Unit 12: Conjurers of the Big Object & the (Impending) Triumph of Surrealism. Rahesh Ram, Martin Aberson & Helena Rivera

Image: Qiuyu Jiang, The Lonely Hearts Club (Unit 12, 2020)

The Triumph of Surrealism

We are seemingly living in a surreal world: cars are starting to drive themselves; computers talk back to us, the vacuum goes off to clean the house, and there are hybrid humans walking through the streets of London. Modern technology seems to be blurring the boundaries between humans, objects, animals, and nature.  We seem to be part of a spectacular worldwide surrealist game of the Exquisite Corpse.

The subconscious world that the surrealists were so interested in seems to have popped out into the conscious world and into reality; a real triumph for surrealism.

One major component in this triumph is the nature of objects and our relationship to them as we seem to be treating objects more like sentient beings as they become more animate, become playful, talk to us, help us and are able to communicate with us much more.

Philosophers have been debating the nature of objects and now the debate is intensifying with some even asking that haven’t objects always been alive and talking to us?

This Brief Object

A brief is like a love letter. It is a plea (?), an invitation to join on a journey into a space where there are possibilities. The person, the medium, the pen (or the computer), the idea, the words, the type, all coming together, to create a projection in the mind of the reader. If the intentions of the writer have been received in the manner intended, an ethereal portal of possibilities opens ups.

“Love Letter, Love Letter, go get her, go get her.”  – Nick Cave

Yet, love letters are inanimate objects that use symbols to generate ideas that activate images, thoughts, dreams, emotions, and more.

The love letter (brief) is a magical object. It is an angel-object; a messenger.

The Madness of Objects

We live a world of magical objects that enables us to exist in different ways. They behave like intermediaries between us and the many ways in which the world works.  

Objects are fundamental to our lives. Yet, they are generally seen as insignificant or peripheral.  Bruno Latour and others, in the Actor Network Theory suggests that everything in the social and natural worlds exists in constantly shifting networks of relationships. Thus, objects, ideas, processes, and any other relevant factors are seen as just as important in creating social situations as humans.

Graham Harman goes further and rejects the privileging of human existence over the existence of nonhuman objects.

Michel Serres, the French philosopher in his book Angels, suggests that to see objects merely as inanimate and a slave to the human is ignorant. This is highlighted in a conversation in the book.

One of the protagonists says:

“Science says that there is a distinction between the subject, which is thinking and active, and the object, which is passive and thought of.”

In reply, another protagonist states:

“That is total ignorance of the act of knowing! Objects know in a different way to us.”

Why does the sundial acting on its own to mark the hour of the day, why are memories found dormant in libraries, in museums, behind a computer screen, why do the pipes warble, a clarinet sing, and a violin weep?

Serres says that the biro, the writing desk, ideas, memories, form groups that think, that remember, that expresses itself and sometimes invents.

Objects become subjects or quasi-subjects. They are not passive. Humanity is not the only ones that can emit or transmit and communicate.

Artificial Intelligence has not just been invented says the character in Serres’s book:

“We have always been artificial for nine-tenths of our intelligence. Certain objects in this world write and think; we take them and make others that think for us, with us, among us, and by means of which we think.”

The character goes on to say:

“The artificial intelligence revolution dates back to Neolithic times”.

Heidegger talks about the transformation of an object from ‘ready to hand’ (when we think about the object itself) to how it changes to ‘present to hand’ (when we use the objects). This is where we no longer think about the object itself but the object starts to form a network of relationships with other objects including the user to enable its intended intention.  

An object is further projected into the notion of the magical with Graham Harman’s stipulation that the object has the ability to recede or even disappear from our immediate consciousness when using them.  The pen shifts from our perception when writing down our ideas and thoughts as we are engulfed by our being and the pen recedes to a point of disappearance. The pen may only remerge if it stops working.

If the objects can emit, transmit and communicate, and can enable us to think, and is equally fundamental to creating social situations as much as human, then we, the conjurers of big objects must learn to use the esoteric secrets of objects to enable new relationships to be made, different ‘languages’ to be spoken and new stories to be told.

                                                        Your job is to make the big objects talk!

Making the Big Objects Talk.

To the innate qualities of the object, the conjurers of the big object has the sorcerer’s power to not only enable the objects to talk but say whatever they want it to say.

They can use their powers to make the big object emit or transmit messages, tell stories, sell ideologies, whisper sweet nothings and it can be said in a tone that can add to the projected ideas. The message can be said romantically, poetically, sensitively, sensually, and even angrily.

