'Limits' is a studio run by High Holdings a project by Valle Medina and Benjamin Reynolds, directors of Pa.LaC.E. 'Limits' is currently at the Royal College of the Arts, London.
Website: SN 1006
This is Horst. He lives in Dusseldorf. He's been unemployed for most of his life. He takes photos. And he takes notes. . Horst takes photos of what he calls “cold rays” unseen forces that he believes have severely impacted his life and surroundings. He scours his neighborhood for traces of “radiation damage” in construction sites, automobiles, bicycles, and garbage piles. Horsts’ life is entwined in a network of terror spun by suspicious neighbors, public authorities, landlords. A system of terror has enveloped him like a negative aura, operating in the dark and keeping him at the limit of what is humanly possible to withstand. So Horst creates systems and structures for himself, to establish some kind of ‘order’, to makes ‘sense’ of an otherwise all-consuming paranoia. He uses a lathe to make hundreds of little spheres, which he carries with him in order to disrupt these cold rays. He measures the cold rays with a gauges, meters, instruments. His annotations recall things beyond the visual perception: smells, sounds, atmospherics, moods, etc. Until his death in 2010, Horst had produced several thousand annotated Polaroid photographs. Previously, the projects of High Holdings explored the potential of good in loss, development without growth, or whether deprivation can produce new architectural vantages. In Limits, we will deal with limit experiences as the means to discover the boundaries of our species. Limits impel us from a known ordinary state to an unknown extraordinary one with the view to unearth novel relational patterns between each other and nature. By looking and producing in extremis, we will ask: can we raise readdress our existing behaviours and architectures?
For millennia, artists and writers have looked for the far reaches of human experience; this search towards our limits has also resulted in exalted architectures. Take for example places such as the National Full-Scale Aerodynamic Complex, a wind tunnel in California for determining aerodynamic characteristics of large-scale aircrafts. The marriage of ambition and technics has formed historical examples such as the Hagia Sophia, the epitome of Byzantine architecture, and the then largest interior space in the world. Significantly later, and after the identification of extreme experiences, came the establishment of philosophies that would convey how to live at the edge of limits. Take for example Buddists retreats in the dark. In Limits, we will create a collective space for the generation of knowledge at the boundaries of our thinking. Take for example all the new knowlege created in the aftermath of a flood as you ssee here in the Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence.
It can be said that an experience of divine ecstasy and extreme horror is identical. Historically, we have lived an obsession with visualising extremes of human emotions. Take for example images of ecstasy as depicted in some of Caravaggio's paintings. or it's opposite as portrayed by the laughing demons in Japanese theater. At what point is a limit a violation? For example, there are certain limits in the resistance and weights of materials that make them more suitable for construction.
Likewise in Limits we will expose ourselves to real-world extremes, for example: awe of nature vs. torture practices; the world of nightmares vs. enforced realism; the afterlife vs. the near-death experiences of inedia (aka lack of nurturing); an embarrassment of riches vs. poverty. Together we will draw up the things we can or cannot tolerate and we will rely on group empathy to find strategies to cope with them. Limits will also draw parallels from the material of architecture, for example the distinction between thresholds (which are something akin to a gradient of limits), and lines (a hard limit). As well as from collective practises of resilience. Take for example the Tendai Buddhist monks in Japan who experience four so-called "Hells", or the "circling the mountain". This is one of the most demanding physical and mental challenges in the world. Firstly the experience the Cleaning Hell: a minimum of six hours a day cleaning the Enryakuji Monastery; secondly they go through the Chanting Hell: total isolation indoors chanting and meditating; this phase is followed by the the Walking Hell: a marathon of 1000-days on Mount Hiei outside Kyoto. Only 46 people have completed it; and finally, the last stage is described as the ultimate hell: a twelve-year solitary mountain retreat.
As sentient beings capable of processing our surroundings via feelings, we first experience physical events with our own bodies: the proximity to a wall; climbing a cliff; drowning in a river etc. Through our sensorium we accumulate information in order for it then to be described via language. We accumulate painful and joyous information to communicate it. But how are experiences transmitted? What is it like to sense virtually? Is the technification of experience dominating our senses? Is it limiting our experience? To interrogate these questions we will modulate our own perceptions, for example: making objects larger than they are (macropsia and micropsia), or nearer or further (pelopsia and teleopsia) or presenting them as altered shapes (metamorphopsia), with the aim of fooling our relationship to the physical environment, to destabilise experiences.
Bewilderment, or the confusion resulting from failure to understand, occurs often in theatre. The stage is one of the last places where we can explore the limits of human drama and observe behaviour that would otherwise be banned or outlawed. Using what we will call limit-stages as a beginning point of the project your projects will use the potential of a stage as the site of experimental human drama to derive its purpose. Limit-stages could be similar to how Zoroastrians in modern day Iran created the limit between the earthly and godly. They considered soil to be contamined thus choosing to depart the earth by death-by-vulture. or how there is a farm in the middle of Narita airport to resist its growth; or how theres a vault to protect the Spanish written language.
Space itself is only formed by limiting it; encircling. There are ancient festivals still practiced in England that demarcate the boundary of parish properties, such as The Beating of the Bounds procession. A ceiling too elicits psychological impacts: it regulates brightness via apertures and is the bearer frescoes and reliefs. The ceiling in the Hosen-in Temple in Kyoto was constructed floorboards from a castle where a large ritual suicide took place in order to pacify lost souls. Likewise, walls limit the gaze of the Other and act as a hinge to the outer world. What occurs when other non-physical phenomena limit space? Weather has its own way of limiting access. Diminished levels of oxygen in the air in hypoxic chambers prepare pilots for high-altitudes replete with consented suffering, dizziness.
Recently it was found that on average, we exchange verbal language at an information density of 39 bits per second. Vietnamese holds the limit of information density transfer in speech. Airbus is constantly searching for a way to reduce the length of our femurs. It is our biological limit to them allowing to board more people on a plane. For 25 years Robert Shields, a former minister from Washington kept a diary of every minute of his life. 37.5 million words about everything including visits to the bathroom and the weight of the daily newspaper. And what about our architectural records? What is their limit? By layering scales, geometries, time, lineweights, linetypes and depth, can they become a testimony to the limits of documentation of real-world or virtual construction? Within Limits, we will move beyond conventional modes of representation to imagine alternate forms of perception to transform visual and ideological assumptions, to shake us out of our prejudices, so as to look at things with new eyes.
Is it possible to create a spatial document at the limit of our episteme? What emerges when our creations trespass standards and values? Likewise, what will result if we engage in acts of making for the sake of pure expenditure; or wastefulness. Take for example if we decide to devise a mechanism that will drain all our energy for example by carrying heavy weights. There are of course other forms of limits, think for exmaple of the “Living Human Treasure”, which is a recognized individual embodying vast amounts of knowledge to coming generations. This is the case of the Japanese Kyogen masters, which are the masters of comic theater. Such knowledge is an active one, not recorded in any form, and its confines lie within the limit of the body; the treasure. Can we imagine the absence of the archive, book, record or storage as a form of Limit? We will create digital and physical processes, biological conditions and there will be an emphasis on physical experimentation to produce large works, in order to examine how spaces can be conceived under extreme scenarios.