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Articial Light i

A Naiiative Inquiiy into the

Natuie of Abstiaction, Immediacy, and
othei Aichitectuial Fictions
Te notion of
immediacy is not
Sensory experience
does not underlay
culture; it is a
product of it.
Tere are as many
things as there are
views of things.
Articial Light i
A Naiiative Inquiiy into the
Natuie of Abstiaction, Immediacy, and
othei Aichitectuial Fictions i Keith Mitnick i
Piinceton Aichitectuial Piess i New Yoik
Published by
Piinceton Aichitectuial Piess
; East Seventh Stieet
New Yoik, New Yoik ooo
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aoo8 Piinceton Aichitectuial Piess
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Piinted and bound in China
o o, o8 a Fiist edition
No pait of this book may be used oi iepioduced in any mannei without wiitten peimission
fiom the publishei, except in the context of ieviews.
Eveiy ieasonable attempt has been made to identify owneis of copyiight. Eiiois oi
omissions will be coiiected in subsequent editions.
Editois: Nancy Eklund Latei and Linda Lee
Designei: Jan Haux
Special thanks to: Nettie Aljian, Saia Badei, Doiothy Ball, Nicola Bednaiek, Janet Behning,
Becca Casbon, Penny (Yuen Pik) Chu, Russell Feinandez, Pete Fitzpatiick, Wendy Fullei,
Claie Jacobson, John King, Aileen Kwun, Lauiie Manfia, Kathaiine Myeis, Lauien Nelson
Packaid, Jennifei Tompson, Ainoud Veihaeghe, Paul Wagnei, Joseph Weston, and Deb Wood
of Piinceton Aichitectuial Piess Kevin C. Lippeit, publishei
Libiaiy of Congiess Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Mitnick, Keith.
Aiticial light : a naiiative inquiiy into the natuie of abstiaction, immediacy, and othei
aichitectuial ctions i Keith Mitnick.
p. cm.
ISBN 978-1-56898-749-1 (pbk. : alk. papei)
1. AichitectuiePhilosophy. I. Title.
NA2500.M58 2008
To Mireille
Contents i

Pieface i
Acknowledgments i 6
Intioduction i 8
Two-Faced i aa
Percept i a8
Aect i 6
Abstract i a
Immediate i 6o
Fake i ;a
Real i 8a
Authentic i oo
Blank i o8
Te Deep End i
Dear Mom i o

