there is something missing, that imprecision was at work, or that things stay loose and we cannot pinpoint or understand the actual meaning or problem. On the contrary, I am sure that a well thought-through theory enables the real problem to come to the surface. Deleuze once stated that a problem is defined by its solutions and I believe this to be an excellent formulation. In my opinion a good theory never settles for quick solutions and as such always gradually transforms into something open.


I agree. If you see the solution to the problem already at the start, it is very likely that you are thinking in the context of the already established knowledge. This is not genuine intellectual work, it is a repetition of what has already been established. We like to listen to the truths we already know. We like to clap to familiar statements, while simultaneously knowing this to be a powerless action, an insult to our intellectual capacities. This hurts us on some level, even though we are clapping. No wonder depression is on the rise. (laughs)


This is exactly what the educational system of today lacks (and what Jože Barši is addressing as well) – systematic support to the students’ to think freely, to deal with open challenges facing architecture, art and the society. A real problem is always open. A well-defined problem is open.


TS This is a good introduction to my next question – what does teaching architecture mean? How to teach architecture as an open concept and not as a skill, a prescribed craft or a set of rules? What is the professor’s role in this? It must be hard holding a position which represents knowledge.


Architecture is indeed a skill as well. This applies to both – the practice of designing and the theoretical practice. Design practice is the skill of designing, theoretical practice involves the skill of writing. They both feed on a massive pool of knowledge, not only architectural, but also that of technology, sociology, philosophy etc. This is the part of architectural work that can be learnt, but is not enough on its own. Architectural practice is based on action, on doing, on a creative act which, put simply, involves the use of skill and knowledge in order to articulate something new or a new idea. This is something that cannot be learnt and is always connected to an element of risk, regardless of the experience one has. In my opinion the role of the professor is to show the students that architecture is about the action; that the act is the real basis for architectural work. By showing this again and again he or she is preparing the students for their own work, which can be carried out by themselves only. The action is the termination of the relationship with knowledge. It is a rebellious step – not in the form of working against something, but rather in the form of taking one’s own standpoint on the basis of study, analysis, knowledge and reflection on the situation. It is the act of setting your own hypothesis and developing it, substantiating it, fighting for it.


The philosopher Rado Riha defined architectural practice on the basis of the distinction between architecture as knowledge and architecture as action. A substantial part of my work is based on this exceptional definition. A short talk, which he held on the public presentation of our book Tektonika v arhitekturi (Tectonics in Architecture) and is also available on YouTube, can serve as a good explanation. In his speech he pointed out another essential point: architecture does not exclude knowledge, on the contrary – it demands it. Architecture as knowledge on the other hand excludes the action.


I believe that this is what is happening in schools of architecture today. Architecture is being reduced to a knowledge and skill, which excludes the view of architecture as action or thought, as an intellectual practice. It is very important to insist on the development of architecture as an intellectual practice in schools.


TS Yes, indeed. This must be very hard to do, especially nowadays.


This is true. Pushing architectural theory in the educational process to the side is an illustrative example of downgrading architecture to sheer knowledge.


TS This almost transforms it into a mere craft.


I believe that this is exactly what is happening: the reduction of architecture to a craft or skill and the reduction of universities to craft schools, which are expected to produce work force for the current European labour market at the quickest pace possible.


TS It seems to me, that such tendencies are very common.


As a matter of fact I cannot comprehend how good architects, who are a part of the educational process, can support these trends. If schools stop encouraging their students to become intellectuals who perceive and practice architecture as an intellectual and creative activity, they are working against architecture. Places without architecture already exist – numerous American suburban or urban areas are incredibly uninspiring places to live in.


TS Regarding the conditions I see in Slovenia, I would say that the problem might also be linked to market competition. Those who really love architecture and want to work mindfully, are automatically excluded from market competition. One should not take too much time to reflect on ideas or design, because it makes it impossible to survive financially.


I agree. In today’s circumstances it is hard to engage in architectural work seriously, which is why I particularly respect those colleagues, who nevertheless succeed in designing good buildings, bridges, squares or other structures. A part of our struggle are the conditions that need to be changed. The market needs to allow architects to create mindfully. This would require the reorganisation of the competition system, sensible payment, organisation of exhibitions, publications, which bring forward extraordinary, ground-breaking works etc.


A couple of years ago we organised a series of lectures in the Museum of Architecture in Ljubljana entitled Arhitekturni epicentri (Architectural Epicentres), through which we wanted to highlight extraordinary achievements in architecture in recent history – on the scale of cities, regions or even states. These exceptional works were and are among other things a consequence of the fact that architects successfully fought for better working conditions. Examples of these epicentres are Finnland in the 1960s, the Netherlands in the 1990s, while Belgium or at least Flanders might be one of the epicentres of today. Needless to say that it takes more than good conditions for good architecture to happen – this requires the element of action – but creating something exceptional, especially on a grand scale, is hard if we are working in poor conditions.


TS I would like to again address your definition architecture is architecture, which brings us back to what I perceive as the key component of your thought, stating that architecture has no other goal than architecture itself. It differs from other, often bold, simplifications saying that architecture is here only to serve the users, the society, the economy or the market. Even though your statement ‘architecture should serve architecture’ is broad, the thought behind it is very specific.


Architecture must meet numerous demands, some of which you have already mentioned. It has to take the needs and wishes of the users, financial limitations and other factors into account. Moreover, it needs to meet the demands it is confronted with by establishing itself as architecture. Through this it constitutes itself. There is no uniform way in which this can be done, it has to be invented individually for every specific situation. Architecture keeps reinventing itself within the framework of the concrete material conditions it is faced with. The goal of its work is to respond to the diverse conditions of the project in as architecture, to affirm the architecture in the given situation. Put simply, it needs to produce a building, which serves as an example of architecture.


An additional problem lies in the fact that we can never know in advance how successful an answer to an architectural question will be. We can never know for sure whether we have created a good building, a good example of architecture, until we are able to study the impact it has on the world. For instance, if we keep returning to a building as something that needs to be examined and thought-through over and over again, or if architects are trying to recreate some of the solutions or elements of the building in other contexts, this indicates that the response was successful. One of such cases recently gaining on importance is Le Corbusier’s Dom-Ino. If a solution is good, it lays the groundwork for other solutions, which sometimes follow even centuries, millenia later. In this way, architecture serves itself – the project of its own continuation, all the while having a strong influence on the individual and on the society.


This is inherent in the tautological statement architecture = architecture, which implies, that architecture legitimizes itself. This simply means, that there are no external, objective criteria, on the basis of which we could unambiguously conclude that something is an example of good architecture or not. This can only be done by studying the building and by trying to understand the key elements that contributed to its success. In other words, good architecture gives us food for thought. In creative professions, thinking is already an action in itself, an attempt to repeat the element that set our thoughts in motion.


This definition also says that there is no definite answer to the question what architecture is. It needs to be reinvented in every new situation we are faced with. And if the answer is good, it takes on the role of a question, which calls to further action.


This is the outline of the architecture I call architecture as architecture. Generally, this term is usually used in a different sense: architecture as architecture should be that what is left when the building is stripped down from of its pragmatic aspects such as function, client’s demands and similar. As if the building would be purified from all of its profane elements. This definition of architecture is problematic, since it implies, that architecture is something that can be isolated from other aspects of the building, something that can be examined separately.


TS Here I see a danger of fetishizing architecture.


True, on the one hand, architecture understood in such a way can only be perceived and evaluated from the perspective of the sublime ‘added essence’, which is ineffable – it cannot be expressed with words. It can only fascinate us. On the other hand, this approach to architecture results in the perception of architecture as an esthetical addition, as something that is not of crucial importance. The mentality behind this is: call in architects only when there is budget money left for these esthetical touches.


TS Artists! (laughs)


Right. In the spirit of: ‘let us first deal with the really important questions such as finances, statics and then let these artist add their contribution’. (laughs)


TS This is how a designer of electrical installations we recently cooperated with introduced us. He first presented each member of his team with his or her full name and then introduced us by swinging his arm in our direction saying: ‘and here are the artists’. (laughs) But every line of work has their own ‘artists’. A construction engineer is probably an artist to a mason as well.


The part in your book Projekt arhitektura (Project Architecture), in which you talk about the autonomy of architecture, really registered with me. Especially the passage: ‘architecture is not something that can be achieved only through imitation by including the so-called ‘architectural characteristics’. It is not about adding architecture to something. It is not about something that looks like architecture. It is simply about the question whether something is or isn’t architecture.’ (PA – 23) We are on a slippery slope here if we forget to add the following quote: ‘architecture exists in itself, which means that the process in which it becomes architecture happens outside of it.’ This is a very beautiful definition. It indicates an almost paradoxical thought that the home of architecture is outside of it. From this perspective, architecture could be perceived as eccentric. The exterior is where architecture finally is or becomes architecture. Could we even say that architecture happens in the action of opening, change and movement? In your book you add another interesting thought: ‘All its autonomy lies in the fact that it always (finally) finds itself again in its own exterior.’ (PA – 24) I think that you are trying to point out that the definition of architecture cannot simply be reduced to the added essence, which can be present on the other hand in its conditions or maybe even symbolise the momentum of their unification.


Architecture is the union or connection of the conditions that construct a given situation which architecture needs to respond to. It is an alienating connection.


TS Which actually estranges us from the actual circumstances?


It allows us to establish a certain distance to the world. It opens the possibilities to see the world differently. It gives us the support we need to think freely.


TS The term estrangement deserves more attention in my opinion. In my first reading of the Projekt arhitekture I misunderstood the momentum of the estrangement. I viewed the architectural object from the point of view of a fetish or the formula: architectural object = a banal object + an added essence. I understood the latter as some sort of sublime, hidden object, the ‘pearl’ we were referring to earlier. It is essentially important to contradict this train of thought and establish the ‘added essence’ as the inner divergence of the object to itself. If I understand this correctly, you are referring to a duality created by a single object. Architectural object establishes a divergence between the logical design of the construction and the added essence. The difference between the banal object and the something extra is inherent in one single object. Architectural object is a ‘building with a duality’, an object not identical with itself or even, as you put it, an object where the conditions are estranged. Architecture could in these terms be a space, the construction or something else: would it be possible to name this material thought?


