Exploring Notions of Transience and Change

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Exploring Notions of Transience and Change 

James Tanner

The brief called for a series of funeral pavilions inserted into an existing cemetery landscape surrounding an early 20th century crematorium by Dutch architect W. Dudok. The purpose of the pavilions would be to host a burial ritual, or sequence. Additionally, the design was to be explored primarily through the production of images that did not make use of linear perspective.

The proposed design explores notions of transience and change as a fundamental quality in life. The design consists of furniture-scale objects placed at specific moments along a route through the cemetery; the existing Dudok building is retained as the most permanent architectural feature of the site. A wooden box is used to carry a concealed, empty urn on a procession through the woods, passing through a courtyard at the crematorium where the ashes of the deceased are deposited into the urn within. The box is then carried on to a final location in the landscape beyond, where it is placed onto a copper brazier and set alight. This final part of the ritual re-enacts the notion of the funeral pyre, with the box itself acting as the fuel. As it burns away, all that remains is the ceramic urn within. Once the fire has died, the urn is placed in the landscape alongside the countless others on the site, and all traces of the ritual itself have disappeared.

During the semester I had been researching and writing about 12th-14th century Japanese narrative scrolls, which were rarely wider than 30cm but could easily reach over 10 metres in length. The scrolls displayed space in an event-based way, rather than a typically spatial way as we tend to do today. I used this format to present the sequence of my own project, also looking at side-scrolling video games to understand how to tie scenes together. Additionally I developed all textures and colours manually, using traditional Japanese woodblock printing. These were scanned at high resolution and turned into seamless textures in Illustrator to paint the Rhino-produced line work. My own drawing is 27cm wide and runs almost 3 metres in length, displaying the landscape and ritual sequence from start to finish.


Who influences you graphically?

Recently I have been influenced by Japanese painting. The emakimono (illustrated hand scrolls) of the Heian and Kamakura periods are fascinating portrayals of temporal sequences, in which space becomes a continuously developing scene for the story. During the Muromachi period, Zen painters like Sesshū captured the essence of things insightfully and with rigorous simplicity. Developing out of this Zen tradition, the Kanō and Tosa schools infused this with the flatness, decorative patterns and bold colours of Japanese painting from earlier periods. Kōrin’s work, which came later, is exceptional. The subjects are so full of life, but he also achieves a high level of decorative abstraction.

I enjoy Klimt’s paintings for their range of colours and vivid atmospheres, and the dream-like quality of Cézanne. I look at Rothko for richness, texture and interaction between colours. In architectural practice the drawings of Atelier Bow Wow are interesting to me because of their depiction of behaviours of people, nature and the built environment. The images are not purely spatial – they are performative too.

To what extent do you agree with the notion: The Medium is the Measage?

Architectural designs tend to be developed as fixed bodies that are drawn in standardised ways; plans, sections, perspective renders and so on, as if these drawings present universal truths. Drawing a project in these ways may seem objective, but it makes a strong statement about how the author conceives of space and one’s experience of it by operating within the rules of optics developed during the Renaissance period. I think it is impossible to be passive with a medium of representation, so it is important that it is understood and developed in a deliberate way for each project. Otherwise we may mean to say one thing but end up suggesting something entirely different. The choice and use of medium directly reveals the assumptions and intentions of the designer.

How could the use of film (or a simple after effects movie which uses the drawing and simply record it from left to right) activate and reinforce the proposal and horizontal development of narrative?

The emakimono were viewed in this way; partially unrolled and held outstretched in the hands, like a kind of continuous comic strip. What is experienced is a sequence of unfolding events accompanied by a spatial context that changes as these events take place; space and time develop together.The trick is in finding a means of projecting space such that it can flow, because perspective prioritises one viewpoint over others. This type of moving image is really mastered in side-scrolling video games. I looked at the game Inside to work out how to set up my own drawing. Coherence is achieved with a consistent horizon line and by dividing the composition into clear background, mid ground and foreground framing elements, which slide past one another at different speeds to create a sense of space. It could be really exciting to present a project as an interactive, side-scrolling narrative that the audience could explore and interact with as if it were a game.

What kind of paper did you use to print and why?

I used a thick, off-white watercolour paper. Woodblock prints are typically made on very high-quality papers and I wanted a consistency between the woodblock textures and the final, digitally-collaged image. I also wanted the negative space to have a strong material presence, inspired by the misty clouds of the Japanese masters mentioned above. It would have been great to print on one long roll, but cost was a restriction here so I had to glue each sheet together.

How did you select your colour palette? How would the use of monochromatic tones effect the way the proposal is perceived?

The image is a Rhino-produced line drawing that is filled on Illustrator with textures. Because the lines themselves are turned off, the colours needed to contrast strongly enough to clearly reveal the shapes and forms within the image. Contrast became an initial, pragmatic requirement of the colour palette.

Based on this, I looked at the colour palettes in three forest paintings by Klimt, which used dark reds and deep purples but also cool blues and so greens and yellows. The atmosphere is both chaotic and peaceful. This was the mood I wanted to give my funeral ritual; cold colours that recede and are introspective, but also bright colours that radiate a feeling of purpose and urgency – very much alive. Together they give a sense of the closeness between life and death. I did not want to create an exclusively depressing, sad atmosphere. A funeral should reveal to us the beauty of being alive too. Colour helps achieve this duality in a way that would be more difficult with a monochromatic palette.

What dictated the way you chose to render aspects of the drawing; for collages materials to texture to white negative spaces?

A combination of the influences and considerations mentioned above, as well as a relatively spontaneous set of experiments with woodblock printing; a technique I learned from Scottish printmaker Paul Furneux. e act of carving into pieces of wood determined the types of patterns I could create, because I had to consider the grain of the wood and the shape of the carving tools. The resulting prints were scanned and turned into seamless, digital textures to make the process possible, so I deliberately carved patterns that could be easily tiled. The physical qualities of the watercolour paints used also impacted the texture and hue of colours in the final image.

The negative space is inspired by the clouds and mist in Japanese painting. It allows for transitions between moments and spaces in the image without the whole thing falling apart. Here the negative spaces are silhouettes of trees rather than clouds to create an intimate, eye-level view, but the idea is essentially the same.






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