Concepts of Space in Art
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Published: Mon, 07 May 2018
In his book Space, Time and Architecture, Sigfried Giedion noted that through developments made during the Renaissance, the conception of space comes to fruition. This conception of space in art was expressed with the discovery of perspective. Through the use of perspective he says “every element is related to the unique point of view of the individual.”
“In linear “perspective” -etymologically “clear seeing”- objects are depicted upon a plane surface in conformity with the way they are seen, without reference to their absolute shapes and relations. The whole picture or design is calculated to be valid for one station and observation point only. To the fifteenth century the principle of perspective came as a complete revolution, involving an extreme and violent break with the medieval conception of space, and with the flat, floating arrangements, as its artistic expression.”
Sigfried Giedion, Space, Time and Architecture, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1967, first published 1941, pp. 30-31
During the Renaissance, fields of study particularly in the arts were closely intertwined with traditional models. In architecture, buildings were designed with reference to past examples. At around about the early nineteenth century, there came a shift in the conception of space that broke free of the rigidity associated with antiquity.
Relativity in our conception of space came about through the development of cubism. Cubism introduced a new dynamic to visual representation. The framed view is coupled with different points of view of the same object, his brings in a factor of time.
Joan Ockman – professor and the director of the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University. Here will be cited her essay The Way Beyond Art published in Autonomy and Ideology, ed.Somol, R.E., the Monacelli Press, New York, 1997, pp.83-120
“matter ceased to be understood as opaque mass. The viewer now envisaged different aspects of space simultaneously, inside and outside, convex and concave at once. Matter was decomposed into simple surfaces and lines (as in Mondrian) or became transparent and interpenetrating (as in Lissitsky). With these developments, space came to be understood as “a crossing of movements and energies”.
The change in the conception of space is said to be the “demolition of pictorial space by Cubist techniques” and “substitution of a relative point of view for an absolute one”
Along with Ockman, Sigfried also wrote about a new conception of space from the traditional. He claims that classical conception of space is related to the notion of perspective and this notion was the primary element in painting since the Renaissance up until the 20th Century. For Giedion, the new method of visual representation after the formation of cubist techniques coincides with a shift in the conception of space and develops “form giving principles of the new space conception” After Cubism, space conception changes from the static perception of the Renaissance. Giedion claims that ” the classic conceptions of space and volumes are limited and one sided.” For Giedion, the possibilities of this new space conception is like Cubism with it’s many perspectives that extract the essence of the subject, give it an infinite potential for relations within it. Giedion claims that the dawn of cubism is an “anonymous principle” just like the discovery of perspective. That cubism is “the expression of a collective and almost unconscious attitude” and for him, this expression is also closely related to scientific advancements of that period.
As Giedion says.
“Cubism breaks with Renaissance perspective. It views objects relatively: that is, from several points of view, no one of which has exclusive authority. And in so dissecting objects it sees them simultaneously from all sides from above and below, from inside and outside. It goes around and into its objects. Thus to the three dimensions of the Renaissance which have held good as constituent facts throughout so many centuries, there is added a fourth one time:”
In stage design, the stage itself can become a medium for the exploration and the experimentation of different concepts in vision and space conception. The stage is the manifestation of the relationship between performers and audience.
In her book, Theatres, Gaelle Breton makes reference to ancient theatres. She says that the Greek theatres of antiquity sought to create a unity between the stage and audience areas and combined them under an open air space. This principle she states becomes the model for Elizabethan theatres which she identifies with the Shakespeare Globe Theatre.
Breton states that during the Renaissance, theatre design undergoes an increasing separation from the outside world, and within creates an ever increasing divide between stage and spectator who sit in a fix position for an optimum static perspective. This resembles the painting of the time.
The way theatres were designed during the Renaissance was challenged by Richard Wagner. Together with architect Otto Brukwald, they collaborated to design theatre which sought a reversal in the separation of and stage. The theatre of the Renaissance was concerned with the audience with the perspective of the audience. No balconies and a darkened auditorium focused the audience’s attention to the stage. Theatre no longer sought to create the illusion of reality but sought to express the essence of a play.
Breton also claims that the necessity for creating the illusion of reality became less relevant with the “advent of cinema and the innovation of cubism which shattered the traditional perception space and style of spatial representation”
Antonin Artaud (1862-1928) was a famous stage director and the author of Theatre and it’s Double. He describes the architectural space that he seeks for his productions as a “single, universal locale without any partitions of any kind” His proposal was to abandon the architecture of his time and set about producing production that could be held in a barn or a hanger for performance. The notion of flexible space such as this can also be seen in the architecture of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe around this time. The concept is for a performance space as a “total space” which can be redesigned and reorganized for different productions.