Material thought is a good expression. I would say that the creative process always involves a materialized thought. A thought is not something that exists in the head and is then put into practice, for example by drawing it. In my opinion, a thought is a process. When we are faced with a problem, the solution starts to becomes clearer when we give it a certain material shape – draw a sketch, write a sentence, make a model –, which brings us forward in our thinking process. We can progress with our work because we managed to articulate an idea, give it a materialised shape through our sketch or statement. In some respect the idea is located there, in that sketch, text, available for everyone to see and develop further.


TS One final question. I am aware of the danger that it might sound foolish, but I also know that these kind of questions can sometimes be the most productive. What is according to you the most important architectural question? Which question should every architect ask him or herself? Which topic should be addressed over and over again?


I believe, that each architect is constantly dealing with the fundamental question: what even is architecture? Usually he or she does not contemplate on it explicitly, but through designing. Making architecture within the frame of given demands and conditions at a chosen location always involves the search for an answer to the question about what architecture (in that particular situation) is.

In general and in everything we do it is essential to think and work independently, to not blindly follow the given or established instruction, but to first think and establish our aim in all this.


TS In short, it is important to question one’s own role.


Yes, the questioning of one’s own standpoint in every given situation.


TS I believe you recently successfully defended your second PhD.


Yes, I completed most of my first PhD studies in Architecture in Finland and defended my dissertation at the Faculty of Architecture in Ljubljana. It was published as a book entitled Constructing a Legend by the Finnish publishing house SKS Publishing in 2003.


TS You are currently working on a monograph of your second dissertation under the mentorship of Rado Riha. When do you plan its publication and at which publishing house? Does it already have a title?


At the moment I am working on a detailed adaptation of my dissertation from the field of architectural philosophy into a book. It is a demanding project which I hope to complete soon. The plan is for the book to be published by the publishing house Založba ZRC in the frame of our collection Theoretical Architectural Practice. The English version is supposed to follow soon.

Tomo Stanič
Praznine 07_20. 11. 2015

Jon Derganc: Landscapes (Kolkata, Varanasi, Goa), 2014

Jon’s photo series (Abysses, 2010-11; Petra is reading erotic literature, 2013; Landscapes (Kolkata, Varanasi, Goa), 2014)) provoke a question of what photography is able to show. Not a rhetorical one, assuming the impotence of photography as the answer. The question is about what is even (ever) possible to be seen on photographs. More than with the object itself, this dilemma refers to the observing subject and to the location, from where he or she is observing.


As the title itself suggests, the Landscape series was shot in Kolkata, Varanasi and Goa, during Jon’s two-year stay in India. Even though it is a kind of documentary series, the Indian landscape is not documented in a way that we are used to, from images from travel shows or magazines. The series consists of 25 black and white analogue photos in a smaller format, which depict two types of motives – sandy/stony structures or wavy surfaces. Although Jon’s series themselves seem ‘non-narrative’ at first (they are structured against the formation of a coherent storyline, as the scenes do not add up or complement each other, but keep bringing us back to the same problem), the context of their creation does in fact provide some kind of story, which is also highlighted by the titles, that are as such essential for the understanding of the Landscapes series. They concretize and attach these fairly ‘abstract’ motifs to a specific time and space, thereby also giving meaning to the gesture of photographing, since, as Jon himself puts it, he would have never taken photos like that had he remained in Slovenia. Introducing the broader context diverts the focus from purely formal problems of the photographic medium or its language. In this case this does not result in the domination of text – also the photos structure their own context (hence the problems regarding the medium should not be completely pushed aside). In the Landscape series, the caption is not in an explanatory relationship with the image – even though I am at this point writing down the fact that the photos actually show piles of construction sand on the streets of Kolkata and Goa and sheets spread to dry on the banks of Varanasi, this does not mean that they can’t at the same time evoke many other images or that the viewer can disregard the symbolic network, that distinguishes their meaning. In the photographs from the Landscapes series I can actually never see mere sand and sheets. Among other things, the series produces the effect of fluctuations between the near and far, which undermines the tendency of photography to clearly show the object of its interest. Individual photos are focusing on excerpts of ‘landscapes’ in a way that does not allow one to distinguish the “measure” – our closeness or distance to the observed object. Or vice versa: a loss of the sense of size of the photographed object occurs, which thus seems monumental and tiny at the same time. Although we are always dealing with a detail, this does not however provide the definition of the whole it belongs to.


So what do Landscapes bring? Romantic, exotic, monumental or other perceptions the viewer has of India, are exposed as the result of his own projection. These perceptions depend very much on the context (social, political, personal …) in which they were formed. One could even claim that it is rather about the mapping of the observers view, as bases of its attitude towards the observed (unfamiliar) space, than about the mapping of foreign landscapes. Jon’s photos do not offer the alternative image, the „true“ identity of India, no other answer than the fact that we are repeatedly forced to stop at and face the surface, since photography (and our gaze) cannot penetrate any deeper. In this respect the main object of the Landscape series is maybe not so much Indian landscapes, but the limit of photography itself. This limit is not so much a problem of technology, as it is the problem of the gaze. That is why technology is not expected to deliver the most realistic portrayal of the motive as possible anymore and thus the chosen analogue photographic procedure is legitimized most of all by the conceptualization of its materiality. While showing me the photos, Jon namely also talked about how the processes of sand erosion (due to rain that causes the photographed shapes to form) and the old techniques of washing and drying of clothes on the banks of Indian rivers, in terms of meaning, match the processes of development of analogue photograph. Maybe this should be regarded as a footnote to the debate about the role of this type of  photography today, when its use often seems obsolete or fetishised.

Tjaša Pogačar
Praznine 07_20. 11. 2015

AA Visiting School Slovenia: nanoturism

Nanotourist strategies in Vitanje, July 2014


The AA Visiting School Slovenia is an experimental teaching and research programme, as a part of the AA Visiting School (AAVS) at the Architectural Association, London, organised for the first time in the summer of 2014 in Slovenia. It is open to students and professionals worldwide, who wish to further their knowledge, practice and skills in architecture on short and intensive courses that engage with the local environment and its current architectural and social issues. Nanotourism is set as a central topic of research and development of AAVS Slovenia.


What is the AA Visiting School?


In 1847, the Architectural Association (AA), the precursor to the AA School of Architecture, was originally set up in London as a public forum where architecture was discussed before it was designed. It was initiated by ‘a pack of troublesome students’[1] who were opposed to the traditional Victorian routine of educating future architects and who wanted to learn their way with a free thinking philosophy. Since then and over the course of the following century-and-a-half, the AA School operated as an independent educational institution that fostered many new ways and concepts of teaching architecture. AAVS is a rather fresh programme, faithful to the initial principles of the AA that works as an experimental programme where different possible ways of teaching and studying architecture are developed in specific locations around the globe. Developed over the past six years, it is an embodiment of, and extension to, the AA School’s ‘unit system’[2]. It is based on one simple premise: AAVS tutors, who act as programme directors and set the course agendas are either current or former tutors or students of the Alma Mater, based in Bedford Square, London. The AA’s international character of carrying out a very diverse range of agendas, with tutors and students originating from different backgrounds all over the world, make the AA Visiting School programme very different from the simplified comparison to ‘educational colonialism’. Quite the contrary, each Visiting School programme pursues its own distinct, highly focused agenda, rooted in a specific context and connected to the indigenous society of each location, and is led by AA tutors with local provenience and experience. That makes the AA Visiting School a very bottom-up, locally oriented and participatory programme – a true example of nanotourism.


Why anotourism and what is it?


Searching for a relevant research and design topic for AAVS Slovenia, while facing the new realities of the Slovenian economy and landscape, we realised the potential of tourism as one of the few industries that is still growing regardless of the turbulent conditions in the global market economy. Slovenia is one of the smallest and most naturally diverse countries in the world where only some of the tourism investments have really managed to relate to Slovenia’s rich natural and cultural potential. Many of them have fundamentally failed in setting their focus on enabling the visitors a fully integrated experience of its diverse contexts. These investments have brought about the extensive diminishment of natural resources and have led to counter – sustainable tourist development strategies on an already small and fragile territory. Too little attention has been given to the idea of extreme local experience tourism, based on the principles of ‘SMALL, LIGHT and GREEN’ ideologies[3], where visitors can experience ‘extreme architectures’, placed meticulously with subtle intervention into specific surroundings, aimed at magnifying the user experience of individual travellers or even provoking them to participate. The fascination with the growing phenomenon of tourism has to be considered carefully. To start the journey into the exploration of its potentials, we gave the research topic a name: nanotourism. To answer the question, whether smaller-scale, non-intrusive ways of promoting tourism already exist, the AA Visiting School Slovenia teamed up with Ljubljana’s Biennial of Design (BIO 50) and its curator Jan Boelen[4], in a multidisciplinary research process that explored the possible futures for design. Nanotourism was one of the Biennial’s eleven research topics where its definition and potentials were developed over the course of six months, in collaboration with the international group of young professionals[5]. The BIO50 nanotourism team presented their work in progress at the mini conference that kicked off the AAVS Slovenia course, highlighting a possible definition of nanotourism, the research of existing examples and development of several case studies[6] of nanotourism. The students were prompted to react and respond with their own view and development of the topic of nanotourism in the context of KSEVT and Vitanje. Nanotourism was defined as a new, constructed term describing a creative critique to the current environmental, social and economic aspects of tourism. It is a site specific, participatory, locally oriented, bottom-up alternative. It operates as a social tool to stimulate mutual interaction between the provider and user by co-creation or the exchange of knowledge. It is not about scale, but a projected ability to construct responsible experiences from the bottom-up, using local resources. It stretches beyond tourism: it is more an attitude dedicated to the improvement of specific everyday environments, and a strategy aimed at opening up new local economies.


Why Vitanje and KSEVT?


