Dark Matter

a mixture of the unknown and the tangible - by Jennifer Newsom

Line Weight

I have always been fascinated with lines. In the dimensional progression from point to line to plane to volume, I feel the most intellectual and spatial affinity with the straightened edge, the boundary, the rim implied by a thin extension of narrow bands. It is not that I consider myself a rule bound person. But line-making is the beginning act of bounding space and denoting limits, thus contouring this from that. As an architect tasked with producing contract documents from which a structure will be constructed, the line is my tool and my currency.

On September 18, 2017, I attended a compelling lecture at the University of Minnesota by Pierre Bélanger, landscape architect and director of the graduate program in landscape architecture at Harvard Graduate School of Design. During his talk, he described the inherently political nature of lines, map-making, and territorial inscriptions that architects, engineers, and urban planners often use without question. According to Pierre, there is a need for designers to renounce the strictures of lines, because they are inherently bound up in efforts of colonialist reorganization, rationalization, and domination.

I agree that lines are political. They exclude members and designate groups. But I do not agree that we can or should abandon the line. Oddly enough, I think we need more of them, and in so doing, our reliance on their fixity will change. With more lines, we get crossings, superimposition, and multiplicity. We will be forced to take on the responsibility of understanding overlapping systems, multiple narratives, and multiple modalities of use, occupation, and ownership. I am interested in the complex interweaving of lines for the patterns they make, the preconceptions they reinforce, and the swells and gaps that they sidestep.

“What we must eliminate are systems of representation.” - Edward Said, the late post-colonial scholar. Quotation shown in Pierre’s lecture.

Architecture is a representational act of communicating desire and narrative, yet representation is just that: a re- presentation that remains a fragmentary project. To assume otherwise is naïve. Even in the widest definition of architecture parlante, there are silences, latent voices that make no sound deemed worthy of hearing. There must be a constant questioning of any methodology that claims to assert an authoritative position. Its is required that we ask: Who’s narrative? Who’s desires? Because we can never speak them all. 

In the collision and confluence of lines, namely: the act of “getting more lines on the page,” we confuse the single story. In my own work, I overlap infrastructural systems, vision, and spatial relationships to produce an uncertainty stemming from multiple modes of perception. Operating in a three-dimensional, proprioceptive spatial arrangement, audiences move and interact within series of voids that have the dimensional clarity of thick lines, yet are indifferent to the perceptual rules implied by such bounds. In Longing, the infinite reflection implies a straight line, but the wind-powered movement of the mirrored panels bend this space into new forms. Lines describe the structure (i.e. the tensegrity lattice supporting the mirrored panel), yet they enable a freeing experience, loaded with the indeterminate flexing of space.

Said continues:

What we must eliminate are systems of representation that carry with them the kind of authority which, to my mind, has been repressive because it doesn’t permit or make room for interventions on the part of those represented. This is one of the unresolvable problems of anthropology, which is constituted essentially as the discourse of representation of an Other epistemologically defined as radically inferior (whether labeled primitive, or backward, or simply Other): the whole science or discourse of anthropology depends upon the silence of this Other. The alternative would be a representational system that was participatory and collaborative, noncoercive, rather than imposed, but as you know, this is not a simple matter. [emphasis mine] - Said, Edward W.  “In the Shadow of the West.” Interview with Jonathan Crary and Phil Mariani. Wedge, 1985 in Said, Edward W. Power, Politics, and Culture. Vintage, 2007. pp 41-42

Said is calling for an open system where lines are built up via concurrent agency; mark-making with alternative narratives inscribed.

When I draw, I layer and layer sheets of trace paper. There is a constant back and forth between the various snippets of thoughts visually and physically stacked upon one another. Lines blur through multiple translucent pages, and I pull forward certain marks and leave out others as the drawing progresses. Instead of this editing, the truer artifact is the layered stack, a palimpsest of working deeper into lines.

In the end, perhaps it shows the limits of my imagination that I cannot fathom a world without lines.  Said notes, “Representations are a form of human economy, in a way, and necessary to life in society and, in a sense, between societies. So I don’t think there is any way of getting away from them - they are as basic as language.” (ibid.) Even if we could delete the territorial strictures of nation-state borders, lot lines, and zoning laws, I think there would still be the instinctual desire to delimit space. How we separate ourselves from the world outside our bodies, be it through clothing or shelter, is a kind of line-making, setting a boundary and division where before there was only nakedness. Communicating this division in a re-presentational way will require a certain mark: dashed, dotted, solid, doubled, thick, or thin. The key is not to become slavish to these lines, unquestioning in our approach to them, or undoubting of their “truth.”

Jennifer Carruthers