ANTOINE VAXELAIREOpinion

Text Space – the role of writing in Diploma 9

19 February 2013
Diploma 9 Unit Space, Bedford Square, London

 

The AA Open Jury is always a great opportunity to be confronted with different units’ agendas and beliefs. This year’s event was no exception. Text Space was the theme given to one of the four sessions; one where we could listen to students from Diploma 14, Intermediate 1, History and Critical Thinking, First Year and finally Diploma 9. It is as a student of Diploma 9 that I would like to discuss the use of text within our unit and the thoughts which only came to mind after the discussion in the new soft room that Friday.

 

Any student in Diploma 9 is well acquainted with the crucial role that text plays within the unit and in his own work. He also knows how much one can struggle over the construction of that text (Fig. 2), a fight as intense as any experienced over the design of drawings or images. However, one issue with text that confronts every Diploma 9 student, as well as our tutor, Natasha Sandmeier,  is what to call them. In a recent e-mail Natasha emphasized the importance of text in our projects and rightfully wrote that “we should find a name for these things!” This is exactly how we treat text, as a thing, neither a tool nor an end product, yet always both at the same time. Our texts are to be understood as plastic possibilities. A bit like Koolhaas’ generic city, our texts take a different form every morning; only serving the purpose of the student’s needs. The impossibility of naming our texts gives them the possibility to be all texts at once. The matter isn’t what they are but how and why they are. It then became obvious (yet obviously doubtful) that the answer to Natasha’s e-mail would be something like this:

 

Open Jury: Text Space, Diploma 9 presenting
Image Credit: Valerie Bennett

 

Work in Progress text of a Diploma 9 student

To: natashasandmeier@aaschool.ac.uk
From: vaxelaire.antoine@gmail.com
Subject: WORK, not WORDS.

 

Hello Natasha,

 

I have been thinking a little over the need to name our texts and came to the conclusion that the importance isn’t that we can’t categorise them but that we actually don’t want to. To name them would be to freeze them or even worse, to make us have control over them.  I believe that’s the last thing we want, to be in control.

 

We embrace cracks and weaknesses because that’s where one learns, and that’s why we are here. I can’t avoid bringing Didi[1] into this, and his most relevant argument: “To take Knowledge of, is to take Position on.” In these words we find our use of text and the relevance of your Unit being associated with Text Space, or more precisely Text in Space (and certainly not Text as Space!).To put text in space means that we have, as architects, to spatially understand text, which doesn’t imply to make space out of the text but to use the text in order to position ourselves within the architectural discourse. As students, we constantly struggle between two forms of text. On the one hand, we face an endless legacy of written words, that is our history, which is what we need to take knowledge of. On the other hand, we have the need to respond to our past with our convictions, ideas, problems, questions, etc; that would be us taking position on. That position, I think, is best taken through the written word.

 

In the same way that Houellebecq[2] argues that the map is more beautiful than the territory, I would suggest that the words are stronger than the images. But as much as we live and take position on the territory through the use of maps, we live in a world of images where text is never a representation, but another way to look at this world. To put it in crude terms, text and image are like architect and building, they both have a clear life of their own yet are endlessly informed by each other. There is no need to link them yet one could find knowledge in the links themselves rather than the Figures (human and object).

 

This is what Aby Warburg did with his Atlas. He followed Benjamin’s will to “read what was never written”. By positioning Images next to one another while leaving necessary gaps between them, Warburg takes both knowledge and position on a subject as diverse as Renaissance Art, World War II or Christianity. I would say that Diploma 9 works like an Atlas and our use of text shows, like Warburg’s, the crucial need for uncertainty (we don’t know what to call it) but also the Non-Necessitarian Possibility[3] of having it (we don’t know how but it does us good).

 

Thank you.

Antoine.

 

ps: I think my text is an Essay…



[1]This is what we call George Didi-Huberman during tutorials.

[2] See Michel Houellecbecq, Map & Territory.

[3] Term used by R.E. Somol in Green Dots 101. Hunch.

To take Knowledge of

To take Position on

Mnemosym Atlas, Aby Warburg

Taking Knowledge of Mies

Taking a Position in front of Mies