Defining space has been a subject of debate not only among designers and astronauts but also in the more literary circles of society. A simple geometric obstruction does not simply do away with the need to explain the term in a somewhat standardized meaning, where the user and the viewer can both agree on the end.
Why is “space” such a complicated concept? Do people create mountains of tiny mole-houses, architecturally speaking? Humankind enjoys looking for meaning; perhaps it is a habit passed down from more pantheistic ancestors – everything around humankind contributes to the magic of living.
The Point of Space
A sense of space in art is a more renowned discussion than the talk about a sense of space in poetry. Most people familiar with even the basics of art will know about Brunelleschi’s re-introduction of the linear perspective into mainframe history. Before the Renaissance age, there was a lack of depth in painting, where the flatness of the canvas translated into a unidimensional piece of art, creating an uneasiness through the unreal proportions of the objects represented. Giving all the credit to Renaissance painters is an oversimplification of spatial-art history. While not all styles of art can be explored in detail in a short essay, here the article directs to what is a possible origin of creating sensory depictions of places.
The Romans have given the world many things to be grateful for – baths, buildings, birthdays. Their sense of architecture involved the use of landscaping, visual perspective, and material to create designs that stand to this day. A very interesting idea that they made ample use of was painting sceneries on the walls of their houses. These scenes were not mere paintings. They were meant to introduce mythical and/or realistic images into their households to make up for the lack of windows! Roman painting styles can be most commonly divided into three styles, with each style known for its slight deviation from the others.
To create these windowless awnings, the Romans learned to use one-point perspective, giving depth to these images so a viewer might imagine they are actually looking outside – sort of like an ancient VR. To this ancient VR, one could add the art of creating prayer mats. People using prayer mats look to the religious symbols on them to direct their prayers towards spaces they have imagined in their heads. It’s a very powerful emotion that controls what and to whom people turn to when their hearts are anxious and distressed, or if they are feeling particularly grateful for their lives.
Presence and Absence of Space
Depicting spaces like this also poses another question for the reader. Is the recognition of space a presence or an absence of bodies? When one paints a scenario onto a wall, is the painter creating the illusion of space, or are they simply doing away with the existing space on the other side of the wall? Is there such a thing as too much-occupied space?
This was a question that more contemporary painters looked into. Andy Warhol’s “Invisible Sculpture” was a satirical take on the concept of art, but one that fascinated millions. So is space defined simply by believing it to be so? Must a space be held accountable for being just that – a space?
Space – But Theatrical
When Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage”, readers concocted a theatrical image of the earth in mind. Despite knowing very intimately what the world is like, humans have a very loose grip on reality when a certain combination of words throws them off balance. Religious poetry, for instance, leads humans to create relationships between spaces and realities where none might actually exist – a work of art, to say the least. To relate one’s present circumstances to another’s mythical ones purely through the writings of a third – and all of that being experienced in the sanctity of a space that would otherwise mean absolutely nothing. Poetry creates meaning in space, and many spaces might never have been inhabited if that was not the case.
Architects should be very grateful to the poets, really. But maybe poets also require spaces to glorify, to make people feel more than they usually do.
While one could take more words – pun intended – to explain in more detail how metaphorical space is represented in words, it is time to take a leaf out of Dane Vagn Steen’s perforated book and commend the existence of concrete poetry. The wordplay in naming this sort of poetry is mind-boggling, especially since the movement against concrete architecture coincides with the emergence of this poetical concept.
silence silence silence
silence silence silence
silence silence silence
silence silence silence
“Silencio” by Eugene Gomringer is an example of what is called concrete poetry. Despite filling a hypothetical grid with the same word, the reader is pulled to the space in between, their gaze forcefully directed to that one spot that the poet invites the reader to fill in themselves. The use of words to create this mental space coerces the brain into stepping into this claustrophobic area, feeling what the poet wants readers to feel, and momentarily disorienting their usual train of continuous thought.
The literary critic and poet I. A. Richards explains it well when he says that the “special powers of poetic metaphor [can be] credited to the way the v. [vehicle] brings with it because it derives from an aspect of experience outside of or different from the literal experience in the poem, a host of implicit associations which, although circumscribed by the t. [tenor], are never quite shut out entirely”.
This “sense of space” is a tricky concept to capture in words. There is a different explanation for each individual out there, one which they grasp according to their intellect and situation. As architects, the most that can be done is the attempt to uncover what it is that humans relate to on various temporal, spiritual, and emotional levels; to tap into that formula that helps create a building that could potentially win the next Pritzker Prize.
The line concluding the previous paragraph has only been added in good humour. People deserve good architecture for a better standard of living – but is that ever the only drive to extraordinary design?
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Rosenstock, G., 2013. Silence! – A meditation of the 1950s poem ‘silencio’ by Eugen Gomringer | Poetry Ireland. [online] Poetryireland.ie. Available at: <https://www.poetryireland.ie/writers/articles/silence-a-meditation-of-the-1950s-poem-silencio-by-eugen-gomringer> [Accessed 26 September 2021].
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