The community of Vitanje, a small village strongly connected with nature and with a strong local character, recently gave grounds to the project of KSEVT – The Cultural Centre of European Space Technologies. The old community centre building was removed and thus provided space for the new building of KSEVT, that was envisioned to facilitate the research of Space technologies and raise awareness of the work of Herman Potočnik Noordung[7]. Replacing the integral infrastructure of the local community, it was designed as a hybrid building containing both, scientific and community programmes in order to bring together community life and the idea of ‘culturalization of Space’. KSEVT, a collaborative architectural project[8], features a series of interlocking decentralized rings that lie on top of each other to create a continuous interconnected structure of spaces. It integrates offices for researchers in residence, a main exhibition space, round multipurpose hall, entrance foyer and series of small and differentiated spaces for local community associations. It also contains two sets of changing rooms with showers that work as fully equipped infrastructure for the adjacent sports field. Since its inauguration two years ago, KSEVT has attracted over 25,000 visitors per year with its exhibition related activities, while Vitanje, a community of 600 inhabitants, has not fully taken advantage of either the recently built community centre nor the substantial turnover of people coming to their town. The course of AAVS Slovenia was an ideal opportunity to revisit the building we co-designed, to thoroughly experience its performance and to extensively learn about its ways of existence in the social and physical context of Vitanje. The complex relationship between the building and institution of KSEVT, and the community of Vitanje served as an important topic of investigation and improvement. The round multipurpose hall has transformed itself into a 24/7 studio where we explored and exploited the building of KSEVT and its underused infrastructural and cultural potentials for possible manifestations of nanotourism. Could it perform as a local resource catalyst or as the reception of a ‘dispersed hotel’[9] in Vitanje? Or could it even be a hotel on its own? AAVS Slovenia: nanotourist strategies A three week research, design and make course focused on the strategies of nanotourism, allowing participants to engage in a wide range of projects: from site-specific micro interventions at a 1:1 scale to holistic strategies for existing contexts. Adapting to their specific setting, the students had to develop projects that had to materialize in actions or structures that would be temporary or permanent, ultimately seeking to create a comprehensible, tangible and novel experience of the building and institution of KSEVT and Vitanje. The students researched and gradually progressed through three clearly defined entities: Place, User and Material. Place, as an understanding of space, culture, territory, time, visibility; user, as a representation of social organisations, psychological values, individual and collective motivation; and material, as a physical resource for making, with characteristics such as geometry, tactility, manipulability, structure, texture, availability, contextuality … While identifying, targeting and intensifying individual specific elements of each entity, it was crucial to develop an understanding about the emerging correlations among them. Stimulating and designing mutual influence and dependencies between place, user and material, they developed an explicit conceptual common ground for each project. We aimed for interventions that would provide both the spatial and social triggers which would initiate a change, with the ambition for temporary or long-term spatial and social integration and participation. The key teaching agenda of AAVS Slovenia is to research and promote the process of creation that stretches beyond ‘design’. The process is equally as important as the final project itself. A simple process diagram was introduced to the students at the beginning of the course: ‘research’, ‘design’ and ‘make’ activities have to be successively organised in a recurrent process to create a closed circle that has to be perpetually repeated to generate refined, specific and sharp results. Following this bottom-up process of design development and starting with initial elements of research, decision-making and prototyping, these had to be gradually organised at higher levels of understanding, in order to produce more complex structures and holistic design solutions. Each following iteration of the process loop produced simply better results. Exhibition hotel in KSEVT, Accommodation Strategies in Vitanje and Objects of Activation were three proposed topics that stimulated students to develop and test, at a scale of 1:1, four strategic projects:


HangOut Vitanje – Communal XL Lace Hammock


Although KSEVT has changed the status quo of Vitanje, its visitors often leave the place right after they see the exhibition. HangOut Vitanje responded to this issue by researching and devising alternative accommodation strategies and activities, giving KSEVT visitors or local residents a reason to explore the area for a longer period of time – from some hours to several days. HangOut Vitanje proposes an intrinsic experience of renting out a bag kit with a site-specific, XL lace hammock and a map with a set of site suggestions to explore. New discoveries can be noted and uploaded to the project website, where personal spots of interest can be shared. Custom lace hammocks were produced by a reworked traditional bobbing technique to fit specific sites and conditions. They offer a possibility of accommodation and space for activities, while all  infrastructures, including the renting service, are available at KSEVT. They represent an alternative to the conventional vision of a hotel or campsite.


KSEVT Outdoor Community – Social Design for Vitanje


The building of KSEVT was planned to contain both: planetary programmes and a local community cultural centre. The KSEVT Outdoor Community wanted KSEVT to play a bigger role in the lives of Vitanje inhabitants. Analysing their needs and issues, a set of site-specific socially engineered interventions were formulated in order to integrate the people of Vitanje with KSEVT and its assets. The team has organised an all-day public event named KSEVT-FEST, hosting a football tournament with madeon- the-spot goulash, large scale chess board games and open air cinema evenings: kinoKSEVT. Active participation of the mostly younger population at these events has clearly showed a critical need for outdoor social programmes related to KSEVT. To sustain such activities, the team has equipped active participants with DIY manuals and has built a series of simple, locally sourced wooden seats that represent  a physical evidence and the collaborative relationship between KSEVT and the local community.


Vitanje Expo @KSEVT – Community Exposition System


The team addressed objects of activation – in the form of structures, spaces or events – that connect the people of Vitanje and users of KSEVT on a social and emotional level. The connection was activated by a joint participatory exhibition of products by local craftsmen and of photographs taken by residents, based on the initiative of the team: local participants were asked to photograph the representations of KSEVT or Space in their own home environments. The exhibition took place in the multi-purpose foyer of KSEVT and coincided with the final jury and exhibition opening of the AA Visiting School. Vitanje expo @KSEVT has challenged the institution of KSEVT to open up to the needs of the local community. Materialising the exhibition setup, the team used semi reflecting foil to convert generic foyer lighting into spot-lights and rented local wooden slats, half-products of local saw mills, for a flexible, systematically organised and integrated exhibition system.


KSEVT hotel – From 2D to 3D Sleeping


How can KSEVT accommodate sleepovers? The site-specific added value to the KSEVT exhibition is the experience of levitation in an environment of gravity. The team’s field of research was the transition from conventional 2D sleeping to the experience of 3D sleeping. The KSEVT hotel offers two experiences. The individual version enables the researcher to spend the night in KSEVT by sleeping in a uniquely engineered levitation-suit, suspended in the central space of KSEVT. With the collective experience, a group of people is able to test 3D sleeping as an extended feature of the exhibition, where a set of pyramid shaped cushions support your entire body in a custom 3D position while asleep. The concept of the KSEVT hotel and 3D sleeping embodies the unique program of KSEVT – it fulfils the accommodation needs of the institution and furthermore upgrades an already unique visitor experience.


Conclusion: Feedback of local community and afterlife


The teaching and learning process at AAVS Slovenia is deliberately designed as an experience different from the conventional architectural curriculum. It is an opportunity to break away from the usual habits of thinking and making architectural projects. Engaging Participatory Action Research[10], employing ways of learning by doing and designing strategies, as well as social events, is producing a dynamic and challenging environment for the understanding and development of architecture. Processes involve the inclusion of local residents in co-designing and co-creating strategies and solutions. AAVS Slovenia understands architecture as a socially dependant phenomenon that involves social design principles and awareness to design for society. Students are facing intense group work that brings much more dynamic processes of creation, discussion and debate, to the foreground. Learning from colleagues that came from the other side of the globe is one of the most valuable student experiences. The vibrant activities of fourteen students with diverse cultural and educational backgrounds, in collaboration with tutors and visiting experts, have transformed and upgraded KSEVT and its relations with the residents of Vitanje to their full potential. Through a process of intense participation between students, local residents and visitors of KSEVT, the results of the students’ work during the AAVS Slovenia course have left their mark. Deep and intensive bonds that culminated in the crowded final presentation and exhibition opening have been established. The ‘KSEVT hotel‘ and ‘HangOut Vitanje‘ projects are ready to be fully working features that can be experienced by future visitors of KSEVT. Furthermore, the local media’s feedback communicated a very direct message to the public: Vitanje doesn’t need a conventional generic hotel, but can develop alternative ways of accommodation in direct relation to KSEVT[11]. The ‘KSEVT Outdoor Community‘ group mobilised the local youth, who took over the project’s activities and ran KSEVT Kino for the rest of the summer. In the context of Vitanje, the Church plays an important role in the community, with its representation[12] firmly built on top of the little hill in the middle of the town, clearly shows its dominant position. The institution and building of KSEVT set up a different context to this one-way condition: it introduced science as the counterbalance to religion in a contemporary balance of society. At the final presentation of AAVS Slovenia, it was very significant to see the Priest of the parish of Vitanje, setting foot in the building of KSEVT for the first time since the opening. He came to celebrate the opening of the local craftsmen exhibition, organised as a part of the project of the ‘Vitanje Expo @KSEVT‘ group, and openly spoke about this ‘historical moment’ of collaboration between the two institutions. Following the positive experience from the first course in Vitanje, AA Visiting School Slovenia will continue to address the agenda of nanotourism in diverse specific environments and communities throughout the country on a yearly basis. It will pursue the ambition of discovering new models of local economies, and will continue to offer visitors and locals the opportunity to deepen their knowledge, experience and understanding of the world.


Programme Director:

Aljoša Dekleva


Programme Assistant:

Jakob Travnik



Aljoša Dekleva

Tina Gregorič



Jakob Travnik

Blaž Šef


Experts in juries and tutorials:

Vedran Mimica – profesor in prodekan za področje raziskav na IIlynois Institute of Technology, v Chicagu, ZDA,

Christopher Pierce – Architectural Association London, direktor programa AA Visiting School,

Jan Boelen – Direktor galerije Z33 – House of Contemporary Art, vodja podiplomskega programa Social Design na Akademiji za oblikovanje v Eindhovnu (Nizozemska) in glavni kustos BIO 50: 3, 2, 1 … TEST, 24. ljubljanskega bienala oblikovanja,

Miha Turšič – direktor KSEVT-a,

Dragan Živadinov – KSEVT in postgravitacijsko gledališče,

Boštjan Vuga – Sadar + Vuga arhitekti, arhitekt,

Vasa J. Perović – Bevk Perović arhitekti, predavatelj na Fakulteti za arhitekturo v Ljubljani,

Nikola Radeljković – NUMEN / For use, Hrvaška,

Nejc Matjaž – ONDU, Slovenija,
Blaž Šef – igralec, KSEVT, Vitanje.