Preface i
Tis book is the iesult of a iecent tiip to the Jeisey Shoie, wheie
I used to spend my summeis as a child. It was the ist time
I had been back in many yeais, and the expeiience biought
back vivid memoiies. While I was theie, I began taking pho-
togiaphs and wiiting about the vaiious places I iemembeied
fiom childhood. I eventually became obsessed by the veiy same
iolleicoastei that had both attiacted and teiiied me as a kid
and spent houis watching its appeaiance change thioughout
the couise of many days.
I tiaveled back to the Jeisey Shoie seveial moie times that
summei to take pictuies and ievel in the lights of the Feiiis
wheels, the iolleicoastei, and the smells and sounds of the
boaidwalk. At times it felt as though I weie looking at the
oiiginal souice of my desiie foi aichitectuie, and at otheis a
useful context foi contemplating concepts that couldnt have
possibly been on the minds of those who built it. Tis book
attempts to make sense of those dispaiate impiessions.
Acknowledgments i
Fiist and foiemost I would like to thank my fiiends and col-
laboiatois Miieille Roddiei and Stewait Hicks. Without them,
theie wouldnt be much to go on. A lot of people have helped
with this book by discussing its ideas and pioviding en-
couiagement. Among them aie Vincent Castagnacci, Caioline
Constant, Andiew Heischei, Gillian White, James Woolaid,
and Claiie Zimmeiman. Joshua Clovei and Robeit Levit have
inspiied me in ways that aie dicult to dene. I also owe a lot
to my family, the membeis of which aie implicated in much
of the books content. I tiust they will iead it in good humoi.
I am especially giateful to Piinceton Aichitectuial Piess foi
plucking my manusciipt fiom theii unsolicited mail and see-
ing a book in it.
Introduction i
Tis pioject looks at the concept of immediacy, including the
ielated themes of aect, abstraction, fakeness, and authentic-
ity, fiom multiple viewpoints in oidei to bioaden the eld in
which such themes may be contemplated. Te aim thioughout
is to piesent unusual ieadings of familiai teims that challenge
the authoiity of the foimal styles and discuisive canons that
have, paiadoxically, come to signify diiect expeiience.
Te notion that inteipietation gets in the way of oui ex-
peiience of things is an odd, yet iecuiiing, one expiessed in
many discussions of aichitectuie. It piesumes that we could
peiceive things without, in one way oi anothei, tiying to make
sense of them and that objects have chaiacteiistics indepen-
dent of oui peiception of them. Neveitheless the idea of im-
mediacy iemains populai among those who would have us
stop thinking so much and just let things be as they aie, as if
to imply that eveiything occuis diiectly, without oui paitici-
pation, accoiding to some undeilying natuial pattein.
But ideology always tiies to disguise itself as the outcome
of natuial and piagmatic foices, and it uses aichitectuie to
stage the deception. Given that theie aie many opposing be-
liefs vying foi natuialness at the same time, we aie invaiiably
confionted by the need foi multiple natuies, which piesents a
pioblem, because natuie needs to be dened as a single, all-
encompassing entity oi else it ceases to play the iole that ideol-
ogy iequiies of it. Neveitheless oui expeiience of the woild is
iife with gaps between competing belief systems and theii pie-
sumed coiiespondence to, oi identication with, the dieient
ways that sensoiy expeiience is constiucted and iepiesented.
In many discussions about aichitectuie, sensation is as-
sumed to be diiect, and theiefoie moie ieal than inteipieta-
tion. Recent ciitical (oi so-called post-ciitical) tiends have
called foi a iefocusing upon aichitectuies iole as a pioducei
of aects, both as a souice of its diiectness and as a means
of discuisively scieening-out othei factoissocial, political,
economicthat have tiaditionally dened the discipline. On
one hand is an aigument about the natuie of sensoiy factois
in the cieation of meaningful expeiiences and on the othei
is a desiie to shift aichitectuial dialogue and pioduction away
fiom a peiceived pieoccupation with meaning.
As is the case with all foims of visual cultuie, the medi-
um is, to a laige extent, the message. Te way we expeiience
the woild is the iesult of how we iepiesent it. Oui teims and
standaids foi noimalcy and eccentiicity, complicity and devi-
ance, aie each deteimined by the veiy instiuments with which
they aie iecoided and the iesulting documents thiough
which they aie piesented and made sense of.
Recently, new types of media, including ieality televi-
sion and YouTube, have put customaiy notions of what is ieal,
and what is not, into question by fiaming the constiuction of
iealness as pait of the veiy ieality they pioduce. Tis book
contiibutes to these ongoing debates and cieative tiends by
employing a vaiiety of unchaiacteiistic methods of desciiption
and analysis, including peisonal anecdotes, allegoiies, stoiies,
and photogiaphs. Rathei than polaiizing the contemplation of
foim between the abstiact and the peisonal, they have been
woven togethei to cieate an atmospheie in which theii in-
teidependence may be undeistood in new ways. It takes the
ao i Artificial Light
a i Introduction
discussion of aichitectuie in diiections that aie both paiticu-
lai to its unique position within the visual aits and sympathet-
ic to emeigent ciitical tiends in othei aieas of visual cultuie. It
playfully challenges the piesumed coiiespondence among dif-
feient types and teims of expeiience, and the false sense that
ceitain aichitectuial ideas, foims, and iepiesentations may be
implicitly synonymous.
Te othei day I went . . .
. . . into a health food stoie to buy a smoothie. Te outside was
painted in biight tiopical colois, and inside theie weie signs
eveiywheie that said: Eat RightiFeel GoodiBe Happy. Behind
the countei was an oveiweight and unhealthy looking man
with smoothie stains iunning down his shiit, on which was
piinted the woids: Take Good Caie of Youiself. Te dispai-
ity between his appeaiance and the spiiit of healthiness com-
municated by the stoies decoi seemed to distuib a few of the
customeis. Otheis savoied the contiadiction and lingeied
aiound to sip theii smoothies, as though the chaiged atmo-
spheie enhanced the avoi of theii diinks.
What if aichitectuie did something similai: debunked the
veiy idealizations it stands foi at the same time it is stand-
ing foi them I imagine a building like the Titanic: the most
unsinkable of ships sunken upon its maiden voyage, peifoim-
ing its own ideological suicide by adveitising its failuies iathei
than the dieams it is piesumed to fulll. Instead of appeaiing
solid and iesolute, it would look like a movie set foi the staging
of multiple iealities, and demonstiate conict and paiadox to
be the haidcoie of aichitectuie iathei than the contiivance of
oidei and cohesion we customaiily expect fiom it.
Buildings aie like actois that assume dieient ioles,
although we tend to iegaid them as if they possess essential
featuies that dene them independently of the ciicumstances
in which they exist. But instead of peipetuating the usual
notions about what is ieal and what is not, what if aichitectuie
did the opposite by making things look puiposefully fake
Like a magicians handbook, divulging how tiicks aie made to
appeai magic, fake aichitectuie could show how evei-changing
values and attitudes aie diessed up in the costumes of authen-
ticity, coherence, and nature.
Aichitectuie deteimines oui sense of ieality by making
concepts look ieal, and because we tend to believe oui senses
to be diiect, objective, and fiee of cultuial factois, we mistake
them foi natuial phenomena. But aichitectuie is two-faced.
It has come to opeiate acioss conicting models of thought
and sensation: it is both a shapei of expeiiences and a sign of
them. It teeteis between dual ioles peifoimed simultaneously
to cieate the illusion that oui expeiience of things agiees with
oui conceptions of them when the teims of each aie mutually
exclusive with one anothei.
We seem to undeistand phenomenal expeiience in two
dieient and polaiized ways, iathei than as a single dynamic
in which one set of pieconceptions is continually adjusted and
ieconguied by the teims of the othei. Foi instance, when we
expeiience the iain falling fiom the sky, theie is the idea of
iain, and theie is the actual iain. We know that the individ-
ual dioplets of watei aie pait of a laigei body of iainfall, but
because the iainfall is beyond oui visual compiehension, it has
dieient attiibutes and associations foi us than the iaindiops
we can touch. It is oui ielationship to them that makes them
mutually exclusive. In a similai way, I know the woild does
not actually ievolve aiound me, yet I neveitheless stand at the
centei of all that I peiceive. I exist as both an abstiaction and
the nexus of all my expeiiences.
Objects appeai to shiink in size as we move away fiom
them, yet oui minds tell us that they iemain the same. We
believe that what appeais to be happening is not actually
i Artificial Light
happening, yet we typically dene ieality accoiding to oui
expeiience of things iathei than oui conception of them. We
have a haid time believing in ieason when it contiadicts
visual appeaiances, so oui minds iesolve the gap between sen-
sation and cognition with explanations foi the discoid. Unable
to compensate foi the authoiity of the senses, we continue
mistaking sensoiy expeiiences foi cognitive infoimation.
Te misalignment of knowledge and expeiience doesnt
end with visual expeiience. We conveit oui knowledge and
expeiiences of the woild into abstiactions, modeling the
ielationships between things, ideas, and beliefs into seemingly
coheient pictuies that look ieal iathei than like pictuies. We
i Two-Faced
fiame things, oiganize them into dieient gioupings and clas-
sications that we then use to dene them. But names and
classications aie not things. In aichitectuie we talk about
mateiial eects as being abstiact, authentic, and even immate-
iial, but what could that possibly mean when such teims have
nothing to do with mateiial piopeities othei than the associa-
tions we have foiged between them
Sometimes we equate such abstiactions as peimanence
and timelessness with aichitectuie because buildings tend to
last a long time, even though the meanings that aie attiibuted
to them aie constantly changing. Like paiasites that feed o
theii hosts until foiced elsewheie, ideas move fiom one build-
ing to anothei. Tough a building may initially take foim in
iesponse to a paiticulai set of ambitions and conceptual stiat-
egies, it ultimately exists independent of them. But the fact
that the meanings we pioject upon buildings aie mutable does
not mean that they aie neutial oi fiee of ideology.
In the same way that a computeis opeiating system coiie-
lates dispaiate data into a common set of teims, oui peiceptions
iequiie a single viewpoint, oi logic, to make sense of things. As
infoimation is tianslated into a system, it is alteied by the logic
of the system thiough which it is piocessed. Consequently, the
pioducts of oui belief systems appeai to us to be tiue because
they always coheie to the logic of the dominant belief system
thiough which they aie foimed. Tough such oideiings may
appeai to be natuial and ieal, they iegistei ieality about as well
as the hoiizon line desciibes the edge of the univeise.
Te dispaiity among dieient models of ieality is what
makes us awaie that they aie modelsmultiple peispectives
that cannot be collected into a single, homogenous view. In
i Artificial Light
the sense that we cieate the woild thiough oui oideiings of it,
it is dicult to conceive of something simultaneously thiough
the logic of dissimilai oiientations. As is the case with spo-
ken languages, wheie one may be unawaie of the impact of a
paiticulai speech pattein upon his thinking until he is able to
expeiience the same thought constiucted simultaneously in a
dieient language.
Aichitectuie plays a iole in the conveision of dispaiate
thoughts and sensoiy impiessions into a coheient system by
ielating abstiact notions to physical foims. It makes emblems
of natuie, utility, piagmatism, excess, tiuth, justice, the sub-
lime, the state, the family, goodness, deceit, and even neutial-
ity by natuializing them into a view of the woild that does not
appeai to be a view. In many ways this is unavoidable, given
that oui expeiience of ieality is synonymous with beliefs that
have been disguised by aichitectuie to appeai ieal and natuial.
Despite the fact that we see the meaning of things chang-
ing iight befoie oui eyes, we neveitheless expect aichitectuie
to convey a pie-existing and unchanging ieality iathei than
the piovisional staging of one. We want it to be the iiieducible
stiuctuie of physical mattei, not an imitation of it. But iathei
than tiying to block the dispaiity between how we think about
things and the way they appeai to us, what if aichitectuie
embiaced the disconnect by allowing things to exist multi-
faiiously, with conicted identities asciibed accoiding to dif-
feiing sensibilities It could come clean with the fact that the
sense we make out of the woild has veiy little to do with actual
objects and mateiial attiibutes, and eveiything to do with the
way oui abstiact notions deteimine oui sense and expeiience
of them.
i Two-Faced
When I was a kid. . .
i pait i
. . . my paients hiied an aichitect to design a summeihouse foi
oui family. I iemembei him coming to oui home to discuss it
with my paients while I played beneath them undei the dining-
ioom table. I dont iemembei theii voices, but I do iecall the
sounds of them tuining laige pages of bluepiints oveihead and
becoming so oveiwhelmed by the atmospheie of the conveisa-
tion that I thiew up in the middle of theii meeting, iight on
the leg of my fatheis pants.
My fathei was angiy and embaiiassed and had to excuse
himself fiom the table to change his clothes while the aichi-
tect waited with my mothei, who pietended eveiything was
noimal. I could tell she was upset, but I knew fiom expeiience
that she would not ieact until aftei the guest had gone. Foi
hei, it was impoitant to behave in fiont of otheis as though
eveiything weie ne, even when it wasnt. Te aichitect just
stood theie awkwaidly, feeling the tension in the ioom but not
wanting to acknowledge it.
When constiuction nally began on the new house, the
buildei invited us ovei foi a big dinnei at his home to cele-
biate. His house was a laige subuiban stiuctuie, coveied in
endless iows of white shiplap siding with fake black shutteis
on each of the numeious windows. Te house seemed like an
oveigiown veision of something meant to be much smallei.
Te iooms inside weie also stiangely oveisized, even the yaid
was immense, seeming moie like an empty eld than a subui-
ban lawn.
I iemembei looking out of a second-stoiy window and
seeing, in the distance, a seiies of naiiow stiips of lawn iolled
up into wheels at the end of diit lanes cut into the giass. I
o i Artificial Light
didnt undeistand what I was seeing: to me, giass was a pait of
the giound, not a veneei that could be peeled away. Someone
told me that they weie making sod to sell foi othei peoples
lawns. I was peiplexed, and I wondeied how somebody could
sell a lawn. A yaid didnt seem like a thing to me, and the fact
that it was foi sale was distuibing.
As the constiuction of oui new house began to take shape,
we would visit the site iegulaily and have picnics on the neai-
by beach. Eveiybody seemed happy on these tiips. My paients
used to call it theii dieam-house pioject: they weie building
theii dieam. Tey told us it was a special upside-down house,
i Percept
which meant that the living ioom and kitchen would be up-
staiis, in oidei to have a view of the ocean, and the bediooms
weie downstaiis, foi piivacy. It was stiange to me that my pai-
ents dieam would be upside down, though in ietiospect it was
a tting desciiption foi a maiiiage that would end in divoice
only a few yeais aftei the completion of the house.
Duiing one of oui visits, I iemembei walking thiough
the house and feeling oveiwhelmed by the appeaiance of the
exposed-stud wall constiuction. Te aiiay of oveilapping walls
pioduced a spellbinding eect as one moved thiough the space.
I was confounded by the elusive sense of shifting centeis and
alignments I saw among the eld of studs. At the same time,
I was awaie of theii logic as soon-to-be-solid walls, as though
the same studs paiticipated in two dissimilai systems simul-
taneously within the same space.
Seeing the house constiucted made a huge impiession
on me as a child: it not only changed my conception of what
houses weie but also challenged the way I thought about
eveiything. I had mistaken walls to be solid masses of white
stu, and I thought theie was a iight way to aiiange a seiies
of iooms. Like so many othei things, I had confused my unin-
foimed assumptions about even the most familiai things foi
how they actually weie. It staitled me how easily misled I was
and how little I ieally knew about anything.
I became incieasingly obsessed with a belief that theie
was a fundamental oidei oi oiganization to the woild that
was not ieadily appaientat least not visuallyand iequiied
eoit to compiehend. I looked to things like buildings foi
clues about what was ieal and what was not. I used to imagine
a i Artificial Light
that I had a little machine that would tell me what was tiue
and what was false. I would ask it questions, and it would give
me objective iesponses. Its only limitation was that it could
only deal with yes and no answeis.
Rathei than iejecting the iigid black-and-white ieduc-
tions of my tiuth-nding device, I only asked questions that
could be answeied tiue oi false. Sometimes I would pioject
the functions of the tiuth-nding device to othei things, like
my elementaiy school building, asking questions of it as if it
weie an infoimation machine. I expected tangible objects like
buildings to ieveal objective piemises about the woild to me.
Not just about mateiial things, like stiuctuie and constiuc-
tion, but about deeply peisonal and emotionally tiaumatic
things. I asked buildings why my paients weie bieaking up,
who I was, and if I would evei be happy: Yes oi no
I went to an alteinative elementaiy school founded upon
a philosophy of education called open school. Open school
meant that we didnt have individual classiooms but moved
thioughout vaiious leaining aieas. Te odd thing about it
wasnt the openness of the leaining foimat but the ambigu-
ity between the spaces: the iidiculously wide hallways and the
wall-to-wall caipet that ian all the way up the walls. Accus-
tomed as I was to a cleai distinction among these thingswalls
and oois, hallways and ioomsI felt uneasy about the bluiiy
boundaiies. I woiiied that I couldnt be ceitain of things and
my ielationship to them if the building didnt desciibe them to
me in denitive teims.
In some ways I think that I ielated to aichitectuie thiough
my anxiety about being deceived. I needed facts to feel secuie,
. . .
i Percept
and I knew I couldnt always tiust the appeaiance of things. I
iemembei having to go to the bathioom one day in kindeigai-
ten, knowing that I needed the boys ioom and not the giils
ioom, but wondeiing how this had been decided. It seemed
to me that the building had enacted this distinction upon me
iathei than accommodating something I alieady was.
While we weie building oui upside-down house, my fam-
ily was falling apait. I acted as though eveiything weie ne,
when my paients would ght, which was often, I pietended
it wasnt happening. I wasnt veiy good at it though, because
I believed that if things weie going to feel wiong, then they
should look that way as well. Te actual bieak-up of my pai-
ents was moie manageable to me than the deception and
denial that pieceded it. I could handle the pain and uncei-
tainty that would accompany theii inevitable divoice, but I
had diculty pietending eveiything was ne when it wasnt.
Teie was a gaping disconnection between appeaiances
and ieality in my family. My mothei would always put on a
happy face if someone stopped by, oi foice an upbeat voice
when she answeied the phone, even if she had just been yell-
ing at us, oi ghting with my fathei, oi ciying. Tis confused
me because I thought it was dishonest: these same people (my
paients) had taught me that it was wiong to lie, even though
both of them did so iepeatedly. My fathei would say things
that weie untiue and my mothei would peifoim untiuths.
Teii contiadictions and inconsistencies fiightened me.
Foi bettei oi woise, incongiuent appeaiances have
fascinated me evei since. A fiiend told me that when she
was a child hei mothei used to smoke in fiont of hei while
a i Artificial Light
simultaneously denying that she was doing so because she
didnt want them to think that it was okay to smoke. She
would sit in the living ioom pung away, and if one of the
childien enteied the ioom she would put hei aim with the
cigaiette behind the chaii, out of view. Sitting theie with a
smile, smoke iising up in the aii behind hei, she would pie-
tend theie was no cigaiette.
In a sense oui summeihouse was all smoke and miiiois,
even though it iepiesented my paients dieams of happiness.
Buildings lie by staging deceptions about eveiything fiom
theii mateiiality, theii age and mannei of constiuction, to the
ideological messages that they embody. Tey aie like television
sitcoms about absuidly idealized families: eveiybody knows it
is just an act, a pietense, but somehow we aie still seduced by
the images of peifection it piesents.
Percept i pait a i
It is the ielationship among thingsiathei than the things
themselvesthat gives objects theii identities. Tough we
tend to iegaid them as having stable and enduiing chaiac-
teiistics, the deteimination of thingness is moie a mattei
of gioupings and classications than it is a consequence of
inheient mateiial piopeities. Objects iequiie limits in oidei
to be distinguished fiom the eld of iecipiocal ielations in
which they exist, but the limits we impose upon them aie
a function of oui peiception iathei than a piopeity of theii
Like a collection of books oiganized into a libiaiy oi a
set of maps conguied into an atlas, gioupings of subsidiaiy
i Percept
paits into laigei wholes occui at dieient scales to pioduce
dieient identities fiom the same mateiial. In the case of
buildings, a wall may be dened as a coplanai assoitment of
studs, sheetiock, sciews, paint, windows, and doois, but each
of these subcomponents in tuin compiises anothei set of sec-
ondaiy elements. Te dooi may be composed of a fiame, lami-
nate, panels, knobs, hinges, and locking mechanisms, and the
sheetiock out of papei, gypsum, glue, and so on.
Because physical mattei may be conceptually bioken apait
oi compounded to yield an innite aiiay of classications, the
notions by which we sepaiate elds of ielationships into paits
and wholes aie essentially indeteiminate. We may dene the
same aiiangement of elements accoiding to multiple and even
contiadictoiy oideiings that consequently asciibe dieient
piopeities to the same mateiial: the same elements aie undei-
stood to be dieient things at the same time. A wall may be
dened by the textuie of its suiface, its stiuctuial piopeities, oi
accoiding to the spaces it denes. It may be the veitical contin-
uation of a wiapping ooi, the innei lining of a massive facade,
oi the consequence of a system of foimal piocesses intended to
eiadicate the veiy notions of oois, walls, and ceilings.
We undeistand the woild accoiding to oui oiganization
of it. Tiough images, diagiams, language, and othei tiansla-
tions, oui peiception of the physical woild is molded accoid-
ing to oui iepiesentations of it. Teiefoie, things may only
appeai to us accoiding to the logic of these abstiactions. Oui
models aie piovisional, appioximate desciiptions that extiact
and isolate an innitely complex netwoik of ielationships in
oidei foi them to be intelligible to us. We give the abstiactions
names, then pioject the logic of these abstiact oideiings back
upon oui peiceptions of the woild, looking foi things accoid-
ing to theii names and mistaking iecognizable patteins foi
essential piopeities.
i Percept
When my paients eventually bioke up, and the family
shifted fiom a gioup of ve to foui, we all felt like dieient
people. We stopped doing things togethei and ietieated into
oui individual woilds. In ietiospect it was my fathei alone who
achieved a new life, with anothei wife and new childienan
identity without us. He moved fai away to a dieient climate
and became a dieient peison while we stayed behindthe
same family minus a fathei.
When the summeihouse. . .
. . . was nally nished, we would go theie on weekends and
sometimes foi the entiie summei. Foi me, the highlight of the
season was oui visit to the boaidwalk in Sea Biight, a few towns
to the south. Te Sea Biight boaidwalk stietched foi seveial
miles along the wateis edge and was composed of amusement
pieis, iestauiants, stoies, and gaming pailois. Teie was a lot
to do and see, but the biggest attiaction was simply the hoides
of people walking the elevated wooden boaidwalk that ian
alongside the vast expanse of beach.
It was all biight lights, loud music, and amusements:
wateifalls, log umes, iollei coasteis, and a huge Feiiis wheel.
Teie was pizza, cotton candy, and soft ice cieam as well as an
endless aiiay of custom t-shiits, cheap jeweliy, pot-smoking
paiapheinalia, and othei disposable junk. Tough at ist
glance it may have appeaied to be a fienzy of consumption, the
excitement of the place had much moie to do with the eneigy
and density of the people than anything one might eat oi buy.
Eveiybody looked happy, healthy, and on vacation. I couldnt
get enough of it.
Te people weie dieient fiom those in oui conseivative and
intioveited beach town. Tey weie loud, in-youi-face, and full of
life. I saw people of eveiy age, ethnicity, and cultuial steieotype,
fiom giandpaients to little babies and mobs of teenageis. Te
boaidwalk boomed with loud music, scieams fiom amusement
iideis, the bells and buzzeis of aicades, and the voices of com-
peting gamesteis tiying to luie people to theii booths, wheie
they could win oveistued animals and watei pistols.
Te latei it was, the moie the place lled up. Te music
got loudei, the people giew iowdiei. Teie weie stghts, and
I would see teenageis thiowing up on the neaiby beach fiom
too much beei. Undeineath the boaidwalk people built ies,
made out, and got wasted. Foi a little kid like me, boied with
my noimal suiioundings and suspicious of my paients idea
of an upside-down dieam house, it was absolutely fabulous.
I loved all of it: the dangei of the iides, the density of bodies,
and the geneial sensoiy oveiload. I nevei wanted to leave the
spectacle of sounds and aiticial light.
Te only pioblem was my paients despised the place. I had
to beg them foi weeks befoiehand to even think about taking
me theie. Tey would piomise and piomise, but they nevei
wanted to go. Eventually they would give in and commit to an
evening. I would go ciazy with anticipation, woiking myself up
into an unbeaiable fienzy of excitement. On the diive theie,
my fathei would tiy to dampen the fun by putting the boaid-
walk down. He thought it was sleazy, but I didnt caie what he
As soon as we aiiived, he would announce the amount of
time that we could stay, the numbei of iides I could go on, and
the amount of junk food I could eat: one slice of pizza, one ice
cieam, one big lemon fieeze, etc. He tiied to kill it foi me, but
my aidoi foi the place wouldnt die. On the boaidwalk I felt
alive, lit up like a iewoiks display, fieed fiom the peipetual
iestiaint that was always expected of me.
I iemembei going into the haunted-house attiaction
alone. At ist I was neivous, then teiiied. Te place wasnt so
much haunted as it was disoiienting. It was a funhouse with
uoiescent shapes and abstiact objects intended to thiow o
ones sense of scale and diiection. It woiked peifectly on me,
8 i Artificial Light
aftei only a few minutes I was so panicked I couldnt think oi
see stiaight. I was a hysteiical little kid, completely alone in an
eeiie psychedelic maze.
Eventually, I was able to discein a glowing ied emeigency-
exit sign, just out of view of the othei luminous eects and mis-
diiection. I ian foi it and found a black dooi beneath the sign. I
shoved my way thiough it. As the dooi opened, I launched into
a woild suspended between two iealities: the foimless void of
the funhouse with its uoiescent shapes, confusing spaces,
i Affect ,
o i Artificial Light
and teiiifying daikness and a view out thiough the dooiway
towaid the ieai of a set of nondesciipt boaidwalk buildings,
dumpsteis, paiking lots, and the caustic glaie of stieetlamps.
I saw a couple of people standing aiound as if they weie
waiting foi something, and then I iealized that they weie my
paients. At ist I had no idea what they weie doing heie in
this bizaiie netheiwoild of suiieal disconnection: they looked
like stiangeis. Eveiything felt staged and without a centei, as
though I was slipping between multiple woilds. I felt like I was
standing apait fiom the things, places, and people that had
foimed me, as if I weie looking at them fiom the outside.
My fathei was astonished to see me iunning towaid him
fiom the emeigency exit and, aftei a second oi two, beiated
me foi sneaking out eaily. Neveimind that I had been scaied
out of my mindthis had been the last item on his to-do list
befoie he could get the hell out of the place he so detested.
I tiied to calm myself down in the hope that we could stay
longei, but the adienaline iush was so intense that I suddenly
puked up funnel cakes on his new docksideis. Tat was all he
needed to end my night, and we headed foi the cai.
As we pulled out of the paiking lot, I could see the huge,
ievolving Feiiis wheel looming up ovei us like a giant celestial
motoi. It was a simple thing, a big wheel on a stand, but I was
mesmeiized by its eect. In a single continuous movement it
caiiied people up and down, to and fiom the sky. Te aicing
aiiay of light tiails pioduced by the laige ciicle seemed to hang
still in the aii while the giant wheel spun. All at once I could
see and heai people scieaming, music blaiing, and the spectial
of emanating colois pumped out by the ciiculating pulse of
i Affect
this spinning engine. How a thing could be so beautiful was
beyond my compiehension.
Back in the cai, with the boaidwalk ieceding in the dis-
tance, my ecstasy tuined into caisickness as we acceleiated
onto the New Jeisey Tuinpike. I watched the ioad coming
towaid us thiough the windshield and saw it ieceding simul-
taneously in the ieaiview miiioi. I focused on the intensely
yellow lines that divided the lanes of the highway and went
into a tiance.
My paients complained to one anothei that they would
absolutely nevei go back to Sea Biight. My sistei said it was
ne with hei because she hated being with us instead of hei
fiiends. A big deei lay dead on the edge of the ioad, and my
fathei sweived to miss it. He cuised while we all slid up against
the side of the cai. I tuined to see the deei out of the ieai win-
dow, but all I could make out was a lump of thickened daik-
ness, at and without depth.
Because all physical things aie. . .
i pait i

. . . equally mateiial, the notion that one foim of aichitectuie

may appeai to be moie abstiact, immateiial, oi neutial than
anothei is a consequence of how it is discussed iathei than a
piopeity of its mateiial featuies. Abstiaction in aichitectuie
is fiequently associated exclusively with minimal, iectilineai
boxlike buildings clad with sleek, homogenous suifaces in
which scale and constiuction aie visually diminished. But giv-
en that the same collection of mateiials and eects aiianged in
an iiiegulai (non-box) shape would appeai less minimal, and
theiefoie less neutial, the coiiespondence of the teim abstrac-
tion with box-buildings is moie the iesult of the iecent histoiy
of minimalist ait and aichitectuie than it is the inheient natuie
of boxes and smooth suifaces.
Abstiaction in aichitectuie is the opposite of what it is in
painting, wheie it signies the elimination of iepiesentation in
oidei to foiegiound the mateiial eects of suiface and textuie.
In the case of so-called abstiact aichitectuie, the objective is
to cieate the illusion of immateiiality by eliminating scale and
tactility iathei than amplifying contiast among them. Nevei-
theless, the aliation of such stylized foims with modeinist
teims of abstiaction has led them to infei the kind of noniep-
iesentational diiectness associated with the atness and litei-
alism of non-iepiesentational painting.
Te ieduced-box aichitectuial genie is often cited as fiee
of ihetoiic and histoiical iefeiences, able to simply be itself
a neutial pioducei of aectsby viitue of its geometiy and
mateiiality. In his book Supermodernism (NAi Publisheis,
aooa), Han Ibeling claims that an aichitectuie that iefeis to
nothing outside itself and makes no appeal to the intellect
i Artificial Light
automatically piioiitizes diiect expeiience. But such pei-
spectives fail to account foi the fact that these stylizations
aie iead as maikeis, held ovei fiom a genie of woik and ideas
that lay claim to diiect, unmediated peiception. Abstiaction
in aichitectuie has been equated with the blankness, absence,
and puiity of monochiomatic suifaces and giids appiopii-
ated fiom modein ait. It comes with a cultuially constiucted
piesumption of diiectness that, like the coloi giay, has come
to iepiesent neutiality iathei than enact it.

