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Water and Reverie water as the visual construct of ephemeral space

Dongyue Zhang 張冬悅

I dedicate this thesis to my mother and father who believe me with no doubt and my grandfather who prefaced my journey of learning and seeking.

When through the water’s thickness I see the tiled bottom of the poll, I do not see it despite the water and the reflections; I see it through them and because of them. If there were no distortions, no ripples of sunlight, if it were without that flesh that I saw the geometry of the tiles, then I would cease to see it as it is and where it is—which is to say beyond any identical, specific place. I cannot ay that the water itself—the aqueous power, the syrupy and shimmering element—is in space; all this is not somewhere else either, but it is not in the pool. It inhabits it, is materialized there, yet it is not contained there; and if I lift my eyes towards the screen of cypresses where the web of reflections plays, I must recognize that the water visits it, too, or at least sends into it, upon it, its active and living essence.

- Merleau-Ponty, Eye and Mind.1

1 Merleau-Ponty, Eye and Mind, trans. by Carleton Dallery in The Primacy of Perception ed. by James Edie (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 182.

Abstract 1 Introduction 5

Reflection 13 Refraction 23 Standing Wave 27 Place of Learning 33

Scroll of Thoughts on Water 49 Afterward 59

Growing up near the water, even though I have moved from place to place, water has always been there. I thought it is particularly special for me, but I came to realize the phenomenon of water is what we as human beings long for. It is the casted reflection of the surroundings, the refracted images of the creatures underneath the water surface, and the constant fluctuation of the water wave, that blurs everything we perceive into one. This image is so clear in my mind that one can almost enter this space. We strive to dwell in spaces that embodies this affection. Water is not just a form of a fluid, its phenomenal construct yields the dreaming consciousness. The intention of this project is not to recreate water but to transform the phenomenon construct of water to an inhabitable space that resonate with our mind, or in the other words to learn from water. The simultaneity of virtual and reality invites us into the space, transposes one between two none connected physical space through the virtual overlap. This visual construct creates the space that embraces the affection of water.


Water is the medium of visual construct. It is void when it is transparent; when it is the white space on paper; when it is in shadow. It is solid when it is frozen; when it is reflects our narcissist self; when it is in its infinity. Its ambiguity in depth, its imagination in mind grasps creatures mind with pure affection. Water is the identical twin of air. We dwell on the ground with air. Water shelters our imagination. Can this affection as visual construct be transcended into where we dwell?



Water is the medium of transformation and the site for dreams between physical reality and virtuality. The imagery of water in relationship to ground is the state of being that is very crucial to Chinese culture, which is the ideal conception of life and living. In Chinese paintings, water is the white space on the paper. One does not need to add any extra strokes to represent water, because the surroundings presents it. Gaston Bachelard1 wrote, “The true eye of the earth is water. In our eyes it is the water that dreams.� Across cultures, we are seeing the same water ultimately. The phenomenon of water draws us into it, to dream and to reverberate. It is the white space that dreams, that allows one to construct the space in the mind.

Xiao, Yuncong | Qing Dynasty

The construct of our sense of water in its physical presence and imaginary presence completes our perception of water. My studies revolves around the physical presence of reflection, refraction and standing waves in a confined body of water. Learning from water, and to seek how the phenomenon of reverberation generated by water can establish an order for an ephemeral space. There are constant fluctuations through this medium between the perceiver (perceived) and the perceived (perceiver). The simultaneity of virtual and physical reality invites us into the space of reverberation, and transposes one between both the virtual and physical reality. This visual construct creates the space that embodies the affection of water.

1 Gaston Bachelard, Water and Dreams, trans. Edith R. Farrell (Dallas: The Pegasus Foundation, 1942), 31.



Water is not committed to transparency Water is receptacle Water is prism Water interpolates Water illudes Immersed in the undulations of reflections seize the depth of the shadow and the bouncing light Datum folds portals viscously opens shadows are hinging on each other Trace the light through the portal to the other narcissist self unaware of the juxtaposition of above and below Steps down to the water boundary the autumn leaves drifts through my other self I see Through Extending my vision the autumn leaves roots in the shadow I perceive through Datum blurs piecing them together amplifying / contracting the spaces Fractals grasp on the hinges and leap through the shadows Absorbing the surroundings my vision and mind is collected at the ephemeral portal Restructuring the environment the assembled moments are contained by glimpses of undulation In between above and below shadow and light From sensual to sensory immediate to distant Is what I see the evidences of my memory? or the intrinsic existence?


Ephemeral stance, w in the twined twinkling twin, leap through chasm of lines.



Arriving at the perceiver’s location


The perceived reflected image lies on the surface of water, extend the depth through water.


The physical depth of water is measurable, but the space of the water is not. The virtual images in flux extends into the water, allows our mind to portray the depth through water. A series of drawings and models were used to explore the relationship between the virtual spaces in the reflected world. 20

The perceivers each have their personal perception of the depth through water in their particular position. The two perceivers or the perceived creates a doubled perception of the water body. If more than two, it creates a fluctuating perception in space. It could be many people or one person moving in time. The space being occupied would be many but at same time one.



One see through the water differently, when far away, you see the reflected virtual image penetrating down into the water surface. When close up, you see the refracted images lying underneath the water. The refracted image is also a virtual image that changes our perception of the space below.