[1] AA School of Architecture, Visiting School Prospectus 2013-2014, pg. 3

[2] Student life at the AA School of Architecture is organised around year-long design studios or ‘units’. This approach to architectural teaching and learning emphasises the development of comprehensive design projects where all aspects of architectural knowledge are embedded. Agenda driven project briefs are shaped by students working intensively in small groups in studio tutorials with AA tutors. (From AA prospectus 2014/2015)

[3] Such a concept has been emphasized in a recently finished project by Matevž Lenarčič, Slovenian pilot and scientist who flew around the world with an ultra-light airplane designed by Pipistrel, a small Slovenian aircraft manufacturing company. The project instilled these values under the name of Slovenia’s national brand, I Feel Slovenia, by undertaking high quality research in the most fuel-efficient aircraft in the world, the Pipistrel Virus SW. A local phenomenon of obsessive individualism has led to the emergence of small and extreme creative industries, operating in cutting edge technology and design.

[4] the director of Z33 – House for Contemporary Art, the head of the Master Department Social Design at the Design Academy Eindhoven and the chief curator of the BIO 50: 3, 2, 1 … TEST, 24th Biennial of Design in Ljubljana,

[5] Participants applied to the open call of BIO50 and were selected and invited to take part in the team.

[6] There were five case studies developed over the course of BIO50 process: Old School Ilica (Zagreb), BIO50 Hotel (Ljubljana), KSEVT Connecting People (Vitanje), Rajzefiber Biro (Maribor) and Routine Revolution (Krakow). AAVS Slovenia added to that four more nanotouristic projects in Vitanje.

[7] Herman Potočnik Noordung (1892 – 1929), a Slovene rocket engineer and pioneer of cosmonautics, wrote the

seminal book on Space technologies in 1929: The Problem of Space Travel – The Rocket Motor.

[8] KSEVT was designed in collaboration, by the following architectural firms: Bevk Perović Arhitekti, Dekleva Gregorič Arhitekti, OFIS Arhitekti and Sadar+Vuga Arhitekti. It was completed in 2012.

[9] A concept proposed by the case study ‘KSEVT Connection People’, where abandoned homes are restored and converted into hotel rooms, guest houses, inns or even luxury resorts. They scatter throughout different  uildings within the town, but they are overseen by one management. See

[10] PAR is an approach to research in communities that emphasizes participation and action. It seeks to understand the world by trying to change it, collaboratively and following reflection… (Wikipedia)

[11] ‘Vitanje, samo hotela ne!’, Rozmari Petek, Večer, 26.07.2014, pg. 20

[12] Church of Holy Mother.

Aljoša Dekleva
Praznine 06_20. 11. 2015

Dear Architecture, why am I breaking up with you 

POINT ONE introduction


 ”The danger that I am courting is thus that what I will say will oscillate between the two extremes of unfounded speculations and what mostly is already known for a long time.”[1]  


Dear Architecture. It was quite a journey growing up with you. But the time has come to go our separate ways, so the subject of this letter would be – I really think I should break up with you. The main point that I realized and which has led me towards this decision is that most of the time I am around you, I feel bad. And I don’t want to do it anymore. We have both changed in the last six (!) years. It seems like yesterday when we met by accident on arts class and you immediately reminded me of a beautiful girl with a strong name ‐ let’s call her Josephine. The things about girls like that is that, when they are beautiful and have such a strong name, like Architecture or Josephine, hey are the most beautiful girls in the world. But, that works in opposite direction too. So today, you remind me of an ugly girl (also with a strong name, let’s say Bernadette) who tries so hard to hide her own faults behind layers of make – up, but her looks can only deceive just for a while: pretty on Friday evening, ugly on Saturday morning. Today, between yesterday and tomorrow, it seems like six long years of Stockholm syndrome which I have finally had enough of. Why, is something I will try to write down and so explain to the both of us what and when drew us apart.


Tomorrow is something I can’t imagine completely without you. But still, I do have power to kick you out of my life and get a good night sleep. Which leads us to another point – I haven’t slept peacefully in years in this relationship and every time I tried to at least get a 15­minute power nap, you Josephine, are constantly there, knocking on my door, having me get out of a dream and concentrating on you, waiting on my doorstep, only so you could jump over, set yourself quickly on sofa, take off your sexy dress and put on that old training suit ­ I call it ”the first Bernadette phase”. Finally, you turn on the TV. Being somewhere in between, you hand me over my to-do list for today. Then your face gets that dreamy expression which I first tended to assign to and then later blame upon your artistic personality. But now I know you probably just came from a great lunch with some guy who studies business and is now tired and just want to have (my) nap. And so you do, leaving me with Bernadette and millions of questions based on that  ”to-do list”, which getting more obscene with each passing day.


My thesis is ­ you have been sleepwalking for quite a while now. And the reason you don’t make any sense anymore is because you don’t know who or what you are anymore.


POINT TWO Expectations, time and education


What’s the difference between chicken broiler and achi-studio?  Chicken did not say yes please[2]


Quite young at heart and quick of mind, as teenagers usually tend to, I fell in love with the idea of drawing and helping others at the same time. Let’s call this idea Josephine again. When we met, I was a teenage geek in need of a study to love, with a sharp tongue, big glasses, an appetite to know it all and experience it all.


I asked a Super studio guy sitting behind me in class “What is her name?” and he told me ”Architecture! Architecture as a positive, shining expression of nature vis-à-vis natural nature!”[3] I did not see any warnings in that sentence, but I did have this creative force driving me mad and you seemed like the right reflection, a good partner. To cut the crazy love story short, after I told you how it is also my opinion that ”All architects expect and hope their work will act in some sense as a servant for humanity-to make a better world.”[4] You ­ still Josephine ­ and I, started dating. Quite soon after that though, I somehow started losing something really quickly. I started losing my “time for” in a sense that time was literally running out of my hands and soon, I did not have any time for sports, movies, books, wasting time… Lots of little pieces of me became timeless and got lost along the way. My time became your time and you filled it with all the stuff that studying something (especially you) brings along. (Getting a focus is what you’d call it.) Anyway, I knew it was going to be hard and sleepless, but worth it and when I would tell someone I don’t have time because of you, he/she would say wow you are dating _____! Blah blah blah…. I didn’t understand this Wow then, but I believed it must mean something since I was hearing it all the time.


I started seeing my old friends less and less and my professors more and more, who were telling me stuff like: ”Aulis Blomstedt gave this wise piece of advice to his students at the Helsinki University of Technology: ”For an architect, the capacity to envision different life situations is more important, than the capacity to envision space.”[5] Which is something I also truly believed in. But this lack of time lead to constant stress, and constant stress lead to requisitioning my love for you, which made me realize that I don’t know to imagine this mega variety of life situations very well. This in turn made me realize I may not be good enough or have to work more. So I decided to work even harder to get it. And then I got even more stressed and so on.


Today I know that I should have told Aulis Blomsted that it is wrong to imagine life situations, when real life is happening all around you. That’s what you should do, if you want to know the society you are supposed to be here for! Experience the moment. Because of advice like this, we nowadays have situations where people who are not ”Aulis Blomsted ” at all and do not really know you (teachers and professors) tell people like me (your students) how messed up world is today, and how everything changes, and how they still knew that golden generation of modernist architects who brought future to the past. In other words, my stress just kept growing because I started to realize I am getting tired and my to-do list keeps getting bigger, and that the answers cannot be given by people who don’t really know what to tell me in this uncertain time. I just want to scream because I envy and I envy because this guy (who is never even there for hi consultation time) is sitting there, turning my Josephine into a Bernadette, and on top of it, telling me his education is better than mine. I want to ask him “Where is MY Ravnikar? MY Ivan Vitić, my Bernardi, my intellectual authority of any kind?” Or is this strict line between the professor and myself so thin, that I should maybe search for answers on YouTube, with all of this Harvard free lessons it offers? But then I remembered I do not have the time, because although everyone says that you are hard to understand and take a lot of time, there is this thing called The Deadline which makes every clock a dramatic sand one and any interest in university education suddenly seems like a distracting hobby and a waste of time, in need of being punished with failing, restriction or a punishment essay. ”Teaching is even harder than learning […], but not because the teacher must have a larger supply of information and because he has to keep it the hand at all times, Teaching is harder than learning, because it requires the following: to allow for learning to be possible, to happen. A true teacher does not really allow for the student to learn anything besides learning itself…”[6] I didn’t have time to meet you healthily and properly. And that’s why I want to leave even more. This difference between the time you insist on, and the time you offer is something you should work on, really. You are getting me all confused, forgetting I that am 25 years old, born and raised for a socialist world of working 9 to 5 with free weekends.


But, ”there once was a relationship between leisure and work, a biblical dictate on opening and closure. Now we work harder, stuck in a permanent weekend”[7]. Disappointed by realizing how rigid and closed your educational institutions actually are, I made another mistake ‐ I applied for my internship in an office which claimed they were there in order to enjoy their work in a creative atmosphere, by designing environmentally responsible projects (shown on shiny cartoon‐like renderings), researching today to create a better tomorrow, and putting all that down in big research booklets. It sounded like the ”drawing to help other people” dream come true. But once there, I hit wall again as you showed your true inner self to me. A face represented by the people who had spent so many hours in the office that they had completely alienated themselves from society by their own arrogance and elitism.


A well-known manipulation technique is the so-called ”stress and relief”, where the manipulator constantly boosts the stress level, then suddenly offers  comfort, which evokes a strong sense of connection with the manipulator on the part of the manipulated. This is a quick true story of my internship with you.