Abstract i pait a i
When I was thiiteen, my oldei biothei was aiiested and sent
to piison. Because he was signicantly oldei than me and had
left the house when I was veiy little, I nevei ieally knew him.
His piesence in my life was like that of a shadow. I was acutely
awaie of his existence but only saw him infiequentlyat spe-
cial events oi at stiange and unexpected times when some-
thing was wiong, like the time he showed up at oui house with
a sick woman that kept passing out on oui fiont poich until my
mothei made him take hei away foi feai of what the neighbois
might think.
I knew my biothei moie fiom othei peoples desciip-
tions of him than fiom any diiect peisonal expeiience. I
constiucted an image of him thiough many, mostly negative,
iemaiks made about him by my paients. Foi the most pait,
they avoided talking about himappaiently his life caused
them gieat disappointmentbut occasionally a detail would
suiface that I could add to my collection. In the end I was
nevei suie wheie my ieconstiuction ended and wheie the ieal
peison began. Because my mental image of him was so much
iichei with infoimation than my actual expeiience, the made-
up biothei ended up feeling the most ieal to me.
Te fact that my biothei was aiiested wasnt so suipiising,
given my image of his life, but he had been accused of muidei,
and, accoiding to my paients, theie was no way he could avoid
being convicted foi it. I felt numb, though I didnt know it at the
time. I wasnt suie how to feel, and it botheied me. I wanted to
have cleai and denitive emotions about him, but I didnt have
much to go on. Te idea that he may have muideied somebody
i Abstract
6 i Artificial Light
scaied me. I imagined blood, bullet holes, ambulances, and
police chases, though in ieality I had no idea what had hap-
pened. My paients wouldnt tell me anything, and the void they
cieated aiound the event made it all the moie impossible to
make sense of it.
I felt betiayed by the absence of infoimation and vulneia-
ble to my own moibid imagination. It wasnt as though I could
choose to leave the mattei uniesolved in my mindit needed
to take foim, to be desciibed and mulled ovei in oidei foi me
to nd closuie. Te vague iefeiences piesented to me by my
paients only confused me fuithei. Tey cieated a hole in my
mind that stood foi him, oi moie piecisely, foi what I didnt
know about him, and then left it to me to ll it in. But blank-
ness does not iemain blank foi veiy long.
Te events leading up to my biotheis execution weie
awful. Aftei staiving me of infoimation foi months, my pai-
ents suddenly announced he had been sentenced to death. It
stiuck me as a double negative: how is a blank spot eliminated
Once again, I had no idea how to ieact to this as the ieality
of the situation had nevei been cleaily established in the ist
place. To me he haidly seemed to exist, yet appaiently he had
iequested oui piesence at the teiminal event.
On that last day, we all got in the cai to make the thiee-
and-a-half-houi diive to the piison. It was wintei, the cai was
fieezing and, as usual, stank of old cigai smoke that made me
caisick befoie we even left the diiveway. Eveiything aiound
looked bleak: giay sky, diity snow, a melancholic landscape of
undieientiated subuiban emptiness. My mothei peifoimed
noimalcy with manic intensity, tiying to diown hei pain in a
despeiately failed imitation that gave the iest of us chills. It was
nauseating and suiieal, and I kept saying stupid things that I
expected to be funny until I heaid myself say them. Tings like,
Huiiy up, hes dying to see us.
By the time we aiiived at the fiont gate of the piison, we
weie all miseiable. Te iide had been exciuciating, and the
sight of the big conciete piison was the ist time the ominous
feelings biewing inside us became tangible. Eveiything else
meiely felt like distant and ambiguous foiebodings of death,
but the abject banality of this massive conciete box looked like
the face of the ieal thing. As despicable as it was, it gave foim
to otheiwise inchoate sueiing.
i Abstract
8 i Artificial Light
Te inside was even woise. My mothei tiembled as we
moved thiough the sequence of endless coiiidois and metal
dooiways. As we boied deepei into the antiseptic coie of the
stiuctuie, we weie incieasingly depiived of sensoiy nouiish-
ment. Eveiything was sombei and daik, and theie was a stench
of bad aii deliveied in shoit supply. If we stayed too long, we
knew we would quickly use up all of oui visual memoiy fiom
the outside woild and be left with only the self-iefeiential
aiiay of painted giay conciete and exposed duct systems that
suiiounded us.
At ist I thought the building appeaied this way in oidei
to toituie its inhabitants. But once we enteied the death cham-
bei, I undeistood things dieiently. It was completely empty,
except foi a chaii and a white cuitain. It iesembled a lunai
module suspended in deep space, with neithei context noi ief-
eient. It was a noplace in which odious deeds weie piesumably
contained, absoibed, and ultimately eiased. Tis was a place
that not only enacted the teims foi so-called suigical execu-
tions, but also absolved its peipetuatois of theii paiticipation
in them. I sat theie tiansxed on the little pictuie window,
wondeiing if my biothei would even appeai.XXXXXXXXXX
, i Abstract
Aftei the event I was appioached by one of the piison o-
cials and led to my biotheis cell, at the othei end of the complex,
to collect his things. Tey told me that he had spent his last days
in anothei aiea of the building but that his cell was just as he
had left it. I felt nauseated by the piospect of being so close to
the actual physical details of his foimei existence, not wanting
to give my memoiy of him any moie ieality than I could beai,
yet compelled by the piospect of knowing him bettei.
His cell was meticulously clean and well oiganized, as
though nobody lived theie. Eithei the guaids had eiased all
tiaces of his having been theie iight aftei he left, oi the space
of the cell itself had vanquished his identity long befoie his
nal houis. Teie weie lots of books on the shelves and a few
photogiaphs peifectly aligned on the wall. I noticed one of the
familyme, my paients, giandmothei, sistei, and cousins on
the constiuction site of the summeihousethat he must have
taken because he was the only one of us not included. I had
nevei seen it befoie, but it couldnt have been moie familiai
to me. Teie we weie, comically disguied like some kind of
failed imitation of noimalcy. I wondeied how this photogiaph,
which was so deeply peisonal foi me, could also have had
meaning foi a peison whom I haidly even knew
His funeial was a lonely and, with only foui of us theie,
empty aaii. An unadoined pine box foi a cona symbol I
suppose, given my paients ability to pay foi something bettei,
of his supposed moial destitution expiessed in the language of
nancial iuin. A mateiial that would have appeaied iustic and
piecious in othei ciicumstances (a handmade table oi toolbox)
looked baie-boned and miseiable heie. Tey loweied him into
the hole, making a teiminal void solid, and I said goodbye.
In many discussions about immediacy. . .
i pait i
. . . in aichitectuie, aiguments aie made foi the ability of aichi-
tectuie to geneiate peiceptual eects that may be expeiienced
without inteipietation. But the notion that some eects may
be moie phenomenological oi abstiact than otheis is a pecu-
liai idea, given that all foims aie equally mateiial, and such
designations signify abstiact distinctions iathei than physical
It is impoitant to claiify the dieience between aiguments
against inteipietation and claims made about natuie and
unmediated expeiience. On one hand is the call foi discuisive
boundaiies to limit how we talk about things, on the othei
is a claim about how things actually aie. Te foimei would
include self-iefeiential and foimalist aiguments as necessaiy
foi maintaining disciplinaiy autonomy, and the lattei would
include phenomenological discouises in which the ceitain
chaiacteiistics of place, building ciaft, and veinaculai foims
aie undeistood to be the wellspiing of immediacy. One is based
on an intellectual idea about the ecacy of ciitical dialogue,
and the othei founded upon a belief about the so-called natuie
of uninteipieted peiceptual expeiience. Although these views
may appeai to be antithetical, they aie both chaiacteiized by a
theoiy of no-theoiies that aigues against inteipietation and
foi diiectness.
In some ways the notion of immediacy is the ip-side of
abstiaction in that immediacy is an abstiact concept iathei
than an attiibute of things, and so-called abstiact aichitec-
tuie has many of the featuies associated with the concept of
immediacy because it is conceived independently of the paitic-
ulaiities of its location and, as a iesult, fiequently gives specic
i Artificial Light
chaiactei to what might otheiwise be placeless places. To
aigue foi moie immediacy in aichitectuie is equivalent to
ghting foi peace, wheie the veiy foimulation contiadicts the
piemise upon which it is founded.
Teie is a histoiy of the senses that pieconditions the way
we peiceive natuial phenomena such as light, shadow, ieec-
tion, and coloi, and these peiceptual attiibutes aie no less
symbolically iich and mythologized than any human-pioduced
aitifact. What could it mean to amplify the sensoiial dimensions
of aichitectuial expeiience when all mateiials and phenome-
nal eects exist eveiywheie in equal measuie Would it mean
moie ieections and subtlei lighting oi handciafted details
and iiiegulai mateiials Such chaiacteiistics may be desiiable,
but they aie no moie oi less immediate than anything else. Im-
mediacy, like any othei abstiact notions, iepiesents a set of
ideological and visual sensibilities cast upon mateiial foim.
Immediate i pait a i
When I was much youngei I had a fiiend named Nick. He was
good at eveiything, and eveiybody liked him. Neveitheless, he
had a stiong tendency to disiegaid the meiit of whatevei came
easily to himeven if it was valued highly by otheis. Nick used
to say that people weie attiacted to his least attiactive featuies,
that is, what they peiceived to be his natuial abilities and
aects. He piefeiied to identify with what he felt was missing,
lost, oi undeideveloped about himself iathei than his inheient
gifts. Foi Nick talent without stiife was automatic and, theie-
foie, meaningless. He used to say that the most populai people
must wondei why anybody would like them.
It was nevei cleai to me what my talent was, but being
aiound Nick made it cleai what it wasnt. I didnt have endless
choices due to exceptional athletic oi scholastic abilities, and I
ceitainly wasnt so chaiismatic that people constantly wanted to
be aiound me. But my fiiendship with Nick also put into doubt
my belief that such chaiacteiistics, even though I still wished
them foi myself, actually biought about the kind of expeiiences
that I peiceived to be absent fiom my own life. Nicks lack of
satisfaction with himself was diiectly linked to his abundant tal-
ents, available oppoitunities, and obvious desiiability to otheis.
Pait of Nicks chaim was that being with him made you feel
good about youiself. Foi many, his company was like a tiophy,
a sign of theii own desiiability, if only by extension. But Nick
i Immediate
i Artificial Light 6
must have undeistood this. He must have felt his automatic and
innate people-talents peifoiming theii customaiy hypnotic
eects even upon his closest fiiends, putting into question once
again the tiue souice of theii attiaction to himas though the
magnetic foice he exeited upon them, what biought them
close to him, was in the end what pievented him fiom evei
ieally feeling close to them.
I ist met Nick in the ninth giade, wheie he showed up
one day in the middle of the fall semestei. Despite his good
looks and the ease with which he made new fiiends, theie was
something weiid about him. He had, only a week befoie, been
expelled fiom the militaiy school wheie he had spent his last
thiee yeais, and the bizaiie social conduct he had acquiied
fiom that institution was stiangely tiansposed into oui public-
school setting. He did odd things like call the teacheis maam
oi sii and tuined the hallway coineis in ciisp and sudden
ninety-degiee iotations. Tese aectations would soon fade
away, but, as Nick eventually told me, the feai of being suddenly
accosted and biutalized by uppei classmen did not. He told me
that he nevei ieally slept soundly oi was able to ielaxexpect-
ing as he always did to be unexpectedly yelled at, tiampled, oi
publicly humiliated (like the time he passed out maiching back
and foith in foimations on a hot summei day weaiing a thick
wool militaiy unifoim, and they made him stand outside in the
iain foi an entiie night as punishment, oi when he got caught
buying pot with the money his fathei had sent him to puichase
a new sabei, and they announced his expulsion on the school-
wide inteicom).
Despite the tendency of most people to giavitate towaid
him, Nick failed to evei become identied with any paiticulai
i Immediate 6
clique oi social steieotype. I think he would have liked to have
been a buin-out, and smoke pot all day, but he was fai too
populai to evei win acceptance with such a maiginalized gioup.
Besides, even aftei militaiy school had faded fiom his peisona,
he iemained oblivious to the subtleties of diess codes and ways
of talking iequiied to dene him socially. He was a populai lonei.
Tat he and I became best fiiends is odd. My attiaction to
him was piobably the same as eveiybody elses, but I nevei guied
out what diew him to me. We nevei talked about the inequalities
between us, though they weie glaiingly obviousespecially in
the company of otheis. Neithei of us had many fiiendsthough
he had countless piospects, and I had veiy few.
One day we iealized that Nicks family owned a second
house on the bay in the same town wheie my family had built
the summeihouse, and, coincidentally, we ended up spending
seveial summeis theie at the same time. We spent houis pull-
ing one anothei up and down Oceanside ioads with one of us
diiving his gieen moped and the othei pulled along on a skate-
boaid with a iope. We went sailing on his Sunsh, played fiis-
bee on the beach, and spent endless houis and quaiteis at the
boaidwalk video aicade. With absolutely no eoit on oui pait,
we cycled in and out of seveial oibits of teenage gioups whose
main pastime seemed to be diinking copious amounts of beei
and making out in the sand dunes befoie puking and passing
out. We nevei lasted long with these gioups, but Nick was con-
stantly discoveied and puisued by giils who would insist that he
spend time with them, and, disinteiested as he was in anything
but the make-out session, Nick always made me come along.
Tough we nevei talked about it, I knew that Nick was
having a haid time with his fathei. Having met the man myself
66 i Artificial Light
many times it was easy to see why. He was iiiitable and ovei-
beaiing and constantly told eveiybody what to do. He adoied
Nick, compensation foi his lousiness as a fathei it seemed, but
he undeistood absolutely nothing about his son.
Pleased as he was by Nicks supeicial successes in school,
spoits, and with giils, he was also completely oblivious to him.
Te only times Nicks fathei evei engaged him in sustained
and substantial ways weie when Nick did something to piss
him o. Te moie distant and too easily satised Nick felt his
fathei to be, the moie he tiied to angei him. I nevei knew how
conscious this was on Nicks pait, but he took the degiee of
his acting out to the next level the summei befoie oui junioi
yeai in high school.
I iemembei him calling me one afteinoon and telling me
how he had been taking his fatheis new cai out foi diives on
the neaiby Jeisey Tuinpike at :oo a.m. He desciibed how he
would quietly ioll up the gaiage dooi, put the cai in neutial,
and push it out onto the stieet so as not to wake anybody up.
Nick was about fteen at the time and had little, if any, diiving
expeiience. By the time he luied me into one of his late-night
cai thefts, he was alieady comfoitable iacing the cai along the
highways at speeds in the uppei nineties.
One day he pioposed that I come along that night on
what would be his longest excuision yet. He wanted to diive
foity miles noith to Atlantic City, wheie, accoiding to him,
we would diink complimentaiy casino diinks and gamble
into the eaily moining houis befoie ietuining the big new
cai safely to his fatheis gaiage. I should have known then
that failuie was inevitablemotivated as his actions weie by
a desiie foi attention iathei than the thiills he puipoited to
ciavebut I was too caught up in his enthusiasm to decline
what I knew was a stupid undeitaking.
I waited up foi him until about a:oo a.m., but when he
failed to appeai I gave up and went to sleep. An houi oi so
latei, I was awakened by the sight of him ciawling thiough my
bedioom window. He had punctuied two small holes in the
sliding scieen windows and pulled the latches in fai enough to
ielease the locking mechanism that held them in place. Unable
to push them up high enough to cieate ample ciawl space, he
went aiound to the back of oui house, opened the small utility
shed, and found a stepladdei that he caiiied back aiound to
the fiont of the house, all in the daik. Not only was he lled
with an insatiable need to mess things up foi himself, he was
also a piecocious buiglai.
When he ciashed down onto the ooi of my bedioom, I
felt diead at the piospect of what I knew he was about to make
me do. I told him it was too late and that I was tiied, but he
would have nothing of it. We both knew that I wouldnt say no
to him. I quickly diessed in the daik, and we quietly slipped
out the window onto the stepladdei and down the stieet to
wheie he had paiked his fatheis cai. When I got into the cai, I
was dumbfounded to nd his familys tiny pug, Cleo, looking
up at me excitedly with hei little tongue hanging out. I couldnt
tell if she was happy to be a pait of delinquency oi just teiii-
ed. Nick told me she had staited baiking when he went into
the gaiage and decided to biing hei along. Between the fiont
seats of the cai, Nick had positioned a newly puichased thiee-
foot-tall plastic bong. I biidled at the abject stupidity of it all
i Immediate
68 i Artificial Light
but said nothing. Nick staited the cai and we headed towaid
the Atlantic City expiessway.
Eventually, we aiiived outside of one of the casinos, paiked
the cai, and walked towaid the fiont entiance. It was about :oo
a.m. by now, and the stieets weie completely empty. Tis was
haidly the excitement Nick had piomised eailiei in the day.
Unlike Nick, I didnt like getting into tiouble. I was giowing tiied
of him and incieasingly annoyed by the stupid things he was
doing and saying: smoking pot while he diove without a license
in a stolen cai and biagging about all of the exciting things he
was going to do with his life. I wanted to go home, and I told
him so. He ignoied me, and we continued on to the casino.
Just befoie we enteied the laige building, a seedy look-
ing man appioached us holding thiee small cups and a little
ied ball in his hand. He signaled us ovei to a neaiby staiiway,
placed the ball on the suiface of one of the steps, and coveied
it with one of the thiee cups that he placed upside down in a
single line. He moved the cups aiound quickly and asked Nick
to guess wheie the ball was. Piedictably, Nick coiiectly identi-
ed the location of the ball thiee times in a iow, was compli-
mented foi his abilities by the man, and invited to wagei upon
his next guess about the location of the ball.
Nick tuined to me with a look of assuied conspiiatoiial glee
and whispeied in my eai that he knew what he was doing and
that he wanted to boiiow some money foi me. He said this was
oui chance to make a lot of cash, and, if successful, he had lots
of ideas about how we could make even moie. At that moment I
nally admitted to myself how fai gone Nick ieally was and how
stupid I had been to listen to him. I tuined and walked out of the
building and headed towaid the cai. I didnt know how I would
get back to Oceanside, but I had to get away fiom him.
Nick caught up with me just as I ieached his cai. Cleo saw
us and began jumping up and down hysteiically. Nick ieal-
ized how angiy I was and quietly oeied to diive us back to
Oceanside. We got into the cai and, as usual, he ovei-acceleiated
and shot the cai out into the middle of the ioad without even
looking foi oncoming tiac. As we iaced towaid the highway
entiance, it began to iain, a little at ist, and then it tuined into
a downpoui. It was still daik outside, and with the iain poui-
ing down, it was incieasingly haid to see wheie we weie going.
Cleo coweied on my lap and made despeiate wheezing noises.
i Immediate
;o i Artificial Light
Just when I thought Nick might be calming down and feel-
ing iemoise foi his iecklessness, he tuined on the iadio and
blasted the volume. I wanted to scieam. I giipped Cleo tightly
until she yelped and teais came to my eyes. Just then the cai
slid acioss the ooded suiface of the highway, and we began to
spin counteiclockwise, suddenly ciossing ovei thiee lanes of
the highway. Luckily theie weie no cais neaiby, and we man-
aged to avoid hitting anything until we ciashed into a small
metal baiiiei and bounced up and into a giass-coveied ditch
at the side of the ioad.
When the cai nally stopped moving, we sat theie as if
hypnotized, unable to compiehend the fact that the cai had
spun so uncontiollably acioss the ioad at high speed without
killing us. We looked down, as if expecting to see seveied limbs
and blood, but eveiything was okay. Without talking we each
got out of the cai to appiaise the situation. Te sun was just
beginning to iise, and in the eaily light I could see that the
fiont and ieai axles had been completely ciushed. Te foui
wheels weie bent outwaid in an unsettling way, like a human
leg bent unnatuially backwaid. Te cai was totaled.
Expecting the police to aiiive at any moment, I ieached
inside the cai giabbed the bong and thiew it as fai as I could
into the tall giasses that lined the highway. Nick scieamed and
tiied to stop me. I became so totally eniaged that I began to
scieam at him uncontiollably. I had nevei been comfoitable
expiessing angei befoie, and the sensation of iage utteily con-
sumed me. I exploded in a way that I had nevei expeiienced.
Te sensation of feai and iage welled up well beyond the limits
of my physical body and I felt myself divide into two seemingly
concuiient consciousnesses, the ist was the angiy me and
the second a placid obseivei of the foimei. I saw Nick teiiied
by the fuioi unleashed in me, and despite the fact that I was
still yelling at him, I felt piofound empathy towaid him: I iec-
ognized foi the ist time something of the emotional tiauma
that piecipitated his self-destiuctiveness.
When the iage subsided, I was a dieient peison. In some
ways I felt bettei than I had in a long time, as though I had un-
buidened myself of some unknown but unavoidable haidship.
I quickly devised a plan of action. I didnt want to wait foi the
police and deal with what that would involve, so we collected
oui things fiom the cai, wiote down the mile maikei of the
ciashed cai, and set o up the highway with Cleo to nd a pay
phone. Eventually a cai pulled ovei and oeied to diive us most
of the way to Oceanside. Sitting in the cai, soaking wet and
ielieved to still be alive, I watched as the moining light intensi-
ed and the iain subsided. I knew we weie in tiouble, but I didnt
caie so mucheveiything felt moie peaceful to me then it had
in a long time, and even Cleo seemed to have calmed down.
We made it back to my house. Eveiybody was still sleep-
ing. I changed my clothes and got something foi Nick to eat.
I iealized that not only had I suivived unscathed but also that
nobody in my family would evei nd out about what had hap-
pened. Nick had no need to tell anyone that I had accompanied
him. I felt bad foi Nick, knowing how his fathei would ieact. I
listened as he called and woke up his mom to tell hei what had
happened. I waited with him until hei cai appeaied at the fiont
of oui house. He walked out with Cleo in his aims, got in, and
diove o. I didnt heai fiom him foi a long time afteiwaids.
i Immediate
Pievalent ideas about visual oidei. . .
Fakei pait i
. . . aie being challenged in the visual aits by a giowing disin-
teiest in oidei-making altogethei. Suipiisingly, the iesponse
that most eectively biidges the gap between the oideied and
the non-oideied is not the valoiization of disoidei but the
attening of all elements into a eld of unifoim signicance in
which featuielessness itself becomes the piimaiy featuie. In
the absence of familiai hieiaichies and ielationships between
customaiy centeis and maigins, objects take on new ielation-
ships to the atmospheies and inteistices that they usually stand
in fiont of and, in doing so, appeai unieal.
In an attempt to depict this leveling of signicance, many
photogiapheis exploie the ielationship of focus to the pictoiial
stiuctuie of theii images. In theii woik conventional expeii-
ences of focus and blui as indicatois of ielative distances aie
sciambled to allow otheiwise peiipheial fiagments to assume
shaip focus while moie centially dominant foims aie bluiied.
In this way the photogiaphs depait fiom the natuialized vei-
sion of seeing we have come to expect fiom photogiaphy and
piesent the physical woild in new teims that make ieal things
look like diminutive models, oi fakes, because they do not
adheie to the visual logic to which we aie accustomed.
While the specic eects used to cieate fakeness in pho-
togiaphy may not be tiansfeiable to aichitectuie, the idea of
the contiivance of iealness is. Similai to a movie set, wheie
the means of staging an eect oi idealization aie visible along
with the staged peifoimance, aichitectuie stands to challenge
its own status as a shapei of ieality by ceasing to poitiay itself
as a diiect and natuial extension of ieality. When it appeais as
a stage set foi the cieation of an unieal event, the status of the
expeiience and the meanings conveyed pievaiicate and chal-
lenge the veiy basis foi the pioduction of iealnessa paiadox-
ical ciicumstance foi an ait foim that by denition has been
chaiged to dene and delivei ieal things.
Sometimes fake things feel moie ieal than the things that
theyie faking. Because they aie ieconstiuctions of something
else, they may captuie an exaggeiated featuie of the oiiginal
that may seem less vivid in its noimal context. To put ieality into
ielief, it needs to be oveichaiged, to be punched out fiom the
i Artificial Light ;
enviionment that it typically extends. It needs to appeai like
oveisatuiated coloi in an otheiwise noimal coloi eld, like
watching a bad actoi playing a iole in which we notice the act-
ing, without wanting to, because it appeais unnatuial to its
Fake i pait a i
My cousin Heathei was a piecocious teenagei. She wasnt pai-
ticulaily intelligent, but she was a genius when it came to sex.
She was pietty, self-assuied, and liked to paity. When she was
sixteen, she came to visit my family duiing oui vacation at the
summeihouse. Te ist day Heathei came to the beach, eveiy
guy within a hundied yaids of us took notice. Tey walked
back and foith staiing at hei idiotically and tossed balls in oui
diiection to give themselves a chance to come closei. Heathei
was awaie of all of this but pietended not to be. She was as
obsessed with getting theii attention as they weie with hei, de-
spite hei seeming indieience.
In addition to being extiemely iitatious, Heathei ema-
nated a mysteiious but undeniable magnetism that diove guys
nuts, especially the moie manly among them. Te manly type
was hei piimaiy taiget: guys who weie so suie of themselves
that they walked iight up to hei and asked hei out with little oi
no pieamble oi small talk. Tey had big muscles, deep tans,
and stylish haii, and weie the dumbest sub-bieed of humans I
had evei met.
When she ieached high school, Heatheis life staited to
go wiong. Hei paients had divoiced and hei moms new diug-
dealing boyfiiend moved in with them. Heathei got heavily
i Fake ;
;6 i Artificial Light
into diugs. One day the police knocked on the dooi of theii
home with a seaich waiiant. Tey aiiested hei mom and the
boyfiiendthey had a safe full of illegal diugs and cash in the
basementand sent them o to piison. Heathei moved in
tempoiaiily with hei fathei and his new wife, who despised
hei. When she tuined eighteen, Heathei moved to Southein
Califoinia to become a model. Tat was the last any of us heaid
about hei foi many yeais.
When I was in college, my sistei called to tell me that
Heathei was appeaiing in poino movies. At ist I didnt
believe it, then I felt ieally bad foi hei. I pictuied hei as the
victim of some demonic conspiiacy against women, manipu-
lated thiough diug-induced coeicion to act against hei bettei
judgment. I called my sistei to discuss my piognosis and to
stiategize a family inteivention.
Aftei listening biiey to my speculations, my sistei intei-
iupted to tell me that I was wiong. She said Heathei pioduced
all of hei own movies and did mostly lesbian lms. She had a
line of signatuie pioducts and told hei fathei that she was
nally in contiol of hei own nancial futuie. Dubious, I decided
to visit hei and see foi myself. I made my sistei come too.
Heathei picked us up at LAX in a black Coivette with the
ioof down and a license plate that said: I DARE YOU. When
we stopped at tiac lights, guys would pull up beside us and,
as usual, staie at hei. She had laige sunglasses, a supei tan, and
veiy little clothing on. Te cai steieo was blasting, and she was
hypei, appaiently anxious to show us how successful and in
contiol of hei life she was. Despite the no-apologies attitude
she aected whenevei the subject of poinogiaphy came up
which it did constantly because she kept mentioning itshe
seemed unsuie, neivous about oui peiceptions of hei.
I faked enthusiasm foi hei new life and pietended to be
comfoitable with it all. As usual, the conveisation iemained
entiiely focused on hei. She talked nonstop about hei lms,
populai misconceptions about the business, and, in line with
oui familys coie values, what an outiageous amount of money
she was making. Back at hei oceanfiont condo she piesented
us with hei spectaculai view, an aiticial ieplace with a dim-
mei switch, and a new line of sex pioducts she was endoising
that included a latex model cast diiectly fiom hei unit.
She tieated us to a gaiishly expensive meal and lled up
