An Atlas of Imagination
How did this project begin?
The first photo montages representing the space and the moon were done for my thesis graduation 25 years ago,in order to describe some ideas that I wouldn’t be able to represent through drawing. This is not an independent project but a simultaneous work done with my projects. Collecting all this images in a blog (www.the-imagelist.com and then in a book) arises from the need to organize my photo montage catalogue which I use as a form of note for architectural projects. A very personal experience, a fragments re-settlement stolen from my memory. Such fragments don’t want to shape a theory but are trying to reflect on a method of storage and relating memory. The images collected as montage are a borrowing device producing necessary meaning to my work as an architect. Photomontages are another kind of composition. Therefore projects always arise compared to this storage, sometime finding on this writing some starting points, which are transformed during the time of the photomontage. The time of building images is the time of necessary thinking. It’s a form of drawing free from any constraint. The building action is stratified during this time, arise, amplify, reading a book, drawing, taking picture, trying to translate reality. These images are traces to follow, because if you persistently look at a picture it will always answer your question, even if the answer will produce other questions.
The title and specifically the word ‘atlas’ hints to the idea of mapping, how could this have been used as a format within the book to further explore the idea of the montage as a collection of distant fragments –reassembled at any time to form one momentary image?
Georges Didi Huberman wrote the Atlas is not only a collection of images, but a ‘form of visual knowledge’ and an infinite archive which gains meaning through the concept of montage.
Didi Huberman does never refer to a single image but to them as a complex collection of fragments. To him, similarly to Aby Warburg, it becomes essential how images are organized among themselves and also how a different combination of possibilities stimulates different paths of reading.
Montage is the art that is able to make the image dialectic. Assembling images as I do in my work doesn’t mean assimilating them to fit into a logical narrative plot, but juxtaposing single fragments, storing their multiplicity, partiality and impurities to make their combination or repetition generate an interference with or a reaction to my imagination, opening to new possible relationships and knowledge.
The images are not acceptable on their own, they are always juxtaposed or, specifically, in collision with short phrases taken from the books of the time. Words to be read in order to amplify the meaning of the image, not to assert the truth but to trigger a visual moment of awareness. It is only through this dialectic that the image can take a new legibility. The image become the center of a thought about time. In a way it’s the attempt to construct an atlas of one’s own imagination, whose reference point is Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas, but with the difference that the images juxtaposed in this Atlas have first been manipulated and personalized through a procedure of assimilation.
Any Warburgs’ work reflects a system of classification and assembly of images following an analytical criteria. He created a method, drew an interpretation map of history of art, an atlas through which it is possible to analyze specific topics.
The atlas underlines the relevance of the art of montage, because through the juxtaposition of photos simply fixed on a black background he breaks the obviousness of the reliability of his own claim. Through the montage, and as such through the conflict or the simple contrast of fragments, Warburg creates a dialogue between figure and observer. Through the Atlas he highlight the crack zones of exploration. As G. Didi-Huberman underlines in many of his writings about Warburg, it’sone is an instrument not of depletion of given possibilities, but a limitless breach to possibilities not yet given. Its origin, its driving force is merely imagination.
Warburg committed nearly completely his scientific activity around building this Atlas of imagination. A visualisation of the main topics studied during his life, realized with the help of photos of artwork, but also of objects and figures taken from everyday life, as stamps and newspapers. Arranging a work always opens to integrations and new links. Proceeding through history of ideas, Warburg investigate when one experience formula had an artistic sanctions in the past and then was reborn to new life in the renaissance art.
The images travel through time, locally and culturally, according to official channels, books, museums, works, travel on the net as fragments, and during all this transfer they are subject to transformations, not always physical, due to the variation of feeling of who’s looking at them, remain a path of an archetypal of knowledge and far origins, offering the proof of the evolution of their encyclopedic surrounding.
So the atlas is an attempt to produce an historical geography of ideas through figure bearing symbol, especially the artistic one, worth more for their peculiar nature, and for the weight of imaginative pain that artists offer to the culture of humanity.
You talk about the image as the means through which the past reconfigures itself with present and future. In a time where the very essence of time is questionable and complex how more disorientating can the image be?
Images is political says Didi-Huberman because dismantle, recompose, reassemble and in this way is a critical device of analysis. Then composing an atlas of dialectical images means opening a reflection, going beyond a single imagine, effectively defining a colloquial structure.
The work of montage consist on dislocating and disorganizing the images, changing the structures not looking at them the way we are use to. The montage first divide the images in order to draw them near, find the distance to approach them once more, interrupt them to recompose in the same point in the most dubious relation.
What Didi-Huberman succeed on doing is to recompose Walter Benjamin and Aby Warburg thoughts, thinkers who more than anyone else have given the opportunity through their critical and operational instrument to build a politic of surviving, able to trigger a process to select meanings, which the great employment of images has made difficult.