These messages can be made overtly or obliquely. The message can be told with a number communicative devices:

The use of semiotics: use of signs and symbols to enable communication.

The use of narrative: an account of connected events- story- not necessarily linier storytelling.

The use of allegory: a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, 

The use of metaphor: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.

The use of the tactics of ‘Fictioning’:  Fictioning is the act of choreographing a number artifacts or spaces imbuing them with meaning through narratives association, mythological links, metaphoric impositions, usage of sign and symbol as language, iconographic evocations and decoration flamboyance to enable the creation of an architectural language for subjective readings.

These concepts and ideas of verbal and written language utilised and appropriated for visual and spatial projections.

The authors or creators, that have knowledge of visual language can manipulate inanimate objects to project ideas, beliefs, ideologies, dogmas, narratives, and mythologies to enable the viewer to conjure up the past, the future, heavenly spaces, imaginary worlds, and fantastical places. They have the power of the storyteller and the conjurer.

Architecture is much more than the physical, functional, pragmatic aspects – it emits beyond the site boundary and if you listen carefully it will talk to you and if you learn the esoteric secrets of making the object talk then you will be able to communicate to the world through the conduit of the big object.

The Line of Flight: Cultivating the Imagination

“The real is never beautiful. Beauty is a value which applies only to the imaginary and which entails the negation of the world in its essential structure.” – Jean-Paul Sartre, The Imagination 

There are two main aspects that Unit 12 attempts to do in the creation of a brief; the cultivation of the imagination and the enabling of students to undertake projects on a subject matter that they are interested in. Last year’s brief was an attempt to marry the notion of fictions, narratives, objects to enable the architecture to project ideas, thoughts, ideologies and agendas as an experience of architecture. The experience being the story the architecture tells. This is Architecture as a messenger, a whisperer. The notion of the phantom was used to denote theses esoteric messages that come alive in the mind when projected into these spaces. The architecture being a trigger for the mind and the imagination.

We want to continue on this trajectory of investigation as last year’s students produced work that was unexpected, ambitious, imaginative, exceptional and most of all they were unique to them.

Cultivating the imagination requires a series of provocative devices that can enable the flight of the imagination. For that to happen you have to travel into the world of ideas.

Into the World of Ideas:

There are four main concepts Unit 12 is interested in:

The notion of the concept: The abstract idea. This is fundamental to the creation of a meaningful project. It is ideas built on knowledge, research and is created with playful endeavour.

The notion of fiction: Fiction generally is a narrative form, consisting of people, events, or places that are imaginary.  Unit 12 wants to take the real world and take it into the realm of fiction so as to push on the outer boundaries of reality. Fiction as a trojan horse sent into reality.

The notion of speculation is conjecturing without firm evidence.  This is the moment of the leap.  The moment when you augment the world with possibilities.  A moment of risk and exhilaration.

The notion of experimentation: the action or process of trying out new ideas, methods, or activities.

Objects have this magical quality, and depending on their fiction, provide transcendental, transportive qualities that can make a multitude of connections to enable the mind to take flight. Just as in art, novels, films, an object can evoke tangential thoughts from sentiment to extravagant illusions. Objects are agents for imaginative fantasies.

Masters level is a pedagogic space where students should be able to take risks and speculate and experiment to cultivate their imagination.

Other ideas to float in:

Meaning: All architectural spatial, material choices and other representational aspect of architecture chosen and manipulated and choreographed to enable meanings to be projected.

Narrating the ArchitecturePlans, section and elevations to be driven by fictions and narratives.

Nonliteral association: Guilty by association – the imposition of the metaphor on the design.

HeterotopiaBeing in two places at the same time as an imaginary strategy. 

Hybridity: Fictional/Real hybrid- hybridization (in general).

Collapse of Time: Where space and time collapse together (past, present, and future collapsed together)

Project: A Talking Magical Object (Architecture)

You are to conjure up a talking magical architectural object that emits a message into the world. The message could be ideological, social, cultural, political, environmental OR a theme of your choosing. The messages can be overt or oblique and can be hidden in mythology, narratives, fictions or metaphors.

What: What’s the message?

Who: Who is the message for?

Language: What language will you use to project your message- mythology, narratives, fictions or metaphors etc.

EPOCH/time: In the age of… (Myth-Science/ Myth-Technology/ Myth- Culture/Myth-Society)

Place: 4th Years, London but project driven site choice. 5th years, anywhere in the world/fictional but project-driven site choice.

                                                                    Make the Object Talk


Field Trip:  Trip into the Imagination J The only safe(ish) place to go.


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