By Pygmalion Karatzas
_Marina_Morón is the name of the creative collaboration between Jesús Marina Barba, professor at Granada University, and Elena Morón Serna, architect and researcher. Their work explores tangible connections between the image and architectonic space with an emphasis on the experiencial qualities of colour and the Japanese concept of ‘Ma’.
They have written the books ‘Sintagmas cromáticos‘, ‘A_chroma‘, and ‘Tras el muro blanco’ and their work has been presented in numerous solo and group exhibitions. Distinctions include international architecture and artistic awards. They have been directors of the following research projects: ‘Time and colour’ (2003-2006), ‘Images of the past, history of the future’ (2005-2007), and ‘CO3 – Towards a new relationship between architecture and colour’ (2009-2012). Their latest book ‘K: emptiness’ will be released in 2015.
|In our work, we continue to believe that photography brings us outwards, but at the same time, it looks inward, to our way of viewing things.|
Pygmalion Karatzas: Mr. Jesús Marina Barba and Ms. Elena Morón Serna, thank you for accepting the invitation to discuss and show some of your work with us. Could you tell us a bit about your background and how did you start being involved with photography?
_Marina_ Morón: Thank you for your interest in our work and in our creative process. Regarding your question, for us, photography forms a part of the investigative process of space and emptiness, of colour and perception. We do not distinguish between an architectural project and a photographic project; the search and the reflection are one and the same. Our interest lies in the space existing between things. This may take the form of an investigative project regarding chromatic landscapes or a sound and image installation in an urban environment. Now, when looking back at our collective trajectory, we can clearly see these issues, which have always been present in distinct formats. Even in proposals for architectural design contests, our perception of the site and the solutions included this unbreakable language.
PK: It is not often that we see photographer duos. How did you decide to collaborate together and how does such a collaboration work in practice?
MM: We have always worked like this, so it’s something that we no longer even consider; it has become so natural as a work method and a way of thinking – our only way of understanding work. It helps us to create an on-going discussion. The work becomes a continuous dialogue, a permanent tension. We have no viewpoints or similar ways of understanding the work; the discussion becomes the process. This dialectic method has the advantage of continually enriching and refining the investigation. Although we must recognize that on occasions, it prolongs and complicates it. This is another advantage as it shows your work, when it has been subjected to processes of substantial decanting, settlement and crystallisation. Often we are asked about the difficulty of understanding how photography is collective work, being that it is an instantaneous act, identified by the closing of the camera’s shutter. But more and more in contemporary art, creation is considered to be a process of time. For photography, this begins with the shot selection and it does not end until the final decisions are made regarding support and exposure devices. We make this journey together. In each of its stages, we discuss and compare different options. We no longer know how to do this in any other way. We would feel incomplete otherwise, like an incomplete test trial.
PK: Could you describe your overall photographic vision and approach?
MM: Creating an image involves the dual process of perception and representation. Photography involves understanding, revealing the sensations associated with a place and creating a means to communicate them, through the resources of visual language. Clearly, this dual process is thereby transferred to the future spectator. When viewing someone else’s photography, a perception process occurs for this form of reality shaping that is representation. Although, in theoretical terms, it may appear to be complex and difficult, in practice, it occurs in an intuitive and natural way, like everything related to the sensitive dimension of human beings. Because, like expressing ourselves through images, communicating with language and using our imagination, we feel that this is another basic human need.
PK: Which are some of your influences to your photographic work? Could you also tell us a few words about the ways they have affected your approach?
MM: Although typical, in our case, this is a particularly interesting question. More than an extensive relationship or stereotypical names, we wish to consider situations. There have been expositions that have been significant for us, conversations and conferences that have resulted in statements that later became series, classes where a student’s correction and response led to a new area of experimentation… Today, we are conscious of elements of our work that have become well known in certain contexts that we have learned of precisely from the same. In other words, the term influence is quite interactive. We cannot tell you exactly when the attraction for darkness or for the colour blue or for the perfection of lines was created – or who created it. But it has been a consistent conversation in which many other individuals (as well as other objects or circumstances) have been present over the years.
