Musical Voids

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Musical Voids A text by Antoni Malinowski Even when choosing transparent and seemingly colourless glass elements for the Cambridge elevation I had to make decisions about colour. This public art project for the cb1 development sprang from the concept of animating the elevation’s architectural grid, whilst at the same time aesthetically elevating them through the light reflected and refracted from the small glass elements I introduced, scattered throughout its surface. The almost random pattern of reflections creates a large façade-sized drawing. Transparent, as if drawn on water, the art work is made of solid glass rectangles attached to the mortar by the small metal bolts. The subtle chromatic variegation enhances the light’s journey across the elevation, dissolving it into a coruscating display of refracted light on certain days. Diverse types of glass that refract light with subtle variations were selected for the project. Iron-reach glass has a green tint, and the low iron glass a particular whiteness. This whiteness of transparent glass is different when we look at the commercially available Pilkington float glass, and very different from high sodium Murano glass. These subtle tones produce different associations, reveries and feelings. When choosing colours which interact with a given architectural space, one must take into account both their perceptual appearance, and the meanings they may imply. All of a painter’s knowledge about colour, and of the interaction between colours, should be part of this process.


^glass tests for the CB1 façade installation, Cambridge

The primary, non-verbal form of language is body language. It is a subtle language. The slightest gesture, cast of the eye, lean of a wrist, can entirely alter the mood and tone conveyed from one body to another. I remember Pina Bausch talking about creating her choreography for the “Café Mueller“. Pina danced the character of a sleepwalker and in rehearsals she discovered that it made a tremendous difference to her movements if behind her closed eyelids, her pupils were positioned straight , which wouldn’t be how they would find themselves when just sleeping. Normally the relaxed eyes focus down, but that wasn’t what Pina wanted, her character was tense and haunted. It is quite difficult when entirely awake, let alone dancing, to keep your eyes fixed straight behind closed eyelids. Yes, said Pina, but it makes all the difference to a body’s movement. The observer notices, implicitly, even the tiniest diversion from veracity. Body language is so nuanced it reveals all, and so even the angle of a pupil behind a closed eyelid must be choreographed, perfectly. Without it, the bigger moves fall apart. Dance is a language. By the same token, colour also is a language and it has its own “body language”, history, grammar and syntax.

^Porphyry & Verde Antico circles in Scarpa’s Brion Cemetery

The two small overlapping circles of porphyry and Verde Antico inserted in the shutters behind the altar at Carlo Scarpa’s Brion Chapel interact not only with the spatial design, but also with time and history. It’s a Byzantine reference to imperial Porphyrogenesis, and


subsequently to Venetian history, its architecture and art. Porphyrogenesis is the only historically known colour-determined order of succession. The only way that succession could be officially passed down to an individual, was if that particular child had been born in the Purple Room of the imperial Palace of Constantinople, ensconced in Porphry, the rarity and luxury of which was supposed to have infused the newborn with the equivalently rare qualities needed to rule a great empire. Since early Medieval times Venice saw itself as heiress to the great traditions of the Byzantines. This included a predilection for certain colours. The two little overlapping circles of purple and green are charged with this complex and grave weight of meanings, echoing across time and cultures. Small gestures are often more significant than enormous monuments. Refining forms and colours is like the tuning of an instrument, or the distilling of a purer and more potent essence from a muddier mixture. Distillation is about precision – it has nothing to do with being minimal or tastefully unobtrusive. Distillation has to follow the reasons for its own existence – taking the precise core of an intended meaning to its very furthest possible limits. So many subtle complexities. A lifetime of searching, rejecting, searching again. As Samuel Becket said: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Simple reasoning may deceive. All rules have to be broken and reassembled in order to get a glimpse, a glimmering echo of something that feels right. As an artist I focus not on the philosophical or structural aspects of the language of colour, but like a poet or a musician on its emotive potential. The eminent cellist Mario Brunello once told me that a note played on a really wonderful old instrument produces a sound in which it is possible to hear simultaneously a number of harmonics in the lower register and a number of harmonics in the higher register. In the language of the musicians – you can hear the Light and the Dark at the same time. It is the reverberation/interaction between the two that produces the particular depth of sound.

^Sudden Red, Detail, by Antoni Malinowski

In my own work I often focus on a simple line or an outline of a seemingly static shape. But there is a distinct movement caused by the interaction of the shape’s stasis, and its interaction with the reverberation of the surrounding pigments. Pigments are painter’s instruments. And then there is the ambiance, the space with its visual acoustic. I tend to look at buildings as vessels for light. Rays of light enter the structure, and begin to dance on the walls, floors, ceilings. It is necessary to catch the rhythm of those light waves in order to be able to surf on them. First comes the most important tonal interaction, the understanding of


shadows and reflections, followed by chromatic considerations. Colour choreography produces an additional layer of space.

