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Catoptric theatres: on devices of atmospheric staging

Wieczorek, I. (2020) Catoptric theatres: on devices of atmospheric staging. IDEA Journal, 17 (1). pp. 107-130. (ISBN: 9783887789169)

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To link to this item DOI: 10.37113/ij.v17i01.393


Alluding to the Theatrum Catoptricum described by Athanasius Kircher in Ars Magna Lucis at Umbrae (1646), this article aims to present glass and mirrors, not as mere objects or materials, but as perceptual and spatial devices, defining a technology of immersion. Imbued with a dazzling energy, mirrors and glass appear to defy both spatial logic and the logic of the eye, triggering new ways of observing, channelling and manipulating light, thus redefining the role played by the immaterial in the production and experience of space. With their framing, amplifying, multiplying or distorting qualities, mirrors and glass also entail a shift of emphasis away from materiality as a merely tectonic or expressive medium, towards matter as an activator and catalyst of effects and experiences. Unravelling the magical force and transformative quality of glass and mirrors requires an inquisitive journey, spanning different disciplines as well as historical, socio-cultural and technological contexts. Reflecting the myriad effects and affects of mirrors and glass, a kaleidoscopic range of examples will establish multidirectional dialogues. Although from different eras, the selected works, each one a ‘catoptric theatre,’ will provide the opportunity, not only to reimagine spatial relationships and boundaries, but also to decode the essence of atmospheric staging, suggesting a material pre-history to contemporary concerns for atmosphere and its production. From the enchanting effects of the Baroque Gallery of (fragmented) Mirrors at Villa Palagonia in Bagheria, via Sir John Soane’s unprecedented use of tinted glass and mirrors in his House-Museum in London, to the twentieth century light modulating machines of László Moholy-Nagy, Adolf Luther’s kaleidoscopic assemblages, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s belief in the performative nature of glass, the reader will discover multiplicities of meanings and ambiguities of reflections, exploring their atmospheric potentiality.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of the Built Environment > Architecture
Science > School of the Built Environment > Urban Living group
ID Code:93804
Uncontrolled Keywords:Atmosphere, Materiality, Mirror, Glass, Illusion
Publisher:IDEA Journal and AADR Art Architecture Design Research
Publisher Statement:Interior Technicity: Unplugged and/ or Switched On invites reflection on how interiors have always been augmenting entities and how they continue to be so—in other words, extending, facilitating and consolidating bodies within socio-cultural environments. Rather than seeing an interior as an ‘inside’ in opposition to a world beyond, it asks what modes of ‘folding inward’ have equipped and enabled the spatial environment? Technicity—the world of tools and technical objects that extend and mediate memory, as Bernard Steigler (1998) describes it—has never been what inside-ness, in its sheltering of life, keeps at bay; mediation is from the start technical, indexed to inscribing practices rich in temporal and embodied implications. By this reading, interiors have always been augmented and augmenting (in the sense of the Latin“augmentare”: to increase, enlarge, or enrich). This IDEA Journal issue considers this mode of ‘folding inward’ as a condition of an interior’sspecificity. Whether it be a small structure such as a tramping hut or a tiny house, a large complex interior environment such as an airport or shopping mall, handmade with local materials such as Samoan fale, or the result of manufacturing processes assembling artificial and prefabricated elements as in the case of a spacecraft, boat or train, interiors are augmented, mediated, generated or embellished by technologies. The effect of these technologies is not neutral; one’s experience of an interior is significantly influenced by the affective resonance of its technologies.


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