the dinnei conveisation with a stieam of oveily ieheaised pio-
poino speak. Eveiything she said was calculated to impiess us,
though she had misjudged hei audience. Not that I wasnt tiy-
ing to be open-minded, but the aiguments she used to justify
hei lifestyle had little iesonance foi me. Gieat, I thought, you
make a lot of money, diive an expensive cai, and live in a big
empty condo. Big deal!
Te next day, she announced that she was taking us to a
poino set in the subuibs to meet eveiybody and see how
noimal the business ieally was. I panicked. She told me not to
woiiy, and that O. J. Simpson had iecently visited a similai set
and had a gieat time. I couldnt tell what was moie iidiculous:
going to a poino set oi being compaied to O. J. Simpson.
Te setting foi the lm was a laige, nondesciipt tiact house
just outside of the city that had been iented foi the day. Te
model of so-called noimalcy upheld by the foim and image
of the house seemed to explain something about oui societys
i Fake
;8 i Artificial Light
need foi poinogiaphy. Like most subuiban houses, it was con-
tiived to accommodate a ioutine of piedigested behaviois, it
felt like a stage-set foi the peifect family sitcom. It was obvious
why such a house made an excellent location foi a poino lm:
its iigid, antiseptic, and alienating conseivatism piactically
ciied out foi iaunchy sexual abandon as compensation foi the
iepiessed and fiigid ideological plots that it haiboied.
Te house seemed to exude loneliness and sexual fius-
tiation all the way down to its foundation. Te lmmakeis
undeistood this peifectly and iesponded with an uncanny sen-
sitivity foi mining the iepiessed subtext of each of the inteiioi
settings. Te staiiway, the kitchen table, the chopping blocks
in the kitchen, and the basement exeicise ioom all pioduced
theii own debauched sexual deconstiuctions.
As lming began we witnessed multiple couples giind-
ing away in the mastei bedioom, anal penetiation against the
kitchen countei, and an all-out oigy on the ieai deck. Wedding
pictuies hung on the wall weie iattled by the banging thiusts
of hips iammed against them. Oveistued dolls and pillows
weie plowed away to accommodate the piling of sweaty bod-
ies upon oial-pattein sheets and decoiative caipets. Tossed
into a gaibled heap and foinicated upon could be found all the
standaidized tiophies of family piide and contentment.
In contiast to the on-cameia action, the membeis of the
ciew couldnt have been moie uniemaikable. If the cameia
iecoided licentious, foibidden, and unabashed sex, the lives
of those behind them weie completely the opposite. Tey
weie haidly the big seedy guys with slick black haii and sun-
glasses that I had expected. Tey looked moie like oveigiown
adolescents fiom the mall video aicade: fiumpy postuie,
stomachs sticking out beneath t-shiits tuined inside-out, long
shoits, and leathei high-tops with mismatched socks.
If exhibitionism and the desiie foi a paiticulai type of
sexual piomiscuity aie the backlash of the failed piomises of
i Fake
i Artificial Light 8o
subuibia, then these guys weie symptomatic of an even moie
advanced state in which subjects aie eectively neuteied by
theii suiioundings. Teie isnt any moial oi ethical oiientation
to challenge, shock, oi oend because they have none. To them,
theie is little dieience between playing video games, eating
pizza, and stepping ovei a gioup of naked humans humping on
the kitchen ooi. Tey could be wateiing the lawn oi lming a
poino movieit made absolutely no dieience to them.
Tis became even cleaiei when the actois themselves
hung out with the ciew between takes and duiing bieaks.
Tey would all sit aiound diinking Cokes and talking in the
most noimal way you could imagine, completely blase and in-
dieient to the fact that some of them weie completely naked
and had just been seen sciewing to the point of exhaustion a
moment befoie.
Aftei an houi oi so, we got used to the stiangeness of the
setting, and boiedom set in. Although Heathei pietended to
want us to see how noimal and cool eveiybody was, she
was disappointed by how quickly we lost inteiest. Foi hei, the
attiaction stemmed fiom the paiadoxical sense that she was
doing something iebellious and foibidden while simultane-
ously achieving mateiial comfoit and secuiity. She wanted to
be conventionally successful while acting out in unconven-
tional ways.
Once the stigma of outiageous sex faded, hei job appeaied
to us mechanical and banal, and the enviionment boiing. Any
soididness with which the lms may have been chaiged had
moie to do with the paiticulai psychosexual lteis though
which they would be consumed than anything happening on
8 i Fake
scieen. Te methods and naiiatives with which the familiai
domestic settings weie infused with iaunchiness quickly be-
came as piedictable and mundane as the backdiops against
which they appeaied.
Te next chaptei of Heatheis life was as depiessing as the
lms she made. Tiough hei caieei as a highly publicized poin
stai, she encounteied many celebiities and eventually fell in
love with a majoi-league baseball playei. Te baseball playei
asked hei to maiiy him, with the condition that she quit the
poino business. It seemed the pait of hei life that had initially
appealed to his fantasy had come to play a dieient iole in his
imagination of hei as his wife. Heathei agieed to the condi-
tions of his pioposal, a wedding date was set.
Befoie the wedding hei ance infoimed his family about
Heatheis backgiound in poinogiaphy. His mothei was of-
fended, hysteiical, and foibade hei son fiom maiiying Heathei.
He iealized that theii life togethei would always suei fiom
peoples negative image of hei. He eventually abandoned hei,
too. Heathei was heaitbioken and, unable to iecovei fiom the
blow, slipped back into diug addiction.
We all lost tiack of hei, except foi an occasional iumoi
about hei downwaid spiial into incieasingly despeiate ciicum-
stances. Te last I heaid, she had been aiiested foi involuntaiy
manslaughtei. It seems she had handcued a sexual paitnei to
a hotel-ioom bed and then accidentally set ie to the mattiess
with a cigaiette. She went iunning to nd a ie extinguishei
but got lost and couldnt iemembei the ioom numbei until it
was too late.
When I was seventeen. . .
. . . I was anxious to go out and see the woild. I despised the
subuibs wheie I giew up but had nevei lived anywheie else. I
must have been weighing heavily upon my fatheis neives, too,
because when I mentioned that I wanted to nish high school
eaily and tiavel to Noith Afiica, he was unchaiacteiistically
encouiaging, if somewhat inciedulous.
He was ieady foi me to leave home, but he was dubi-
ous about the tiip. He asked me how I expected to pay foi it,
as though he was ceitain that I didnt have any money, and
told me that it was time to stait dealing with the ieal woild
and get a job. In a sudden moment of panic at the piospect
of having to woik, I told him I had a plan to iaise the tiavel
money and that as soon as I had collected s,ooo I would be
on my way.
He laughed in my face and asked what kind of plan I was
talking about. I told him that I would be taking the casino bus
fiom Philadelphia to Atlantic City wheie I planned to success-
fully conveit my so savings into the needed tiavel money at
the ioulette wheel. He laughed even haidei and told me with
egiegious saicasm that, weie I able to pull o such a miiacle,
he would happily diive me to the aiipoit himself. Otheiwise,
Id bettei get my act togethei.
I was angeied by his piedictable lack of condence in me
and deteimined to piove him wiong. I looked up the schedule
foi Ballys Casino bus and planned accoidingly. I was undei-
age, so I put on the spoits jacket I woie to weddings and funei-
als and tiied to appeai oldei. Im suie I didnt fool anybody, but
I did manage to shoot past the ID checkeis at the entiance and,
aftei getting sos woith of chips fiom the cashiei, headed to
8 i Artificial Light
the ioulette wheels. I piomised myself that I would keep gam-
bling until I ieached s,ooo and quit the moment I did.
Tings staited o pooily as I lost the ist few bets, but
then they picked up. When I ieached the sa,ooo maik I pan-
icked, telling myself that I could still manage to tiavel some-
wheie good foi less than s,ooo. Something inside me biidled
at my cowaidice and foiced me to continue. Aftei a few moie
bets I hit my maik and cashed outmission accomplished.
Back home, I locked myself in my bedioom and counted
out soo bills on my bed. I had expected to enjoy pioving my
fathei wiong, but now I was afiaid he would thwait my plans
foi some othei ieason. I appioached him cautiously in the
living ioom and asked if he iemembeied what he had said
about giving me peimission to tiavel if I iaised the money.
He said Yeah in a mocking tone, and asked me when I was
planning to head down to the casinos. I told him that I had
just ietuined and showed him the cash. He staied at it with
uttei befuddlement that quickly tuined into angei: he didnt
believe me.
He thought I must have been dealing diugs oi stealing oi
something else possibly illegal and denitely bad. He kept say-
ing that a peison doesnt just walk into a casino and win s,ooo
foi a tiip. Eventually he had no choice but to believe me, as I
was neithei a diug dealei noi a thief noi that good a liai. He
told me that he was disappointed that this fantasy had acci-
dentally played out in my favoi, because it was going to distoit
my sense of how things ieally woiked and it would make it
dicult foi me in the futuie when, confionted with ieal de-
mands, my fantasies would have no solution.
I made plans to go to Egypt: the pyiamids, Kainak, Luxoi,
and Queen Hatshepsuts temple. I knew nothing about these
places othei than what I had seen in photogiaphs. Tey weie as
unieal to me as the pictuie of the pyiamids on my new money.
In fact, they weie moie unieal to me than any place I had evei
been, which is why I couldnt wait to visit them in peison.
When my ight landed in Caiio, I was oveiwhelmed with
feai and excitement. I had no idea wheie I was and couldnt
undeistand a woid of Aiabic oi Fiench. Te woild felt like it
was spinning out of contiol, and theie was nothing I could do
to stop it. Eveiything was fiesh, vivid, and open to new intei-
pietations, I loved it. Tat I was able to function in this mode
foi as long as I did is a feat that I will nevei compiehend.
Given the piecaiiousness of my situation, I should have
been abducted, knifed, oi muideied, but I wasnt, no food
poisoning, no staivation, absolutely nothing badat least not
iight away. I began my tiavels with a jouiney deep into the
Sahaia Deseitan eleven-houi bus iide to what felt like the
edge of the univeise. I had thought I would cleanse my visual
palette with vast open space in piepaiation foi the pyiamids.
I spent a week diifting fiom one featuieless destination to
anothei in anticipation of the upcoming tiip to Cheops. I fan-
tasized that I was on an epic jouiney of self-discoveiy and that
the ancient Egyptian aichitectuie would teach me something
amazing about the woild and my place in it. I was almost cei-
tain that the pyiamids would tiansfoim me fiom the peison I
was into someone bettei.
By the time I aiiived in Giza, I was so confused that I couldnt
tell what was ieal and what was not. I hadnt encounteied anothei
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86 i Artificial Light
English speakei in ovei two weeks, and I was beginning to ex-
peiience the conveisations inside my head as if they weie with
actual people. I talked to myself constantly and peifoimed my
own inteinal ieality checks. Am I ciazy I would iegulaily
ask myself, to which the invaiiable ieply was No. I was sui-
iounded by masses of people yet felt alone, as if I weie pioduc-
ing sceneiy out of my imagination and populating it with an
aimy of lm-set extias.
I felt like my sense of self was giving way to the voice of
a iadio spoits commentatoi naiiating my decline fiom the
outside: Right now hes confusing ction foi fact, but soon
eveiything will be back to noimal. I was woiiied: the innei
commentaiy was incessant and I iationalized like ciazy just
to stay in touch with ieality. I made iepoits to myself about
what was happening: OK, Im walking to the dooi and asking
this man how to get to the pyiamids. Im buying a bus ticket
and appeaiing noimal to eveiybody aiound. Im smiling at the
bus diivei, but not too much, and walking with a sensible gait.
Ill sit down next to that woman ovei theie but not make eye
contact with hei. . .
As oui bus pulled into the station at Giza, my heait iaced.
Te aiea was too congested foi me to see wheie I was. I stepped
o the bus into a thiong of beggais, salesmen, and guides foi
hiie. It seemed like eveiyone had been awaiting my aiiival and
each wanted a piece of me. Legless childien tugged at my pant
legs and demanded money while sleazy looking young men
with foiced smiles and new leathei jackets competed with one
anothei foi my attention. I iepoited to myself that I was about
to walk away but saw myself vomiting in the diiection of an
outiaged beggai instead.
As I fell to the giound, the ciowd piessed up against me
fiom eveiy side. I felt my bag and my cameia being loosened
fiom my giip. At ist I assumed people weie tiying to help me,
but then I iealized that I was being iobbed. Stiange hands ium-
maged though my pockets and a swaim of loud and ciazy voic-
es loomed above me. My commentatoi iepoited eveiything
back to me, as if he was standing high above the action while I
lay theie on the pavement staiing o at nothing in paiticulai.
Aftei measuieless time, I awoke on a cot in a laige ioom
full of people, which I eventually iealized was a police station.
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88 i Artificial Light
I sat up and was handed a cup of watei by a shoit man with a
black mustache, a long white lab coat, and an old paii of leath-
ei sandals. He said something to me in a language I could not
undeistand. I stood up and staggeied towaid the dooi. When I
stepped outside, I looked up and unexpectedly saw, iight theie
in fiont of me, the massive pyiamid I had come all this way to
I was alieady emotionally spent and disoiiented, and this
staitling impiession of the pyiamid dumbfounded me. Te giant
wedge loomed ovei me like an impostei, a fake, a massive piece
of aiibiushed Styiofoam. It looked moie like a castaway fiom a
Disney Woild seconds sale than the key to lifes mysteiies. I pie-
feiied the image of it piinted on my money to the ieal thing.
I wondeied to myself if what I was seeing was the ieal pyi-
amid oi meiely a piojection, a kind of emeigency escape hatch
fiom the bad things that weie happening to me. Just then I
heaid the voice of a woman speaking English with a Biitish
accent. Unable to distinguish this paiticulai voice fiom the
many inside my head, I shouted out towaid it.
A woman about my age giabbed my hand and helped me
to my feet. She intioduced heiself and told me she was English
and that she was going to take caie of me. Peihaps it was the
sudden joy of being able to undeistand spoken language foi
the ist time in weeks, oi simply the sensation of hei hand in
mine, but I tiusted hei completely and was eagei to tuin my
fate ovei to hei.
Aftei iescuing me fiom the police, she suggested we
go foi some hot mint tea. Tis alaimed me, as I had iead in
my visitois guide to Egypt that touiists should nevei diink
. . .
mint tea with stiangeis because it was a populai means used
by Egyptian thieves and diug dealeis to diug touiists. I told
myself that this nice woman couldnt possibly have any mali-
cious intentions and went along.
At the small bai wheie she took me we weie met by thiee
suspicious-looking fellowsalso Englishwho knew my new
companion and who seemed to have been expecting us. Tey,
too, acted fiiendlyas if they wanted to help mebut weie fai
less convincing than the woman.
We diank many glasses of mint tea, and my glass was
always kept full. Aftei a while the conveisation stopped, and I
began to feel incieasingly uncomfoitable. Te woman and one
of the men kept getting up fiom the table to speak with one
anothei in the fai coinei of the ioom. Each time they ietuined,
the woman looked moie upset. Appaiently they weie aiguing
about something, but I couldnt tell what.
Aftei a while they announced that it was time to go. I was
alaimed and unsuie of the situation. Watching the woman
become incieasingly distiaught had distuibed me. I didnt
know what the pioblem was, though I guessed that it involved
me. I tiied to leave, thanking them foi theii company and say-
ing that I would go o to nd a hotel, but they ignoied me, and
we all ciowded into a cab that had been waiting outside. Tey
gave the diivei instiuctions in Aiabic and we diove o.
We eventually aiiived at the Caiio aiipoit. Right befoie
pulling up to the depaituie diop o aiea, the woman and
one of the men began yelling at one anothei. Te woman was
cleaily tiying to piotect me, though it was uncleai fiom what.
Te man, visibly angiy with hei, had the cab pull ovei suddenly
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,8 i Artificial Light
to the side of the ioad and pushed the woman out onto the
sidewalk. She looked at me with sadness in hei eyes and ian
At this point I tiied to get out of the cai myself but was
unable to do so, as I was sandwiched between two of the men
in the backseat. Tey acted like eveiything was ne and once
again gave the diivei instiuctions that I could not undeistand.
Te cab pulled up into a concealed coinei of a neaiby paiking
aiea, and two of the men tuined to face me while the thiid
got out and went aiound to open the tiunk of the cab. By this
point I was both teiiied and a little deliiious. I was having
tiouble seeing.
As the thiid man was ietuining to the fiont seat of the cai
with a small backpack, I leaped ovei the fiont seat and ciawled
out of the open dooi. Stumbling, I pulled myself up, managed
to duck away fiom the aims of the men tiying to stop me, and
ian towaid the ciowded teiminal. I heaid shouting and tuined
back to see the thiee men iacing towaid me. I tiipped and fell
to the giound just as one of them ieached me. As he giabbed
my aim, a tiny beat-up cai full of Egyptian police sweived up
besides us at the edge of the cuib. Te thiee men suddenly
tuined and ian in the opposite diiection as one of the police-
men spoke to me excitedly.
i Real
Foi authentic buildings to exist . . .
i pait i
. . . theie must also be fakes. But how can theie be an inauthen-
tic building given that things exist by viitue of theii physical-
ity, which is possessed in equal measuie by all things Teie
aie foigeiies and copies, but those iefei to a dieient kind of
authenticityone piedicated upon the simulation of oiigi-
nal aitifacts iathei than aesthetic styles and sensibilities. In
aichitectuie the teim authenticity tends to chaiacteiize a cei-
tain ielationship among specic building tiaditions and sites,
mateiials, and, iionically, theii images.
Building mateiials, such as stone, aie associated with pei-
manence because they aie long lasting and ielatively dicult
to destioy. Foi this ieason they have come to signify stabil-
ity and timelessness. But the image of peimanence is no moie
enduiing than any othei sign. A piece of plastic laminate may
appeai to simulate the wood giain of maple, but it is neveithe-
less an actual piece of plastic laminate. If the peiceived value of
such laminate comes fiom its iesemblance to maple, then the
physical chaiacteiistics of plastic laminate aie supplanted by
the qualities of maple that aie piojected upon it.
What may appeai natuial in one conguiation may look
stylized in anothei. A hand-built wooden house may appeai
authentic when viewed as an extension of a single homoge-
nous enviionment, but the same building positioned between
two austeie, white modeinist buildings would hold a veiy dif-
feient meaning. Contiast among dieient aichitectuial styles,
memes, and tiopes goes against the teims by which buildings
typically coheie and accoiding to which sensoiy expeiience is
tiaditionally insciibed with cultuial signicance. Such a build-
ing would, by denition, appeai fiagmented and incoheient,
like an impostei, simulation, oi kitsch.
oa i Artificial Light
Authentic i pait a i
A few yeais ago I tiaveled to Spain to visit the woik of the
Russian aichitect Victoi Sezonovich. His woik fascinates me
foi many ieasons, including the fact that it ieects the stiange
and complex life of Sezonovich himself. Te aichitect immi-
giated to Spain in the ,6os, aftei having sabotaged his own
caieei in the foimei Soviet Union by speaking out publicly
against the development of a new city centei in the town of
Odessa, the design of which he had oveiseen himself.
Sezonovich expeiienced a change of heait midway thiough
the pioject because of the oveit piopaganda stiategies behind
its inception that iequiied him to give expiession to Soviet
ideology in the idiom of a tiaditional iegional aichitectuial
style. Tat a single style was believed to convey the values of
the locality while simultaneously upholding Communist piin-
ciples seemed to be an iiieconcilable paiadox to Sezonovich.
He knew he would nevei convince the authoiities to change
theii outlook, but he wanted to pionounce the disconnec-
tion between theii notions of an indigenous style and theii
iequiiement that it convey the abstiact piinciples of the political
iegime without iecouise to institutionalized styles.
Sezonovich developed an aichitectuial language that would
appeai to ocials as though he was abiding by theii standaids
while at the same time allowing him the oppoitunity to coveitly
iidicule them. Although the intention to subveit the dominant
building style while simultaneously appeaiing to confoim to it
seemed to be an impossible goal, he was condent of his abil-
ity to make a single design that would lend itself to conicting
Sezonovich joined togethei two heietofoie mutually exclu-
sive ways of thinking about aichitectuie: the ist took conven-
tional mateiials and constiuction piactices to be the piimaiy
deteiminants of foim, and the second ieoideied the aiiange-
ments by which these mateiials and constiuction techniques
took on iconogiaphic signicance. To accomplish the foimei,
he used new conguiations of familiai building mateiials that
ian countei to, but peifoimed as well as, tiaditional methods.
In the lattei case, he shued the ielative positioning and scale
of symbolic elements such as walls, windows, and doois.
i Authentic
o i Artificial Light
His eaily woik, consisting of a slew of piivate homes built
foi Russian dignitaiies and a smatteiing of small civic pioj-
ects, such as bathhouses, a public maiket, and a cemeteiy,
geneially includes the aiiangements of foimidable and ovei-
built wallsaiianged peipendiculaily to one anotheithat
appeai to be solid stone fiom one side and biick oi plastei
on the othei. Te walls of these stiuctuies typically extend well
beyond the edges of the ioofs they appeai to hold up, and the
voids between discontinuous wall segments aie lled in with
laige sheets of glass. At ist glance the buildings have an epic
quality to them that is contiadicted by the somewhat aibitiaiy
aiiangement of spaces one discoveis walking thiough them.
Secondaiy ciiculation coiiidois open up to spectaculai vistas
of the countiyside while spaces such as living iooms, ieception
aieas, and monumental entiyways look out, as if accidentally,
upon the backyaids and diiveways of the banal suiiound-
ings that encase them. In one pioject a massive stone wall
extends on both sides beyond the limits of the enclosed inte-
iioi it fionts. In the centei of a this facade is a giant squaie void
that, while appeaiing to be the entiy to the stiuctuie, tuins out
to be nothing moie than a stoiage aiea foi bicycles, laundiy
machines, and an occasional cai.
Despite the tendency of many to categoiize Sezonovichs
woik as paiticulaily sensitive towaid the natuie of mateiials
and evocative of indigenous Russian building tiaditions, it is
equally immeised in the iepiesentational dynamics of mateii-
als and the social codes these image-foims uphold. His aichi-
tectuie oscillates paiadoxically between the amplication of
sensoiy eects, as it was valoiized within the ihetoiic of Soviet
iealism, and the lampooning of the iustic eects with which
they weie associated by detailing iough and iiiegulai mateiials
like wood and stone until they looked like kitsch. He got away
with it initially, but in the end the buildings weie so stiange
that neithei pioletaiiat noi state ocial could stand them.
Soon theieaftei, he ian out of woik and had to leave the Soviet
Republic. It was then that he moved to southein Spain, wheie
he spent the iest of his caieei building houses foi iich people.
I tiaveled to Spain to see this latei woik and to look foi ways
to photogiaph it that weie unlike the way it was documented
in the populai Spanish piess. Te media liked to pictuie it in
the same monumental way: piimaiy fiontal views fiamed to
appeai as though the buildings stood alone on isolated sites.
Tey biacketed out the tacky neighbois and iiiegulai con-
texts to make eveiything appeai clean, oideily, and iegional in
the same way. Tat his woik was heialded to be the authentic
Spanish aichitectuie of its time was the nal iiony, given that
the aichitect and the buildings weie anything but indigenous.
In books and magazines, Sezonovichs buildings aie genei-
ally poitiayed in caiefully composed black-and-white photos
that focus on giant foitications and mythical entiyways. Mas-
sive stone diiveways cuive thiough landscapes like the pioces-
sional ioad to the Paithenon, but in ieality the destination
is not a temple at the scale of a city but iathei a single-family
home. Entiy staiis aie amplied into monumental stiuctuies
that lead to insignicant destinations. Real entiyways aie
downplayed, wheieas gaiage doois take on the symbolism of
the piimaiy gateway. Tese houses appeai safe, secuie, and
well piotectedthe obvious desiie of theii wealthy owneis
i Authentic
o6 i Artificial Light
but the images of secuiity and isolation aie amplied well
beyond the iequiiements foi piivacy: they aie tiny foitiesses.
At times the laige stone walls give the impiession of a
papei-thin veneei oi wallpapei. One half expects to tuin the
coinei to discovei a netwoik of tempoiaiy stays iigged to piop
up an image of indestiuctible weightiness that, upon closei
inspection, actually aps in the wind. Sezonovichs walls aie
like tenuous diapes that baiely conceal what is on the othei
side. On one side they appeai massive and monumental, on
the othei, like a tiompe-lil muial.
Sezonovichs aichitectuie doesnt seem insinceie oi duplic-
itous, just unceitain about ieality. Te walls have nothing to do:
they have no ieal loads to beai noi civic function to peifoim.
Tey aie oveiinated scieens, mocking theii own lack of econ-
omy, puiposelessness, and equivocal symbolism. Yet, by keep-
ing the poles of sensoiial expeiience and iepiesentation in ux,
this aichitectuie counteis the conventional ihetoiic of liteial-
ism and diiect expeiience geneially associated with iegional
and piopagandistic aichitectuie. In this sense, he achieved the
goals he foimulated befoie leaving the Soviet Union.
o; i Authentic
My fiiend Amanda is intensely inteiested. . .
. . . in eveiything about contempoiaiy ait and design. She
knows about eveiy aitist, publication, oi exhibition, follows
the news about eveiy ait-ielated event, and ieads eveiy ieview.
At any moment she knows moie about what is going on in the
New Yoik ait scene than anybody else in the woild. Te funny
thing is that she lives in a small town in Nebiaska, which she
haidly evei leaves.
One day she emailed me to let me know that she had decided
to build a minimalist ait galleiy in hei hometown. I ieplied that
I was excited foi hei but suipiised because I didnt know theie
weie ait buyeis in hei iemote aiea. She iesponded that she had
a lot of ideas about how it could woik and that the site foi the
building would be, moie oi less, in the middle of a coineld.
Amandas pieoccupation with minimalism was ievealed by
the amount of detail she gave about whatevei it was she spoke
of: no piece of infoimation was too insignicant to diaw out
into a lengthy monologue. She seemed afiaid of what might
happen if the talking stopped, oi woise, went in an unfoie-
seeable diiection. She slowed eveiything down until it lost its
avoi, like ovei-masticated meat. She seemed to think that by
ieducing eveiything to a single inteipietation, oi set of mean-
ings, she might do away with inteipietation all togethei.
Tat was Amanda: a human vacuum peipetually on guaid
against chaos and disoidei. In the middle of a coineld, a food
stoie, oi a cocktail paity, she iemained the same. Hei hypei-
awaieness of hei inability to contiol anything caused hei to
ietieat fiom eveiything. She saciiced hei connection with
the woild foi the false sense of secuiity that comes fiom the
categoiical avoidance of complexity, conict, and multiplicity.
o i Artificial Light
She wiote me an email befoie canceling yet anothei in an
endless succession of cancelled tiips.
I almost went to the Judd exhibit at the MoMA last week.
At rst I wasnt sure if I could go because I had planned to
paint the legs of the lawn furniture after I noticed some mold
creeping up on them the other day. But I looked at the sched-
ule and realized that with some eort, I could rearrange a
few things and actually get to the lawn chairs a day sooner
than expected, assuming of course that the preservative I
ordered through the hardware store last week arrived on
time. If it didnt, I knew Id have to cancel the trip entirely.
Ten there was the matter of nding maps, and the most
ecient routes for getting from the hotel to the gallery, and
deciding where I would have my coee each morning before
the MoMA opened up for the day, and if they didnt have my
brand of decaf, I knew I wouldnt be able to sleep well at night
and that would ruin my day, every day.
When constiuction began on the new galleiy, it was night-
maiish foi hei. Any deviation fiom hei idea of peifection
was tiaumatic: Look up theie, can you believe it A haiiline
fiactuie in the plastei alieady! Te contiactois kept getting
stoned, eithei to shield themselves fiom hei obsessive tiiades oi
because that was theii standaid mode of opeiation. A dip in the
sheetiock oi a dent in the exteiioi plastei would send hei into
tizzy. At each days end, she was exhausted and on the veige of
teais. Some days, when she couldnt handle any moie tuimoil,
she would lie in bed all day and staie at hei blank ceiling.

