Taking possession of space is the first gesture of living things, of men and of animals, of plants and of clouds, a fundamental manifestation of equilibrium and of duration. The occupation of space is the first proof of existence.
So opens Le Corbusier’s defining essay NEW WORLD OF SPACE. It articulates a particular, at times synesthetic, poetics of spatial domination that fused a Romantic idea of the sublime with the fetishization of proportional harmony. The Parthenon was taken as the ultimate example of this ideal, Corbusier describing it and its relation to the landscape in mythic terms, seeing it as a source of terrifying drama and perfection.
The work in this exhibition is based on the villas Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret designed in their early years, homes that helped set the standard of modern upper-middle class living. However grand a conception of architecture the Parthenon provided, much of their work was the design of single family dwellings. The design of the ideal modern home was an important aspiration for this generation of architects, as a blueprint for society-at-large but also because many of their patrons were, of course, wealthy, culturally progressive industrialists who wanted such homes.
Pouring over photos of these houses taken at the time of the buildings’ completion I was struck by their tranquility and by their clarity of perspectival space, the harmonious proportions, the gridded floors, the central vanishing points, by the control of light and darkness. To me they embody a particular apex in the development of Western perspectival space, the culmination of a philosophy of spatial organization and dominance that stretches back centuries but which also heavily informed the digital imaging of space. I was also struck by the tension between their historicity and their more quotidian aspects, their absolutely bourgeois taste. Both the perspectival mythology and the conflation between historical time and domestic time are the basis for this exhibition.
The Living Room has been a collaborative project. The sound elements of the installation are based on recordings of excerpts of several texts that were instrumental to the development of this body of work: Corbusier’s New World of Space, Erwin Panofsky’s Perspective as Symbolic Form and Anthony Vidler’s Warped Space. They were developed, performed and recorded by the artist Ziyang Wu, whose practice is concerned with instances of translation and alienation related to globalization.