1. An atelier
In the east of Italy, from where I come, landscapes are plain and drowned in mist.
There is a kind of loneliness in the way buildings stand in space, as for the trees.
In the valley of Po river roads can flow straight for thirty or forty miles crossing plain chessboards of valleys and canals; everything is rarefied and so smooth that the eye can feel a sort of nostalgia for a little point raised up to look around. Nevertheless this vagueness offers the conditions to sharpen the perception of almost all the intangible elements that make this space, apparently undefined.
In “Lezioni americane” Italo Calvino wrote, reflecting on Leopardi’s work, “The poet of the vague can only be the poet of precision”.
Genova, where I now live and work, is the opposite. The Alps overlook the sea and their proximity to the water forced men to build their houses one close to the other making them rise in height, layering stairs on top of patios, houses on top of gardens. From the balcony of our atelier we overlook this dense gemmation of buildings and the sea, a landscape of beauty and hardness, order and chaos, modesty and grandeur.
You reach the atelier walking on a steep brick alley, surrounded by small gardens; you cannot arrive by car.
This physical distance and this lack of comfort in accessibility demand for an effort, but at the same time they offer protection from the quickness and crowding of the city.
In De vita solitaria the XIVth century Italian poet Francesco Petrarca gave a definition of studiolo, a cabinet, as a mental place, a space produced through memory, from which cultivating a solitude able to be engaged with the present. Solitude for Petrarca is the opposite of escaping the world; it represents the condition to reinvent the world through an individual reflection on one’s present time. Loneliness, far from being misanthropic, consists then of a place, a time, a state of mind.
In the beautiful painting San Girolamo nello studio Antonello da Messina portrays this intimate place as a wooden miniature, placed inside a scene of rooms defined by rows of stone columns and passages open on the wideness of landscape: here concentration and openness cohabit in a serene atmosphere.
This defiladed position represents for us a scene for possibilities, a place to travel with the mind and discover.
2. Imaginary from the real
We are interested in the world around us as we see in the reality, with the good and the bad, a field of possibilities to be here present, holding both the past times and the ones to come.
Engaging oneself with its present time is not a matter of stating an individual originality, but moreover a matter of understanding and recognizing the value laying in the everyday.
In 1955 the French photographer Henri Cartier Bresson wrote:
“To give significance to the world calls us to be involved in choosing what we leave out of the frame. It is an act that demands for concentration, spiritual discipline, sensitivity, an understanding of geometry. Photographing means keeping in greatest respect both ourselves and the world around.”
Paraphrasing Bresson’s words we could say that the measure of engagement with a present life lays in the endeavour of listening and questioning ourselves and the phenomena around, abandoning the vague comfort of presuming the refrain of certain patterns through time as a sort of receipt which can just be repeated.
This practice of questioning the reality around descends straight from the scientific method of investigation introduced by Galileo Galilei and Francis Bacon as “experimental method”. The experimental method is mainly based on the observation of physical phenomena, on the use of mathematics as a rational tool to interpret and rule relationships among natural phenomena and on the repetition of reproducible experiments.
Is it so different to think about space?
This sequence of observing, formulating hypothesis and testing through experience is for us a working method and a normal way of inquiring into life.
In this era of increasing specialisation, where efficiency has turned to be an inescapable issue, we endeavour our search through a craft approach that forces us to confront with real things, with time, with a multidisciplinary knowledge. This practice is neither nostalgic, neither contemporary. We think this is not an issue, as we cannot elude being part of our present time where the reality we live is formed and informed by economical, technical and cultural dynamics. We see a craft practice simply as translation of an “experimental method” into our profession: each time we are asked to face a question we try to find the right tool to investigate it and to express it. Sometimes we make pencil drawings, sometimes we employ CAD technologies in forming material, sometimes we take analogic shots. It depends on what we need to understand and to express, as in Bresson’s words, giving importance to the choice of what we leave.
Observing starts from putting attention into something and in formulating a pattern of questions, which gradually try to understand precisely the variables involved and their combination.
