The Original is Unfaithful to the Translation
Cassidy Viser @ M.Arch II at Harvard GSD
This project explored the historical and typological conditions that characterize the fragmented landscape of Mount Desert Island, Maine ; its transformation from private land for residential use to public property supporting a growing tourism industry. With the establishment of Acadia National Park at the beginning of the 20th century came a shift in the constitution of ‘wilderness’—nature, then reclaiming its territory after the demolition of palatial mansion complexes on park grounds, became commodified. Malleable entities, natural spectacles that inspired a generation of painters and poets to “get lost” as it were became cordoned off into manufactured instances, guided by neatly drawn paths and mazes of winding handrails.
Therefore I chose to focus on a discrete peculiarity of the island—the remnants of what was left behind, traces of past typology inextricably bound up in tension with the persistence of ecological systems. This was manifest in the ruins of a 19th century castle, in situ, that one quite literally has to get lost to find—a narrative supporting a seemingly mythological genesis of the structure. The resulting analysis is one that imagines the reconstruction of typological castle fragments in an exchange with their natural surroundings on the island, using the lens of Mannerism as a guide to signify elements back to Ur-formality in ‘natural’ parallels. As Merleau Ponty writes of Cezanne, the composition of nature must depict a spontaneous organization of the senses—“no separation of the stable things which we see and the shifting way in which they appear”.
Who influences you graphically?/What defined the language of representation of the project?
I don’t believe in assimilating styles to impose on a project—I let the nature of the project guide its aesthetic direction. In this case I looked to 19th century botanical illustrations, technical archaeological drawings, and architectural drawings detailing specific castle elements. I also re-appropriated the classical use of pink poche, extending it to both ‘built’ and ‘natural’ components of the drawings as a symbol of their underlying unification. Further, I took inspiration from Cy Twombly’s Leda and the Swan pieces for this project—the way they embed coded signification and language into a visual narrative, in tension with the boundary of a frame.
Could you explore a bit more on the project title?
“The original is unfaithful to the translation” is a quote by Borges. I found it apt in describing the objective of Mannerism as being critically referential.
What is your take on the map as human construct? How is this tool deployed within the project?
Map-making is interpretation, as easily manipulable as statistical models in politically expedient bias. Just as a flattened map is a distortion characteristic of its necessary translation from three dimensions into one, so too can ideas bend scale when translated to image. The series of maps in this project manipulate this process of translation, conflating notion with icon when tied to place.
What is your opinion on the contemporary state of extreme preservation within which humanity finds itself?
One side of the coin in the disciplinary division over how to treat ruins is the fetishization of object. This is the kind of irony that this project magnifies through critique—it is clearly not to be taken at face value. I think that architecture is beneficial insofar as it has something to say; there are historical monuments with messages that clearly resound today, ones that have shifted meaning by way of careful manipulations, and ones that no longer hold relevance. Preservation for the sake of preservation is as far removed from the profession of architecture as is the profession of accounting.
Cassidy Viser is currently an M.Arch II candidate at Harvard University. She completed her B.Arch at Cornell University in 2017.