Niels Grønbæk, 2015
Not so far from Rome, in the city of Tivoli you can visit Villa d’Este. You can and you cannot. The less known German art historian Werner Hager refers to this villa—if in quite an essentialist manner—as prime example of a particular feature of mannerist architecture: From a well-chosen position outside the complex integrating villa and the steep garden in front of it, a spectator, as it were, can grasp and understand the structure of it in one view, but will at the same time obviously be bodily excluded from the complex itself. Overview comes at the price of exclusion, so to speak. Here Hager hardly refers to the present day situation, rather to the original layout—e.g. as captured in a famous print from 1663 by Joannis Blaeu. The position of overview from the outside yet excluded is in stark contrast to the loss of overview once inside, that is, bodily included in this highly artificial landscape. Inclusion comes at the price of loss of overview. This part I can personally confirm: In this sense I have once visited Villa d’Este. Another, if far from similar, artwork which could add something to this idea, or maybe schema of the ‘overview of the excluded’ is Duchamp’s Étant donnés. On the one hand this ‘tableau’—more than ‘diorama’—is a most constructed ‘mise en scene’ of a situation—indeed an illusion of a situation. On the other hand the spectator’s reception of this work of art is far from that of being captivated by illusion, thus ‘in distraction’—to allude to ‘distraction’ suggested by Walter Benjamin as the mode of reception particular to film and architecture—indeed celebrated by Benjamin for presenting an alternative to the favored bourgeois mode of reception of art in individual conscious awareness. With Étant donnés Duchamp seems to shake the bourgeois ‘reception in awareness’ in quite another way: by affirming it ad absurdum—through the installation of it in a schema in some resonance with that of ‘the overview of the excluded’—and right in the heart of institutionalized art reception. With Étant donnés certainly a new muse entered the ‘museion’! Also this I can confirm from personal experience. After this particular work of art most other art I know of, directly targeting ‘mode of reception’, as in art oriented towards ‘sensing yourself sensing’, becomes mere afterimages—to use an irresistible metaphor. The examples of Villa d’Este, but also of Étant donnés, are in my opinion not dioramas. Yet I find that they in admittedly quite different ways open for speculations on dioramas or aspects there off.
In one sense the ‘overview of the excluded’ is celebrated in a most particular way in dioramas. On the other hand it seems that a well-crafted diorama, unlike Étant donnés, must overcome the exclusion—through illusion. This seems to be confirmed in being a prime concern for the diorama-architect James Perry Wilson. I will return to this later. For I must now slowly get closer to what’s opposite from the Leth Gori Gallery (LG-G) in Absalonsgade. For matters of convenience I first resorted to ‘street view’ before I went there myself to make observations of my own—unseen by the gallerists.
A web browse in late February 2015 for the LG-G in Absalonsgade 21B produced an image of the gallery in the top right corner on the very first page of search results. This image presents the main exhibition space of the gallery as very suited for a dioramically organized display, indeed one first and foremost to be experienced from the street. In fact the façade reminds me of some research I’ve earlier done—into a photo series by Doisneau of which the famous image Un Regard Oblique is but one. Doisneau took these photos from inside Romi’s antiques shop in Rue de Seine 15, capturing not least how male passers-by reacted to a small painting of a nude on prominent display in the shop window. On a far less known image from the same series the photographer took an image of the shop façade seen from the street—revealing a striking resemblance with the LG-G façade. This I could have personally confirmed if I had been aware of the location of Doisneau’s Romi-series when I back in 2010 on my way home from a research trip to Eastern France got ‘stuck’ in Paris staying in the Hôtel La Louisiane in exactly Rue de Seine due to the fortunate volcanic eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull. But I didn’t know and thus must turn to ‘street view’ once again—revealing that the facade has only been altered a little since 1948, the resemblance thus remaining quite intact. Although window exhibitions of shops might qualify for their own category—something Joseph Cornell had a keen eye for—also this example is interesting in how it differs from a diorama. In respect to the ‘overview of the excluded’ the simultaneous temptation and exclusion of the bystander effectuated by shop window exhibitions should ideally be optimized to stir a sufficient desire in the bystander to overcome the exclusion and thereby transform into a customer upon entry into the shop.
