La Furia Umana
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  • E che, sono forse al mondo per realizzare delle idee?
    Max Stirner
  • (No ideas but in things)
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GIULIANA BRUNO / Architecture and the Moving Image: A Haptic Journey from Pre- to Post-Cinema

GIULIANA BRUNO / Architecture and the Moving Image: A Haptic Journey from Pre- to Post-Cinema

    Architecture and film are the only two arts of our time.

                                                                                                               Le Corbusier

Cinema, the art of projection, emerged from the visual culture of modernity as a medium of luminous transport. The invention of the light space of film was a transformative moment in the cultural panorama of modern life. A new geography of visuality was being produced as film was born, and architecture was at the center of this transformation. The luminous aesthetics of panorama paintings and dioramas, the glass architecture of arcades, department stores, pavilions of exhibition halls, glass houses, winter gardens, the electric underground, railways, bridges, powered flight, and skyscrapers incarnated the new geography of modernity. These were all sites of transit. Mobility and light—a form of cinematics—were the essence of these new architectures. By changing the relationship between spatial perception and motion, the new architectures of transit and travel culture prepared the ground for the invention of the moving image, the very epitome of modernity[1].

Film, as it arose in this environment, encountered a visual field in substantial transition, which was taking part in the architectural reconfiguration of time and space. This shifting terrain effected changes in the history of art and visual representation, and in the lived space of the city. In charting the movement of this visual geography here, we will look at the encounter between film and architecture, focusing especially on the agency of haptic motion in the making of modern space. The panorama of modernity is mapped out in order to highlight the function of cinema in the larger context of spatial transformation. While this panorama concerns the history and architecture of moving images, it provides us as well with a key to understanding the current transformation that images are undergoing in space.

Today, we are in fact witnessing a renewed, material encounter of architecture and film. Our walls are becoming more like light spaces, and they are at times even turning into screens. Furthermore, in the visual architecture of our times, modes of reception in the visual arts and media are becoming more fluid and increasingly mobile. For this reason, it is particularly relevant to engage the geography and mobility of exhibition in our discussion, and I will do so here, in an excursus that addresses pre-filmic modes of spectatorship, in order to show their relationship to post-filmic times. Because the notion of the haptic will play a feature role in this cultural panorama—connecting the origin of the medium to a post-medium condition—let us first consider the genealogy of this phenomenon.

Haptic Space

As Greek etymology tells us, haptic refers to the sense of touch and means “able to come into contact with”. As a function of the skin and touch, then, the haptic constitutes the reciprocal contact between the environment and us. It is by way of hapticity that we apprehend space, turning contact into communicative interface. As a sensory interaction, the haptic is also related to kinesthesis, or the ability of our bodies to sense their own movement in space. In this sense, then, I take the haptic to be the main agent in the mobilization of space—both geographic and architectural—and, by extension, in the articulation of the spatial arts themselves, which include motion pictures.

Architecture and cinema, usually confined to optical readings, are thus remapped here in the realm of the haptic. Moving from optic to haptic, we will pursue a tangible sense of space and address the movement inherent in habitable sites, including their actual “moving” quality. In fact, as we embark on a cultural journey between the urban map, the architectural wall,and the film screen, we aim to express the emotion of our motion through space. Even the Latin root of the word emotion suggests this, for the meaning of emotion is historically associated with mobile space, with «a moving out, migration, transference from one place to another»[2]. Emotion is, literally, a moving map.

It is here, in this very haptic space, that the moving image was implanted, with its own psychogeographic version of transport and lived space. It is pertinent to note that cinema was named after the ancient Greek word kinema, which means both motion and emotion. Proceeding from this kinematic premise, then, we will see that the impact of cinema extends well beyond the walls of the movie house. Filmic emotion is part of the vast modern mobilization that not only includes metropolitan itineraries but also landscape design and the design of memory as housed in the urban museum. Keeping this haptic frame in mind, let us now take a few architectural walks through modernity and its cultural memory, and set architecture in the broader context of a history of moving images.