The hands that form Architecture out of a creative process (although Architecture might look like Josephine from the outside) are actually Bernadettes and I -­‐an intern, am just cheap labor, trying to find cheap materials and produce cheap and quick designs, in order to produce maximum profit for a person who does not care about them in the first place (a.k.a. The Boss). And then passes it on to the this other guy, who is actually holding the strings (a.k.a. The Investor). And so, nothing seemed stable anymore, not even the Law -­‐ now as flexible as Branzi’s utopist urbanism. It seemed as if all of you all together simply did not care. Not just about me, but also about a Person Unknown, about” Homo Random”, the final victim of a complicated process, which begins right there, in your office.


Andrea Branzi was actually trying to warn me in time, that the pretty roses do have ugly thorns and that something standing vis-a-vis something as imperfect and complex as human nature is a muddy lake to swim in, and that I am only going to stress myself out unless I make peace with your future as that. Of course, that’s what turned me on again. Because the kids that we are nowadays, are trained to aim high and have it all. A couple of minutes ago in the 90s I met him again, saying you became a high tech favela. I know he is just doing his best to make the two of us grow closer together again, and he means it in a good way, but if you are favela, why have I been drafting this hotel competition all week?


So today, after realizing I was being warned and having an opportunity to choose between the game where the rules are constantly changing and a new start while I still have tiny chance, I chose to get out. If on one hand, it is true that ”A wise and mature architect works with his whole body and a feeling for himself. As he is creating a building or an object, he simultaneously inhabits the counter–perspective of his own self–image in relation to the world and his existential worth. Apart from all the useful and functional knowledge, a planner and an artist require existential worth, which is shaped by their life experience…”[8] and on the other hand ”spectacle is ‘an image accumulated to the point where it becomes capital”[9], how come that I always feel so bored working in an office reflected in shiny buildings? Maybe Guy Debord wouldn’t mind me saying that you -­‐ contemporary architecture -­‐area concept accumulated to the point where it becomes simply money, polished until it is so shiny it hurts your eyes with its reflections.


Seek perfection and excellence is what pushed architects and students on, and many of them devoted their entire careers to striving for non-­‐negotiable excellence, as seen by the works of ancient civilizations, which was supposed to help them make an ever-­‐lasting impact on society. Nowadays however, you don’t care about that anymore. And all of the above is just one more reason, why I cannot stand seeing you sleep like a baby, while I have so much about you on my mind.


POINT THREE Economics looks and feels


Economics and looks walk hand in hand in your case.


It seems like not only you are constantly changing but, while I was occupied with you, this time I lost years ago did not stop existing, and changed as we did also. My second point is I don’t feel like you are really broke, but I really feel that I am. I don’t really have any money, due to the crisis everybody’s been talking about non-­‐stop since 2009. I couldn’t even pay my own meals during lunch breaks, while working for free as an intern.


Yesterday (pardon me for calling it yesterday, but in terms of how old you are, it really is) it seemed like your modernist base is going to grow into a Supperarchittetura, an architecture of superproduction, superconsumption, superinduction to consume, the supermarket, the superman, supergas….[10] But somewhere along the road, the wheels broke down and instead of the light of a brighter future, you became a metaphor of our consumption-­‐driven lives, where the Human has long since been forgotten. You became like a bottle of Coke in an advertisement -­‐ refreshing and shiny (Josephine).In reality however, after the first experience of refreshment, you would leave me thirsty again, with a little bit less money in my pockets.


Since we are both broke, there really is no point in insisting on producing plans and designs, and uploading them in .pdf booklets. And yet, you still insist on me going on with producing as much as possible mostly to ”…buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like.”[11] and sucking off my energy to the point where I don’t even have the strength to think of what I did I to get myself into all of this in the first place.About things you do not need -­‐if you really are broke, there is no point of you taking drugs with Zaha and producing stuff like the Heydar Alyev Center, which you describe as an “antithesis of the older, more rigid and often monumental Soviet architecture”, which ”symbolizes the sensibility of the Azeri culture and the optimism of a nation looking towards the future[12].A description like this leaves me all confused, because it shows you understand that “Architecture, more than any other art form, is a social art and must rest on the social and cultural base of its time and place ”[13] and obviously this design is your response to that statement. Yet what I see here is that ”…form no longer follows function, function no longer determines form, and the result is generalized esthethicization, (…) a gigantic Kinder Surprise (TM) egg, (…) trying to solve social antagonism[14].


If one may take The Function of ornament as an indicator of an tant vein of sentiment in the architectural community, it names ornament, welcomes it back, as it were, but only on condition: ornament must function. ”[15] The function of your new ornaments is to make money, then use that money to produce new ornaments, use those to make even more money, etc. -­‐ which makes the plastic swans you thought me never to use, look like a box of nature and memories.


“In my opinion, the same happens to architecture as well — to become nothing but aesthetics, once it is alienated from its original purpose of domesticating space and time, the animistic understanding of the world and the metaphoric representation of structure. [16]  I would just add that in that case, the architect becomes only a box for all those hours of meetings and consultations. As all that input comes together in the architect-­‐box, all these people’s crap has come together in this person also. And that does not feel good. Especially when I am thirsty.


Lefebre warned us yesterday – ”Today we see a worldwide tendency towards uniformity. The relationship of form to function to structure has not disappeared. On the contrary, it has become a declared relationship, produced as such, more and more visible and readable, announced and displayed in a transparency of the three terms. A modern object clearly states what it is, its role and its place.”[17] In times like this, where consumption is so deeply set into our everydayness, I quote Žižek:”At the level of consumption, this new spirit is the one of the so–called ‘cultural capitalism'(…) we consume them in order to make our life pleasurable and meaningful.” ”On the other hand, we are not dealing with a longing for real equality, but with a longing for proper appearance.”[18] Let me pose a question. It may be a bit unfair, but even so. What do you think, in a hundred years’ time, will this face of yours, represented by the Hejydar Alyvev Center, be able to stand next to the Eiffel’s tower and make some other Iva recognize it in a sec and say “Heydar Alyev, Baku, yeah!”, just as fast as I say “Eiffel, crowd, Paris” nowadays. Or is it going to make her think of Zaha and not in a good way?




Point four is… well, you have been alienated from the society for a long time now. And you are aware of it. Yet you continue on with that attitude of yours. And just as yesterday, “The society might indeed have admired Modern Architecture. However, it did not admire that, which architecture itself thought its deep intrinsic worth was. Her spouse was attracted by her ample external charms, yet was completely unwilling to accept what she herself had imagined as the ethical principle of her being. (…) And thus he, in spite of the high principle proffered by architecture, remained stubbornly set in his old ways. He did not seek moral regeneration. For him, the ethic poise of Modern Architecture was alike to that of a Victorian heroine, an so, he continued to look for his delinquent pleasures elsewhere.”[19]was a text about breaking up with modernist tradition, it could easily be used to describe what is happening nowadays.


Not to mention that you have also been warned a long time ago that ”As the common denominator of activities, locus and milieu of human functions, the everyday can also be analyzed as the uniform aspect of the major sectors of social life: work, family, private life, leisure. These sectors, though distinct as forms, are imposed upon in their practice by a structure allowing us to discover what they share: organized passivity. This means, in leisure activities, the passivity of the spectator faced with images and landscapes; in the workplace, it means passivity when faced with decisions in which the worker takes no part; in private life, it means the imposition of consumption, since the available choices are directed and the needs of the consumer created by advertising and market studies.”[20]


You are a big part of the everyday-­‐product and have been like that since even before people realized that’s what you really are, but what to did you evolve. ”Like in the middle ages; a single shopping centre is now the work of generations; air–conditioning makes or breaks our cathedrals. Because it costs money, is no longer free, conditioned space becomes inevitably conditional space; sooner or later all conditional spaces turn into junkspace. Junkspace is always interior, so extensive that you rarely perceive limits; space created by piling matter on top of matter, cemented to form a new whole. ”[21]


Some recent proofs that the two of you still haven’t found a way to work together. Somewhere on the Internet, sometime in 2009., Annie Choi says:

This is what I do care about:

* burritos

* hedgehogs

* coffee

As you can see, architecture is not on the list.”[22]


Jody, an architect, responds in 2012:

“I just ran across your name a few years ago and thought. ‘I should totally call Annie and see what she’s up to.’ But then I got this deadline out of the blue. It’s a really cool sustainable-eco-friendly-mobile-art-museum, and we’re going to use shipping containers. It’s awesome, and I just got distracted.

But anyway, just wanted to say ‘Hey!’.


Oh, by the way, I double–checked your apartment dimensions last year when my firm switched to BIM instead of Cad. Turns out it isn’t 187 square feet after all. It’s actually 186.35 square feet. Just thought you should know. -Jody”[23]


Society is” an increasingly demanding audience” and it seems you really do think that ”…ignorance is strength”.[24]  Pursuing that attitude, what happened is that the society and (included in this via being a human being living in a civilized world) myself -­‐ stopped caring. And as much as I have stopped caring about what drives me mad about you, I stopped caring about nice things also. I started having fun and telling myself that the mall invasion is not just another sign of your deep sleep (why malls if we are broke?), but one point of an endless urbanism and that at least I learned to read signs, so now I can get ready on time for an Earth catastrophe like the one shown in the ”Tribe” TV-­‐series. This way, I am motivated to go to malls with my dad who is older and grumpy and only tolerates air-­‐conditioned spaces like yours and so we spend some time more together. Years ago I would refuse to do so, but nowadays I am telling myself I was warned on time and I understand that you game is ”War is peace / Freedom is slavery/ Ignorance is strength.”[25]  You really are no different than anything else money can buy – ”You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”[26]


POINT FIVE Conclusion


Because you are not special and I don’t care anymore, I am leaving you. Goethe called architecture frozen music. If so, the more that I hang around you, the more I have the feeling you look like a frozen video image of Britney Spears trying to have a comeback song. If you are able to visualize this and compare it to my lifestyle, I assume you understand why I don’t want to be around you anymore. Thing is, I prefer some other music genres. And I prefer Britney as a living member of our society to any of your recent built works. They literally and metaphorically don’t breathe.


To summarize main points – because you are not honest with what you present to me (to us!), because you take my money and don’t give anything in return, because you ignore what most of us think, live and feel, because you do not serve society as a whole, but only its strongest members – I think you are out of date, lying sleepy in front of the TV.


Wake up architecture! Remember one of the latest warnings you received: ”My warning to architecture is: when you are making your plans, tread softly because you tread on the dreams of the people who will live in and look at your buildings”[27],and start with young architects-­‐to-­‐be, treat them better than you did my colleagues and myself. The fact how exhausted they look nowadays scares me so much, and my fear is that architecture as we professionally know it is at its own point of death, soon going to become just a teenage passion, disappearing with the first signs of adulthood and common sense. And we will only dream of how ”Thus, architecture can be sad to embody knowledge, but rather than clear logic, it is knowledge understood in biblical sense, a carnal, fully sexual and therefore opaque experience of truth”.[28]  


Thank you for this final experience of truth and goodbye. I am heading off to I don’t know what, where and when, but I know the pace I will run at. As Kobayashi Issa said:


”O snail,

climb mount Fuji,

but slowly, slowly.”


Anyway, see you around (literally).


[1] Žižek, S. Architectural parallax; spandrels and other phenomena of class struggle. Available at:

[2] Facebook. Available at:‐ak­prn2/t31/q71/s720x720/1146936_10151863125416839_898996499_o.jpg

[3] Burns, J. Arthropodos: new design futures. London : Academy Editions, 1972.

[4] Mockbee, S. The Rural Studio. Dostopno na naslovu:

[5] Pallasmaa, J. Eksistencialna in utelešena modrost v arhitekturi, in: Misleča roka. Ljubljana: Studia Humanitatis. 2012.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Koolhaas, R. Junkspace. Dostopno na:

[8] Pallasma, Juhani: ibid.

[9] Debord, G. Družba spektakla; Komentarji k Družbi spektakla; Panegirik: prvi del. Ljubljana: Študentska založba. 1999.

[10] Burns, Jim. Arthropodos: New Design Futures. London, Academy Editions, 1972.

[11] Koolhaas, Rem: ibid.,

[12] Center Heydar Aliyev // D-A-Z / Archdaily 7.1.2014. Dostopno na:

[13] Mockbee, Samuel: ibid.

[14] Žižek, Slavoj: ibid.

[15] Levit, R. Contemporary design: The Return of the Symbolic Repressed, in: Harvard Design Magazine. Spring/Summer 2008, n. 28. Available at:

[16] Lefebvre, H. in Levich, C. Everyday and Everydayness. Yale French Studies No. 73, New York: Yale University Press. 1987.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Žižek, Slavoj: ibid.

[19] Colin, R. Collage City (with Fred Koetter). MIT Press, Cambridge, 1978.

[20] Lefevbre, Henri. Levich Christine: ibid.

[21] Koolhaas, Rem: ibid.

[22] Dear Architects, I am sick of your shit // Butterpaper 10.11.2007. Available at:

[23] Sorry Annie, I was just distracted // Coffee with an architect 20.1.2011. Available at:

[24] George Orwell: 1984, Mladinska knjiga, Ljubljana, 2008.


[26] Fight club. Available at

[27] Žižek, Slavoj: ibid.

[28] Pérez-Gómez, A. Architecture and the body, v: Bacci, F. in Melcher, D. Art and the Senses, Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2013.

Iva Jelinčić
Praznine 07_20. 11. 2015

Recycling Factory

The Recycling factory is located in the Savsko naselje area of Ljubljana. A part of it stands next to a number of compact standard garages designed by Savin Sever, while the other part is located on a children’s playground, easily accessible from all sides. In order to establish a more easily accessible area, the project proposes the demolition of one of the triplex buildings in the immediate vicinity of the playground.


The look of the recycling factory is inspired by the industrial part of the building, paraphrasing the image of huge chimneys, which could also function as a symbol of the Savsko naselje area. In terms of content, the building is divided into three categories: the heart of the building, the sorting room in the basement and the system of thematic programmes, linked with the service cores on the ground floor.


Joint workshops and other programmes taking place on the ground floor and the upper floors enable visitors a chance to recycle paper on their own and reuse it in various ways. By combining the work of the recycling factory and the workshop programmes, the project stimulates intergenerational cooperation. Special emphasis is put on the integration of the youth, who builds and promotes the ideas of the project in the area, as well as the elderly, who are given the opportunity to work and pass their knowledge on to the next generations. Another important component of the project is the waste sorting room. The income earned by selling fractions of separately collected waste is invested into paper recycling. The paper is then used by locals who manufacture notebooks for children.


The concept of the recycling factory is searching for innovative solutions to the everyday problems of waste and unemployment. At the same time it also links an industrial programme with the playground, workshops and facilities for startup companies. The recycling factory is a social enterprise, which employs locals, who produce notebooks for schools and kindergartens in the Savsko naselje area and wider surroundings.

Gregor Ferenčak 
Praznine 06_20. 11. 2015

 Art Without Sublation of Art.

The text was first  published within conference Art as Commitment, that took place in december 2013 in Ljubljana. The conference was organized by Igor Zabel Association for culture and theory and Moderna galerija + Museum of contemporary art Metelkova.  The text was translated for Praznine by Nejc Lebar.


I Contemporary art and the moment of actuality.


Hegel in his Aesthetics declared the demise of art due to its intellectualization, theorizing, abstraction, and detachment from matter and from the dimension of the sensuous. This was because in art truth could only be claimed via sensuous means. The utmost goal for Hegel was the absolute spirit; hence, he did not see the demise of art as something fatal. Therefore, he shrewdly predicted the sublation of art’s sensuous merits in favor of abstracted scientific or philosophical notions, since notions became better transmitters of truth. Aesthetics could easily be sublated in favor of truth articulated in philosophy. Although Romanticism’s tendency towards abstraction terminated with a lengthy period of realist art in the mid 19th century, art entered the 20th century with an explicit determination to abstract and theorize. In fact, modern art had been ‘art after (or instead of) philosophy’ much earlier than Josef Kosuth proclaimed it to be.
Meanwhile Marx, unlike Hegel, did not think that science or theory could touch upon reality better than art’s sensuous means. According to Marx’s rendering of his aesthetic aspirations in his ‘Holy Family’, it was not only logical thinking that was the goal of history, as Hegel would insist, but also the sensuous and material forming of nature and the development of the productive forces of humankind. In relation to this goal, all else – conceptual thinking, logic, and art – were simply the means, not goals in themselves. A human being in this case is affirming oneself not only via thinking, but also via all the senses and capacities.


Nevertheless, we all know what happens in modernism: on the one hand, there is the recurrence of conceptual, theoretical, and speculative values of art; and on the other, the development of affective, physiological, unconscious, and irrational practices which, although they belong to the sensations, still develop ‘under the gaze of theory’– as Groys states in one of his recent texts.[1] This means that both cognitive and sensuous aspects of art are viable for contemporaneity, but they happen to be separated. Moreover, when radical empirical phenomena are presented in artistic practice – be it the body, subversion, or forms of life – they represent certain conceptual or theoretical standpoints, at least implicitly. In the aforementioned text, Groys accounts for this: contemporary art detaches itself from the rationalism of the Enlightenment, but remains a theoretical and cognitive practice as opposed to art’s sensuous parameters as they used to be.


Interestingly, in socialist philosophy and aesthetic theory of the 1960s and 1970s (in the works by E. Ilyenkov, J. Davidov, M. Lifshitz), the sublation of art by philosophy and theory as described by Hegel was explained by the emergence of capital and the spreading of bourgeois interests and economy. The notion, the concept, the speculative parameters were obliged to abstain from the world because the capitalist economy and capitalist production did not provide an adequate material correlation with the concept. And hence it is only natural that, since the 1840s, it was the revolutionary discourse that brought back the capacity to reclaim realism and the dimension of the sensuous in art. When using the word ‘sensuous’, it is important to keep in mind that this is not feeling, emotion, performance of something transgressive, an affect, or something sensual rather than intellectual. For Hegel, the sensuous means embodying the idea or the concept – i.e., the convergence of the conceptual parameters with the material ones, the meeting of notion or idea with the matter or thing.


There are innumerable examples of living experiences in performance and actionism to claim back contemporary art’s sensual merits. But to reiterate, the life experiences in contemporary art are represented in the frame of the theoretical mind, which in turn is less and less concomitant with the way modernism or conceptualism reified the concept. Art ‘ends’ because its essential message is constructed and produced by intellect, by the theoretical mind, but in case of contemporary art this is not even idea, mind, – rather intellect, speculation or theory.


However the viability of many modernist, avant-garde and conceptual art-practices didn’t just reduce its practice to theoretical mind, but it also deplored such condition and subverted the   inevitable totality of theory into a negative gesture, into the moment of actualization, – a critical moment of kairos. [2]


It is in this moment that the intensity of a modernist and contemporary art-piece resided. The moment is negative because it has to do with the collapse of perception and of hermeneutically biased capacity to understand. But by means of certain, almost impossible, cognitive leap the understanding and misunderstanding coincide in such “happy” moment in favor of some supra-cognitive paradoxical moment.


Actually the reason why contemporary art excelled over all other artistic genres and appropriated the right to be called art (we do not call film, theatre, music, poetry art any more) is that it compressed realization of artistic contents, of an art-work and its impact into this cognitive, critical moment, – sometimes reified, sometimes not. Modernist, as well as contemporary art-work is instantaneous, momentary, no matter how long it lasts. It is not based on perception, but on a heuristic grasping of that very conceptual instant – be it articulated via material form, conceptual statement, affective experience, transgressive act, or speculative ruminations. But while conceptual paradigm in art emphasizes the impact of the cognitive, semantic and intellectual components and tears away from sensuous contact with the reality, the conceptual procedure in it is still not an idea, since its episteme is not philosophy, but post-philosophy, – the art after philosophy.


In her book “Originality of Modernism and other Myths” Rosalind Krauss [3] made an attempt to discover a specific semiotic paradigm that defines conceptual thinking and its paradoxical dimension. She refers to the signification system of Charles Sanders Peirce in which Index is the second category in the triad of Icon-Index-Symbol. Index represents not a mimetic, but a dynamic correlation of two elements, of two signs or of a sign and the object, – as with a footprint, or a pointing finger, or a trace of bullet in the window.


Index is not in need to symbolize or resemble. No matter what the conceptual work concentrates on – pure text, documentations, interventions, ready-mades – the prevalence of index semiology makes conceptual work a machine, that always preserves the gap between the two correlated elements. What is important in the indexality of a conceptual work is this disjunctive gap, despite the act of correlation. The two correlated elements point at each other but remain disjunctive. That is, the third element, symbol, idea – that otherwise would symbolize or lubricate these two is absent. This is to be said just to emphasize that the conceptual paradigm and its indexality is not an idea – since idea is something that needs to unfold dramatically, dialectically, antagonistically, i.e. needs sensuous embodiment. This means that in conceptualism idea is turned into speculative proposition, paradoxical in its tautological literalness, rather closer to language philosophy, than to the idea in dialectics. Such semantic disjunctive gap causing the failure of interpretation is that very specific moment, interval, hiatus, kairos, that matters for modern and contemporary art – the moment of actualization when understanding is impossible and the consciousness makes an impossible cognitive leap to grasp the otherwise cognitively ungraspable gap. This leads to the collapse of temporality, that used to be indispensible for sensuous involvement in favor of that very negative instant.


The conceptual intensity of modern and contemporary, as well conceptualist art proper, resides in speculation around this gap. But when art dispenses itself of this negative moment, then nothing remains but theoretical genealogy, positivist sociology, cognitive routine, that is neither sensuous, nor philosophic, nor conceptual, but involuntarily becomes part and parcel of contemporary cognitive capital.


II Commitment or Autonomy?


The reason why the issue is no more about the choice between the two options – abolition of art via political and social commitment or art’s autonomy – is that, in fact, both of these approaches epistemologically reside in theory: the first approach is reduced to theoretical routine – because of ignoring the instant of cognitive explosion in art-piece, brought about by modernism; and the second – because of speculative reenacting avant-garde’s constructivist heritage in completely anti avant-garde political setting. So, both – engagement and autonomy – often happen to be the two sides of the same coin.


According to the accepted stereotypes autonomy is formal, and the engaged art-practices are socially effective. One is a modernist edifice, another is the paradigm of avant-garde.


On the other hand, the autonomous art–objects had always been claimed by its adherents as symptoms of the economic and social context. The more aesthetically opaque and complex they were the more they could in this oblique way diagnose the historical and social context of the capitalist contemporaneity. And this was the argument of Adorno as well as of Lyotard.  But such bond with the reality had to be nihilist and negative, and could be sustainable only in its radical indigestibility as opposed to capitalism’s libidinal economy. Again, such indigestibility is constructed not by aesthetisizing formal merits, but via inserting that very moment of kairos into the piece. And here Adorno often contradicts himself. On the one hand he tries to preserve the mimetic merits for an autonomous art-piece: it should be an antithesis to capital, but nevertheless remain in the bourgeois interior dialectically, sublating this interior via the intensity of the specific formal particularity of an art-piece. On the other hand when he refers to the examples in new music his negative dialectics becomes not only negative, but nihilist and anti-mimetic. I.e., the truly modernist negative move can only be self-destructive, can only bring to the hush-up, to zero, to end, to the end of the artistic; because the capital can only allow the impossibility of the artistic, its collapse, and the negative mimesis of that might also in the end become an attraction, unless the negation is complete.


Do quasi–autonomous works of today fit into such negativity? – No. They are circulated, digested, often commodified. Even though they might be complex in form. The art of extreme conceptual severeness or of radical formal paradoxality is hard to produce now, no matter how strongly we want to retrieve art’s autonomy. Practices of circulation evict the possibility of an incommensurable semantic paradox in art.


On the other hand, the Schillerian aesthetics applied to contemporary art – as Rancière attempted to do this – is only abusing the mode of Kantian aesthetics in relation to non-aesthetic contemporary art practices.[4] The aim in this case is to endow the works with anti-aesthetic genealogy, with the pleroma of a pre-modernist work of art. Only what goes unheeded in this case is that the sensuousness of pre-modernist art does not at all presuppose its being the edifice for aesthetics.


As for the committed quasi avant-garde art-practices, their engagement could also often be claimed formal since the social and political phenomena are sometimes rendered in them in a detached and sensuously uninvolved way, only this estrangement is not even realized by its producers. Such social work – let’s take projects by A. Žmievsky, S. Sierra, K. Šeda – does not accomplish dissolution in collective consciousness, or in the life of those to be monitored. Moreover, often politically engaged works retain their power due to their negative modernist ‘trick’ in them – that very instant of kairos, which often the artists do not acknowledge or realize in their positivist optimism of  “improving the society”.


Thus the autonomous art is digestible, democratized, whereas the committed art often reproduces the political agenda tautologically or formally: it neither alienates social and economic alienation as Lyotard demanded (because it doesn’t want to be in the adornian modernist paradigm any more); but it is not able to de-alienate either, because that presupposes the act of metanoya – involving one’s life and fate into the Real.


III. Genealogy of Anti-modernism.


Let’s now refer to the former socialist interpretation of certain issues of Hegel’s aesthetics, accounting for why sensuousness is indispensible for art. I refer to the theory of realism of Michail Lifshitz.


In his work “Aesthetics of Hegel and Contemporaneity,” Michail Lifshitz, the Soviet theoretician of realism, defines art as the sensuous consciousness of truth. However the truthfulness of art derives not from “the correctness of the artist’s consciousness, but from a lively sense of reality.”[5]


Implying Hegel’s aesthetics Lifshitz uses the term “Human Resignation” borrowed by him from Russian literary critic V. Belinsky. This term is a paraphrase or synonym to sensuousness.


A realist act, as Lifshitz understands it, would be not so much to make a declaration against the oppression, nor to just naturalistically document or depict the denigrated, but rather to enter into that miserable life sensuously, so as to bring this up to the level of the general forces of humankind. But to repeat again, sensuous involvement would not mean the nominal presence in the problem zones. It is not so much about any empirical sharing of certain experiences or rendering them, but rather about the evental encounter with the phenomena or with the happened that changes the producer in some sort of metanoiac transformation imprinted afterwards in the art-piece.


Realist art never refers to itself.  It happens to be artistic only in order to become no more and no less than the means to touch upon life. It doesn’t need to reflect on itself. Actually the term classical that often stood in socialist aesthetics for the realist doesn’t so much presuppose the order, but rather that very “human resignation” which can only unfold as Hegelian sensuous engagement with reality. The big paradox here is that the modernist art that is addicted to its own self-abolition is permanently preoccupied by itself, whereas realist art that actually makes use of explicitly artistic (non-naturalistic, non-documentary, gnomic) means is never overtly showing that it is artistic, because its preoccupation is the genetic bond with reality. Realist art, by contrast, articulates and reveals the event extrinsic to itself, and only thereafter becomes a work of art, while modernism as a whole and often even the avant-garde are constructed in terms of them themselves being their own event— event residing in their own languages, methodologies or activist procedures.


By the term “Human Resignation” Lifshitz criticizes “the pride and arrogance of the bourgeois-democratic finite consciousness”[6] that rises up against certain phenomena with the aim of resolving the contradiction, but without observing and experiencing the true complexity of the circumstances.


Resisting alienation with its criticism, or with its more extreme form alienation became a focal point of a contemporary art’s praxis of resistance. However such an approach blocked out any effort to conceive the situations, existences, that might have escaped the logic of alienation —those that might have been de-alienated. Constructing de-alienation in the conditions of social and economic alienation was often regarded in contemporary art as kitschy, poppy, un-critical, – as an affirmativeness of ideology. However, even when de-alienation is not possible socially and economically it can nevertheless evolve sensuously, i.e. artistically. Actually, sensuous relation to reality already generates the potentiality of de-alienation. Therefore the argument of the antimodernist theory developed in the frame of socialist ethics was that regardless of capitalist economy the possibility of de-alienation retains relevance for art, although it might require incredible ethical efforts. However positing de-alienated interests means not just utopian reproduction of the imaginary states of de-alienated situations. Not only should the artist produce the conditions of the experience of life in a de-alienated state, but s/he has also to sensuously live them and thus enforce the intersection of the experience with the idea. [7]


Generally speaking, sensuousness in art is about the existence of other human beings, whereas the negative moment of kairos touched upon above is about reified concepts.


Alienation was the complement of capitalism long before the emergence of modernist art, and the question that socialist aesthetics puts is why the realist artist was making an effort to search for art’s de-alienating potentialities despite the harsh alienating conditions, whereas the modernist artist rejects such potentiality altogether. Maybe, because paradoxically, the modernist or contemporary artist not only despises the alienated world in rhetoric, but also unconsciously finds libidinal attraction in it, – a key double bind in Western art since Baudelaire. That is the reason why post-Stalinist socialist artistic practices in cinema, literature, and drama were shifted onto realist experiences. In such paradigm the style, form, and methodologies were not particularly innovative or original. What was specific to this art was the depiction of concrete situations of de-alienation in the society, in human relationships, and the sensuous involvement into them. Quite the contrary was the case in modernism, where the contents collapses, while the subjective methodologies and languages become the constantly innovated matter.


It might seem that the avant-garde’s focus on the renovation of the means of production was completely irrelevant in post-Stalinist Soviet art. But in fact, the reverse is true: it was ethical behavior, that became a much more crucial means of production than innovated technical means or aesthetic devices. This stance paradoxically refers to both – the avant-garde’s as well as early Marx’s – aspiration to initiate change not only in the technology and infrastructures that society produces outwardly and externally, but also by implying such change in the human being and human society inwardly, i.e. via sensuous parameters, – the transformation of consciousness.


