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Time and Light: Alienation in Contemporary Space Traditional spaces serve to facilitate movement and commerce1, simplifying life through efficient design. The mall, casinos, airports, and other commoditycentres function to encourage a numbing alienation and propagate consumption. Alternative, nontraditional spaces undermine these aims, instead providing a space for selfreflection and repositioning away from the capitalist trajectory of space, and therefore the mechanics of the everyday through their manipulation of time and light. A synartetic, or nonhistorical, approach to the analysis of these alternative spaces provides an avenue that cannot be periodized or folded back into the more traditional narratives of space. Benjamin’s arcades and the shopping mall participate in the traditional trajectories of capital, commerce and space. In this traditional narrative, spaces function to serve us by facilitating movement and commerce through their architectural makeup. Benjamin references An Illustrated Guide to Paris in his seminal Passagenwerk: These arcades, a recent invention of industrial luxury, are glassroofed, marblepaneled corridors extending through whole blocks of buildings, whose owners have joined together for such enterprises. Lining both sides of these corridors, which get their light from above, are the most elegant shops, so that the passage is a city, a world in miniature2 These enclosed microcosms, with their monumental facades and wide array of consumer options, parallel the 1960s American mall in both form and purpose. Victor Gruen, a prominent shoppingplaza designer, believed that suburban malls could become the epicenter of suburban 1 Here I mean commerce as a signifier of the implicit narrative of traditional spaces. Benjamin, Walter, and Rolf Tiedemann. The Arcades Project . Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1999. Print. 2 social interactions.3 The community sphere Benjamin detected in the Arcades was perhaps fully realized by the American mall.4 This traditional trajectory directs us towards spaces that facilitate commerce and movement. Space is treated as an engine of capital, chained to an insatiable desire for goods and services. Although overlooked by this narrative, there is a rich history of nonconsumable spaces in the 20th century. These spaces resist us: they are non indexical, serving to neither facilitate commerce or movement. These spaces manipulate time and light in order to motivate selfreflection; through them we examine the positioning of our bodies in the contemporary environment. Unlike in the mall, within the alternative spaces we are faced with an introspective experience that unveils (rather than obscures) the true nature of alienation in the contemporary environment. For instance, James Turrell’s A Frontal Passage (Figure 1) transforms the passivity of light into an active force by endowing it with a physical presence as the singular artistic medium utilized in the work. This manipulation increases the awareness of one’s own body, and therefore one’s positioning in the space. Light becomes a marker of the existential moment in that to become aware of one’s body and its temporal limitations is the feeling of existentialism. The properties of light, when manipulated through structures, forces a reorientation that is symptomatic of an experience with existential questions5. This existential moment hinges on 3 Davidson, Ronald A.. “Parks, Malls, and the Art of War”. Yearbook of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers 73 (2011): 27–51. Web... 4 I think it is important to note here the furthest articulation of this spatial impulse: ecommerce. However, this conclusion of the narrative seems to function more to implode the dialogue in on itself rather than furthering it. In this way, ecommerce becomes the ouroboros. By shedding it’s locus, ecommerce distances itself from a discourse on physical structures or site and moves towards one regarding modes of consumption. 5 These existential questions, and the experience attached therefore, mark a new sublime differing from the historical sublime in form and function. The sublime is no longer an individual experience, instead it is marked by a collective existential experience. Furthermore, the new sublime is no longer strictly attached to “art space” or feats of god, instead it is extended into commodity space and the everyday. manmade structures with alienation as a key determinant of the contemporary experience. The selfreflexive manipulation of time and light open the body to the feeling of existentialism and causes a subsequent repositioning in the contemporary landscape. Turrell's work provides us a lens through which to examine the intersection of time, space, and light as mechanics of the new social existentialism. As the catalogue establishes: “ Instead of diffusing freely from one side of this wall to the other, the light ends abruptly in space, as if it had density. The power of the work lies in this paradox, in which nothingness gains physical presence.”6 The physical presence of nothingness, manifested through the physicality of light, confronts us with our own finitude. In other words, we disappoint the desire to