Reviewed by Sarah Bay Williams
The modernist tome Space, Time, and Architecture, by Sigfried Giedion (first published in 1941), was a key twentieth-century text for students of architecture. Like all true modernists, Giedion saw the convergence of science and art as a key to the immanence of humankind’s creations. By making sense of all this together—reuniting our intellect with our intuitions, our minds with our bodies, man with machine—things were going to be OK. Perfectly normal. Luca Antonucci and Cybele Lyle, the crafters of this artists’ book that takes its name from Giedion’s text, have other plans for pinning down the modernist butterfly. For one, Antonucci has taken Giedion’s words and turned them in on themselves with redactions: “Indeed, books are born of a particular moment; it does no good to revise them later,” wrote Giedion—and revised Antonucci by crossing out the word “no”.
Produced from a show by the same name which took place in early 2012 at Royal NoneSuch Gallery in San Francisco, the book couples photographs of collage by Lyle—landscape overlays that take on architectonic forms—and reproductions from a copy of Giedion’s fourth revised edition of Space, Time and Architecture in which Antonucci crossed out twenty percent of the text with a black felt marker and veiled seventy percent more with a wash of white ink. Lyle’s collage and Antonucci’s altered text, accompanied by a vivid riff of an essay by Christina Linden, come together in this resulting artists’ book as a multi-pronged poem on the failure of classification.
Linden’s foreword rambles pleasantly and introduces the tone with which to contemplate this small book—it has descriptive semantic twisters (“Systematic intervention and representation of subjective vision juxtaposed to present parallel impressions”), a postmodern call to arms (“Negotiate the terms of your science. Bargain for the standards of gravity”), and personal anecdotes about visualizing galaxies of stars with Cookie Monster and trying to share with a friend the imaginary ballroom guarded by a fox bouncer hidden deep under her childhood home. After reading, I am primed for the erosion and erasure of structure to come in the following pages.
Antonucci writes about his massive edit of Giedion on his website: “The book is reinvented as an object that represents the knowledge it fails to hold on to and the history of science, art and architecture are revealed as dynamic and interweaved […] the historical narrative of mankind’s effort to define space is revealed in his failure.” For the show at Royal NoneSuch Gallery, Antonucci placed his revised version of Giedion’s text on a pedestal in the center of the room and hung transparency reproductions of certain pages on the wall along with Lyle’s photographs. The transparencies hung loosely so that the shadows beneath the curl of film became just as much a part of the work as the photograph of crossed-out text. This presentation, as well as the reproduction in the artists’ book, suggest the malleability of information, metamorphosed from one form (a book) to another (an altered book that is now an art object) to a third (a transparent photograph) to yet a fourth (the artists’ book).
At first, I am drawn to reading what has been crossed out in Lyle and Antonucci’s Space, Time + Architecture, but it proves difficult. As Antonucci puts it, he has left only the “contours of letters” above and below the crossed out words: “Joseph Burckhardt and Heinrich Woefflin [sic] never touched their books once they were written; they let others ‘improve’ later editions.” [Giedion was a student of Wölfflin.] And yet, Antonucci leaves untouched, “Forms are not bounded by their physical limits. Forms emanate and model space….”
Lyle reveals how illusory control may be in landscape photography by geometrically cutting and overlaying several landscapes at once. She builds an architecture of space that appears both solid and air. The word landscape, as it refers to art, developed in the early sixteenth century in the Netherlands as secular painting and visions of painting the land gained ground. By the nineteenth century, the painted landscape had become for Europeans a means of reining in the terror of the natural world in the process of the destruction of the wilderness. The sublime was named, and in so naming, humankind may have felt some kind of reclamation of the land and a power over nature. Modernist landscape photography continued this tradition. Lyle’s geometrically altered landscapes suggest that you may be able to capture a hill and its horizon with a photograph, but you can also turn it on its side, upside down, and inside out—make it a building. Have you thought of that? Her work raised the question: How far are we willing to go in the capture of our natural surroundings?
Going to buy this book? Support the Art Book Review by purchasing here.
Lyle & Antonucci, Space, Time + Architecture, (Colpa, 2012)
Cover and interior images from Space, Time + Architecture