Standing Wave

The standing wave of a lake is a seemingly moving forward wave but actually moving in a circular motion up and down. I was lead to this particular kind of wave, because my site is situated at the edge of Lake Tai, the largest inland lake in China. The movement of it is in a micro scale, but how it oscillate is telling about the time and movement of the space of water.


These investigations led me to a design that attempt to dwell in the reverie of water, to establish an order with the spacial and geometrical order of reflection, refraction and standing waves, and to seek and learn by Lake Tai.


Place of Learning

Seeping through the reed, following the path towards the open water, the jumping stems makes the sound of the wind coming from Lake Tai. Fang Zhi Zhai1 slowly reveals itself floating in the water waiting for visitors for greetings. The bottom of the lake is visible at foot, where the silver fishes plays hide and seek with the crabs. Moving the eyes down from the walls that veils the spaces beyond, the structure emerges in the flickering lights and shadows of the water surface. Moment later, the walls that the eyes just passed reappears again portraying a twin space that dwells underwater. A scholar lives here and greets the visitors who come to seek and learn. He was once a visitor also and found here to be his home after the scholar before him left.

1 See page 59-60.

Approaching the structure from the ground. 36

The space is introverted to the land, and extraverted to the water. It allows the visitors’ minds to fully submerge in the reverie of water in between these unfolding walls. Walking through the spaces, glimpses of the reflected walls leads the visitors to another world, and ponders the space behind. The visitors walks towards and into the reflected world to access the submerged room of the book collection. Remerging from the other end, and found themselves transposed to the other end of the space.


This is a place that reflects itself, and the space above and below the water surface are equally perceived and experienced by the visitors. The eyes are filled with constant fluctuation, containing the above water structure, the reflected image, and the submerged underwater structure. Here, the above and below are interlocking, and the boundary that separates is blurred and penetrable.



The walls are part of the ground that initiated all the structure and spaces of this place. The structure underwater/underground is composed of the refracted rays geometrically, and the space above and below ground revolves around the perceivers points moving through time.The white circles in the drawings illustrate the perceiver’s locations.


Approaching the structure from the lake.


view of the structure from under water

circulating down to the space of book collection

Looking into the space of learning above, and the looking into the space of book collection below.


Scroll of Thoughts on Water

“ ... poetry, rather than being a phenomenology of the mind, is a phenomenology of the soul. We should then have to collect documentation on the subject of the dreaming consciousness.� 1

1 Gaston Bachelard, Introdcution, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas (New York: Orion Press, 1964), xx.

Water as Visual Construct [2D] She who Divides She who empties the voids and receives me gently I am drowned by the surroundings that she accumulates Allowing me to leap through perspectives.

The Motion of Dropping in and Remerging


Slowly penetrates the perfect surface, fighting against the buoyancy with gravity. You have gone through the full cycle of life.

The environment is at one end, what I perceive is on my end. I seek the bridge that connects to reach for the perceptual truth with the subjective consciousness to transcend the end of the bridge to touch.


Twin Situations Whether it is a kind of nostalgia, being in this space of reverberation, I am transposed to the space that I perceive, where flesh and mind depart.

“Before the science of the body ( which involves the relation with the other ) the experience of my flesh as gangue of my perception has taught me that perception does not come to birth just anywhere, that it emerges in the recess of a body.�1

1 Merleau-Ponty, Visible and the Invisible, ed. Claude Lefort, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968), 9.

Depth Through Water with Perception of Mind


Village by the Inland Lake Boat to the edge of water from home, there is quiet of a distance when my grandpa was a child. The water surface of the lake is boundless with a couple bumps of mountain. One of them is directly facing the port that only a silhouette is visible from my edge, just like the image of my house in the village. Is there another home on the lake?


Paint gently as tears, the mixture of ink and water body and mind self and reflected observer and observed A reverie rises to touch.



My grandfather’s hometown is in Jiangxiang near Lake Tai, the largest inland lake in China. He moved to my hometown that is one thousand miles from Jiangxiang when he was at my age. After he retired, he practices calligraphy as a daily routine. I like to spend time with my grandfather to practice when I was little. I asked him “why do you practice everyday?” my grandfather told me that “學無止境” (There is no satiety for learning. which is a famous saying in Chinese culture.). Just like his favorite oval free seal says “to seek and search”. Fang Zhi Zhai ( 方知齋) is the name that he gave to his study. I love to hear his stories. He once taught kids as a private teacher for a while before he went to college. He was allowed to use an ancestral hall of a family as the classroom, and all students of different ages would learn in the same room. Students would bring rice to him as tuitions, and my grandfather taught all subjects. When he was teaching the younger students, the older ones would just do their homework or play in the courtyard of the ancestral hall. Sometimes he would take the students for a field trip down to the edge of Lake Tai.


approaching water 1/4

approaching water 2/4


approaching water 3/4

approaching water 4/4

The journey of learning from water will continue, following the flickering water surface, deep into the void.



Gaston Bachelard, Water and Dreams, trans. Edith R. Farrell (Dallas: The Pegasus Foundation, 1942) Gaston Bachelard, Introdcution, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas (New York: Orion Press, 1964) Merlque-Ponty, Visible and the Invisible, ed. Claude Lefort, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968) Merleau-Ponty, Eye and Mind, trans. by Carleton Dallery in The Primacy of Perception ed. by James Edie (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, w1964) 66

Dongyue Sunny Zhang Thesis Book 2016 M.Arch