Benjamin is the first who encourage to think about dialectical images, reading the history and its fragmentations in relation to the time. Warburg in the other hand has the quality to have shown a method through which we are able to read the outliving of the culture of images, so the translating function of memory.
In every images procedure it’s important to be able to look using all the available instruments.
The thought on image is at the centre of Didi Huberman work that’s why I think it’s useful to analyze some points in order to understand why today the work on image is a fundamental work. Trying to define the limit give us the opportunity to confer the meanings. A breach towards the hidden meaning, a relation to be created with images which reject the reading of a pre-established meaning and restart on posing some questions on the relationship we establish with images, on our glaze and what means looking.
The risk we can meet today about images (especially the one describing architecture)is that those will not communicate any kind of meaning. To repossess the meanings its necessary a mutation of the gaze which has to invest both the theory and the objects that D H describes. When D H talk about living the visible he means to re-write the code of his work and be able to observe the objects of the world with other meanings (as far as I’m concerned architecture and space). Only in this way through a doubling of the gaze, we will be able to translate and select through the major quality of images the useful one. Indeed it concerns on a large scale to give the method of reading acknowledging the gaze limit imposed by old paradigm. That’s the reason why the books and exhibitions of Didi Huberman claim the credit to deal on a direct way some topics concerning the contemporarily through the analysis and the comparison with some historically cultural structures that during the time guide our way of seeing images represent the world we are living, the way we live the visible. 3
Maybe we should be brave enough to desecrate the visual strategy on the architecture history and through re-montage abolished and erase the division in order to teach how to make a new employment and play with them. That’s way it’s necessary to tear every time to devices, to all of them, the possibility of employment seized. The violation of what it cannot be violated is the political tasks of the generations to come. 4
To deal with an image, working on it, first of all it’s necessary to brake the link between imagine and reality till now guaranteed by the image as a representation. The image must lose this link, has to modify the code of communications, reveling the making that image has when elected as a model of thinking and when producing lack of resemblance.
The central thread of the lack of resemblance stand out in continuity with the breach of the visible horizon and with the challenge of the evolution paradigm of the history of art saying that every time an artist work it’s a new start for art…..that means that thinking image in a radical way imply to show how next to mimesis we need to see a motion of de-representation. It’s exactly this idea of de-representation to be fundamental in a world where the most important thing is to be portrayed, an idea, a project, de-representing remove the attention from what its portrayed and imply an interpretation of brought back fragments. To act in this way it’s appropriate to act on disciplinary edges, using often on the montage even texts helping to define an experiment of image writing, an useful exercise in order to modify the look, a way to inhabit the visible, diving inside, producing a dynamic action creating dialectical couples imagine-reality, copy-model.
Every image is never alike, but make it appear the brought thing as it’s result and remains.
The image create through the montage examine architecture and the shapes representing it, they do not correspond anymore to the building of an objective knowledge but rather to a research method where the knowledge is established thanks to this making visible the process of fragments assimilation.
 G. Agamben profanazioni, nottetempo roma 2005
If looking has become the most widespread form of perception, nonetheless we seldom look through our eyes but rather capture instances through the cameras of our iphone, what is the future and power of the singular image?
Images hare replacing words, if we try to find in the net a chronicle new told through words is very difficult. Newspapers refers to photo stories, to videos event. It’s very difficult to read a comment which translate the events. Images are replacing words, and emptying the meaning because they replace the event reality. This happen even in architecture the representation has in fact replace the real. Transforming images in shape of represented dialectic is important. Only in this way the single image will gain more power.
How does the montage re activate our mind and ask us to go beyond simple looking but to question what we are looking at not as a singular element but as a series of connections, sensations moments etc?
To answer to this question I refer to John Berger book “Ways of seeing”. Ways of seeing it’s a beautiful title for a book talking about writings, photographs, paintings of the surrounding reality. Our look changes continuously, complying to the mood but also to the real and it’s perception in an almost automatic way. Our visual experiences are always more universal of circumstances, says John Berger, art critic, essayist and even writer.
What does it means to look? First of all it’s an act of writing before than reading and the author prove it pages after pages. Looking is not only a perceptive act, it’s an integral part of life, it’s part of the history, it’s our world experience.
Berger’s look begin from images, or only by the memory of a lived image, a photo. This are stories shaped following a nearly inattentive observation, but in reality stratify in our memories the sensations.
Whether when he talks about a photographer who describing (looking) the essence of photography, the impression is always the same, curious, of a person posing questions. Berger when he writes become a photographer telling his vision of the world, denying any connection of continuity and conferring on every moment a mystery nature.
What was on the place of photography before the camera invention? Berger’s answer it’s very simple: the memory. His writings act on memory, private and collective. The connections between different texts, difficult to be defined, composing the book, are a kind of autobiography of looking , on what the author has seen, blending the times and reinventing the history.
Montage as I interpret it is exactly a way to look at the world, a way to transform our memory. The project it’s merely a modification of our knowledge in a known completed spatial form. I use the Atlas as a visual instrument but also as an storage to pick up ideas. The best way to explain myself is to show you 3 images describing this idea.