Film, Architecture, and the Museum

As we approach the geography of modernity, we can take a cue from the twentieth-century urban historian Lewis Mumford, whose work can illuminate the movement of modernity across film, art, and architecture, and guide us in mapping spaces in this time. It was Mumford who, in 1937, articulated an interaction between cinema, the city, and the museum as products of the modern era. He spoke of modernity as a site of cultural memory:

Starting itself as a chance accumulation of relics, with no more rhyme or reason than the city itself, the museum . . . presents itself to use as a means of selectively preserving the memorials of culture. . . . What cannot be kept in existence in material form we may now measure, photograph in still and moving pictures[3].

The urban historian recognized that cinema has an active place in the preservation of “memorials of culture.” Interestingly, this view of modern memory passes through a conjoined image of the city and film, and invokes urban motion. It offers us a moving picture. Here, the urban rhythm and the moving image are united in cumulative assemblage. Mumford identifies cinema as a moving imprint, a trace, and an active mnemonic “measure”: that is, as a mapping of an archive of images. Rhyme and rhythm accrue to the collection of relics mobilized in urban forms of exhibition. On Mumford’s moving map the celluloid archive can thus join the city and the museum.

Cinema and Public Sites of Viewing

Indeed, cinema emerged from a veritable “architecture” of vision: the interactive, public space of modernity. Museographic spectacles gave rise to the particular architecture of vision that became the cinema[4]. This composite genealogy was characterized by diverse rhythms of display. It was a spectacular theatrics of image collection that activated recollection. The spaces for viewing that became filmic architecture included cosmorama rooms, cabinets of curiosity, wax and anatomical museums, performative tableaux vivants, georamic exhibitions, panoramic and dioramic stages, maps and surveys, fluid and automated spectacular motions, vitrine and window displays, view painting, and other techniques of urban viewing.

Film exhibition developed in and around these intimate sites of public viewing, within the history of a mobilized architectonics of scenic space in an aesthetics of fractured, sequential, and shifting views. Fragments were crystallized, serialized, and automated in the cabinet of curiosity, the precursor of the museum; objects that were cultural souvenirs offered themselves to spectatorial musing; views developed into vedutismo, an actual art of viewing, becoming a gallery of vedute. This absorption in viewing space represented a form of art installation avant la lettre. Panorama paintings literally turned into “light installations.” Cinema descends from this travel of the room—a fluid geography of exhibition that came of age in the nineteenth century and molded the following one.

What turned into cinema was an imaginative trajectory that required physical habitation and liminal traversal of the sites of display. As wandering was incorporated in the cinema, film viewing became an imaginary form of flanêrie. By way of the cinema, new horizons of urban mobility were opened to women. Cinema, an intimate geography born with the emergence of a public penchant for flanêrie, is architecturally attached to this notion. The movie house signals the mobilization of public space with its architectonics of display and architectural promenades, experientially implanted in the binding of imaging to spectatorial life.

Filmic and Architectural Promenades

To further explain the journey of the imagination that links cinematic to architectural space, it is helpful to revisit Sergei Eisenstein’s essay on “Montage and Architecture”, for its impact still endures[5]. The views it puts forth have in fact inspired contemporary architects such as Bernard Tschumi, who is interested in recreating cinematic promenades in public spaces[6].

Eisenstein envisioned a genealogical relationship between the architectural ensemble and film. He designed a moving spectator for both, while taking the reader, quite literally, for a walk:

The word pathis not used by chance. Nowadays it is the imaginary path followed by the eye and . . . the mind across a multiplicity of phenomena, far apart in time and space, gathered in a certain sequence . . . ; and these diverse impressions pass in front of an immobile spectator.

In the past, however, the opposite was the case: the spectator moved between [a series of] carefully disposed phenomena that he observed sequentially with his visual sense[7].

The film spectator, in this analysis, moves across an imaginary path, traversing multiple sites and times. A fictional navigation connects distant moments and far-apart places. And film inherits the possibility of such a spectatorial voyage from the architectural field:

An architectural ensemble . . . is a montage from the point of view of a moving spectator. . . . Cinematographic montage is, too, a means to ‘link’ in one point—the screen—various fragments of a phenomenon filmed in diverse dimensions, from diverse points of view and sides[8].

The filmic path is the modern version of the architectural itinerary, with its own montage of cultural space. Film follows a historical course—that is, a museographic way of collecting together various fragments of cultural phenomena from diverse geo-historical moments that are open for spectatorial recollection in space. In this sense, film descends not only historically but also formally from a specific architectural promenade: the kind of exploration offered by the architectures of display. The consumer of this architectural viewing space is the prototype of the film spectator.

Mnemonic Architectures

Eisenstein’s imaginal vision of the filmic-architectural promenade follows a mnemonic path. It bears the mark of the art of memory and, in particular, its way of linking collection and recollection in a spatial fashion. Let us recall that the art of memory was itself a matter of mapping space and was traditionally an architectural affair[9]. In the first century A.D., Quintilian formulated his landmark understanding of the way memory works in architectural terms[10]. To create a memory, one would imagine a building and, peripatetically, populate each room and part of the space with an image; then, to recall the memory, one would mentally retraverse the building, moving around and through the space, revisiting in turn all the rooms that had been “decorated” with imaging. Mobilized in this way, memories are motion pictures. As Quintilian has it, memory stems from a narrative, mobile, architectural experience of site.

The art of memory is an architecture of inner writing in which places are constantly reconfigured, as if drawn on wax. It bears the peculiar celluloid texture of a filmic set—a site of constant redrawing, a place where many stories can take place, and take the place of memory. Before motion pictures mobilized time—substituting for memory, in the end—the art of memory made room for a montage of images. By means of an architectural promenade, it enabled this process of image collection to generate recollection.           

Placed within this particular architectural history, the movie theater emerges as a modern version of the memory theater. Here, the spectator is a passenger, sent on an architectural journey to read memories in place, with the effect that memory itself is set in motion. Understood in this way, the architecture of the film theater also recalls the site of display of the museum. Film and the museum are products of an era that activated the gaze in sequence, mobilized and narrativized space, created the very impulse to exhibit, and constructed—indeed, architected—the actual experience of spectatorship. As such visual spaces of public exhibition, the museum and the cinema share a private dimension: they are visited in spectatorial itineraries that trigger private, mnemonic, affective responses. These public sites mobilize cultural memory with their imaginative, haptic, mobile forms of reception.

Moving Through The Landscape of Modernity

This notion that memory, imagination, and affect are linked to movement—embodied in film itineraries and museum walks—has an origin that can be traced to the moment in modernity when motion became tangibly craved as a form of haptic stimulation. With modernity, a desire for tactile sensation increased, driving an impulse to expand the subject’s universe and, eventually, exhibit it on a screen. The images gathered by the senses were thought to produce “trains” of thought. Fancying—that is, the configuration of a series of relationships created on imaginative tracks—was the effect of a spectatorial movement that evolved further in cinema, the city, and the museum. It was the emergence of such sensuous, sequential imaging (a haptic transport) that made it possible for the serial image in film and the sequencing of vitrines in the museum to come together in receptive motion.

In this modern, haptic configuration of sequential picturing, there are also traces of landscape design. The legacy of the picturesque, in particular, was to enable the imagination to form the habit of feeling through the eye»[11]. A memory theater of sensual pleasures, the picturesque garden was an exterior designed to put the visitor in touch with inner space. As one moved through its haptic space, the exterior of the landscape was transformed into an interior map—the landscape within us. Picturesque space, not unlike cinematic space and the display of collections in the cabinet of curiosity, the precursor of the museum, was furthermore an aesthetics of fragments and discontinuities—a mobilized montage of multiple perspectives and asymmetrical views. Such a montage of relics activated our own modern museographic experiences of recollection.

From the Wall to the Screen

Because it emerges from these haptic routes, cinema has its roots in the new fashions of spatiality that marked the rise of modernity and, in turn, shaped the very design of modern movement. In following the kinds of movement that were taking place in cultural traveling, we traverse a terrain that extended from landscape design to view painting and, eventually, panoramic vision and filmic architectures. As it was located and dislocated, vision was transformed along the route of urban mapping. As space was haptically absorbed and consumed in movement by a spectator, a new architectonics was set in motion: sites were set in moving perspectives, expanding both outward and inward. The new sensibility engaged the physicality and imagination of the observer who craved this mobilized space.

During the course of modernity, the production of travel discourse began to grow and took on a variety of forms, from literary to visual and spatial configurations[12]. Journey literature, not unlike view paintings and garden views, combined a sensualist theory of the imagination with the touch of physicality. A haptic consciousness grew. The broadening of visuality produced at this time essentially joined space with desire, and an increased yearning for capturing sites in the form of “-scapes” developed. Scanning cityscapes, moving through and with landscapes, this opening of spatial horizons fashioned an expanded interior landscape. This collective attraction for views was the force that shaped the cultural movement that proleptically led to the cinema. That is, the new mechanisms for spatio-visual emotion expressed the desire for the moving image.

Cinematic motion descends from the fascination for views and the psycho-physical hunger for space that led the subject from vista to vista in an extended search for urban and environmental pleasure that could open mental maps. Spatial curiosity, consolidated in eighteenth-century culture, designed a route that ranged across topographical views and maps to the architectonics of gardens and resulted in the opening of travel to more people, the circulation of travel narratives, and the rise of a leisure industry. This included the grand tour, with its voyage to Italy, as well as the amusements of peering into cabinets of curiosities or museums and of browsing through the composition of natural settings or their depictions. Moving along the path of modernity from view painting to garden views, from travel sketches to itinerant viewing boxes, from grand tours to panoramas and other geographical “-oramas” to forms of interior/exterior mapping, from the mobile views of train travel to urban and museal itineraries and their imaginary flanêrie, the subject was incorporated into motion pictures, giving us the sense that space can be touching.

Light Spaces: Eisenstein and Le Corbusier

As we consider the extension of the picturesque promenade into modern itineraries of viewing space, a number of connections emerge that expose the impact architecture and film can have when joined together in motion. It is interesting to note in this respect that Eisenstein used the neo-picturesque views of Auguste Choisy, the architectural historian interested in peripatetic vision, to illustrate his conception of a filmic-architectural promenade, following Le Corbusier’s own appropriation of this vision[13]. Eisenstein and Le Corbusier admired each other’s work and shared common ground in many ways, as the architect once acknowledged in an interview. Claiming that «architecture and film are the only two arts of our time», he went on to state that «in my own work I seem to think as Eisenstein does in his films»[14].     

Indeed, their promenades follow the same path, which engages the labor of imagination. Before the eyes of a mobile viewer, diverse asymmetrical vistas and picturesque-like “shots” are imaged. As the architectural promenade unfolds a variety of viewpoints, it makes the visitor to the space, quite literally, a consumer of views. From this moving perspective, the visitor also performs an act of imaginative traversal. An architectural ensemble is read as it is traversed. This is also the case for the cinematic spectacle, for film—the screen of light—is read as it is traversed and is readable inasmuch as it is traversable. As we go through it, it goes through us and our own inner geography.

Ultimately then, it is this passage through light spaces that materially links the cinematic screen to the architectural wall. As Le Corbusier put it, building his notion of the architectural promenade: «The architectural spectacle offers itself consecutively to view; you follow an itinerary and the views develop with great variety; you play with the flood of light»[15]. Le Corbusier’s views of a light space were, indeed, themselves cinematic[16]. Further developing the idea of the promenade architecturale, Le Corbusier stated that architecture «is appreciated while on the move, with one’s feet . . . while walking, moving from one place to another. . . . A true architectural promenade [offers] constantly changing views, unexpected, at times surprising»[17]. In his words, then, architecture finally joins film in a practice that creates visual and psychic transformation in relation to the change and modulation of light in space.

A Luminous Future: Film Itineraries in Art Gallery

This creative passage through light spaces is very much alive today. It is revived in contemporary art and culture as the phenomenon of moving-image installation reinvents the luminous art of projection. The architecture of cinema is in transformation, and a fundamental reconfiguration of the medium is taking place. The exhibition of film images has exited the space of the movie house. Screens have multiplied, and different forms of viewership and locales have emerged. As film images have migrated, they have established their solid presence as light spaces in the art gallery and the museum. This migration of screens has strengthened the relationship between art, architecture, and moving images in ways that return us to the very luminous and fluid geography of modernity.

Moving-image installations are spaces of light that require spectators to undertake journeys that are haptic in nature. Their mode of exhibition invites—at times requires—a form of reception that is perambulatory and tangibly mobile. In this sense, the resurgence of projection in visual art extends the very imaginative spectatorial movement that, as we have seen, historically joins cinema to architecture. In many ways, this contemporary phenomenon returns us to the architectural promenades of modernity, expanding their potential for the future. A consideration of the haptic geography of modernity is therefore essential in any attempt to understand not only the history but also the future of image circulation.

Looking forward, we can see that film itineraries are becoming even more engaged with both urban promenades and museum walks[18]. Moving-image installations propel a wide variety of spectatorial itineraries in haptic space. More than ever, screens and walls renew their connection in moving passages of light. Walls are turning into screens to such an extent that we can at times even detect a convergence of their surfaces. And thus, viewed retrospectively, our contemporary post-medium condition reveals its ties to the emergence of modern visual culture and media. In the form of moving-image installations, we are offered back a fundamental form of modern experience. In such ways, the cultural potential of this experience and the artistic energy of projection are renewed, as art reinvents a haptic, mobile, luminous architecture for the future.

Giuliana Bruno

[1] On the subject of film and the visual culture of modernity see Giuliana Bruno, Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture, and Film (New York: Verso, 2002); Bruno, “Streetwalking around Plato’s Cave,” October, vol. 60 (Spring 1992):110–29; Anne Friedberg, Window-Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993); Francesco Casetti, Eye of the Century: Film, Experience, Modernity, trans. Erin Larkin with Jennifer Pranolo (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008); and Leo Charney and Vanessa R. Schwartz, eds., Cinema and the Invention of Modern Life (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995).

[2] Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), vol. 5, 183.

[3] Lewis Mumford, “The Death of the Monument,” in J. L. Martin, Ben Nicholson, and N. Gabo, eds., Circle: International Survey of Constructivist Art (New York: E. Weyhe, 1937), 267.

[4] See Bruno, “Collection and Recollection: On Film Itineraries and Museum Walks,” in Public Intimacy: Architecture and the Visual Arts (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007).

[5] Sergei M. Eisenstein, “Montage and Architecture,” Assemblage, no. 10 (1989): 111–31.

[6] Bernard Tschumi, The Manhattan Transcripts (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981); and Tschumi, Cinégramme Folie: Le Parc de La Villette, Paris Nineteenth Arrondissement (Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 1987). Here, defining the cinematic promenade in architecture, Tschumi notes that “in the cinema the relations between frames or between sequences can be manipulated through devices such as flashbacks, jumpcuts, dissolves and so on. Why not in architecture?” (p. 12).

[7] Eisenstein, “Montage and Architecture,” 116.

[8] Eisenstein, “El Greco y el cine,” in Cinématisme: Peinture et cinéma, ed. François Albera, trans. Anne Zouboff (Brussels: Editions complexe, 1980), 16–17.

[9] See Francis A. Yates, “Architecture and the Art of Memory,” Architectural Design, 38, no. 12 (December 1968): 573–78.

[10] Marcus Fabius Quintilian, Institutio oratoria, vol. 4, trans. H. E. Butler (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1922).

[11] Christopher Hussey, The Picturesque: Studies in a Point of View (London and New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1927), 4. See also Hohn Dixon Hunt, Gardens and the Picturesque (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992).

[12] See, among others, Barbara Maria Stafford, Voyage into Substance: Art, Science, Nature and the Illustrated Travel Account, 1760–1840 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984).

[13] On Choisy and Le Corbusier see Richard A. Etlin, “Le Corbusier, Choisy, and French Hellenism: The Search for a New Architecture,” Art Bulletin, no. 2 (June 1987): 264–78. See also Anthony Vidler, “Metropolitan Montage,” in Warped Space: Art, Architecture and Anxiety in Modern Culture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000).

[14] This interview, the only one that Le Corbusier gave during his stay in Moscow in 1928, is cited in Jean-Louis Cohen, Le Corbusier and the Mystique of the USSR, trans. Kenneth Hylton (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 49.

[15] Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, Oeuvre complète, vol. 1, ed. Willi Boesiger (Zurich: Editions Girsberger, 1964), 60.

[16] See Beatriz Colomina, Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994).

[17] Le Corbusier, Oeuvre complète, vol. 2, 24.

[18] For further treatment of this subject, see Bruno, Surface: Matters of Aesthetics, Materiality, and Media (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).