FORMS IN DIALOGUE. DIALECTICS OF THE FUNCTION-DECOR
object function functional functioning non-functional defect utility useful useless unusable need structure organization coherence by fragment object image symbol representation unusable desire sign signified (representation) significant (image) arbitrariness language difference characteristics positive symbol analogous fragmentation
* On a rough stand – a solid wood countertop – there’s a white sink with a stainless steel battery and hose connected to the sewer system. Next to the sink, there’s a ceramic lath, with a size comparable to the one of the sink, placed on the same wooden stand. The lath does not work as a sink, although it could become a sink, if the technological system ensuring its operation was to be attached.
* In a shower cabin, four batteries out of which only one is functional. Any of the batteries can be fixed, but some of them are very old and are not connected to a functioning installation.
* On a wall, in a solid wood holder, several wooden spoons, out of which just a few can be used.
The observations generating the text reflect real situations within the same household. Following such object systems from micro (in the arrangement of several household articles or fragments of thereof, in a decorative ensemble) to macro (in the case of one or several architectural objects) we can ask: in which way could an object, and especially, an architectural object, become a reflection of itself, without losing anything that offers it functionality, therefore without becoming only a decoration? What happens when, in architecture, the object’s double instance is simultaneously represented?
The scheme of communication identifies an emitter which transmits a message to the receiver through a certain mean. The transmission means should be appropriate for the message, while the communication means are always printed by the filter to which the objects are subjected. This means that we could therefore communicate by arranging objects, if there is a certain consistency related to the intention of the subject. This overall consistency, in relation with the action of «decorating», is given by the communication between the objects, through the structure in which they are placed together and which highlight a certain atmosphere. Prior to industrialization and serial production, by the traditional principles, the decoration of an indoor space would reflect a certain social standing. Today, the overall consistency is based on the functioning of a cultural system of signs, without necessarily involving a unity in taste (1). In certain situations, any indoor space, belonging to any period of time, can both reflect a certain social standing, and include a series of clues regarding the individual’s position in society. Beyond such a limitation, which concerns the negative sphere (the subject’s material and cultural means) or such a limited interpretation, related to the receiver, the manner in which objects are arranged also bears a message, or reflects the personal strategy of the subject (the one arranging). Therefore, there is also an important sensible dimension of the object, in which it can be lived or live.
On one hand, we have the object covering a need through its use, and on the other hand the object as an element of a decoration or, in certain cases, the museum object. The museification, however, involves a single, isolated instance, which only communicates in one direction. It is forbidden to touch a museificated object: it can be broken even if it is non-functional, it can communicate even if it is unusable, but it’s not always defect. What stands in the way of a museificated object functioning is the conservation effort, the non-functioning state being the condition of its existence – the object becomes useless in relation with the need it was initially satisfying (it is out of use). The museificated object is the sacred decorative object that we find in domestic interiors, whether it is «kept in the box» or it is set aside, in order to cultivate a memorial-affective value. We can also find rooms specialized in keeping this type of objects in the traditional farmer’s house, where you could enter in the good room only on exceptional occasions.
Nowadays, and especially within the constructions of the object structures we refer to, the micro-museification procedure involves mixing these decorative, symbolic object amongst the functional ones, in an ensemble both coherent and ambiguous, which goes beyond the initial purely formal strategies. Such structures are also the ones that generated the observations we started from, exceeding the interpretative limits we could associate with museification, as well as the illustration of any kind of social order. These structures observe a rather symbolic order, which we could not base on a incident or a coincidence. Moreover, if inside a home we would deal with micro-structures subjected to the symbolic order, they also exist in similar forms in the case of similar constructions.
The situation in which we can’t make the difference between the functional object and the decorative object, because their alignment, in the same context, does not highlight by negation the character of the other, leads to a certain type of tension within the system determined by the two. The relation between them, of a permanent undefinition, definition, redefinition, of permanent transition from decor-object to useful object, does not necessarily highlight a crisis. We could say that this relation is rather defined as a continuous process in which the object is never consumed, but has the role of a catalyst, both for this identification with its own image or its own function, and in the proper sense of the term catalyst, as a substance used in chemical reactions. The subject, in itself, never actually changes in this approach.
Going beyond the small scale of a house’s interior, a similar joining, which illustrates the decor-object-useful-object double instance, can also be found in the project of the FRAC museum in Dunkerque, designed by architects Anne Lacaton and Jean Philippe Vassal. We find a situation similar to the one inside the home, illustrating the system of the two objects working together. The AP2 Hall, which, the architects say, presents a exceptional potential use and which they decide to preserve, is doubled, by the architectural solution, of having another construction with identical dimensions and the same volumetry. The initial hall, which has been used in the pass for repairing ships, no longer has any functions – remains a clear space inside the conserved symbol object, say the architects in the project presentation text. Its duplicate, the new body of the museum, has a transparent cover, through which you can read the traffic nodes, the constructive skeleton, the gauge of usable spaces. The AP2 Hall remains opaque to the outside, but flexible with the well-lighted indoor space, appropriate for different temporary exhibitions, shows, performances, related events, being, first of all, a clear space. This combination puts the two objects in a permanent exchange relationship, where nothing remains mediated or non-mediated.
Baudrillard says that «in our days, objects no longer respond to each other, but they communicate in an overall consistency» exceeding «the expression of a poetic speech, an evocation of objects closed on themselves, responding to one another» (2). However, the overall consistency also involves the fragmentation coherence, as a condition of this dialog, of this exchange. If the analogous constituted by the image is never an arbitrarily chosen sign, but always motivated inherently, meaning it is always a symbol (3) then, in the case of the architectural object, the fragmentation coherence implies both the functioning of the fragment itself (beyond its functional aspect) as well as the dynamics of the function. It’s the situation of the FRAC museum, where we encounter the fluctuation of perception between two volumes, with the partial indeterminacy of their character. This indeterminacy is not connected to the ambiguity that sometimes occurs from uncertainty, but with a clear intention of joining the two fragments in a symbolic coherence – both individually, and in relation with the flexible manner they were made to function together. Moreover, the consistency of the assembly is not determined by a set of strict, predetermined rules, considering that the function of objects is in a continuous change, adaptable to a complex system of needs, also constantly changing. Therefore, in the consistency of the assembly, any of the two objects is in a constant process of non-definition, definition, redefinition, with one another and each of them with itself, within the consistency of the fragment.
Therefore, the hall’s duplicate, its twin, engages into dialogue by dissociation, but not with the purpose of contradicting: the hall is, in fact, in its interior, an empty space, with the meaning defined by the director Peter Brook (the need for void, the absence of chaos in space), while its duplicate present subdivisions, segmentations, sub-fragmentations, and fragmentation of space, namely a network, a physical consistency of all connections which signs establish in ideative plan and which are translated in the architecture part. The empty space contains all these connections, which find their solution in the imaginary, by dissociating them from their physicality, but also in dialogue with all the features of the twin. What this type of communication implies, at the level of an architectural object or of an ensemble of architectural objects, is not subjected to the order which Baudrillard associated to overall consistency. Although it trully functions as a whole, it is composed of fragments which first need to answer to themselves, because without fragmentation there can be no fluidity, no flow, no assembly, no process.
For the functional object to become real it must be used, namely to cover a need. The need is the one standing at the base of the object’s identity, the one making the object gain one shape or another, but the shape will always search for its fulfilment in the production process. Only when the object becomes a project it can start being lived or living. However, above all, the object needs to be desired, to seduce, following Baudrillard’s fatal strategies. In this regard, the joining between useful-object-image-object (in which any of the objects can become the other one, and vice-versa), the shortcomings of one are settled in and through the other one. Just like in the case of the production machinery described by Deleuze and Guattari: «desire does not cease to engage continuous flows with some partial objects that are essentially fragmented and fragmenting. Desire determines the flow, it flows and interrupts. […] Any object implies the continuity of a flow, any flow the fragmentation of the object.» (4) If the juxtaposition of the two elements in the system, either small scale objects, or architectural objects, takes place in order to satisfy a desire (which can be a collective desire, of a company or of a group, as Lacan shows) the new object-system will automatically be programmed to seduce. The two volumes used by the architects Anne Lacaton and Vassal in the project from Dunkerque build a symbolic unity which is even stronger as the closeness between them is total. The flux, which indicates fragmentation according to Deleuze, is translated into the project exclusively in the psychological level: between the two fragments there’s only a transparent screen, through which you can enter in the empty space of the hall in the functional space of the museum.
If, from this point, we go back to our initial observations, related to the intimate plan of the house, of the interior, in which objects are easy to master in their thorough arrangement, to which the objects are subjected, their association becomes a game. The apparition of a duplicate or a twin, identical in shape, but opposite in its contents, is used especially when the original is to be guessed, when the original wants to be discovered: as it happens with Harap-Alb when he has to choose the true daughter of the Red Emperor, when you need to guess the object or the hand hiding the stone, or as it happens with a row of identical doors. One would think that the original, the true object, the functional object, the useful object, has specific features which make it easy to recognize, disqualifying the fake, the reproduction, the imitation. The process can also take place in a positive direction: the new object can join the old one in a coherent composition, in which we find the ambiguity necessary for the game.
From the domestic plan we can move into the plan of objects, towards their subjection, in order to build the metaphorical dimension of communication. In the initial scheme, which synthesizes communication, the arrangement of objects depends on an emitter, on an exterior factor. The metaphoric plan, however, considers the life of objects, how the objects lives, what is happening to the objects. Objects can only communicate on a metaphorical level through their quality of sings or symbols, their functional coherence being less important here. After all, between the sink on the wooden countertop, connected to the sewer system, and the ceramic lath, placed next to it, there’s no functioning conditions: they both exercise their function, both are functional, while the presence of one in the proximity of the other does not imply neither a malfunction nor a better operation. The whole system is marked by its representation force, namely the whole layer building its symbolic dimension: what we initially identify as being decor. Objects, either functional or decorative, are in constant exchange, transmitting the secret in an almost instantaneous back and forth motion. The hand hiding the stone is doubled by the hand that hides nothing.
(1) Baudrillard, «The System of
(2) Baudrillard, «The System of Objects»
(3) Gilbert Durand, «Anthropological structures of the imaginary» p. 28 apud Piaget
(4) Deleuze, Guattari «Anti Oedip» p.10