There have been critics, who have noted the overlapping of classic foundations with contemporary sensitivity in our work. We cannot separate ourselves from this. It is true that research, like teaching, demands this dual task of knowledge of the past and experimentation and innovation. Once, at the beach with the sand’s textures subjected to strong eastern winds, we felt the touch of Miquel Barceló’s work, and this led to the use of cotton paper and specific types of ink… We have discovered the concept of the ‘in-between’, the interstices, in the writings of Oteiza and we cannot tell you how long it has been in our language or if we have changed it after the reading of Merlau-Ponty. Thus, we clearly recognize, in strong contrast to the self-educated – who often arrogantly and ignorantly proclaims, in the face of this external absorption, to be indiscriminate – that in the end, we are found to have our own personal and distinctive language.
PK: How would you translate this complex background when creating a specific work such as ‘She’s asleep’ for example?
MM: ‘She’s asleep’ is clearly the most subjective of all of our works. In fact, it is still in progress, because from the onset, for several years it was a site of personal expression where the dream-like nature of the images and individual feelings coexisted, through a technique that was significantly different from one of objectivity and frontality. There is always a distancing with respect to the represented element, through a tension that is imposed by the emptiness between the spectator, the camera and the object. Compare this technical nature with the atmosphere that you wish to create. The key lies in the limiting light that transforms the actual colour. It does not have the conceptual dimension that this colour processing will have later, in ‘Instant South’ – taking it to an unreal state. Because later we have used it as a means of expressing our vision of spaces transformed by the human hand. Curiously, in ‘She’s asleep’, different architectural models have been incorporated because here, the leading character was, in contrast, the subject. An absent subject – almost from another time – that recalls or invents its places.
PK: For your teaching work you research the language of images and in particular the relationship between built space and representation. Could you tell us some of your key observations about this relationship and also about your choice to focus on perception and ‘chromaticism’?
MM: In this we are debtors, essentially speaking, of the reading of the book ‘Remarks on Colour’ by Ludwig Wittgenstein. Colour is an appropriate topic for presenting the problem of communication and language. The subject is colourless. Colour belongs to the relationship between subject and object. We only see a determined light wavelength reflected on a surface. Thus, it is paradigmatic regarding our communication with the world. It means admitting that the perception issues include the essential. Intellectual interrogation, as Walter Benjamin suggested, must be increased to include the area of the sensitive. For us, the possibilities offered by this approach are enormous in artwork. Upon agreeing that blue is the most complicated colour to reproduce, also being the radiation that is the most dangerous to the eyes, we move this to the basis of a series such as ‘Odio la luz azul al oído‘. Blue objects, blue areas, blue time. They hurt and they attract us. Appreciated by everyone, they bring us together. They envelope everything, unable to break free of it, it separates us.
The two bases of our images are emptiness and colour. Both of these are related, united by their common quality of communication. In our book, ‘A_chroma’, we use this as a proposal and conscious declaration. There are images whose colour scheme must be felt internally by the spectator. Where is the colour? If it is not in what we see, the response is as simple as the possibility: in the emptiness, in the space between the object and myself.
PK: You view images as a representation of our perception, both in the way we create them and the way we view them, and as such they become opportunities to understand and expand our spatial consciousness. To what extend do you feel transformative art has the power to achieve that and how can it be cultivated?
MM: We believe that, placing ourselves within a space, the temperature wraps you up in it completely. As surprising as it may seem at first, transparency may present any of the possible tonalities, with the unique exception of white. These dominant factors, that fill the air, are interpreted by our body in different degrees of warmth or coolness. We should say that the emptiness ‘touches’ us with its colour. It is never neutral, in all cases, it acts chromatically upon us. We are speaking of chromatic spaces, spaces that echo, expand, and resonate. That, like a musical term, this is ‘chromatic’.
