Contextual research: Moving images, architectural images and the embodied image

”In a work of art we encounter ourselves and our own being-in-the-world
in an intensified manner.”   –   J. Pallasmaa

Following my last tutor’s feedback and an earlier discussion with her I am interested in the embodied experience of images in a wider context. Painting could be seen as an illusion on a more or less flat surface, it can also the seen time based as serial work or as moving images (film or animated images like those done by William Kentridge). Time based work can also be seen as a performative act. As the act of painting itself is a performative act as well ( see Richard Long ