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A Collaboration in the Spatialization of Knowledge
Patrik Schumacher 2004
Published in: Herbert Lachmayer et al, Editors, Salieri Sulle Tracce di Mozart, Baerenreiter-Verlag, Kassel 2004
Salieri sulle Tracce di Mozart is the third collaboration between the curator Herbert Lachmayer and the architects Zaha Hadid & Patrik Schumacher. Previous collaborations included Wishmachine-Worldinvention for the Vienna Kunsthalle in 1996 and Alles Schmuck for the Museum of Design, Zuerich in 2000. These collaborations share the same fundamental ambition - the attempt to demonstrate new approaches to the spatialization of knowledge. The underlying premise is that spatial ordering systems have always already played a fundamental role in the registration and elaboration of conceptual schemata and information structures. .
Logic as Abstracted Architecture
Logic is abstracted architecture. Architecture lends its figures to abstract thinking: it “distinguishes”, “classifies”, “relates”. These supposedly mental activities first gain shape and regularity on the basis of architectural operations. Architecture operates by means of boundaries and connections. Walls pre-figure the logical operation of distinction. The logic of subsumption is based upon successive enclosures within enclosures, pre-figuring classification. The structure of a path (or of a system of paths) is the analogical source of thinking in terms of sequences such as chronological sequences of events, means-ends relationships, causal chains, flow diagrammes, and branching diagrammes like decision trees or genealogical trees. Architecture is at the root of most of the conceptual schemata we still rely upon today: sequences, grids, concentric nesting.
The symmetry natural to simple balanced structures has been made the norm in classical architecture. It also informs many classical conceptual formalisms within science and philosophy: for instance the Kantian table of categories is marked by an insistence upon symmetric order ñ signifying completeness. There are many parallels to patterns within musical composition. Music too offers schemata and formal ordering systems - mostly to tell a structured story - offering notions like theme and variation, cyclical closure or development.
An architecture that today is self-conscious of its formative role should be able to challenge deeply ingrained patterns of thought by effective spatial intervention.
Exhibition design is thus an ideal arena to explore the power of architecture as spatio-conceptual ordering system.
Traditional Exhibition Design
Traditionally exhibitions and museums are operating with a hand full of very simple ordering devices - suggested by the palace architectures appropriated or imitated for the installation of a museum collection. In most classical Museums the central symmetry axis is enlisted to establish a basic dichotomy within the Museum: A Natural History Museum typically bifurcates into the animal Kingdom on the left and Human Ethnography on the right. An Art Historical Museum might bifurcate into Ancients vs Moderns. Usually rooms are taken to establish groupings or classes of objects. Each wing of the building might represent a larger grouping encompassing the rooms as so many subsumed subgroups. The en suite sequence of rooms - offering a linear path - is utilized as the basis of ordering such groupings into a chronological sequence. Klenzeís Munich Glyptothek can serve as the paradigmatic example here, articulating the sequence: archaic, classic, helllenistic. (It is of interest here that the spaces utilized here at the Palazzo Reale also offer such a simple en suite sequence of spaces.)
Expanding the Repertoire of Spatial Ordering
This small set of ordering devices - dichotomous distinction, grouping/subgrouping, and linear sequence - is in fact all there is and has been within the traditional repertoire of spatial ordering of knowledge in Museums and exhibitions. It is no accident that the primary organization of books - as summarized by the list of contents - follows exactly the same logic: A sequence of chapters and subchapters ñ sometimes organized by a primary dichotomy like theory vs case-studies.
The obvious task here is the expansion of this limited repertoire with the aim to articulate more complexity within the informationstructures at hand. This expanded repertoire of spatialization would include anticipation and crossreferencing instead of mere linear sequence. It would further allow for overlap and gradient transitions within the calculus of grouping. Instead of the primacy of rigid dichotomies we would like to work with a simultaneity of multiple distinctions as well as multiple affiliations. In the case of Wishmachine-Worldinvention we generated an unusual degree of spatial complexity with a simple spatial generator that would insure that the complex result remained legible and retrievable for the visitors. The overall space was pervaded by three large, continuous walls ñ each with its own recognizable character: zig-zag wall, s-curve, and boomerang. Each of these walls transported a major theme or story-line within the exhibition. However, as these walls pervade the space they cut across each other at multiple points, thus creating a series of quite different spaces. Each of these spaces brings together items of two or three of those walls/storylines into a muli-theme constellation. The result is the simultaneity of two interpenetrating reference systems: lines of development and constellations.
Salieri and Mozart in Context
The concept of the exhibition itself plays on the fact that Salieriís career brought him to the same places where the younger Mozart had already been before him. The ambition of the exhibition is to place these two iconic and seemingly timeless musical characters in the changing contexts of their times and places. As hinted at earlier the Palazzo Reale offers the typical sequence of en suite spaces ñ separate vaulted spaces connected with small doorways on the central axis. It proved irresistible to take this structure as the base structure to clearly lay out the sequence of contexts through which the two characters move: Milan under the Austrians, the Vienna of Marie-Therese, the Vienna of Joseph II, pre-revolutionary Paris, and finally back in Vienna.
The two protagonists are represented as two ribbons moving from space to space, variously confronting each other. These ribbons are of recognisably different character: The ribbon collecting all the exhibits belonging to Salieri is larger, calmer and more continuous, whereas Mozartís ribbon is fragmented and formally much more S'>agitated and multi-faceted. The contextual information is placed as a backdrop to the protagonists story-line. The textual commentary ñ printed in large letters ñ serves as a further semi-independent layer of information in its own right. The ribbons squeeze through the doorways trying to indicate continuity. Various narrow cuts in the walls create links and shortcuts allowing for anticipatory as well as retrospective cross-references. Thus there remains an interesting overall tension between the rigidly segmented sequence of spaces and the rhythmic and continuous space captured between the folded, twisting ribbons.
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