When the galleiy was nally nished, she opened it.

Amanda piefeiied not to make any announcements, thinking
that the woid-of-mouth buzz would add auia to the ait des-
tination that she had cieated. Like Beacon oi Maifa, she hoped
to attiact a bioad cioss section of the woilds ait pilgiims to
hei oveilooked pait of the woild. She even followed the tiadi-
tion of many new museums and consideied the ist exhibit to
be the building itself. She would leave the walls empty and not
chaige admissionfoi this one.
i Blank
i Artificial Light a
Amanda unlocked the doois eveiy moining piecisely at
,:oo a.m. and closed them at :o p.m. She sat in the galleiy
all day, eveiy day, and studied the patteins of light moving
thiough the space. When dust would build up in the coineis,
she would sweep, and on Mondays, she would squeegee both
sides of all of the windows. Amanda contemplated a selection
of giay fonts foi the new galleiy letteihead but put o making
a decision.
As time passed the galleiy amassed moie and moie mini-
mal ait and, because Amanda nevei sold anything, the space
lled up with stu. At ist she tiied to maintain the appeai-
ance of emptiness by stung things behind walls, in clos-
ets and inside the bathioomlike a child cleaning up theii
ioom by shoving eveiything undei the bed. But when she ian
out of places to hide things, she decided she needed to build
additional space.
Aftei many months of haid woik, she came up with a suit-
able solution and constiucted thiee ancillaiy volumes that ex-
tended out fiom the ieai of the existing building. Te piotiu-
sions weie hidden fiom sight except when viewed fiom the
sides oi ieai, wheie they appeaied like giant tentacles giowing
out of the laigei white box. Each of the extensions was painted
black as if to signify theii nonexistence. Inside one felt the foice
of these oveistued and denied aieas piessing against the puie
and piistine empty space, as if about to buist.
One day Amanda aiiived in the moining to nd a tiny
piece of giati sciibbled on the outside of the building in pen-
cil by the fiont dooi. In lowei case letteis it said: fuck this.
Amanda went absolutely beiseik. If minimalist ait was about
i Blank
pioviding a scieen against which the myiiad featuies of the
woild would be piojected, then she piefeiied the blank scieen
with the piojectoi shut o. An empty scieen was bettei than
an impeifect one.
As time passed, the galleiy tuined into something moie
like a bunkei than a showcase. Amanda kept the diapes closed
to keep the UV iays fiom damaging anything and only allowed
visitois by appointment. She ietieated into hei empty con-
tainei and kept the woild at bay. In the end, a minimized woild
was easiei to manage than minimal ait.
Te Deep End

Script synopsis i
Te Deep End is a lm within a lm, in which the tiansfoima-
tion of one life is contiasted by the disintegiation of anothei.
Two paiallel naiiatives aie inteitwined within the stiuctuie
of this lm about the making of a lm. Te main chaiacteis,
Caspei and Phil, aie sepaiated by the logic of the double nai-
iative, until the veiy end when the two stoiies inteisect and the
chaiacteis meet.
a young man fiom the city, has iun o into the woods
in oidei to expeiience the woild moie diiectly. He seeks
out the ieal in the iealm of faim life in the countiy and
iegaids natuie to be the absence of cultuie, iathei than a
subset of it. His life is tuined aiound when he accidentally
discoveis a mysteiious phosphoiescent substance in the
woods that piompts his ietuin to the city.
b. PHIL,
A movie-set caipentei, is looking foi his identity in the
things he builds, but his high standaids aie unappieciated
by the lm cultuie, wheie things aie only as good as they
look. Te gieatei piessuie he feels to make things quickly,
the moie obsessive about them he becomes. As his sense of
contiol diminishes, he becomes incieasingly moie pieoccu-
pied with inconsequential details, until the veiy end when
his inability to compiomise piecipitates his nal demise.
Along with Caspei and Phil is Veionika, the lms diiectoi,
and Susan, the pioducei. Veionika and Susan do not like
one anothei but aie iequiied to inteiact on a iegulai basis
because of theii ioles in the making of the lm.
6 i Artificial Light
Character Proles i
As a child Caspei was taunted and toituied by the othei
kids in his Biooklyn neighboihood. Because he was thin,
intiospective, and shy, he made an easy taiget foi the oth-
eisnot necessaiily foi the bullies, foi whom he was too
pathetic a victimbut foi the othei ielatively meek and
skinny kids with glasses, who themselves wanted to ele-
vate theii own lowly status by enacting some distinction
between theii own standing and Caspeis.
Aftei a time the daily tiauma of living in feai of the
othei childien became so unbeaiable that Caspei was tak-
en out of school, and he spent most of his time at home.
He didnt miss the othei childienas he had nevei enjoyed
theii companybut he felt oppiessed by the indooi woild
into which they had foiced him to ietieat. He acted out
in vaiious ways, by leaving diity dishes aiound the house,
hiding gaibage undei his bed, and iefusing to bathe. His
paients didnt know what to do to help him and weie toin
between eithei accepting his stiange behavioi as his way
of coping with things oi punishing him foi it as a means of
foicing him to adjust to the woild.
At a ceitain point, he began to wet his bed on a iegulai
basis. Day aftei day his mothei would come to his ioom
to discovei a newly soiled set of sheets on his bed. Caspei
nevei said anything about it, but his shame was obvious.
Initially, his paients hoped that the bed-wetting would stop
if they made fun of him foi it, but theii jokes only incieased
his malaise. Tey guied that Caspeis bad behavioi would
cease if they made him feel ashamed and guilty about it,
iathei than iecognizing that the pioblems themselves weie
alieady the manifestations of those veiy emotions. Caspeis
mothei yelled at him and accused him of wetting his bed
to spite hei. When she would do this he would simply sit
befoie hei, detached and silent, iiveted by the intensity of
hei emotional outbuists but unable to iespond.
One day he looked out of his window to nd a laige
gioup of neighboihood kids pointing up at him and laugh-
ing. Looking towaid the side of his house, he saw his
stained bed-sheets hanging fiom the clotheslinea laige
iiiegulai taiget of daik yellow centeied upon a puie white
backgiound. Caspei iefused to leave his bedioom foi
yeais afteiwaid. He stayed theie alone, immeised in books
about ieligion, philosophy, and the meaning of life.
When Phil was fouiteen, he made money by iaking leaves
foi people in the Beikeley neighboihood wheie he lived.
One day he did some woik foi a man he didnt know but
who lived on the same block as he and his family. When he
was nished, the man absent-mindedly invited him to wait
in the living ioom while he went to get his wallet in anothei
ioom. Immediately Phil noticed vaiious things in the ioom
that belonged to his mothei. Puzzled, he walked into the
bedioom wheie the man had gone to get money and saw
a paii of his motheis shoes in the closet and a photogiaph
of hei on the table next to the bed. Without saying a woid,
Phil left the house and ietuined home.
He staited to notice things about his motheis behav-
ioi that he hadnt befoie and that conimed his suspicion
of hei double-life. Phil began a lengthy piocess of tiying to
catch his mothei in the act of hei deception. He constantly
asked hei wheie she had been, wheie she was going, and
when she would be back. Aftei a shoit time, it became
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8 i Artificial Light
obvious to his mothei that something was veiy wiong
with Phil, who had become incieasingly distant and sad.
At hei demand he eventually told hei what he knew. She
iesponded that it was none of his business and beiated
him foi having violated hei piivacy.
Shoitly theieaftei Phil heaid his paients aiguing with
one anothei on a iegulai basis. Teie was incieasing ie-
sentment and hostility between them and soon the con-
stant ghting gave way to a cold and detached silence.
Te tension in the house became unbeaiable foi Phil. One
day he and his paients weie diiving acioss the Bay Biidge
fiom San Fiancisco to Oakland. As usual eveiybody was
unhappy and nobody was talking. Phils mothei, who was
diiving, suddenly moved the cai ovei to the iight-hand
lane and slammed on the bieaks. Te diiveis behind hei
scieeched on theii biakes and sweived to avoid hitting
them. Phil was teiiied.
His mothei sat theie motionless, staiing o into space.
Phil watched hei as she slowly looked up into the ieaiview
miiioi and locked hei eyes blankly with his. She took a
deep bieath and suddenly pushed open the cai dooi. In a
ash she leaped out of the cai, dodged an oncoming pickup
tiuck, and iushed towaid the edge of the biidge. Phil and
his fathei watched hei in stunned hoiioi as she leaped,
head ist, ovei the side. Te last thing Phil saw weie the
bottoms of hei shoes as they disappeaied into thin aii.
Veionika is slowly coming to iealize that the way she had
been iaised to think is at odds with hei actual expeiiences.
Not only do hei pieconceptions piove to be incieasingly
unfounded, she is staiting to feel as though she weie biought
up accoiding to the wiong useis manual. She is confused
and angiy and looking foi the tiuth about heiself. She
imagines the woild to be the exact opposite of the way it
appeais to hei. If someone acts fiiendly towaid hei, she
iesponds with hostility, and vice-veisa.
Susan has the peisonality of someone without any pei-
sonality. She is as likely to appeai sullen as she is happy,
in command of a situation as she is helpless. Diessed up
she looks woildly and successful and diessed down, like a
homeless peison. Susan is bettei at accomplishing goals set
out by otheis than she is at dening them foi heiself. She
feels suspended between an inability to conceive of heiself
except thiough the eyes of otheis and a need to cling to hei
subjectivity as evidence that she exists. Te moie malleable
hei identity, the moie like heiself she feels.
Excerpted Scenes Synopses and Film Treatment i
Veionika is aiguing with Susan ovei the pioduction sched-
ule. Susan tells Veionika whatevei it is she wants to heai
and then goes o and does whatevei she wants. Veionika,
by contiast, consideis hei aiguments with Susan to be a
necessaiy means to establishing hei own authoiity on the
set. Veionika is constantly in Susans face, thinking that
she is dominating the outwaidly compliant Susan while, to
Susan, Veionikas aggiessiveness only ieveals how out of
contiol she actually is.
i The Deep End
ao i Artificial Light
: Underwater shot of a scuba diver exploring the remains
of a sunken concrete ship tipped to one side resting on the ocean
oor. Te diver measures o dierent parts of the vessel by
photographing a tape measurer extended out across various sec-
tions. He moves methodically between image-measures until he
notices a discrepancy between what he sees and what the camera
has recorded. Visibly agitated, he turns his head back and forth
between the tiny screen on his camera and the tape measure
pressed against the ships hull.
Caspei is tiaveling noith, wheie he has aiianged to woik
on a faim. As the tiain moves thiough the city, he con-
templates the cabin in the woods in which he will live.
He thinks about his tiny bedioom in Biooklyn and his
last conveisation with his paients eaily that moining
befoie leaving. Tey had accused him of iunning away
fiom the woild iathei than leaining to deal with it, but he
couldnt undeistand why they consideied the daily giind
of commutei tiac, fast food, and jobs they hated to be
moie ieal than giowing vegetables, chopping iewood,
and iaising animals. Because youie fiom Biooklyn, his
mothei had said, and people who live on faims dont
think about them as escape hatches fiom the city. In fact,
they piobably dont even think about faims at all, they
just live.
: Black-and-white exterior shot. Raining. Crowded train sta-
tion. Casper appears still and encapsulated from the world. All
around him people are moving frantically, competing for seats,
and organizing their baggage in overhead racks. Trough the win-
dow he watches the enormous space of the station collapsed into
tiny dots through the lenslike optics of water droplets attached to
the surface of the window.
Phil is building the set. It is eaily moining, and thiee simi-
laily shaped black cabins have been eiected befoie multi-
ple cameias, scieens, and backdiops. Phil sits on the edge
of the half-completed sceneiy looking ovei the diawings.
A tool belt aiound his waist, pencil behind his eai, he stud-
ies a set of constiuction diawings. He suiveys the woik to
be done.
Phil gets up and walks towaid thiee vaiiously placed
tiansitlike cameias set up on tiipods facing the cabin
fiagments. As Phil looks thiough each of the vieweis, he
sees pieces of the fiagments in isolation fiom one anothei
and extending beyond the view fiame. Te fiagments ap-
peai complete when obseived thiough the vieweis. Phil
walks back and foith fiom one viewei to the next, look-
ing thiough them and then wiiting down notes in a small
black notebook.
Phil signals to the membeis of his ciew waiting on
vaiious foiklifts, tiucks, and gantiies. At his command
they begin piepaiations foi loading the pieces onto a laige
atbed tiuck paiked neaiby. As the cabins aie hoisted up
into the aii, those that had been constiucted to appeai so
thoioughly dug into the giound suddenly hang eoitlessly
in the sky. On the giound, wheie the cabins had sat, is a
iectangle of giass folded ovei like the pattein left on cai-
pet by a passing vacuum.
Eventually the tiuck pulls into a laige paiking lot that
has been coidoned o foi the days lming. Te fiagments
aie ooaded and positioned to appeai on cameia as if
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standing alone in an open eld. To the unedited eye, they
cieate a stiange image against the unielated backdiop of
stoie signage, cai tiac, and people milling about hoping
to see celebiities.
: Te structures are loaded onto large atbed trucks and driven
slowly across town, like a funeral procession.
Eveiybody on the set is exhausted aftei the pievious days
location shooting. Many of them have asked Veionika to
inteivene on theii behalf against Susans ielentless sched-
uling. Susan acts as though she is ieceptive to theii com-
plaints, smiling and pietending to be aable, but incieases
theii woikload iathei than ieducing it. When the ciew
becomes even moie fiantic she pietends that it is out of
hei powei to change the schedule. Veionika is angiy to the
point of disbelief with Susan. Unable to contiol heiself, she
blows up on the set while Susan sits placidly, staiing o at
nothing in paiticulai.
: Shot of soundstage. Camera pans across the strange sequenc-
ing of rooms that simultaneously describes the uses for which they
are individually intended (bathroom, kitchen, den, etc.) but are
arranged haphazardly in relation to one another (kitchen between
bedroom and bath, etc.). Te impossibility of passing directly from
one room to the next makes the spaces seem much farther apart
than they actually are.
A scatteied heid of sheep is giazing about. Teii aiiange-
ment is disoideily and iandom except foi a small clustei
that is gatheiing aiound what appeais to be a tiny lump
on the giound. Te sheep move aiound it iestlessly, as if
agitated, but cannot walk away. Unable to see what they
aie ieacting to, Caspei aims the tiactoi towaid them and
iaces up the hill to nd out.
As he neais the commotion, Caspei iealizes that the
lump is a lamb lying in the centei of the patch of loudly
biaying sheep. He is panicked and unable to stop the tiac-
toi, oi deal eectively with the swaiming heid of hysteiical
animals. He is visibly shaken, and the tiactoi continues to
luich foiwaid, out of his contiol.
Caspei nally biings the tiactoi to a stop and jumps
down. He kicks at the dense clustei of fienzied sheep and
woiks his way towaid the centei of the iing. He pushes
lamb aftei lamb out of his way, only to have them iam
back against his legs. Finally he kicks and ciawls his way
ovei theii backs and gets his ist good glimpse of the lamb
lying on its side. It is still alive.
To his hoiioi, Caspei sees that the lamb is fully con-
scious and is staiing up at him. Something is cleaily wiong
with it, but he cannot tell what. He ieaches down towaid
the lambs uppeimost leg and pulls it towaid him to get a
look at its belly. His eyes watei, and he feels as though he is
choking. He nally gets a look at the undeiside of the lamb
and piactically vomits fiom what he sees and smells.
Te lowei poition of the lambs belly is half-eaten away
by a biown paste of maggots. A laige patch of bloody, iaw
esh is ievealed at the middle of the paste, outlined by the
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vibiating peiimetei of encioaching soft-bodied legless lai-
vae chewing away at the lambs coie.
Toin foi a moment between his inability to act and
iesentment foi having been confionted by a situation foi
which he has no solution, he stands theie at the centei of
the heid of wailing sheep.
: Black-and-white exterior shot. Camera pans across wide
grassy hillside eld (worms-eye view). It is daybreak, cold and fog-
gy. Camera zooms in for a close-up of the legion and then back out.
Camera zooms out from directly overhead. Shot of Casper, looking
up at the sky, tears pouring from his eyes; his body inert, frozen.
Phil is woiking on the constiuction of thiee identical cab-
ins. In the nal lm, a single cabin will appeai to exist in
only one place, but in oidei to captuie the iange of cameia
angles and atmospheies iequiied, it is necessaiy to lm it
in dieient locations simultaneously and then constiuct
continuity among the vaiious shots in post-pioduction
Many of the scenes in which the cabins will appeai
aie to be shot in giainy black-and-white lm, intention-
ally oveiexposed to exaggeiate the mateiial quality of the
imageiy. Shots of watei will be iendeied as daik and foie-
boding pools of viscous, tailike substances, and biight
skies will be eioded into baie white aieas of bleak empti-
ness that, when piojected in the theatei, will make paits of
the scieen look as though theies nothing theie.
Phil knows that the cabins aie to appeai on lm like
bluiiy inkblots against a dissolute white sky, but he is ovei-
building them well beyond the degiee that will be picked
up on lm. Phil believes theie is an ethical dimension to
constiuction: If you aie going to do something, you might
as well do it iight.
Not only does he ignoie the pleas and aiguments of
pioduceis, diiectois, and othei set caipenteis to build
things moie quickly, accoiding to the specic needs of
each shot, but the moie people complain, the moie obses-
sive he becomes about insignicant details. He biags about
the mateiial eciency of the things he makes while ignoi-
ing the inheient wastefulness of the way he builds them
ielative to the puiposes they seive.
Foi Phil, goodness equals correctness, which foi him
means always making things in the same mechanically
piecise way. In his view the best peison is the one most
able to make things like a machine. Rathei than always
tiying to simulate the woik of machineiy, he has iecently
begun to exploie digital fabiication. At ist he was able
to talk the studios into puichasing expensive CNC iout-
eis by telling them that it would ultimately allow them to
build things moie eciently and, theiefoie, moie cost ef-
fectively. But lately they have just become a means foi Phil
to be even moie ovei-the-top about what he makes and
how he makes it.
In the case of the cabins, this technology has become a
means foi him to make all of the necessaiy pieces of veiti-
cal boaid siding iiiegulai in exactly the same way. He diew
up countless diagiams and cut-sheets in oidei to devise a
piecise method foi cieating the same iiiegulai eect by
tuining some segments upside down and ipping otheis
in oidei to make them look vaiied.
In the end Phils cabins iequiied about six times moie
woik than necessaiy. When confionted by the studio heads
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a6 i Artificial Light
about this excess, his only defense was that they weie now
tooled-up to build hundieds of similaily eccentiic cabins
at incieasingly aoidable costs. Disinteiested in the pios-
pect of having to make additional cabin-movies solely to
justify Phils aigument, they thieatened to ie him.
: Overhead shot from crane. At rst the frame includes the
entirety of the set, with each of the cabin fragments, and then
the camera slowly zooms into a horizontal eye-level shot of one
of them. As the camera moves in, the fragment lls up the shot
and appears complete, but as it recedes it appears broken, cut-
o, and discontinuous with its surroundings.
Veionika walks onto the set with a gioup of uppei-
management pioduceis to confiont Susans inability to
follow hei diiections. Susan pietends to be happy to see
them, apologizes foi any misundeistandings, and piomises
to be moie iesponsive to Veionika in the futuie. Veionika,
unsatised by Susans eageiness to concede, antagonizes
hei fuithei by calling hei a two-faced, psychotic, passive-
aggiessive liai whose inability to deal with confiontation
maiks hei as a cowaid. Susan smiles and looks blankly
towaid the senioi pioduceis, as if to say, See what a luna-
tic this woman is
: A group of children playing with a soccer ball on a tennis
court. Several of them are trying to kick the ball into the net that
divides the court while the others pick it up with their hands and
toss it from one side to the other. All of them chasing the ball, all
of them colliding.
Walking thiough the woods, Caspei notices an unusual
biightness emanating up fiom beneath the ioot of a ie-
cently fallen tiee. He goes to it and sciapes out a small pile
of phosphoiescent yellow powdei. He staies at the golden
substance in his hand and discoveis the coloi to be stiange-
ly soothing, as if emitting light fiom the palm of his hand.
He caiefully gatheis as much of the powdei as he can caiiy
in a small pouch and iushes back to the cabin. Te tiace of
luminescent dust on Caspeis hands leaves glowing tiails
against the newly daikened sky.
Examining the dust back at the cabin, Caspei feels
alive. He expeiiences an intensity that seems to emanate
fiom the powdei and his body simultaneously. Te coloi
aiouses a stiangely familiai sensation, as if geneiated fiom
a familiai-yet-inaccessible pait of his being, unknowable
but evei piesent. Te woild makes sense to him in a way
that his mind iejects.
Caspei iegaids the yellow powdei as an oppoitunity to
ieconnect with the people he has left behind. He believes
the powdei to have something good to oei otheis. His
peisonal histoiy makes him ambivalent about appioach-
ing them, but he neveitheless feels compelled to do this.
Eventually he decides to mail vials of the powdei to vaiious
people he has known as well as inuential and poweiful
people he has iead about in the newspapei.
Te police, unsuie of the specic natuie of the yellow
powdei yet suspicious of the unmaiked boxes addiessed
to impoitant people, stage a manhunt foi the sendei. Te
media takes notice and bioadcasts the stoiy inteination-
ally. Caspei becomes awaie of the impact of his mailings
when he ieads in a newspapei aiticle that he is suspected
i The Deep End
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of mass-mailing poison. Having assumed that the eect of
the yellow powdei would speak foi itself, he is shocked to
leain that he is accused of wiongdoing.
He wiites a lettei to explain his intentions and exonei-
ate himself fiom blame:
I am the mailei of the yellow vials. Teie is noth-
ing to feaithe coloi is good, a gift of natuie.
Eveiyone who looks at oi touches it, iegaidless
of who they aie, will expeiience it in the same
way, and thus it oeis to the woild a new foun-
dation foi mutual undeistanding. Te special
yellow coloi doesnt caie how we come into con-
tact with it, only that we aie open to its special
inuence. Te souice of its powei is beyond oui
compiehension, yet its iightness will be appai-
ent to all. Its essential value is tianscendent and
eludes any attempt to name, contain, oi make
sense of it.
: Shot of Casper passing in the dark alongside a small pond.
As he nears the water, a phantasmagoria of reected light lls
the screen. Like a mirrored hall full of burning candles, the screen
radiates with incandescent light, compounded reections of ick-
ering luminosity. Casper is barely visible among the play of shad-
ows and light that engulfs him.
Te cast and ciew have gatheied foi a paity at Susans
home, a laige house built into the side of a mountain. Te
shape of the house has been foimed to block all views but
those facing the ocean and laige swimming pool with an
. . .
innity edge that boideis the hoiizon. Cameia equipment
is aiianged all aiound the pool, wheie the activity is cen-
teied. Seveial unused backdiops fiom pievious shots aie
pushed to one side, including a laige photomuial of a ius-
tic cabin inteiioi stietched acioss a poitable scaold and
numeious piops.
Phil stands alone at the fai end of the pool. He is
diinking a lot and slowly going nuts, unable to distinguish
between ieality and fantasy. He cant decide what he
thinks about anything and is talking to himself, making
otheis uncomfoitable. As the daylight begins to dissolve
into daikness, so too does Phils giasp of ieality.
Phil see membeis of the cast all aiound: some aie actual
membeis of the lm ciew and otheis aie those with whom
he played the iole of set caipentei in the lm. As eveiybody
is diessed like a membei of the ciew, he is unable to diei-
entiate one peison fiom anothei. He cannot tell wheie the
lm ends and ieality begins. Eveiything appeais to him as
a woild within anothei woild, without a centei.
Leads fiom the lm aie chatting with diiectois and
giips, sound guys and makeup people. Actois who poi-
tiayed impoitant celebiities in the lm suddenly appeai
less famous than the biggei talents they iepiesented
on-scieen. Music is playing, and eveiybody is diinking.
Te laige pool, lit up fiom the bottom, casts a waim blue
glow that beams up into the sky. Occasionally someone
dives into the pool, ieleasing iipples upon the suiface of
the watei that bounce back fiom the ieective windows
as shadows upon the faces of the guests.
Susan and Veionika aie standing in fiont of seveial
discaided backdiops, chatting intensely and piivately, as
if shaiing a seciet. Tey aie standing within six inches of
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8 i Artificial Light
one anothei, yet, because of the images behind them, they
appeai to be paits of dieient woilds. Behind Veionika is
a laige cuitain with the hillside image used in the paiking
lot scene with Phil and the cabins, Susan stands befoie a
laige plate-glass window in which the ocean view, just in
fiont of hei, is ieected.
O to the side of the house, just up the hillside above
the level of the patio, is set one of the cabins built by Phil
foi the pievious days lming. Phil looks up, sees the cabin,
and walks quickly towaid it, stopping to pick up a sledge-
hammei lying on the giound. As he ieaches the stiuctuie,
he iaises the implement high ovei his head and begins to
bash the tiny hut. Eveiybody tuins towaid him, staitled by
the noise of the exploding wooden planks, simultaneously
amused and distuibed by the violence.
Funny how it only takes ve seconds to destioy something
that took months to build. Why is that Why do I bothei
Nothing lasts, eveiything is falling apait all aiound us, and
nobody seems to notice.
He begins to iip at pieces of his own clothing between swings
of the sledgehammei, as if he is teaiing o bits of himself. He
tuins to face the watching ciowd and stands naked befoie
them with a stiange expiession on his face.
: Music blaring. Lights ashing like strobes. Pulsing beat.
World spinning. Phil moves in a jerking syncopation with the
rapid beats of the music. Has a far-o and deranged look in his
eyes. Te actor who plays Casper in the lm steps away from the
crowd and moves toward Phil. Phil is unsure if the man coming
toward him is a movie character, an actor, or a real person. Casper,
concerned for Phils well-being, tries to comfort him.
Calm down Phil. You need to act youiself, to peifoim a
chaiactei, iathei than always tiying to be youiself. As soon
as you think youie youiself, youie dead. When Im Caspei,
Im not ieally him, Im just pietending, and when Im not
acting a pait, Im pietending to be an actoi not acting.
Susan and Veionika, standing o to the side, watch Phil and
Caspei inteiact while discussing the movies plot and analyz-
ing theii behavioi.
Its funny how one chaiactei makes movie sets, building
images of unieal things made to appeai ieal, while the oth-
ei looks foi the ieal by tiying to boil eveiything down to
iiieducible essences. Phil makes actual things that appeai
to be othei than they aie while Caspei equates his expeii-
ence of things with theii actual chaiacteiistics.
It is funny. . . isnt it . . .
: Shot of a stream of black water passing quickly around
either side of a wedge-shaped boulder that both divides the cur-
rent and is shaped by it.
i The Deep End
Dear Mom

Hi Mom,
Tanks for your letter and the stories about the tripsounds
like you had a great time. You asked about the movie project
I have been working on ( Te Deep End), so I thought I would
tell you a little bit about it. Ive been somewhat obsessed with
childhood memories lately, and Im trying to understand why
I remember some things much more clearly than others. I
cant really tell if what I remember is accurate, but it seems to
me that the way I recollect the past is more important than
knowing exactly what happened. My most vivid memories
occurred during the summers. I think about the various
houses we rented by the beach and the one we built in
Oceanside. I recall the sounds, smells, and textures of random
things, like the hot sand burning my feet at the beach and
the faded NFL sheets on the bunk beds. Mostly I remember
feeling carefree and happy, enthralled by the blue sky and the
sounds of waves, and at the same time feeling anxious about
the future, preoccupied as I was by a foreboding sense that
nothing lasts and everybody dies.
Do you ever think about how memories change? I
remember the same events in dierent ways. Each version
feels true, but altogether they dont add up. Ive been
picturing the places we used to go and trying to remember
how they looked. At rst I thought my images of these places
were more accurate than my memories of what happened
there, but then realized that the appearances of the same
a i Artificial Light
things changed from one version to the next. My recollections
of the past always seem to be shifting, yet somehow I still
expect the places in which they occur to stay the same.
In the lm were experimenting with dierent pairings
of storylines and cinematic styles. Were going to choose two
or three visual styles and then mix them up from the kinds
of narrative-types with which each is typically associated.
One of the styles I want to play with is what were calling the
timeless aesthetic genre. Imagine a grainy black-and-white
movie, with dark shots of dense fog set against a black sky and
errant streams of dappled sunlight. You know, the eternal
moment eect.
Now picture us using this aesthetic to tell stories that
have absolutely nothing to do with that visual sensibility.
Switch out the expected themes of solitude and despair and
replace them with something like the daily activity in a
convenience-store parking lot. I imagine a slow progression
of apparent inaction, a lone shopping cart moves here and
there as the late afternoon light fades into the warm glow of
streetlights, and we zoom into the image of a partially eaten
Hershey bar discarded on the pavement.
I wonder how our New Jersey summers of mini-golf and
Tastee Freezes would look in a timeless aesthetic movie? I
imagine the Garden State Parkway running across the frozen
Mongolian tundra with exit signs for places like Mount
Ararat and the Dead Sea.

