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ESSAY TOPIC:

SYNTHETIC ECOLOGIES

the thing was to choose [something] that you were not attracted by and that was difficult because anything becomes beautiful if you look at it long enough [My intention was to] completely eliminate the existence of taste, bad or good or indifferent. Marcel Duchamp, The New York school the painters & sculptors of the fifties, Irving Sandler, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1978, p. 164

THEORETICAL PREMISE. Talk of the famous semiologic triad of symbol, icon and index delineated by Charles Sanders Pierce is quite fashionable in some contemporary circles of architectural theorising. What emerges from these theorists writings (arguably inspired by the famous Eisenmann/Derrida correspondence), for brevitys sake, is something like the following: symbology and iconology (notably metaphor, the most sophisticated trope in this category) are the most adequate tools semiotics provides to look at the past (for example to Modernism). On the other hand, indexicality is what best represents whats going on right now. Because of the intrinsic characteristics of this category, the theorists advance a further posit they suggest that the indexical issues todays architecture addresses (fold, poche, topology etc), at once mark a departure from semiotics and a new interest in an unmediated, and in a sense primitive interest in matter and the philosophical sense of present (in the sense that Henry Bergson talked about the present). This latter paradigm shift brings about another recurrent theme in these circles, a sort of by-product, namely the idea of the meaningless. Architecture, so the theory goes, is not meant to represent any ideology or system, but should stand for itself (an idea dictated, in my opinion, by a purist yet unfulfilled desire to be indexical). Although fascinating, the concept of the meaningless in this extreme form seems to me to fall short of our highly complex socio-cultural reality and of a tenable philosophical position at a closer scrutiny. For me, the meaningless indexical is a beautiful, but too pure and unrealistic a concept to survive in any discipline, let alone a discipline which is so practical and riddled with compromises like architecture. The meaningless indexical suggests total self-referentiality of any object that possesses it, and I will argue that that is by and large impossible in our finite and imperfect world. Some, however, might protest that although it is an impossible goal to achieve, it is the right objective to have. I will also try and dismiss this claim. What I will advocate instead, is a mediated form of indexicality that has been popular in the last 5-10 years in literary criticism and that, as far as I am aware, is best encapsulated

in two seminal texts (the Rhetoric of Temporality by Paul de Man and Allegory, between dialectics and deconstruction by Gail Day). The key point of these texts is that because it is impossible for something (other than maybe God) to mean absolutely nothing beyond itself, that something must always mean something, however latent, distant or obscure. De Man and Day place their focus on that semiotic hiatus, that something, that gap, that fissure or break and they call it the allegorical. They also quote plenty of examples where the allegorical is apparent and expressed. I find this idea extremely interesting, and I will maintain that it is the allegorical, not the meaningless indexical, to really inform the discourse of contemporary architecture. EXHIBITION IDEA If I was to curate the first exhibition that expresses the idea outlined above, I would do it in a way such that those works that purport to be purely indexical, and therefore a standalone or purely artificial natures (indexical and self-referential synthetic ecologies) would be placed first. The evolution of these objects, in the idealised environment of my exhibition, would gradually lead to objects whose aim is to represent the allegorical. The first object on display would be a copy of On growth and form by DArcy Thompson, followed by works of biomimicry, which, according to my idea, are the most nave examples of the illusory creation of a totally independent synthetic ecology from nothing, so to say. Exactly halfway through would be Philip Beesley, who, in my opinion, best represents the middle way between an assumed idea of pure creation of a new reality and genuine allegorical meaning (I see the Baroque and allegorical as closely intertwined and Beesley is an example that fits this paradigm). At the end of the exhibition would be what, in my view, is the culmination and so to say the mature rendition of this impulse. Namely the monsters, the hybribs and the incongruent figures that populate the pages of the papers on synthetic ecologies I find far more interesting. If I were to choose a work of art to represent this stage, I would definitely still swear by Duchamps Large Glass (Art always gets there quicker!). Architecturally, it would be anything that, to use the catchphrase, includes more than one ontology within itself (Greg Lynn, Hasegawa, any weird and unexplained growths in buildingsI remember an intersecting column by Bernini you showed in a lecture, that is good too). My final objective and standpoint for this exhibition would be to help the beholder develop a taste for the allegorical, which, at first glance, might feel so unappetising and look so monstrous. To develop a taste for thinking beyond taste. Remember the Duchamp quotation above!