^De La Warr Pavilion installation by Antoni Malinowski

In most of my works set in architectural space you can clearly see that there is a line, and then there is a colour – and the colour has an edge, which is also a line. Often in my wall drawings it is black lines that are sculpting negative space. This negative space begins to absorb colours from its surroundings, as there is also a clear optical effect which happens when you have a very black line on a white surface. At the same time, if there is some colour in your peripheral vision, this colour gets absorbed into the interaction between black and white. This is a very potent optical phenomenon, and while I don't really have an explanation as to how it happens, I often harness its effect. Bridget Riley has often worked with this phenomena –these are issues that are to do with Op Art, which I am not really doing at all, but whose techniques I am, however, keenly aware of. A line, whether black or painted with other pigments, is for me not a description of a shape, or an outline, but something else. The line is sculpting that which is not described, the negative space. By doing so, the line triggers a form of spatial reading, it’s like choreographic notation. These lines are similar to a dancer’s movements, they dynamically capture space. The essence of dance is not necessarily the movement of the limbs, but the space around which the limbs move. So, this delineated space has to do with rhythms, absences, intervals, silences. There is a wall within an architectural space and there are lines tracing movements — and then suddenly there is a transformation of space. Transformation of space suddenly happens, and it is not clear what this transformation is. Something has changed, dissolved, moved, altered.


^Vermilion, Mural in the Royal Court Theatre by Antoni Malinwoski

Chromatic value is inseparable from the nature of surfaces, it is imbedded in the microstructure of materials. This is to do with the atomic, molecular or crystalline structure of those materials. Depending on the shape of their micro-elements, such as crystals or polycrystals, and depending on the arrangement of those particles, light is reflected very differently off of a given surface. Other, more light sensitive micro-structures may be invited to interact– these are the pigments present in paints and varnishes. Pigments can be made of crystalline grains but also of tiny nano-particles – all the differences between which will give entirely different effects. The reverberations created by the interaction of wavelengths, reflected or absorbed by the micro structures, triggers a dance of electrons which we call colour.

^Coin Street Façade, Night Time, by Antoni Malinowski


I work with light, and the movement inherent in it through using line and colour. For example, the Coin Street facade, which I colour-designed, is a kind of urban-scale painting. Its appearance changes all the time with light, because of the particular pigments that I chose – there is a subtle interaction between all of its colours which is quite painterly. It is like painting, but instead of painting a depiction of London and its light interacting, in Coin Street I painted directly with the ever-changing light of London. This kind of piece requires the careful imagining of what this light will do, what actually happens, which colours are going to trigger what reflections, or which colours are going to come forward and which are going to recede. The quality of chromatic interactions depends on the author’s, but also the onlooker’s understanding, feelings, experience and ability to balance and harmonize such imponderables. Often it involves an ancient knowledge imbedded in the culture of the place.

^Korean Temple in Front Of A Hill

Each place on Earth has its own ”visual acoustic“ determined by the physical aspects of geography, location, and weather conditions. I remember Eduardo Chilida talking about the use of black in his work, of the black recesses of his sculpture, and pointing to the influence of Atlantic light, which has a kind of blackness in it. Indeed, in the cold Atlantic waters algae grow very deep, and are unable to reflect light from the surface, as they can in -for example- the Pacific Ocean. The light reflects the black depths of the Atlantic. Different conditions produce a different ‘light of place’, and call for different colours to be used – this is also the case in architecture. Local knowledge that can feed into a subtle play of colour, light and local materials is based on such atmospheric observations. In the luminous light of the Korean peninsula, blue-green malachite appears to glow, and beautifully corresponds with the grey granite of the mountains. Dark reddish earth pigments provide a numinous counterpoint, adding a third pitch, between sky and sea.


^Coin Street Staircase Mural, by Antoni Malinowski

In an architectural context the successful art work utilises the prevailing light, and finds an interaction with the inner light of the wall painting, fresco, mosaic, or any other applied medium. It is the interaction of light – be it illusory and/or physical that matters most. In their book "Tiepolo and the Pictorial Intelligence" Alpers and Baxandall write that “ it is the empathetic matter of a heightened sensitivity to small cues, shadows, reflective brightness in the actual ambiance, resonance with this or that feature of a painting" The elements of a successful site specific painting direct one to the aspects of an architectural design, and find points of reciprocity. “Painting schemes discourse on the building they inhabit by conversing with a whole range of lighting conditions normal to the building and so with their causes in the building... The viewer becomes possessed of the form of the building." These art historians point to the painter’s ability to utilise the shift between two perceptual modes – that of 2D and that of 3D. Understanding these shifts which are present in the visual perception of anything is essential for working with the interstices –the rich, ambiguous voids- which are hidden between different dimensions.

^Spectral Flip, Aid & Abet Gallery, by Antoni Malinowski


My work as an artist interacting with architectural spaces is based on creating spatial constructs out of colours, tones, reflections. All the elements conspire to create Saturated Voids. I compose the music that fills those voids.

^Installation at Studio Visconti, Milan, Antoni Malinowski