PK: In recent years, you are finding more responses to your work from eastern cultures. Which are, in your opinion, some of the common concepts of space, emptiness and connections between objects and humans that your work resonates with eastern cultures?
MM: In our work, parallelism with the light-darkness binomial is significant. We are interested in this darkness – although it is a dazzling shine – since we know that, furthermore, light creates shadows. And we are also interested in the eastern idea that the body itself activates space and not the space alone. We like to play with the same principle of the active presence that materializes itself in the interior space of the ‘ma’ in the Japanese culture. Today, I reaffirm that I am a human body as an area of experience and a final objective. “I am the space, where I am”, in the words of Nöel Arnaud. “I am what is around me”, as Wallace Stevens said.
For example, in our project ‘También se enciende la sombra’, we aim to reflect upon these concepts. They are anonymous places– of passing (the Stockholm metro, an airport, the exit of a Paris museum) — that still hold onto the human footprint. An absence, the footprints of man that are still felt because they have truly transformed the spaces of the inhabited site.
The series ‘Instant South’ – currently in development – also relates to this concept, although from another point of view. It deals with documenting and interpreting the landscapes of passage, in a non-tourist era. They are areas near the beaches, but seen in the autumn and winter months, when the large populations and tourist infrastructures are empty, when the light has changed. In these southern landscapes, where man’s footprint remains, along with artificial scenery, inhabited in the end in a different manner: by different people, by a less intense light that produces different tones and luminosities, by a less transparent air. The inhabitants shall be included in the project but in a participatory manner, they shall not be photographed or named. Sound archives of those that are there but are not seen shall be included. They are not invisible, but they shall not be seen, only heard.
PK: You have participated in the recurring conferences about architecture and photography organized by the University EINA Zaragoza. Could you tell us about it?
MM: Yes, every year the University of Zaragoza organizes ‘Working Day’ that gathers different theoretical and creative perspectives regarding the architecture-photography relationship. We participated in 2013, upon the invitation of R. Sánchez Lampreave, who was editor of our first book ‘Tras el muro blanco’. On that occasion, in addition to presenting our works, we aimed to defend the idea of a solid connection between image and architectonic space based on the expression of the perceptive experience. We always aim, somehow, to transcend the simple experience of our projects in order to raise substantive issues regarding the contemporary nature of the visual language as communication and investigation. Thus, recently, in ‘Critic/all: I International Conference on Architectural Design & Criticism’, held in Madrid, we suggested the possibility of creating a critical discourse, capable of communicating the experience and the reflection on the architectonic act, constructed via visual language and resources. We believe that photography is now sufficiently mature – in terms of trajectories and versatility of registers – so as to be considered a critical form, beyond the documental illustration or the creation of works of fiction. Because photography is a powerful instrument, we suggest a re-reading of the image that examines its capacity as a deposit of experiences, a recipient of emotion. The essence of architecture should be revealed and reinforced, without embellishing or dressing it up.
PK: Do you see your work in contrast to the ‘glossy’ editorial architectural photography or complementary to offering different ways of reading and experiencing the built environment? What is the role of the publishing industry in the formation of the architectural photography aesthetics?
MM: We understand the terms of the debate, although we believe that it is somewhat outside of our worries. We are not in a subordinate position to architecture, promoting or disseminating it. We are architectural creators; our images are not subsequent or external to it – they form an unbreakable part of it. We deny the division between constructed architecture and represented architecture. Our society, as Susan Sontag said, feels an increasing need to express itself through images. We are used to transforming, immediately registering what has happened to us and communicating and sharing it… but we have yet to learn to read or write. And this is our goal: to discover the different languages with their endless possibilities. We aim to speak this language. In contrast to current beliefs insisting upon the affirmation that all of the photographs have been taken – that in a world saturated with the visual culture, the only thing we can do with images is play, entertain ourselves, accept that they have become irrelevant – we, on the other hand, assure you that now is the time to create, to transform, to bring awareness, shout, denounce, attract, through the construction of a different space than the one that surrounds us and takes us in.