fill space undefined, as light can. Therefore, disappointing the accompanying wish for immortality. As one moves around the work, the work itself changes. The positioning of the body to the piece transforms it from a mere light show to an expansive view of the abyss. Our body’s relationship to the piece is therefore of tantamount importance. The experience of becoming reaware of the limitations of our body is in fact the experience of existentialism. Light, space, and time function in the work to trigger a new awareness of our body in the space. Our awareness of our body in this space then triggers an awareness of our body in the contemporary environment. This repositioning is symptomatic of the new social existentialism. This new understanding of the contemporary environment includes an acknowledgement (or a purposeful unacknowledgment) of our own alienation from other bodies and space itself. Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights , New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 343 6 Shopping malls and casinos are designed to encourage naive alienation; their windowless facades obscure natural light, and the passing of time. Naive alienation encourages an acceptance of our positioning and a continuation of the rhythm of neoliberalism through a shrouding of the potential for collectivity. If we are all individual consumers, then we are alone and must consume products to bridge the gap between ourselves and others. Alternatives to these traditional structures, such as Isamu Noguchi’s California Scenario ( Figure 2) , use light as a physical force to express a revelatory alienation. Revelatory alienation functions to unveil our positioning, allowing for self reflection and a radical repositioning. Revelatory alienation tears down the constructed individualism of neoliberalism. In its place emerges a collective existentialism experienced through the body's relationship to space. Noguchi’s work is symptomatic of this type of unveiling. Nestled in between the largest mall in California, several office centres, and a parking lot, California Scenario is a dramatic pause in the monotony of the everyday7. Light in Noguchi’s work is as present as the sculptural elements, arguably becoming a sculptural object in itself. Standing in California Scenario feels similar to standing on a sundial one becomes aware of the passing of time as a physical presence. During the afternoon, the sun bouncing off the neighboring parking lot causes the space to become so bright and hot that it is physically overpowering for many viewers.8 The heat and light reflecting off the adjacent parking garages dramatically changes the environment. It is through this heat that light becomes a texture in the work; this heat makes it uncomfortable to be within the space and therefore 7 Ironically, in reading the Yelp reviews of the California Scenario it becomes clear that (when not reflected upon) the work often becomes an elaborate stage for the everyday. Vivian A. writes “ My friends and I took our prom pictures here (...) It was an impeccable place to take pictures at; nice, quiet and may I add, very clean too! Although it's a quite a small space, there's a lot of different artsy backgrounds you can choose from, which made it the perfect photo spot!” 8 Yelp user Tilla L. writes “ I came around 2 pm which was so hot that day so it could have a huge impact based on my experience here.” changes how one composes their body within the space. Compare this to the florescent lights of an office building or mall, lights within these structures pass as neutral and unremarkable. They work to neutralize the space, anesthetizing the aesthetic experience of existing within them and therefore distancing us from a real awareness of our bodies and the passing of time. Light within California Scenario functions as the only real temporal marker. The piece does not change; the landscape and sculptures are constantly preserved as to appear atemporal and unchanging. Even in just moving across the plaza, one can observe how light is utilized as haptic and dynamic. Approaching the forested area of the plaza feels like approaching a mirage, the heat reflecting off the stone ground contrasts the lush grass and temperate shade (Figure 3). The transitioning between the two environments within the larger scenario shocks the body into a revelatory alienation. Using this experience as a key; one can then reconsider the positioning of their body outside California Scenario instead of naively accepting the conditions of their positioning in the world. Naive alienation, or acceptance, suggests an abstraction or denial of space. To follow Worringer’s Abstraction and Empathy to its conclusion would be to admit that to productively exist in the contemporary environment one must mentally abstract space. Completely absorbing the myriad of hyperreal contemporary spaces would be overwhelming to an individual. Worringer elaborates; While the tendency of empathy has as its condition a happy pantheistic relation of confidence between man and the phenomena of the external world, the tendency to abstraction is the result of a great inner conflict between man and his surroundings, and
Global Media Journal Arabian Edition Fall/Winter 2010 Vol.