Interestingly in the Russian avant-garde’s sublation of art – along with the initial tendencies to merge life and artistic production – there was an important discovery that the artistic subject is collective, this collective subject is proletariat and that one needs to undergo the sensuous transformation into that collectivity: i.e. such transformation has to take place eventally.


IV. Human Resignation as Ethical Edifice


The term “human resignation” in the writings by M. Lifshitz had to emphasize the ethical dimension of Hegel’s notion of sensuousness. But at the same time it was aimed to dispute the approach to emancipation exercised by avant-garde’s constructivist wing and to blame it in the exaggeration of the role of biopolitics and social engineering: in the constructivist practices the issues of organization, systemic arrangement, or biopolitical management prevailed over the very procedures of life or reality. Even though the avant-garde made its own attempt to merge art with life when disputing modernism’s nihilism and hermeticism, it instead often rather superseded life with itself, turning life into creative production, but without first taking the time to see what life itself might have actually consisted of.


The logic of constructivism was the following: if life consists of exploitation, injustice, and humiliation, isn’t it preferable to eradicate these phenomena immediately, to recode and to reorganize them, rather than reflect, live through, or observe and study.


As a result, reality was often taken for an artificial project of constructing that very reality. In this situation there can be no such thing as objective reality. In its project of construction and modernization, constructivism and productivism superseded the temporality of a given reality with a technical reorganization of the social surrounding as if it were a matter; so that reality itself became no more than infrastructure or an art-practice. Here we confront a strange paradox, much discussed in the prose of Andrey Platonov, which belonged to the avant-garde’s prolet-cult wing and in 1920-s shifted to the new early anti-Stalinist Soviet realism.


What Platonov depicts in his novels is precisely the outcome of this kind of reconstruction and engineering. People who engineer and construct consist of flesh, of soul, of a yearning for love, of exhaustion, of loneliness and anguish, of a fear of the mechanized labor, and of the senselessness of existence. As a result of this interweaving of the organic and the inorganic it transpires that the real is not a construction at all but a painful convergence of a big future project and frail bodies, exhausted by labor. And all of this is not seen as just a demiurgic project undertaken by artists, engineers and inventors, but an inseparable point of contact between those objective processes of life that tragically surpass the technical plan, and the technology of its implementation. Platonov was exactly the figure that used to be that part of the avant-garde project, which took the program of art’s dissolution in life not so much as a new biopolitical assignment, but rather as an ethical act of becoming the proletarian by middle class intelligentsia. Becoming was necessary as long as there remained any workers, any proletarians at all and as long as any division of labor sustained. So apart from biopolitical motivation there was the ethical motivation for Russian avant-garde’s entanglement in life. The question that Platonov puts is whether such dissolution is a new project of organization, or an act having the afore-mentioned sensuous and metanoiac impact.


And this sensuous rather than constructivist attitude is precisely what is meant by Lifshitz as the merit of realist art, paraphrased as human resignation. Such attitude presupposes self-refusal, self-resignation, an act of modest withdrawal, even humbleness.


What Lifshitz means here is that truth in art can never be consciously planned or implied, but nor is it a product of the uncontrolled unconscious. In art intention recedes in the face of realization, which is much more dependent on objective reality, than the personal imaginary. The artistic image (hudozhestvenni obraz) deals with reality, and often does so often across the head of the producer, even contrary to the producer’s intentions.[8]  The truth is not in the head, it is in the world.


Anyone adhering to leftist standpoints would counter this: how can art, and artistic gesture imply humbleness and quietism? However, the realist artist does not deal with resistance by imitating or mimicking the languages and intonations of protest. To engage in resisting procedures it does not suffice to imitate images, forms or actions affiliated with the way resistant spirit is imagined, but rather to carry the cruel data of life through mind and senses.


For this reason, Lifshitz even defines revolution not in terms of a romanticized breakthrough of sovereignty, and not as the act of a protesting subjectivity rising up against history, but as an act revealing the rules of objective historical development. He writes: “Revolution is a lightning, interrupting the quantitative potential line with the appearance of actual infinity. It confronts the consciousness with what exceeds its limits and gives a human being an understanding of one’s deeds.”[9]


Human resignation brings a strange understanding that when individual personality recedes, then reality is revealed, and that reality cannot be reconstructed or changed unless there is an effort to understand and sense it.


This is exactly what is meant by human resignation. Resignation in this case does not imply abstaining from battle, but instead the rejection of an arrogant attitude to the contradictions inherent in the real, – not supplanting them with personal desires, biography, senses, methods, traumas, psychologies, etc.


The capacity to step aside from one’s subjectivity inherent in human resignation amounts to an indispensable ethical act, that enables to show how others are, and to mark out not only what is to be done but also what has happened – what was the event extrinsic to the work of art. This has nothing to do with the absence of the author in post-modernist literature. The matter at hand is a different kind of resignation, which gives priority to the expression of the event at the expense of recession of the self, and which does not proclaim the supremacy of a particular artistic method as the pivot of historical development. Instead, in realist art (or classical art, as Lifshitz would put it), this modesty is the starting point. For example, a contemporary artist, despite critical convictions, very explicitly exposes a personal strategy with pre-packaged and resolved concepts, with utter self-confidence, and with an awareness that the work encompasses a whole range of problems of contemporaneity. In the framework of this strategy it is forbidden to doubt one’s own activity, even when the artist claims complete negation of art as a strategy, or claims one’s own frustration and failure.


The realist artist, by contrast, considers his or her own artistic activity by ousting and disregarding it, and remaining quite aware of the futility of artistic means to address reality. The art is futile, it is not able to emancipate and it is exactly the desperation of realizing its futility that can bring to the hope for emancipation. That is because event and reality always exceed any work of art. But, nonetheless, the work of art is inevitable, because only art is the means to refer to the event.


Now, if we return back to contemporary situation, the question would be whether art should go on with the paradigm of theoretical mind, putting forward intelligences and cognitive and technological know-hows, which by now lost their instant of kairos? At the same time in the absence of general program of social and economic de-privatization what today stands for the continuation of emancipatory avant-garde aesthetics in contemporary art is part and parcel of cognitive capitalism’s modes of production. But the problem is also that the speeds of circulation and exchange of contemporary capitalist economy are in fact more subversive, creative and paradoxical than art’s interventions into it. So, when following the cognitive path art can not but be subordinate to cognitive capitalism’s accelerative stream. Art that is based either on intervening into social infrastructures or generating machines of intelligences lags behind in comparison with contemporary economy, because capitalist economy has appropriated so many components of speculative maneuvers: it is more machinic, more externalized, more speedy in terms of circulation, more creative in terms of both generating infrastructures and then subverting them. It excels over artistic practices exactly in those fields that art appropriated as its own at the expense of getting rid of sensuousness and metanoia, but as well ignoring its negative modernist genealogy too. So that the difference between art and capital is in ethics, but it is exactly the ethics that art dispensed itself of, in favor of either competing with the technocratic efficiencies of progress or in favor of profaning capitalism’s alienation with even harsher estrangement.


If pre-modernist components are not possible to be revisited at all, if on the other hand the radical moment of kairos is removed from contemporary art practices too, then art dissolves in various modes of creative activities and capital in its own turn becomes more and more artistic. Therefore today the watershed would be not so much between art’s political commitment and autonomy, but rather between the episteme of contemporary art (which in its striving for biopolitical efficiency fell into the trap of unconsciously reproducing capitalism’s interfaces and its infrastructures) and the evental and sensuous rendering of the happened that contemporary art had voluntarily discarded.



However, if we remember that the episteme of contemporary art had emerged from art’s paradoxical survival in the conditions of its complete withering and impossibility, it is more likely that along with the false democratic and populist spread of contemporary art practices there appear the new radicalizations of art’s overtly negative genealogy. Only they will either have to evolve on the margins of global democratized art, or disguise their negativity or subversive intensity by goodwill rhetoric.

As for  the episteme of sensuousness it will further remain detached from cognitive and technocratic fashions and develop somewhere in the shadows of contemporary practices since all artistic edifices – from theatre/dance to film will try to abide as much as possible to the episteme of the withered but  none the less sustainable contemporary art institute.


[1] Boris Groys, ‘Under the Gaze of Theory’, in e-flux 35:


[2] See Valery Podoroga. Kairos. Critical Moment. Moscow, Grundrisse, 2013. “The Importance of  kairos is in the fact that it actualizes time, casting it away from  the habitual paths. But even more important is its instantaneity, which defines the moment of actualization, always explosive and sudden, opening the rupture, the breach in the world. This happens even when kairos breaks forth to us via complex form or via artificial obstacles. Kairos is interesting by its dubiousness: as the occasion, and as the act-instant, as the principle of actualization of an artistic gesture.”. P. 12.


[3] Rosalind E. Krauss. The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths. Cambridge, MA:MIT Press, 1985. Ch.2. Towards Post-modernism. Notes on Index.

[4] Jacques Rancière. Aesthetics and its Discontents. Polity Press, 2009. Chapter “Antinomies of Modernism”. Pp.61-107.

[5] M. Lifshitz “Aesthetics of Hegel and Contemporaneity”. In: Michail Lifshitz.  On Hegel. Moscow: Grundrisse, 2012.  185-249.

[6] M. Lifshitz. On Pushkin, Letter to Friedlender, 1938.

[7] Actually the convergence of the idea and the sensitivity was exactly the merit of the pre-modernist art to which we now ascribe the quality of the classical.


[8] E.g,. Andrey Rublev was making icons and depicting sanctity of holy characters, but de facto he revealed something that Lifshitz calls “disinterested benevolence” in human character and human beings, – thus transmitting the sensitive experience of real existence instead of establishing the canon of the sacred. M. Lifshitz. “On the Arguments on Realism”. In: Michail Lifshitz.  Ancient and Contemporary Mythology. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1980. 498-545.


[9] Ibid. 134.


Keti Chukhrov