They are 3 image to be read on a sequence ( they describe in different way a recent project for Suncheon Art Platform) the first is part of my Atlas, the second is my way of modifying this Atlas on a project idea, the third is an image describing the final project.
5 Ways of seeing – John Berger Penguin 1972
The book is structured so as to accompany every image with text or vice versa, what is the effect of this for the reader? How could the introduction of other layers as that of music/sound influences the way this narrative is perceived and move into the sensorial?
The Imagelist blog is combined on the net with www.the-booklist.com which collect short stories and comments about the books I read. The fragments work not only examine the image, from every book I select fragments which helped me on composing a parallel writing, en essay on images born on reading a sequence of fragments which join the montage interacting within them.
The words achieve the same meaning, become images completing single montages. Very often comparing short text to images is a kind of writing I use even on the project practice. Every project of a contest is going along with a short image essay composed of different and complementary writings. In the contest text imagine and writings are composed on a continue story, in the same way I tried to do in the book “An Atlas of imagination”.
You talk about montage as a form of writing, but aren’t all of these in reality just forms of self expression and art?
The most beautiful pages of M. Houellebecq, without a doubt one of my favorite authors,
are those inserted in The map and the territory, in this story the protagonist, unable to surrendering to nature, prefers his interpretation and cultural elaboration made by his own works, photographs, which have as their subject the Michelin maps. To the reality replaces then its interpretation, or rather its manipulation, so it starts the poetics of the author that acts as the interpreter of the world.
Houellebecq knows how to speak about our time as a few other writers, because dwells in it
and is intrinsically permeated inside. A master in the analysis of the western production system, in the crumbling of the bodies, in relations and memory; he speaks about the reality that surrounds him proceeding with detachment and scientific minutiae, with the precision of a
ethologist, out of any narrative process of magical-allusive type.
This book is very well aware of my idea of art: the set of choices made by an author among all the possible artistic solutions regarding the purpose of his work, the relations with the tradition and the contemporary, the art of expression. These choices take on a meaning at the time when they come into contact with the world and are assimilated before and interpreted after.
In a sense also the architects’ poetics is the result of a mediation, of a selection of information, of a story. The works of Jed Martin, the protagonist of the novel, are described but never represented, the text replaces the image or better suggests the formation of the images, which take body in the mind of the reader (to illustrate this text I have inserted some, a my free interpretation, of course).
The pictures are trying to give poetic form as described by Houellebecq. By an interpretative operation the artist take the distances to the world of reality and makes us to penetrate his world, his view defines an other-reality that re-builds through the signs the territory.
At the moment in which is represented by cartographer, the territory is enriched with meanings,that the nature, in reality, confounds. The view of the artist is indeed more true of the reality itself. ´[…] while the satellite photo let appear only a mixture of greens more or less uniform, strewn with vague blue dots, the paper developed a fascinating entangle of provincials, of picturesque routes, of points of view, of forests, of lakes. Above, with black capital, was the title of the exhibition -The map is more interesting than the territory.
The poetics isn’t born from a subject’s aware operation but by the free interpretation of his work by its users. An author, an artist or an architect doesn’t define their own poetics as an autonomous action, but as a result of a system of relationships that establish with others and with the reality that want to represent.
Each reading is born from a analysis, and from an interpretation of the historical time in which the work has form. Is not a case that I am very fascinated by the work of geographers that return on paper the complexity of the world, the geography is the description of the earth, the world is thus reduced to a representation thereof, the earth to its surface and the latter to a panel. A definition that implies a triple transformation, which is the basis of making architecture.
In designing it reads the reality of the space, looking for a its tangible form that is suitable to the reality of the world in continuous becoming, trying to represent it through models (threedimensional or two-dimensional).
The project always starts from a model, from this point starts an interpretative work of collection, in which I try to combine between their reality, visions andstories. Here, photography, drawing, models, and texts overlap between them, then from the collection will take you to the rewriting of an idea of space. So, the project is an operation of cutting, of renouncing, a synthesis of all the materials accumulated that define the reference models. Between the reference models, the more difficult to achieve is the image. Image as a synthesis between photography and drawings or as a stratification of signs which create the conditions to the project of architecture.
In a text on Manet, Pier Vittorio Aureli, speaking about the value of images, argues that it is important that the images are finite constructs, material objects with their own material
properties, Tea radical lesson of Manet’s images is that they are not mere fragments of the world; rather, they are objects in themselves that not despite, but because they accept and even exalt their condition of being beheld, comparison beholders as something separated, severed away from them.
It is very important do not using the images as figures of the project, but like models able,
through their objective materiality, to sketching the project and to being their own project.
The images are a method of analysis of reality and are a system of thought useful to analyze,
but not only, problems of form and usage.
 M. Houellebecq The Map and the Territory Vintage 2012