Work makes its own dimensions. The body finds the most comfortable way of rearticulating its movements and repeating its techniques, edging outwards and converging inwards, marking out a perimeter within which all tools are at easy reach, and all the while remaining focused on the work. The work creates a space using the focus of the body. The space of concentration is easily recognisable. We know it and we respect it. We take a step back, slowly, quietly. It has its own sound. The regularity of breath. The tapping or scraping or etching or rustling or folding. In the beginning there was the work. Originary creation, originary difference, originary change. The work is the locus of creative human movement, the momentary centre of all invention at the first person, ever present and demanding. Office workstations abstract this movement into a standardised workflow, privileging a fixed range of techniques for achieving a fixed range of performance indicators. Theatres abstract this movement across a plane, performing the distance between viewer and stage, framed by fabric to conceal the craft. Galleries abstract this movement into a standardised circulation, offering points of resistance inspired by the placement of the work. The work makes its own dimensions. It evokes proscenium in the form of an arch; it demands whitespace in the form of a successful hang; it perches atop a plinth; it lines pages held by careful hands; it plays your personal soundtrack as you dance to the beat. It moves. The work of art gravitates a field, creates a space for exchange, unfolds a seating bank, anticipates a taped line on the gallery floor, commands a focal point in the city square. The best place for the work is the position where it will articulate the space it needs the most. Stand back and take a good look. Instinctively you stretch out a little further, moving your body back and forth, to and fro, taking another step back to take in the work from a broader perspective. Place the work where it will speak the space it needs, and it will continue to work through each idea.
The idea clamours for attention. It is curiosity, question, experiment. It crosses the boundaries of discipline and exists in multiple modes. Emanating as discussion and critique, it marks its territory confidently, provocatively — and it never does so alone. The idea is coextensive with the space it creates. An open space, a space constantly seeking resolution, a space defined by the impossibility of ever achieving this. In speaking, in discussing and debating, we create public space. The resonances, the tensions, the responses we evoke present themselves always already couched in the culture that generated them. Newly-focused communities gather, fostered by newly-common interests. Spaces upon spaces. Ways of interconnecting them emerge and complexify: systems of distribution with their own spatial and cultural properties. The city. The idea hijacks whatever mode will hurtle it through the city at speed. Spaces are designed to facilitate its flow. Meeting places, transport routes, addressed post, newspaper distribution, schoolyard games, electricity grids, gossip, highway billboards, songs, workplaces, marketplaces, neighbourhood streets, networked homes. The city is an obstacle course for thought. Democracy, capitalism, monument, festival, laneway. I went to the city because I wanted to live imaginatively, to confront the essential ideas of life and never to discover that I had not lived. Two idealists crossed the seas from stratified colonial land to smooth space; starting from its lower corner they charted a grid, spreading outwards like a fan. You and I will draw two different maps of the same space. Begin now and end when you are complete. Find your way through the city and you will have drawn your own productive constraints.
Constraints are the foundation for experimentation. The blank canvas is chaos, speed, forgetfulness. Structure sets you free to create new forms, new limits, new audacity within a framework that’s open to interpretation and re-appropriation. There are ideas that will emerge only around the table, on the stage, for the gallery. Ideas for hanging on walls, ideas for acid-free issue in climate-controlled environments, ideas for realising as a public work within a sympathetic municipality on a limited budget. Delimited vision, structured resolution, interpretation into a complexifying practice. The work; realised into the space it has just created. Architecture makes complex interventions of our public spaces, communicating with us in a language that guides us from public through collective and into private space, inviting us into the structures whose programs it fosters. Brick says: I like an arch. There among our everyday trajectories, architecture must be navigated and cannot be ignored, while too often art plays to small houses — conditional environments entered by invitation, a ticket, a scheduled time. These are constraints that must be sought out; we can only plan unintended consequences in the public space, relying on public institutions to inspire us to make creative choices. Interpretation is the process by which architecture becomes art. We make and remake the culture and the means by which we create our own space.
The space you currently inhabit is one of many. It happens that here and now you have chosen this place, making it a space for reading. Perhaps the chairs are comfortable; perhaps the sound is ambient; perhaps they serve a decent drink. Imagine it otherwise. What is this place? What is it for? Interpret a program. Eat, mourn, queue, retreat, contort. Are there walls? Do they serve as barriers or presentation space? Turn your body so that you are oriented in another direction. Consider those who have come before and notice what they may have left for you. Deliberate. Draw on a hunch and fold a corner of the page. Fold it some more. Fold it again. Notice what happens to the form as its newly acquired weight shifts balance as it lifts from the page. Choose one shape from what you have created. Distribute it across the next page: draw, connect, extend, extrude, reflect. Connect this with where you began. Be honest. Try to read the words under the markings and folds. See them instead for their typographic form; try to divest them from their structure for just one moment, for just one line, one curve, one interval. Arrange them into a new language: one for articulating process, one for programming materiality, one for sustaining creativity. Design is the process by which art becomes architecture. Setting the most productive constraints for making the most inspiring workspace, the public space, the city.
The city is a complex set of relations actualised by you. Visible cities, invisible cities. Virilio’s city, Plato’s city, Eliot’s unreal city. A plenum, a wasteland, a cultural moment. I came to this city because I wanted to live deliberately, to seek out and then to make what I will have lived. Movement and monument, instability and institution, the centre and its displacement. A critical mass of distribution systems compounding into complex cultural objects. Map, system, interface in ongoing transformation, in accidental discovery. The city creates a work using the focus of the body. Practice is embedded in the city’s cultural development as a rigour that expresses itself spatially; the city catalogues the language of its spaces. This is how space begins, with words only, signs traced on the blank page. Art-architecture is coextensive with the city that frames and fosters its work.
Esther Anatolitis is CEO of Melbourne Fringe and Co-Curator of Architecture+Philosophy.