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Posts Tagged ‘Matteo Pericoli’

Cardboard, Glue, and Storytelling

September 16, 2014 | by

Model-Perpsective_Corrected

Last year, Sadie Stein wrote here about Matteo Pericoli’s Laboratory of Literary Architecture, a “cross-disciplinary exploration of literature as architecture” in which students create physical models of literary texts. Pericoli has taught the course at the Scuola Holden in Italy, at Columbia University, and elsewhere—now he’s broadening the horizons, and the Laboratory has a robust new Web site to prove it. There’s also a new video—replete with a kind of slinky Sade-ish groove, because why not?—that walks you through the course’s fundamental questions.

But perhaps the easiest way to grasp what Pericoli’s up to here is to look at an example—the LabLitArch site features a number of them. Here, for instance, is Katherine Treppendahl, an intern architect, on her literary architecture independent study, seen above, of Ulysses:

The exterior space frame represents the overarching role of Joyce, the arranger, as well the modules of time within the text—each partition represents a different time of day. The two primary characters, Bloom and Stephen (Joyce’s Ulysses and Telemachus) are translated into different volumetric typologies. These volumes are stacked and arranged in terms of their presence, importance, and relationship within the story. The reader is represented as a pale tube snaking through these volumes. In the novel, there is a point at which the text shifts from a more conventional narrative style to a more abstract and self-conscious style. Within the model, as the reader moves into this territory, the volumes begin to break open and fracture. They are no longer whole vessels, and the “reader” is visible, moving uncertainly through this landscape.

There’s also a very fitting makeshift mission statement drawn from Alice Munro’s Selected Stories:

A story is not like a road to follow … it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time. It also has a sturdy sense of itself of being built out of its own necessity, not just to shelter or beguile you.

Check out more of the student projects here.

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Nastia Denisova, St. Petersburg, Russia

February 14, 2014 | by

Nastya_Denisova

I’ve been living here for four months. The center of the city. Fifth floor. I usually look out the window at night, but it’s not exactly a window—it’s the door of a balcony. I can see all the windows of the building opposite mine.

I see how, from a window on the right, they regularly throw out plastic bags of trash onto the roof of the one-story building in the courtyard. But I don’t know from which window, exactly—I follow the bags, and when I shift my gaze to the windows they’re all closed, identical, except for the one that has a piece of green plywood instead of glass.

From a window on the left side of the building, people throw garbage without bags. Brown plastic beer bottles and, for some reason, heaps of metal tops from jars of homemade preserves. I see the man who throws all this from the window of his kitchen, leaning out the window and looking down. He looks down and spits. His cigarette butt has set some dead grass on fire. He spits for a very long time. He goes out and comes back with a bottle of water. He pours down the water. He throws the bottle out.

In the windows of the second floor are the kitchen and the back rooms of a restaurant. They’re always throwing cardboard boxes out the windows. When the boxes start to block the little back courtyard, someone piles them up and they disappear. In the winter, covered in snow, the boxes become monolithic, angular snow architecture. And if you didn’t already know, you wouldn’t be able to say what they are.

From the window opposite me, cheerful teenagers fling DVDs. Maybe it’s a dorm room. Are they using them like throwing stars, or just tossing DVDs out the window? Have they noticed me? Two discs land on the balcony, through the door that I’ve been watching. Someone has drawn large, colorful butterflies on their surface. —Nastia Denisova

Translated from the Russian by Sophie Pinkham.

 

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Lysley Tenorio, New York, New York

January 17, 2014 | by

A series on what writers from around the world see from their windows.

Lysley Tenorio (the Standard)

From room 1006 at the Standard, East Village, you see a white-faced clock overlooking a small triangular park. A sea-green dome ringed with small arched windows is partly blocked by a boxy rectangular building, faded and plain except for the cross on its south-facing wall. On the rooftop hangs a single line of laundry. Straight ahead is a building, wide and blank as a wall, that nobody seems to enter or exit.

