Architecture and Contemporary Visual Culture, the Image of Realism and the Realism of Image
2. Image and Realism in Sergison Bates
“In our view, the experience of everyday life is highly influenced by personal and collective association relating to the images of buildings. By images, we can mean the aspect of an object that relates to appearance and character and which stimulates an architectural and emotional response. While it may be argued that most architectural acts produce images of things, we believe that only few architects consciously work with images”.
3. Image and Visual Thinking in Tony Fretton
“When designing I draw on things that already exist, that I have observed and experienced, in which I sense social, political and artistic qualities that will be recognized by other people”.
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It is relevant to contrast the “Iconic or Pictorial turn” with the “Linguistic turn”, the latter understood as the conception of phenomena as texts that must be “read” as such (Rorty 1967).
Mitchell defines a theoretical framework around images with the intention of overcoming the prominence that semiotics had acquired throughout the eighties as a source of interpretation and knowledge. He defends a visual field composed of images that exceeds linguistics, advocating a dialogue between pictorial and verbal representations for an understanding of the functioning of our thought. He proposes to understand the field of the visual as a scope constituted from the dialectic between word and image (Mitchell 1994).
In German academia there has also been a fruitful debate on the role of images in contemporary culture. In the development of the Bildwissenschaft (science of the image), Gottfried Boehm’s essays show a renewed attention to the logics of images. In “Was ist ein Bild?” (What is an image?) he enquiries from a philosophical point of view the predominance of the linguistic as an essential form of the meaning of the visual. He maintains that images are part of the operations of language itself, since it makes use of visual metaphors to transfer meaning from one level of meaning to another. Picking up some theories of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Hans-Georg Gadamer or Max Imdahl, he delves into the logos of images, their own ways of shaping reality and their mechanisms for shaping meaning. (Boehm 2011, p. 58).
The text continues: “Visual culture is concerned with visual events in which information, meaning, or pleasure is sought by the consumer in an interface with visual technology. By visual technology, I mean any form of apparatus designed either to be looked at or to enhance natural vision, from oil painting to television and the Internet” (Mirzoeff 1999, pp. 1–3). Mirzoeff also points out: “Wester culture has consistently privileged the spoken word as the highest form of intellectual practice and seen visual representations as second-rate illustrations of ideas” (Mirzoeff 1998, p. 5).
The growing impact of Visual Culture in the academic field lies in its attention to the study of the production and reception of the visual. Visual culture becomes a contrast seen from the perspective of the more recent disciplinary paradigms: social history in Art History and cultural studies and identity politics in Visual Studies (Elkins 2003, p. 32).
It is worth to see the Beatriz Colomina’s interpretation about the ralation between architecture and mass media (in the age of Visual Culture) in “Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media”. In her book Colomina considers architectural discourse as the intersection of a number of systems of representation such as drawings, models, photographs, books, films, and advertisements. This does not mean abandoning the architectural object, the building, but rather looking at it in a different way. The building is understood here in the same way as all the media that frame it, as a mechanism of representation in its own right. With modernity, the site of architectural production literally moved from the street into photographs, films, publications, and exhibitions—a displacement that presupposes a new sense of space, one defined by images rather than walls (Colomina 1994).
The text continues: “When I design a building, I frequently find myself sinking into old, half-forgotten memories, and then I try to recollect what the remembered architectural situation was really like, what it had meant to me at the time, and I try to think how it could help me now to revive the vibrant atmosphere pervaded by the simple presence of things in which everything had its own specific place and form” (Zumthor 1999, p. 10). Also see (Zumthor 2006).
The meeting between Peter Zumthor and Hans Danuser is of interest in order to assess this process of re-evaluation of the iconic; an observation which, on the other hand, is reciprocal, since the way of seeing Zumthor’s architecture developed by Danuser also leads us to review his own photography. The way of seeing that Danuser develops in the photographs of Zumthor’s works does not seek to seduce the observer through a gimmicky visual composition, but rather to accentuate a more analytical gaze that transmits the experience of observing the work through a less conditioned encounter. This notion, which explores the possibilities of the encounter with the work and those of its presence, is effective in order to avoid what happens in most of the images that we can currently see in architectural magazines, the effect of surprise and dazzle. Danuser implies that falling into this complacency would lead to the very ways of seeing that could lead to a shift away from a more critical understanding of the role of images, which is the essential aim of the “Iconic turn” (Adam and Kossovskaja 2013).
James Elkins has redefined a field of art and visuality teaching. In “A Skeptical Introduction to Visual Culture” (Elkins 2003) he asks about “what there is to see” associating it with the time or place in which visual objects are inscribed, and “how we look” with the observer’s ways of looking in relation to the historical-cultural situation in which he finds himself. One of his concerns is how to face and study such a broad topic, for which he draws two lines of argument in his discourse: the multidisciplinary and the multicultural. As for the first, he proposes the overcoming of some methods of the History of Art such as chronological location and stylistic analysis, assuming approaches from various fields of knowledge (philosophy, social sciences, natural sciences, psychoanalysis, etc.). On the other hand, Elkins advocates an approach that prioritises the multicultural, accommodating cultural manifestations of all times and geographic and social spaces.