Returning to the web-image of the former shop space of the LG-G as seen from the street, one notice large framed b/w maps on the walls inside the gallery—more or less distorted because of the viewing angle. Further scrutiny of this indeed diorama-like image of the gallery space reveals that it refers to the very first exhibition in the LG-G back in 2011, titled ‘City: Shadows/Cars’ described on the LG homepage as exploring “…two aspects of the city that are rarely described in traditional cartography – the shadows and the cars”. The maps present square map sections from 6 different cities of which one sheet shows a central part of Copenhagen. The location of the LG-G in Absalonsgade does not itself fall within this map on its wall. It is evident that the diorama-like LG-G image is not made by a ‘street-view’ car – something I learned exactly because I was more interested in what’s on the other side of the street from the gallery. Here, opposite the LG-G, ‘street-view’ reveals a façade with some small stairs towards the street - strangely ‘caged’ – and a big wooden door with a window allowing a peek into a courtyard, but also what seems to be a mirrored image, less of the gallery opposite, rather of the street view car itself. Tracing the movement of the car from 21B back, as it were, to the big windows of Absalonsgade 17 one finds a clearer mirror image of it. Or one can also go back to the May 2014 street-view footage to see the car mirrored in the actual LG-G windows. Further back in time to older street-view footage from 2009 one finds odd imagery immediately outside the gallery—of a Francis Bacon like rendering of a grey car and a strangely distorted double-exposed image capture of a motorcycle with a yellow gasoline tank. However, just from these few available generations of street-view images it seems evident that such image oddities are slowly done away with as evidence of the crudeness of already Jurassic stages of technological advance. The anomalies seem very much the targets and indeed drivers of a technological development in pursuit of seamless perfection—of a logic quit similar to the one pursued with much talent and insistence by James Perry Wilson in his Natural History dioramas.
Where such laudable endeavors as photo-astronomy or, say, E.L. Marey’s legendary photo-gun—both using inventive new photo technology to see what could hitherto not be seen, Wilsons dioramas aims at perfect visual representations of wild life situations—where ‘street-view’ similarly seems to ‘merely’ aim for naturalistic drive-through and drive-by representations. But as Nat Chard points out it is less the illusionary perfection of the dioramas that captivates him, as it is the particularity of the constructs and techniques invented in pursuit of perfection. Nevertheless Nat’s Bog camera engage in the full ecology of Wilson’s dioramas—i.e. in the full artifice of the diorama construct as well as the illusion it produces—where image/illusion meets material construct. Nat furthermore manages to enter this ecology using its perfection as a horizon to go beyond—by catapulting shadows of paint into the wilderness beyond the horizon of rigor of the situated science of the artificial of Wilsons diorama-making. I wonder whether software developers with an urge towards illusionary perfection matching that of J.P. Wilson are engaged in the development of ‘street-view’ technology. My guess is that ‘it’s getting there’ through collective programmer effort and I wonder whether Teis Draiby sometime in the future could expect a similar generosity of sharing knowledge and research, were he to approach the street-view programmers at some point, as that which Nat met from the researcher Michael Anderson. If this would be the case I’m sure Teis would be just the right architect to enter into the realm of the full ecology of a refined street-view technique to find openings into the wilderness of the unknown also from within the artifice behind drive-by perfection. On the other hand it seems that there is already a lot to do for Teis in researching potentials of what he has already accomplished. To me it seems that the particular kind of digital image data mining Teis performs has even more to offer when immediately related to actual sensing than to ‘the image’—that is: to new ways of sensing more than to the creation of new kinds of visual objects of representation. It seems to be able to challenge the apparent focus on the present which still—to historicize instead of ontologize—seems to be inherent in the architecture of human visual perception. Could a ‘presencing the afterimage’ as integrated in visual perception effect new kinds of behavior in the present? Suddenly Teis’ image of Vesterbrogade traffic seems positively critical in suggesting a position of ‘street-view’ as witnessing rather than engaging in an everyday traffic situation that normally demands a particular focus and awareness of the present situation, since accidents and risk of severe injury most often is but a fraction of a second away while under way in city traffic. In what kinds of situations would ‘afterimage-integrated visual perception’ hold promise rather than risk? Serving as a first rough approximation maybe in all kinds of situations where ‘timing’ is not limited to conscious celebrations of the moment of the immediately present. At a more abstract level Teis’ project might point beyond the paradoxically artificial hyper-naturalism of J.P. Wilson’s dioramas, as well as beyond the ‘mere’ sense-enhancement of Marey’s photo-gun—towards direct architectural intervention into the cultural construct of sense perception—i.e. making such constructs into veritable objects of architectural intervention.
For some it might be due time to enter the quasi-diorama of the Nat/Teis exhibition—or become part of, that is, bodily included in it, even if any vulnerable trace of diorama illusion will decisively dissolve on entry—for the entering, that is. For those outside looking in, all those who enter might in fact sustain a sense of diorama. On the night of the exhibition “finissage” also I will look in, and also enter; but I will also turn some of my attention to the other side of the street, to the small ‘cage’—strangely empty—seen immediately opposite the entrance door into the Leth Gori Gallery space. 6 feet above ground on the cage I plan to fixate a small wood construct with two holes—approximately 65mm, maybe a little bit more, apart measured center to center horizontally. If possible, in each of the two holes there should be a preferably hand forged nail of the kind with a broad head. It should be possible to easily take out these nails. The intention behind this small intervention is less morbid than a superficial interpretation might suggest. The particularity of the construct should rather be seen as hints or clues. Who can guess the riddle? The answer is at least two-fold.
First published in ENTREENTRE Pamphlet 1 on the occasion of the exhibition ENTREENTRE Presents Works by Nat Chard, Perry Kulper and Teis Draiby, Galleri Leth & Gori, Copenhagen, April, 2015.