If you don’t live in New York, you might not know the names of these buildings or their significance, how they function in the city, what they mean to its people. But this is the gift of being somewhere new, in a place that will never be home. Everything is defined by your first impressions. That sea-green dome, so out of place and time, might house things both ancient and futuristic—rusted astrolabes on the shelves, side by side with next generation iPads. The crucifix could be the final remnant of a failed church, the original cathedral demolished decades ago, replaced by a building full of a thousand cubicles. That white-faced clock, the brightest thing at night, may very well be the front of a crime-fighter’s headquarters or a supervillain’s lair. That line of laundry, winter-damp and flapping—those are the clothes of a dead man who had no loved ones left behind to gather them. And directly across, that building is lifeless as ever, but someone is inside, waiting to be glimpsed, you’re sure of it. All you need to do is wait. —Lysley Tenorio

Lysley Tenorio is currently the Paris Review Writer-in-Residence at the Standard, East Village.

 

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Taiye Selasi, Rome, Italy

October 4, 2013 | by

A series on what writers from around the world see from their windows.

Taiye_Selasi

This summer I wrote my first ever article in Italian, considering why the Eternal City lures so many expat authors. In my limited Italian, I proposed three reasons—the beauty, the warmth, the un-ambitiousness—all of which come to mind when gazing at this view. When the sun begins to slip behind the gilded greens of the Janiculum, I’ll stare at the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, breathless every time. The sheer beauty of this ancient city—the scale of its churches, the density of its trees, the pastels of its facades, the voluptuousness of its clouds—is on full display from here.

My watch is the clock atop the Basilica of Our Lady in Trastevere, adding its chimes to the cheerful din of chatter, car horns, laughter. There’s never a dull moment in the Piazza of Santa Maria in Trastevere; one can sense as much as hear the joy of social gathering. But it is Rome’s imperfection that I find so beguiling, an invitation to play: seagulls squawking, nonne bickering, paint chipping from the walls. —Taiye Selasi

 

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Lidija Dimkovska, Skopje, Macedonia

September 6, 2013 | by

A series on what writers from around the world see from their windows.

Lidija_Dimkovska

My late childhood and entire youth window. I began to write in front of this view, and while I am here, I still do, at a low, small table. On a typewriter then, on a laptop now, but preferably in a small notebook with lines.

I look outside often; the pictures have become very familiar. Two brothers used to live in the building with their families and their old mother, a small, tiny woman in black who always was screaming at her grandchildren, often beating them or running after them. They also were screaming, and that noise was present in the air until the parents would come home from work. Later, I found out that they moved the grandma from the first floor to the cellar, where she died. One of her daughter-in-laws was Serbian; once, the Serbian woman sent me and my friends to the shop to buy her a special orange juice, Fructal. She opened it, and for the first time in my life I tried this juice that my family could not afford.

The roof of the building was always in my view. In the mornings a stork would come to the chimney on the roof and look through my window. We looked each other in the eyes, and we understood each other. He was my sky, I was his earth’s friend. It was impossible not to write. —Lidija Dimkovska

 

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Literary Architecture

August 16, 2013 | by

One Friday evening in March, I took the train to Columbia University and walked into one of the strangest and most interesting classes I’d ever seen. It was the Laboratory of Literary Architecture, part of the Mellon Visiting Artists and Thinkers Program at Columbia University School of the Arts, and a multimedia workshop in which writing students, quite literally, create architectural models of literary texts. For the past four years, Matteo Pericoli has led the workshop at the Turin-based Scuola Holden creative writing school, and this year, he brought the concept to New York. While the idea seems intuitive enough—each student chooses a text he or she knows inside out, and then builds it—the challenges arise in interpretation. “A text you love is not, necessarily, the best for this project,” said Pericoli. He adds that it is crucial that students work from another author’s text, rather than their own, to facilitate the true objectivity necessary.

And then of course there is the question of getting away from the literal. “One student chose ‘A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again’ and thought she would just make a ship,” he explains, referring to David Foster Wallace’s cruise-ship odyssey. But then they learned the class’s mantra: “Literary, not literal.” The structure that ultimately resulted (because the writing students team up with architects to build models that must function as well as engage) was very different. Writes Elizabeth Greenwood of her final model,

I designed a rectangular structure with many floors. Bolstered by concrete brackets, the end pieces represent the hard, inescapable fact of heavy things in the essay: the Harper’s assignment, the ship itself. But the floors inside these brackets are made of glass to represent the clarity and truth Wallace sees during his time at sea. On the outer edges are two parentheses turned away from one another (which might one day be openings for stairs) representing the thoughts and connections between seemingly unrelated things. These cuts into the plexi allow light to filter through between the floors, illuminating their invisible links and also tracing seemingly disparate themes and digressions. As the floors ascend, these parentheses edge closer to the upper right corner, where an elevator shaft penetrates through the structure. This burst of continuity between floors represents the author’s presence, and the author himself, who cannot be contained even within the clearest of glass, and who stubbornly refuses to be subdued even in the most ostensibly light of occasions, like a vacation on the high seas.