What is decisive for the iconic turn is not that we have a powerful explanation of the visual representation that dictates the concepts of the theory of culture, but that images form a peculiar point of friction and uneasiness in a whole wide field of intellectual research. From this perspective, it is easy to understand that the analysis of the power of the image and its social roles is one of the fundamental pillars of the visual culture research.
Just as the artist creates a substitute for the world by tracing his own presence, we marvel at the presence of the substitution of our perception, at the same time that we acknowledge the ingenuity that has made it a reality (Benjamin  2003).
Martin Jay even sees political relations in the Dutch model. While Cartesianism, with its rigid arrangement of space, refers the gaze to a privileged point, the one from where the scene described in all its fullness is observed, in the Dutch model it is an empirical point of view that can provide more or less visibility (Jay 1993).
It should be noted that Dan Graham’s work has been exhibited repeatedly at the Lisson Gallery in London. Especially successful was the exhibition “Dan Graham: Pavilion Sculptures & Photographs” between 9 November 1991 and 8 January 1992. Previously, in 1986, there had been a joint exhibition that includes the work of Dan Graham and Sol Lewitt. In 2001, practically coinciding with Stevenage’s project, the exhibition “Dan Graham: Sculptures/Pavilions” was held between 12 July and 14 September 2001.
W.J.T. Mitchell, on the other hand, does not restrict his analysis to those images of proven aesthetic value, but advocates expanding the field of study by considering that the power of the visual can be given or presented in very different ways. In this sense, he endorses Visual Studies that serve the various families that inhabit Visual Culture, in order to broaden the knowledge of reality and deepen from different perspectives on the changing nature of perception and visuality (Mitchell 2006, p. 105).
Art critic Jonathan Crary argues that visualisation forms, although they depend on a cultural construction, they also have the ability to shape it. He delves into the idea of observation as a corporeal gaze that is central to understanding the forms of perception since the beginning of modernity. Even from a more specific perspective, Crary conceives the body as a visual apparatus and as the basis of a subjective vision closely linked to the development of artistic and scientific language (Crary 1990).
Philosophers or Art Historians such as George Didi-Huberman has built an outstanding corpus around the theory of the image, giving continuity to theoretical models such as those developed by Martin Heidegger, Walter Benjamin or Maurice Merleau-Ponty. In various essays, Didi-Huberman has been critical of Art History’s desire to construct meanings by limiting a less mediated visualisation of the work. He considers that we should not ignore the idea of the encounter with works and images, since regardless of the period of their creation, it is the confirmation that they are still active (Didi-Huberman 2017).
In the 1930s, Walter Benjamin argued that architecture, seemingly of an unquestionable objectivity, was subject of crisis and more and more, architecture was known through photography, and photography construed architecture as image. In “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, Benjamin maintained that the very invention of photography transformed not only architecture but the “entire nature of art.” Regarding Le Corbusier’s idea of “architecture of illusionist space”, Daniel J. Naegele points out: “Le Corbusier served photography even as it served him. He enlarged it, made it into architecture, and brought its space—the space of representation—into dialogue with the space of reality. The resulting dialectic condition, though architectural, mirrored the condition of photography itself. The photograph is an ‘objective image’, both reality and representation. Its essence is illusion, and it was Le Corbusier’s inclination to recognize illusion as truth and to elevate this truth to an ideal. Illusion can be felt; it can be sensed as the distance between appearance and reality, between what is perceived and what is known” (Naegele 1998, p. 41).
The ways in which perception relates to changes in visuality (Mitchell); the particular natures that constitute the gaze (Elkins); the relationships between perception and the development of artistic and scientific artefacts that shape it (Crary); the paradigms of visuality that shape subjectivity (Boehm); the forms of life with which the images have been and continue to be animated (Belting); the analysis of the way in which human intelligence uses images instead of words in the construction of meaning (Bredekamp); or the understanding of a phenomenological art history determined to recognise the agency of the work of art (Didi-Huberman), show a suggestive theoretical corpus on the forms of the visual and the iconic logics, which represents a suggestive challenge for future research.
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Bergera, I.; Esteban, J.d. Architecture and Contemporary Visual Culture, the Image of Realism and the Realism of Image. Arts 2022, 11, 26. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts11010026
Bergera I, Esteban Jd. Architecture and Contemporary Visual Culture, the Image of Realism and the Realism of Image. Arts. 2022; 11(1):26. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts11010026Chicago/Turabian Style
Bergera, Iñaki, and Javier de Esteban. 2022. "Architecture and Contemporary Visual Culture, the Image of Realism and the Realism of Image" Arts 11, no. 1: 26. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts11010026