Anyway, Ive been sifting through various memories

and wondering which ones to use. Te happiest day of my
life occurred when I was about six years old and spent the
weekend at Aunt Hannas house at the shore with Nana and
Granddad. Remember? Te memory begins on a perfect
morning with the three of us having a great time, and ends
that same night with me convulsing in tears from intense pain.
I picture myself going down the large front steps of Aunt
Hannas house, Granddads giant hand in mine, and the two
of us walking together along the uneven sidewalk toward the
corner drugstore where he used to take me for ice pops. As we
are walking I remember recognizing the re station across the
street, where Uncle Mike was married, and thinking about
the wedding day (a memory within another memory) when
the remen let us sit in the drivers seat of the big engine, and
then all of us kids nished o the half-empty plastic glasses of
champagne left on the tables when the adults started dancing.
I was happy then, too, though I recall you and Dad having a
ght about something and not talking for days.
Back to the story: when Granddad and I reach the
drugstore, the light outside is so bright that the inside of the air-
conditioned store is dark at rst and then settles into a warm
glow. Im little, and everything towers above me. Granddad
leads me to the toy section and lets me pick out a new sand pail
and shovel for our day at the beach. Im ecstatic. I select a small
blue plastic bucket with a large ower embossed on the side.
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Te shovel has an animated duck gure pressed into its bottom
that I will stamp into the sand at the waters edge.
We spend the entire day together at the beach and by late
afternoon my skin is severely burnt. Nana and Granddad are
panicked when they see how completely red my body is, and
I feel bad for upsetting them after such a great day together.
Nana spreads cold cream on me, and I scream from the pain.
Later that night I laid awake shivering and vomiting, all the
while thinking about my blue bucket and the cool ocean breeze.
So, what does this have to do with architecture and
the lm? A lot of people talk about buildings in terms of
the timeless aesthetic. Some associate real and authentic
experiences with particular kinds of materials and forms that
they believe transcend interpretation. Tey relate certain kinds
of memories and architectural experiences with the quality of
materials and construction (as if one set of sense-stimulants
could be more authentic than another) and believe that too
much interpretation gets in the way of architectures ability
to have direct impact upon the people who experience it (as
if sensory experience were any less conditioned by personal
and cultural factors than interpretation). Tese outlooks tend
to regard sensation as being more real than interpretation
though Im not sure why, given that sensations may possibly be
even more subjective than thoughts.
Remember that Swiss architect I told you about, Peter
Zumthor? In one of his books, Tinking Aichitectuie, he
talks about how the best buildings are just themselves, do

not represent anything and carry no messages. In Zumthors

words, they are simply there. I dont think my cheap blue
plastic bucket, Speed Racer lunchbox, or Hot Wheels carrying
case would qualify as having that kind of gravity. Does this
mean my experiences are less signicant and authentic than
his? Is my sensory data more impoverished than his because
we spent summers in New Jersey listening to Bad Company
and drinking Sprite rather than foraging mushrooms in the
Black Forest?
What I remember about childhood summers are things
like the lime-green popsicles that I ate one after the other
until my mouth froze and those tiny airplanes pulling
banners along the waterfront with advertisements and cryptic
wedding proposals. I remember the cacophony of multiple
AM radio stations we heard at the beach, blaring all kinds of
music and announcements simultaneously. Remember that
radio ad for the Starns grocery store that they used to play
over and over on all of the stations?
Starns has
Orange juice in cans.
Starns has
Big boneless hams.
Starns has
Sandwich bags and cornakes,
Icing for your cupcakes,
Hotdogs and hamburgers, too,
And big red apples for you!
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6 i Artificial Light
Did you know that the owner of Starns had twin sons
that are well-known photographers, the Starn Twins? I think
you would really like their work. Te early stu is interesting
because they explore dierent ways to make photographs look
like physical things, which they are. Tey print images on torn
up and wrinkled paper, cut them apart, and then put them
back together with masking tape. Tey break their frames
apart too, removing pieces here and there, and play with
dierent ideas about the relationship of images and frames to
the places where they are exhibited.
In the opposite way that the Starn Twins amplify the
materiality of photographs, a lot of contemporary architects
are interested in making buildings look immaterial. Tey
use shiny, smooth exterior materials to make their buildings
appear weightless, placeless, and to create the illusion
of abstraction. In a way these illusions of immateriality
represent blankness. Tey are symbols of nothing.
Te idea that a building would be nothing more than
what it is reminds me of the timeless aesthetic I was telling
you about before: if we aestheticize things or places in a
certain visual style, or sensibility, we can infer a quality of
immediacy upon them that they wouldnt otherwise have. Its
all just a question of what it signies, even if it is dressed in
the style of absence, immateriality, or meaninglessness.
Speaking of absence, did I tell you I got a letter from Dad
the other day? I hadnt heard from him in years, and this
letter shows up in my mailbox out of the blue. I was surprised.
It didnt quite sound like him though. Has he changed, or is it
me? Not that you would have any idea, but you must wonder
about him from time to time, in a Whatever happened
to that guy? kind of way. Oddly, his note was typed on
business letterhead, as if he was trying to make some ocial
pronouncement to me about our nonrelationship. At the
end he wrote: If I do not receive a reply, I will assume that
no reconciliation is possible. I wonder if he realizes that
the tone of his letter defeats any possibility for the kind of
communication he says he wants?
Te black and whiteness of his letter reminded me of
the yes/no device I used to imagine as a kid. I gured I had
three choices: . Aect a similar mask of pseudo-professional
distance by typing a formal letter on ocial stationary,
as if too busy with my own important life to nd a more
appropriate form of expression: Dear Father, I, too, feel
similarly unsatised by the lack of eective transactions
between us of the heartfelt kind. . . . Come up with another
raw, emotive missive of the sort I used to write as a teenager,
but never sent: You Bastard! I cant believe you have the
nerve to torture me like this ! or . Not respond at all.
Unsatised by the prospect of all three, I ended up
sending him a quick and upbeat note written in bad
handwriting on a Christmas card, even though hes Jewish,
and it was the middle of August! I gured it was better
to try to confuse him than to be manipulated by his
pseudoreasoning. He probably thought my reply was just as
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manipulative and coldhearted, though, for me, it was an
attempt to meet him halfway. In the end my glib response was
probably less generous than his eort. Oh well.
Did I ever tell you about the time I went with him to pick
up some pictures at a one-hour photo place when I was ten or
eleven? He grabbed the envelope from the clerk and quickly
stued it into his pocket without letting me see them. He said
that they were boring pictures of some sites he was studying
for a development project, but I knew he was lying. Many
weeks later I would come across the same envelope while
looking for something in a desk drawer in his oce. Right
away I knew I was asking for trouble by looking, but I couldnt
help myself. I opened the envelope and was confronted by
something that, in retrospect, I probably already suspected
but had denied to myself: he was cheating on you with
another woman.
I had no idea how to deal with the situation and felt
forced to pretend that I didnt know what I did, just in
order to function. I felt worried and alone, and the stu
that normally interested me seemed unreal. I held in my
resentment and grew apart from him and, in some sense,
myself. It wasnt until years later that I realized how angry
I had been at him for hurting me, abandoning you, and
destroying my image of our family. I think my inability to
confront and forgive him as a child has made it dicult for
me to respect him as an adult.
Even now its hard for me to comprehend how I felt back
then. I know I must have forced myself not to think about
what I knew was going on with you, him, and the other
woman. I must have known his actions marked the beginning
of the end of our family, but I cant remember ever thinking
about it in linear and rational terms. Tat I remember
some of the details of this time so acutely suggests that the
traumatic feelings I was trying to repress actually heightened
my awareness of other things, though the sense of personal
disconnection runs throughout these memories as well.
When people talk about architecture as a conveyor of
direct eects and neutral atmospheres, I think about my
childhood and the timeless aesthetic. I picture myself acutely
aware of my sensory environment yet cut o and in denial, as
if the inability to reason through the sources of its intensity
was what made it intense. I think if such sensations really
lacked any ulterior structure or substance, they wouldnt
have had any impact on me. Te intensity they bore on me
concerned the transference of one set of intellectual and
emotional circumstances into the sensory data of another.
Tis might explain my endless fascination with odd
translations of one form of reasoning and experience into
the logic of another, like advertisements that tell people that
buying a new car will improve their marriage or when people
say, God bless America. I also like contradictory statements
that seem like they shouldnt make sense but do: Te more
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I eat, the hungrier I get. Or people known to lie constantly
but whose denition of truth is so exible that it allows them
to always feel truthful. I especially like instant messaging on
the computer with friends while I am also speaking to them
on the phone. When we do this, I play the opposite game by
typing the inverse of the spoken conversation. I say, Great to
hear from you while typing Oh no, not YOU again. Ive yet
to meet anybody who nds this as amusing as I do.
It seems like we have the ability to think in many dierent
ways simultaneously, but we have been conditioned not
to do so. When I play the opposite game, it feels as though
communication itself is put into question at the very moment
it is occurring. I read that the pianist Glenn Gould used to
practice playing classical music by blaring loud rock music
into his ears at the same time he rehearsed Beethoven, which
made perfect sense to me. As a child the composer Charles
Ives apparently witnessed the performance of a two-part
musical piece, arranged by his father, which triggered his
lifelong obsession with musical counterpoint, opposition, and
multiplicity. Te performance called for dual marching bands
to play dierent pieces while walking toward one another from
opposite sides of a hill. As they approach one another at the
bottom, the collective sounds collide into a single cacophony.
Architecture is a bit like a confused symphonyit puts
dierent parts together in the same place without necessarily
tting them together. Its both a thing and a representation of
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itself. When we talk about the materiality of buildings, were
referring to its tactile qualities as well as what those qualities
stand for. Talking about architecture in this way is like
describing Strudel (can you believe Im still thinking about
a childhood pet after all of these years!) in a self-referential
way: Strudel is just so Strudel; everything about her is just
so like her. Its our perception of her features that dene her
for us, and its only when she ceases to act like herself that we
understand her identity to be independent of who and what
we perceive her to be.
Architecture is frequently called upon to ease, disguise,
or erase the rift between the way we think about things and
the way we experience them. Some buildings have form,
construction, and appearances that are deemed to be honest,
pure, and objective while others, said to embody irregularity
and contradiction, are held to be the opposite. In either case
the equation of visual experience with truth and morality
is simply the dressing up of a belief system in architectural
garments. We ignore architectures fundamental equivocations
because we want to believe in the brand of realness it
represents, even though its ability to ape our very conception of
reality is its most important and compelling attribute.
Have you ever noticed how photographs of buildings and
places change our actual experience of them? In some ways
we are becoming more and more conditioned to experience
architecture according to a kind of two-dimensional pictorial
logic projected upon three-dimensional things. Blurred zones
and blind spots reect the logic of photographic images more
so than the logicif there is oneof the physical world itself.
We use representations to make sense of places and things,
and then mistake the structure of these images for that of the
things they represent.
More and more it seems to me that, even though Ive been
trained to make sense of things from one single perspective
at a time, the single view point might be drawn back to
include multiple views. Like the time I got so mad at Nick
that I suddenly understood him better than I ever had
before. Te two emotions, anger and empathy, were allowed
to co-exist rather than cancel one another out. I think this
is what the lm is about as well: observing the same subject
matter simultaneously through conicted visual sensibilities;
providing sensual seduction and at the same time questioning
the mechanics of the seduction.
I wonder if its possible to think about architecture
through a multiplicity of privileged viewpoints as well, to
watch it hold together at the same time that it falls apart?
So, thats what Ive been thinking about, Mom. Im not
sure if were going to be able to raise all of the money we need
to make Te Deep End. If not, I may try to turn it into a book.
Who knows? Send me your news when you have a chance.
Much love,