As Pericoli explained to me, the process of examining structure, flow, interconnections, the author’s intentions, all managed to both mirror and illuminate the process of writing: rendering explicit that which had been intuitive, forcing students to deal in both interpretation and a little mental detective work. What is an author’s intention for how a piece is read, or experienced? What is a reader’s? As much as anything, the variety of interpretations—and, yes, over the years, Pericoli has seen multiple students take on the same work, with wildly differing results—is startling. J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace becomes a rectangular structure with a meandering path that evokes the protagonist’s unwilling shifts in perspective. To the Lighthouse bears no resemblance to an English country house by the sea, but rather becomes a structure that centers around a vacancy: that of the mother. The exercise demands both serious imagination and intense discipline—qualities essential to the disciplines of both writing and architecture but presented as dauntingly unfamiliar challenges that both force participants out of their comfort zones, and ultimately create new ones: different, yes, from the initial familiar comfort of a beloved text, but functional and fascinating all the same.

Carver

“The way out can only be seen from a specific perspective—the staircase back up to ground level is hidden behind a false wall—and once seen it cannot be unseen. Eventually, the staircase becomes too much of a curiosity. The participants will climb the stairs and exit the structure, and find themselves completely removed from it. To leave, first they have to go completely into the structure.” —Joseph Ponce, writing on Raymond Carver, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”

Coetzee

“Ultimately, I wanted this model to be interpretable from two perspectives: one, the perspective of the walker going through the path who cannot know what to expect next, and two, the perspective from above that is able to see the model in its entirety: to see the knife cuts, the single-minded yet zig-zagging path, and the reflection in the water at the end of it.” —Joanna Yao, J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace

Keats

“My idea was to have an entrance that you stumble upon, peep in, and find yourself within, without actively seeking it. It’s welcoming because it does not have a door, but rather an entry. You cannot see what is inside it without going in, similar to not perceiving the nightingale’s song unless you let the other thoughts fade away and listen. The building could also have an actual door on the ground level for the part below the elevated path that could be used as a café or restaurant. The elevated path is above and apparent for those who choose to see it and are curious about it.” —Zeynep Lokmanoglu, John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale”

Sebald

“The structure is a tall and narrow space, reflecting both the vast scope of the book as well as the intimacy of the reading experience. An uneven path is suspended along metal supports, and gradually rises and falls across the entire length of the structure. The path’s shape is dictated by the fragmented and surprising nature of the narrative, in which the novel leaps from subject to subject through unconventional avenues, such as the documentary playing in the narrator’s hotel room. The path is covered in a translucent material so that these supports are visible, which alludes to the meta-fictional nature of the novel.” —Joss Lake, W. G. Sebald’s Rings of Saturn

SSP_Pond_1

“The two structures are alienated by a space, a gap, but connected by a passageway, which, situated on the far left, spills from one building into the next. To get from one structure to the other, one must endure the trip through this dark, windowless space. To embody the cyclical nature of Woolf’s writing style, there is also a circular gesture created by the space between the two buildings, rounded on each side by the ramp and the passageway, respectively. This reveals itself only in a bird’s eye view of the design.” —Catherine Pond, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse

The Falls

“When you are inside this structure, traveling back and forth, up and down, there is an imperious desire to discover the space as you become overwhelmed by its magnitude. I wanted to mimic the strong sense of spatial awareness that you experience reading the piece, thus I looked for a similar feeling while you navigate the structure. The sense that you have an active role in reading the space and that when you are traveling through it, you are ultimately ‘writing’ the space with your body.” —Javier Fuentes, George Saunders’s “The Falls”

Read more about the Laboratory here. You can read more about Matteo Pericoli on his website and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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