Ropes of Life
Architecture beyond suicide
A story like this should never be told.
Because its world is as forbidden as it is fragile.
Three-hundred ropes are tightened each year from tree to tree, like modern Ariadne’s threads in what we could de ne the largest natural maze in the world. Raised spontaneously in 864 BC above a magmatic drag, which unable whatever kind of orientation tools, Aokigahara’s forest is passed to history as the suicide forest.
A wooden sign says:
“Let’s think once more about the life you were given, your parents, your brothers and sisters, your children. Don’t suffer alone first, please contact somebody.”
It is positioned as a jamb at the entrance of this place, historically and socio-culturally soaked, in a country that boasts (so to speak) one of the highest world suicide rate. Could this be the answer that such an avant-garde country, as much as rooted in its traditions, gives to one of the most influencing problems of its own?
Japanese architecture – Mecca for the most renowned artists – conceal between the sequentiality of the spaces, its materiality and the designed atmospheres the ability to manipulate human emotions.
Is suicide though – considering the extremity of the gesture and its complexity at sociological and psychological level – liable to deviation by architecture?
Who influences you graphically?
I started working on this project when I was living in Japan and, at the time, I was really fascinated by the Japanese painted screens. I loved the way the ink was shaded and dissolved to the point that everything seems surrounded and concealed behind a dense and mysterious fog.
I would say that the discovering of the semi-e paintings by Sesshū Tōyō heavily influenced the choice of the technique but at the same time I thought that the monochromatic palette was somehow too restrictive in order to represent the beauty and the colorful nature of japan.
What defined the mediums of drawing and film through which you operate? What role does the box play?
I think we are tired of stationary images, even Instagram, which I think is a mirror of the society in which we are living in, give the possibility to people to share instantly video-stories of people life. We are a way more interest in motion rather then stillness.
I think that, as an architect, we have a preset method of representation which combines different drawings, at different scales, from different point of view but this method is, in my opinion, obsolete and binding at the same time.
As a student I felt that my final project needed to drift away from these schemes and exploit the power of media as well.
Since the project is shown through 4 different items: a book that contains the process and the theoretical research behind the project; a papyrus roll with all the technical drawings and diagrams; photos of the final proposal and videos.
The box is, in a simple way, what bring them together.
What is the relationship between the two short clips? What role does sound play in each?
The first video entitled Overture is an opening act. Gives the idea of where we are, how is the site, what happens there and somehow wants to be a cliffhanger for the second one, the Finale, which shows the project through images which are close to reality, but they’re not.
Soundtracks were chosen to give two opposite feelings, while the Overture is more dramatic and anxious, the Finale leads to the end so it reverberates from far away, creating a distance from the viewer and the exit.
Moreover, I think that the extracts of Mark Henick’s speech gives that glimpse of faith we all are looking for.
You talk about the interpretation laying behind the painting entitled The universe by Sengai Gibon, could you expand on this a bit further?
Sengai Gibon was a Zen monk that spent his life trying to summarize spiritual and philosophical concepts through paintings.
“The Universe“, in particular, is characterized by three geometrical shapes (quadrangle, triangle and circle) and by a handwritten saying: “the first japanese temple”.
Daisetsu Teitarō Suzuki, one of the most famous Japanese philosopher, interpreted this Zenga by defining how Sengaiinterpreted the universe.
Ensō is the circle, and as observed by Suzuki is the symbol of: “infinite, foundation of all the existing”, but it is not just that.
In Zenga’s paintings, the circle traces the limits of two spaces, the external one, virtually infinte, and the internal one, as a matter of fact, finite.
In Zen culture this two spaces represents respectively the Nirvāna, where every determination is dissolved, and the Samsàra, that condition where determinations, separations and oppositions are given.
The circular shape, in the way it was painted by Sengai is an unclosed figure with an irregular perimeter.
Since for its buddhist conception of “search of meaning to live”, represented as a process of awakening that aim the dissolution of the boundary between Samsāra and Nirvana, the circle is not closed in order to represent that ultimately inside and outside are a unique space, with unique features. And its irregularity represents all the dynamic aspects of the Samsāra.
The circle represent the infinte, that is the foundation of all the existing, but the infinte has no shape and men, provided with sensorial and intellectual discretion, need some tangible shapes: here is the reason for the triangle, origin of all shapes, above all, the quadrangle (mainly intended as a square).
The square is nonetheless a double triangle and this process of duplication goes on and on and generate the variety of forms that shapes the universe. By this process of moltiplication we aim to reach the perfection of the circle even if we are aware that is unreachable.
The intersection of these three shapes it’s what ties them together and form what is to be considered on of the most abstract and pure representation of the universe and its reduction to the essential is representative of the basics of zen culture.
What where you biggest challenges when tackling such a delicate subject? how did this influence/effect the language of representation of the drawings?
Don’t take me too seriously but I would say that the biggest challenge was to stay mentally detached from this topic while reading and writing and thinking about it, every day, for a year.
Suicide seems such an easy problem solver but the more I got interested in its sociological aspects the less I think is a reasonable choice even if I am personally a pessimistic cynic.
Since the subject was so delicate and morally controvert I wanted to use simplicity, soft colors and feeble lights in order to infuse the sense of peace that japan gave to me.
Are you interested in developing and exploring the ‘healing’ potential of architecture further? If so how?
I am more interested in the way architecture could interact with society.
I wouldn’t define this project as a “healing” one but more as a research on how the interdisciplinary approach, combing sociology, metaphysics and psychology could actually affect architecture and transforming it in something which is slightly unconventional and unexploited.