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group exhibition

10 Jul 2020 - 07 Aug 2020


Spiting Plato Re Architecture

INJA Gallery

Bavand Behpour

July 2020


It seems that the representation of architectural spaces is ancillary to architecture itself, not superior to it. Most architects are of the belief that their work goes beyond that of visual artists, that visual art is not on par with what they create. For these architects, painting and the creation of images is more of a means rather than an end. There is also a significant difference between the style and mark of architects in their designs with that of visual artists: we observe presentation, not representation. In the modern era, when trying to arrange and categorize the arts, scholars faced a dilemma in finding a place for architecture, since they could not define a specific theme for the work of an architect (as an artist who produces quality): music was the art of sound, sculpting the art of volume, and painting the art of pattern and color. They asked what the subject of architecture was. And they provided a simple answer: architecture is the art of creating space. However, an unresolved issue still remained: other artists had command and control over their subjects, while spatial quality is elusive and we cannot design what eludes us. An architect is not necessarily able to identically create the spatial quality that a painter depicts. In different seasons, at different times of the day, a single structure can be viewed from different angles and utilized for different reasons by different individuals. An architect does not design a gloomy building from which to watch the sun set. In brief, an architectural structure does not possess one unique space. So how can one design that which is not constant? In the artistic part of their work, today’s architects utilize images to take control of the outcome of their work. In fact, the “depiction” of architectural spaces is what links architecture to visual arts; hence, an architect who does not master depiction creates works that bear engineering qualities, not artistic ones. Nevertheless, this modern bond between architecture and visual arts (as with the link between today’s architects and painters) is a novel issue which has weathered a tumultuous past to get to where it is now.

For instance, Plato’s Socrates considered artists to be three steps removed from reality, holding craftsmen in higher regard: one could at least eat at the table a carpenter made, nothing could be done with one drawn by a painter. The painted object was neither real nor true, but rather a silhouette of the shadow of the truth. Though Plato did put words in Socrates’ mouth which were in line with his own professional interests: a true table was in fact formed from an “idea”, with philosophers possessing the competency to judge “ideas”: first the philosopher, then the craftsman, and only then the artist; truth, reality, and then representation; words, objects, and then depictions; the philosopher, the architect, and finally the painter.

During the Middle Ages, the reign of “words” was extended through Christianity, the Pious having taken the place of philosophers, righteousness the place of truth, and the Heavens that of the world of Forms: it was now evident that “in the beginning was the Word” and it preceded all. This time around, divine matters (the Truth) were placed ahead of the object and its depiction. Reality also took a back seat. For a millennium, reality had lost its credibility: the artist now made representations of the Truth, not reality; however, he had no “idea” from which to create. Craftsmen disregarded reality as well, producing very uncomfortable tables and chairs in practice. Architects designed structures with the Heavens in mind, not matching the human scale. And nature had to wait until the Renaissance to provide anyone with inspiration.

During the Renaissance, the artist caught up with the architect. The craftsman, the artist, and the philosopher all became one. Brunelleschi the engineer, the architect, and the theoretician was also a woodworker, a goldsmith, and a sculptor; Michelangelo was an architect, a painter, and a sculptor; and Da Vinci was a true polymath. The artist now had an “idea” and began to draw, to design. The artist was no longer merely making representations, he was also “pre-presenting”: drawing and design “presented” how things would be. Architecture now had a manifestation even before genesis: there was architectural design, not mere architecture.

With the Industrial Revolution, a new change occurred in the dynamic between these three rivals: “work”, which the Greeks considered undignified for philosophers to do, was now no longer one of the duties of craftsmen either. Work would be carried out by machines, not craftsmen. The machine was an independent entity that took its place between the designer and the worker; it took charge of “technique”, demoting the craftsman to the level of workers and promoting the designer to the level of philosophers: creation was done by those who had “ideas” and were able to depict them, even if they couldn’t “make” them with their own hands (or with a machine they controlled). “Presentation” gradually overtook “representation”. The designer, who reigned supreme, issued orders down from the worldly Heavens for workers to carry out on this earthly realm. The duty of the designer and architect was seemingly to provide an unmediated manifestation of the “idea”, their most important tool being “presentation” and “demonstration”. Their job was not to produce reality, nor was it to produce an image of reality; they did not “represent”, they created images that were transformed into reality. The designer was no longer three steps removed from reality, he was now standing on the side of truth.

However, this series of permutations did not stop there, with machines taking another step forward: technology, which had previously taken “work” out of the hands of craftsmen, took over the task of “representation” from artists this time around. It seemed as if the camera had made the task of “drawing a table” even more meaningless than during the Socratic era. Printing technology then led images toward mass production, images that consequently filled our world. In the span of a few decades, images overtook reality, so much so that images are now more real than reality itself. In our times, the image comes first, then the object, and truth (if it does exist) comes last.

 And then technology took its final step forward, totally dashing all of Plato’s professional hopes: the machine, previously having taken “work” and “representation” out of the hands of craftsmen and artists respectively, took “ideas” out of the hands of philosophers, thus replacing “philosophy” with “science”. It was now the production process itself (not the philosopher) which determined what knowledge was necessary and what ideas were worth developing. Having relegated all three professions to the level of workers, it then recruited them.

Today, architecture is attentive to “ideas”, to the outer “image”, and to “technique”. It philosophizes, it self-exhibits, all while displaying technical meticulousness. But its “idea” is “concept” not “truth”, its “image” “presentation” not “representation”, its “technique” “technology” not “craftsmanship”. And architecture, which once claimed to be art, science, and skill all at once, is now neither one.

If an architectural creation is meant to be superior to this position, not inferior to it, it will need to put aside this tri-faceted vanity: it must once again begin to learn from the craftsman, the painter, and the philosopher. It must learn the “idea” from the philosopher, “work” from the craftsman, and the “image” from the painter. To do so, it must reexamine the “image” and learn it anew. What today’s architects have come to know and utilize as “images” are mostly technological processes void of artistic capabilities and they cannot help architecture attain the level of art. From this perspective, the efforts of Plato’s painter are not pointless: the artist must first open a space to imagine the table and build a visual culture in which Plato’s carpenter can “work” and give himself the title of “craftsman”. From this point of view, the idea for such an exhibition is coincidentally a very useful idea for architects: turning our attention towards the reality and the spatial qualities available, changing our perspective from presentation to representation, and if possible, taking a step toward restoring the dignity of “images”. This is what every visual culture must locally do for itself. In this day and age, when tables and designers are aplenty and table designs more than one can count, spiting Plato appears to be a sort of duty we have in the realm of images.


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