The sculptor and painter Oscar Schlemmer, conducts experiments for stage space at the Bauhaus. Roselee Goldberg state that the work at the Bauhaus was to achieve a “synthesis of art and technology in pure form” The studies conducted included the problems of performance space such as “the opposition of visual place and spatial depth” Schlemmers experiments demonstrated a new conception of space on stage. In the 1920’s, the discussion of space centred on the notion of “felt volume” Schlemmer explained that
“out of the plane geometry, out of the pursuit of the straight line, the diagonal, the circle and the curve, a stereometry of space evolves, by the moving vertical line of the dancing figure’. The relationship of the ‘geometry of the plane’ to the ‘stereometry of the space’ could be felt if one were to imagine ‘ a space filled with a soft pliable substance in which the figures of the sequence of the dancer’s movements were to harden as a negative form”
Up until the twentieth century, the criteria for stage design was a framed view and theatres based on the relation of the proscenium. In the early twentieth century, revolutionary stage designers such as Edward Gordon Craig challenged this two dimensional approach to stage design with three dimensional concepts and experiments.
For his first production, Craig had to design his own stage as the only available space was the Hampstead Conservatoire. This concert hall was 44ft wide with a series of stepped platforms at one end to house the orchestra. The comprises made by Craig became a characteristic of his work. The ceiling height was level throughout and Craig incorporated Herkomer’s technique of over head lighting and sky effects. A low proscenium was constructed to facilitate frames and a bridge above the stage for the lighting man. To facilitate a cast and chorus of 75, the full width of the stage was utilized. This created a strikingly panoramic effect. In later production in Coronet and Great Queen Street theatres, Craig lowered the proscenium by as much as 12ft to create the impression of great width. He also found that creating stepped platforms allowed for three dimensional groupings and movement. Craig wanted the spectators to have the same perspective of the plays so no side galleries, or boxes were used, instead a single level seating was used.
Another characteristic of Craig’s productions which challenged the viewer’s imagination were, although the sets were openly theatrical, with everything from imitation vine leaves to crude papier-mâché boar’s head, on the other hand there was a deliberate avoidance of realistic detail and simple effects of colour were used, leaving the imagination free and achieving a suggestiveness that one viewer had commented reminded him of the delicate friezes of Pompeii.
For these surfaces, Craig explains “they stand on the stage just as they are, they do not imitate nature, nor are they painted with realistic or decorative designs”
Craig studied the theatrical work as it was in ancient Greece, Rome, from the Renaissance to the Elizabethan. He noted that “Once upon a time, stage scenery was architecture. A little later it became imitation architecture, still later it became imitation artificial architecture.”
The two elements which became central to Craig’s concept of a new theater were lighting and movement.
The two elements which became central to Craig’s concept of a new theater were lighting and movement.
The great days of painted scenery belonged to the era of dim lighting from gas-few footlights or candles, which flattened the performer so that he an the picture became one. The day the first spotlight was on the side of the proscenium, everything changed. The actor now stood out, was substantial, and a contradiction suddenly appeared between roundness and the two dimensional trompe l’oeil behind his back. The great innovators in the art of scenic design, Adolphe Appia and Gordon Craig, knew this before the First World War.
Peter Brook, Threads of Time, Methuen Publishing Limited, London, 1999, p.48
In 1923, Fredrick Kiesler presented his concept for the Endless Theatre. The theme of this space was the structure did not have any frame, but could still maintain its form. In the 1920’s architecture had a strong tendency to interpret space from a functional point of view. Buildings where traditionally of a rectangular shape, however there were no corners in Kiesler’s endless concept. This implies a meaning of time and space simultaneously which one can interpret as without and en, or in another sense an eternity of time. While this theatre expressed Kiesler’s concept of space, it was in 1958 when he presented the Endless house that his concept had manifested itself into a space that responded to human sensibilities as well as a functional space acting as a home.
An installation architecture piece by Bernard Tschumi called the Glass Video Gallery was constructed in the Netherlands. It is a glass structure which contains 6 banks of video monitors. The projects intention was to challenge our preconceived ideas on the act of viewing. The monitors act as an unstable façade, unlimited space is suggested through mirror reflections. The reflective surfaces which can be interpreted as a modern day equivalent to Edward Gordon Craig’s walls. The immateriality presents an ambiguous surface. The architect presented a challenge to the “permanence of buildings. The multiplying layers act to dissolve the surface of the glass. Lighting at night acts to transform the space. For Tschumiâ€¦
The endless reflections of the video screens over the vertical and horizontal glass surfaces reverse all expectations of what is architecture and what is event, of what is wall and what is electronic image, of what defines and what activates.
Tschumi also claims that his glass box challenges the ideas of television viewing and about privacy. The transparency of the glass walls acts as an opposition to “an enclosed private space” it also “acts as an extension to the street.” Within the structure, a person watches and is watched at the same time.
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