PK: Researching and planning for the interaction between architecture and people is at the heart of architects’ designs, albeit in a varied degree. Can the photographic act contribute to our awareness of this interaction, and if so, how? How has this awareness changed or developed for you over the years?
MM: We seek an internal experience, and, on the other hand, we aim for the subsequent reading to have a public and plural size that is quite eloquent in regards to the gap to be bridged and the size of the narrative. This goal has bits of fiction; an individual system of senses whose dual functionality allows for the perceptive interpretation of the environment and the contribution to a collective network of the social creation of meanings. And for this, as technical tools, the resources of the photographic language. It is an image created based on an inhabited space, allowing for a new space to be experienced by others – a reality created as a representation and occupied by the plurality of perceptions.
We also wish to insist upon the interaction and ability of the creation of architectural projects and images to change over time and we are convinced that they change over time along with our consciousness. Our book of architectural projects ‘Sintagmas cromáticos’ is the result of a considerable amount of time. It is the culmination of a process based on time and its overlap. In ‘The Doors’, another current series that is growing little by little – since it requires decanting between the shot and the final project – the theme is the relationship between nature and the artificial space created by man.
However, we aim to address this in a subtle manner, as we believe that it is an exquisite relationship. It is a topic that has become one of the most often visited and recurrent focuses of contemporary photography over recent years. But we have decided to approach it in a different manner; we are not interested in an overly casual or careless approach, since we believe that these issues may be expressed with images of careful framing and composition, without renouncing any expressive resources. Because we are interested in examining the relationship over the passage of time, and not at first glance. It is a problem of the ability to perceive relations, a question of repairing links and being surprised by the same.
With this project, curiously enough, we have discovered that the best critics of our photography have been oriental. The opinions – not only the most favourable but also the most open and sensitive – have come from specialists from Japanese museums and institutions. We mentioned this earlier. We are convinced that this is not a coincidence. They are, based on their cultural tradition and unique way of looking at things, a people that focus on the fact that within an image, the key lies in the sole remaining leaf, not in the dried out tree but in this barely visible leaf. And for this, it is necessary to work and edit the image over an extensive period of time, to reconsider the shot and to take another one, and above all, to consider the minute and virtually insignificant details that ultimately function as the ‘punctum’ of the image.
PK: Henri Lefebvre argued that there are three kinds of space: perceived (real), conceived (imagined) and lived (real-and-imagined), and as John Brinckerhoff Jackson argued “we do not dwell in two worlds, one real and one imagined, for they constantly overlap, and in that space of diasporic crossing between the two, there exists a ‘third’ space, a ‘between’ formed only in the simultaneous presence of the two”. Does that relate to your thoughts of a fusion between art and life?
MM: We should recall that the imagination, according to Gaston Bachelard, is not the ability to form images of reality, but is the ability to create images that surpass reality. We believe that seeing the world through other images prioritizes the memory of the archive (and not the reality of the environment) as a living space. But at the same time, it creates the metaphysical anguish of a fading reality, only understandable through its representations. It is not possible to choose between fact and fiction, there is no real choice possible. Because the intervention has already managed to alter the reality. Fiction (recreational or artistic), suspends the standard, moving the debate from the dilemma between truth and falsehood to the questioning of our own ability to create.
In our work, we continue to believe that photography brings us outwards, but at the same time, it looks inward, to our way of viewing things. We remain excluded from the reality that was accessible to the camera, but this allows us to incorporate and harmonize what really exists with what we experience. We are convinced that there is no difference between seeing the world and closing our eyes and ‘thinking’.
Our current project, ‘K: emptiness’ – a book that will hit the market in early 2015 -proposes this dual character of individual narration and apprehension of the world: an anonymous individual expressing himself through photography, adding his impressions via personal comments, reviewing and classifying some of the images that have been key in his life. These are scenes that are recorded in his memory, marked by perceptive sensations, capable of recalling the most sensitive moments of his past. Travels, cities, places, viewed based on a need to remember and to defend the uniqueness of each experience.
Visit the _Marina_Morón website.