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Adelaide Festival 2004: Marco Frascari

Linda Marie Walker


Symposium On Drawing
Louis Laybourne-Smith School Of Architecture and Design
University of South Australia, March 2 & 5


... read or listen to this paper sitting at one of many cafes scattered along the Zattere waterfront in Venice, during a pleasantly warm mid-summer night enjoying a few multicoloured Popsicles and listening to a CD playing Luigi Nono’s A Carlo

Scarpa, Architetto, aisuio infiniti possibili.
Marco Frascari

Marco Frascari was invited to Australia to be the guest speaker at the Adelaide Festival Artists’ Week day-long Architecture Symposium (on relationships between architecture and gastronomy), curated by Rachel Hurst.

Frascari is an architect, theorist and Professor of Architecture at the Polytechnic and State University, Virginia, USA. His well-known essay The Tell-The-Tale Detail continues to be influential. The work and teaching of the Italian architect Carlo Scarpa is the touchstone for much of Frascari’s own teaching and research.

As well as his role in Artists’ Week, he also participated in the Symposium On Drawing, giving lectures and leading workshops on drawing and humour.

Frascari is a story-teller, and what his stories tell (in being spun from the intrigues of architecture’s cultural and social webs) is that the making-process is one of knowing stories, working over stories, relaying stories. In other words, putting one’s ears, eyes and hands to the gritty ground. He says that drawing is both a thinking and a telling and that these are matters of deliberately gathering (like a scavenger) ideas and ‘affects’ from all possible sources—times, disciplines, places, persons—and that this ‘mix’ is potentially funny, mad, strange, sad, political, mischievous, awkward and impossible. Architecture needs this complex composing of a continuous unfolding/unwinding attention to the extraordinary ordinary wonder of the world-at-hand. This is then transformed by slow (and by ‘slow’ he means a kind of practice more attuned to daily dedicated work, like playing music or rehearsing dance or ‘writing 20 lines a day’) pleasure, a sort of action which is ‘caring.’

This idea of care—toward the appearance of the world (in architecture’s context, the literal surface of the earth)—is of the same ilk as that evoked by such philosophers as Brian Massumi, Gilles Deleuze and Elizabeth Grosz. Grosz in her work on the ‘virtual’ of the past, which is a caring for memory, writes: “The virtual is the realm of productivity, of functioning otherwise than its plan or blueprint, functioning in excess of design or intention (Cynthia C Davidson ed. “The Future of Space, Towards an Architecture of Invention”, Anyhow, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass, 1998). This relation of drawing (which is a movement of virtuality) to care (which is activated by a love of the virtuality of memory) is crucial (and potent) to/for practices of design, and underpins Frascari’s teachings. ‘Lightness’, for example, isn’t the opposite of ‘heavy’, and is a form of light-heartedness (with the heart-fullness of care). “Lightness becomes a real condition in architectural construction, which then becomes a poetic dimension of any human endeavour. These thoughts/objects echo along the path of affinities and resemblances, connecting the expression of contemporary experience with the past of the world, and demonstrating that intellectual edification takes place in the act of dwelling in building” (“A Light, Six-Sided, Paradoxical Fight”, Nexus Network Journal, http://www.nexusjournal.com/Frascari_v4n2.html).

Perhaps the greatest gift of Frascari’s visit was his advocacy of a light, humorous, ‘gravitas’ approach to the design of/thinking toward architecture. This welcome and nourishing attitude demonstrates perfectly, and obliquely, his motif/message: that architecture, this multifaceted, polymorphous, persuasive/pervasive, giving and taking of space, is an intensely human and tale-driven negotiation with physical/emotional/psychological surfaces—and precisely, relentlessly, because of this engages all the dimensions of being human, from seeing the minutest mark to hearing the bleakest sound, to imagining fantastic creatures. And drawing is the initialising/generating machine; a delicate line and a tentative word can begin a process, indeterminate and provisional, that may lead to the becoming of something else (music, garden, house, novel, city).

Frascari though is ‘drawing’ into drawing a complicating and vibrational view of process which, far from unifying a practice of ‘drafting’ for architectural ‘communication’, advocates a synesthetic methodology—a multimedia perceiving of the world; a story-telling/making working style which is attuned to ‘all’ the sensory events which move us as living beings—dispersing the privilege of sight that subordinates other fleeting, virtual, imperceptible, transitory, transformational qualities known by taste, smell, hearing, touch. One of Scarpa’s instructions to students was: “make architectural ideas visible, tainted with non-visible phenomena and tinted with meanings” (Frascari, “Architectural Synaesthesia”). And it is this methodology that Frascari put into practice in the forum of lectures/workshops by using the cartoons of Saul Steinberg as explications of slowness, of accretion, of how being ‘attuned’ can manifest (lightly and critically).

And, in a Steinbergian way Frascari was present within a particular Adelaidean atmosphere where he was surrounded by artists, musicians, writers, and performers from around the world who were in their own way providing the exact (albeit concentrated and limited) chances for a rich gathering of bits-and-pieces of the just-out-there (and yet sophisticated, experimental and diverse forms and materials)—an exaggerated ambience of the more modest sense of Frascari’s “weaving of thoughts into images.” If a mapping was made of/between events, objects, sightings, disasters, disagreements and so on within this context it would yield an incredibly dense drawing of tonalities, intensities and tensions. A drawing that could show a momentary synesthetic (personal) city. Frascari ‘happened’ amidst an infinity of ‘happenings’, each of which could be seen as ‘drawings’ in themselves; for example, passing the side gate of Government House on Sunday morning heading for the talk by Dave Hickey and seeing dotted on the green lawn dozens of white plastic chairs and a woman in a pale crinoline pushing what looked like a shopping trolley. And afterwards watching/not watching Mike Parr having his face stitched-up on video (a drawing through the flesh of thread, pulling the face into a terrifying contortion of pain and policy); then passing the side gate again where the chairs had been arranged in small groups under the shade of the trees and a game of croquet was underway (crinolines galore). Then later seeing the brown cardboard models (story-boards) of Roy Ananda and Julia Robinson’s exhibition Thousand Fold, in an unused shop on Hindley Street and noting the title of the accompanying essay: “magical architecture” (Heather Butterworth, exhibition essay) and that night watching the dance performance by the Emio Greco/PC Company, Conjunto di Nero, where bodies present themselves as living/dying compositions immersed in scores of light and sound, ‘drawn’ irrevocably by the ‘fact’ of their own mingling flesh.

Positioning Marco Frascari within the realm just beyond the university, momentarily, sort of hints at his ‘becoming synesthetic’ (“joining the information received by one sense to a perception in another sense”). In Frascari’s terms ‘wonder’ might be wonderfully restless and restful, sensuous and brutal, accidental and interfering, tactful and tactless, in isolation or all at once. Linda Marie Walker

Unless otherwise indicated, Marco Frascari quotations are from, “Architectural Synaesthesia: a hypothesis on the makeup of Scarpa’s modernist architectural drawings”, http://art3idea.psu.edu

RealTime issue #60 April-May 2004 pg.

© Linda Marie Walker; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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