When we hear a sound along the street, the perception we have of the phenomena depends on a complex combination of factors: the proportions of the street, the materials of the floor and the buildings along, the air humidity, the blow of wind which can be present or not, the background sound…also our mood and memories.
Perception involves all senses, not one by one, not all together, but through unpredictable interlacements.
It is already difficult to understand the role played by the different actors of an experience, but it is even more complex to cultivate a precise thinking on the combination among them and with our memories.
As both a scientist and a philosopher, Gaston Bachelard developed a profound interest into the way we perceive the world around us and how that perception shapes our understanding of the universe.
He investigated through a “scientific imagination” the use of rational analyses of human perceptions in order to make the unconscious conscious, making the realm of the mind and of the body come together: the real - our present experiences and the memory of the past ones - and the unreal - our ideas and visions which are not present yet but that prelude possibilities - live jointly.
Space can be defined as a physical entity normed by measure, width depth and height, or can be formulated as a reference frame where subject and things map the distances. Space can also be defined as scene of our experiences through perception, where physical factors proportions and human behaviours collaborate.
Everyday we accumulate experiences of places that evoke various emotions and actions; this layering builds up a body of knowledge, which often remains unconscious, unquestioned.
We believe that the endeavour of deciphering this complex amalgam of perceptions is worthwhile, following a trust in the thought that you can work with complexity in an authentic way only once you have traced it back to simple things.
Observing therefore is a practice of precision, which allows us to own and use the richness of what we live.
Tracing hypothesis of understanding the collection of phenomenological observations brings to work with memory, a collective memory that has correspondences with individual memories.
Marcel Proust was relating tightly memory with oblivion, as weft and warp of a life. Indeed we live unconsciously a process of holding and leaving what we experience and there is not any voluntary act. But what defines the things to stay or to leave?
We believe that it is not possible to develop a univocal a priori analysis of reality, but that in this realm of complexity a melanged deductive-inductive thinking is needed.
The world around us does not live merely of material things. There exists an intangible reality of involuntary memory that has a dual nature. Individual memories can be awakened by physical experiences and somehow, recalling fragments of a shared past, produce one body that we can call collective memory. It surprises that individual experiences, and memories to them related, can persist and that, from their resistance through time, emerges a shared imaginary, which overpasses the borders of national identities and cultures.
Thinking of space it is not possible to prescind from questioning these permanencies and from establishing relations among what we experience, the tangible and the intangible.
Understanding, which is the sense of formulating hypothesis, involves a level of empathy with the world around and the hazard of intuition. The step given by a vision lays in the reinvention of what we already know into something that we still don’t know, but that we can recognize.
Everything in this world has its own history, as it is a fact that there exists a sound-ground of sharing, which allow us to orient and that is hard to define.
What makes a house a house, a window a window, a chair a chair?
Perception and vision coexist in the act of experiencing. Somehow experience is the synthesis of the observation of phenomena, through senses and memories, and of the hypothesis that respond to those perceptions, interweaving memories of the lived and intuitions of future livings.
Experience is a non-linear process that works with the known and the unknown.
"What is space?" Within its seemingly simple question the philosopher Gernot Böhme employs a practical reasoning, which starts from below, from observations according to a phenomenological legacy, where aesthetics, or better aisthesis, takes charge of offering a space definition for the quality perceived by the subject. In his studies space is plural and relative as it is the scene of perception, where subject and space participate and collaborate to an atmosphere. Hence the choice of point of view for the perception of space is not visual but it is synesthetic and it has as fundamental the qualitative feature related to "how" we feel in that place.
In 2003 Böhme writes: “The space of perceptions is the space in which I perceive something, but also the expansion of my involvement with things “. Somehow he seems to offer a definition of space that brings up the responsibility of the being human as an actor and co-author of social behaviour and moods. Space is not an institution here, is not even an entity, solely defined by the perceptions of measures and proportions from the subject. Space sounds as being part of, as being there.
Experience is the field where we collect the material and immaterial contributions that form our work; it is the starting point.
Experience is also the purpose: to offer people space to experience.