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Interior decorating in war time

We need a new language to deal with virtual reality, was one of the messages delivered by American writer Matthew Stadler in the ninth Benno Premsela Lecture in Amsterdam last week. 

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 28-11-2013

Matthew Stadler was invited by Guus Beumer, director of Het Nieuwe Instituut, a newly created publicly funded institute for architecture, design, and e-culture to give the Benno Premsela Lecture.  This is the first of such lectures since the recent merger and was used by Beumer to set the agenda for his institute. 

Stadler’s departure point before reaching “the digital realm” was architecture and interior design. Not a coincidence considering these are the subjects of his last book, Deventer – named after an old town in the Netherlands.

“What is interior? Look at this room and the light streaming in,” Stadler asked his audience in the old Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam, which has large and high windows. “This building shows the openness of its owners, their openness to the world, having escaped the Inquisition in Spain. Walls have to carry ideas to be strong.”

Space, an interior, is not just an amount of air closed off by meaningless borders. Space is given meaning by its inhabitants with their stories. Stories thus become part of the interior and thus people start to “own” a space.
But the opposite happens as well. Where we are we make our space, we create our interior.  To have and own our subjectivity, to become ourselves, we need our space.

That’s where physical space meets the digital realm. “Digital technology creates perfect space,” Stadler says.  It is something we rarely consider. “Digital space is a window on the world and part of a long development from paintings, via television screens to computer flat screens.”

The problem is we don’t really understand this type of space and thus we are not really capable of giving meaning to the interactions taking place there: “The space of composition in the digital realm is more musical than architectural, more negotiating a place in a dynamic field of song, a music you’re either drawn into or move away from.  We need better language, not only words but also a visual language in design to activate metaphors to articulate this difference without falsely suggesting that digital is a secondary, virtual version of a primary reality.”

To find this new vocabulary Stadler turned to Gertrude Stein and her lecture on “composition as explanation”. The creative process of composition, as opposed to academic theorising, takes place when living in an absolute present without any preconceived plans. Especially war made one live in the present, hence the title of Stadler’s lecture.  

We must enter the digital realm and compose, look for a new language. Hiding or fleeing is no longer an option.

Stadler’s full lecture is available on Vimeo.

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