A space for affects?

March 7, 2012


Thrift describes the occurrence of affect in a really short time (the half second delay) and it’s expression on the face (that can be shown through the video work of Bill Viola or in Le Brun’s drawings). Then the human body and especially the face is a main vector of affect. In this context how can the urban space be part of that?

For Thrift the human body is a fully constitutive element in the design of the city: “So, the city as a sea of faces, a forest of hands, an ocean of lamentation: these are the building blocks of modern urbanism just as brick and stone.” (Nigel Thrift, Non-representational Theory, p.196). I could understand that as a condenser of human interactions. The entrance of a church, for instance, where a high and narrow opening is a spiritual element, a boundary line to the realm of the church but it also forces some interactions between the worshippers waiting to enter. The way to design the space has an effect on the bodies, in this case it can just be a density or a proximity that generates new interactions. It can be more or less conscious and used.

Let’s take two more examples. The escalators in the subway have the same effect of condensing people but it doesn’t lead to a lot of interactions, the people queuing is just a negative effect of a too small infrastructure for rush hours. It is not used as element of the design to provoke any reactions. A famous example in art playing with bodies and using the proximity as condenser is the performance from Marina Abramovic and Ulay with their work Imponderabilia (1977). The visitor has to pass in the narrow space left between their two naked bodies. It’s a kind of aware use of the space, the proximity between people, (and some provocation) to produce feelings or probably different affects. In this latter example the architecture is left behind and the body is directly performing.

The architect could then play with some qualities of the space not only for a reaction between the building and a person (as questioned is one of my previous comments) but also between persons. But the limit seems thin between this conscious use and the realm of manipulation. “In the twentieth century, it could be argued that much of the activity of the design of space was powered up again, becoming entangled with the evolution of knowledges of shaping the body (…) often in a politics of the most frightening sort” (Nigel Thrift, Non-representational Theory, p.187).




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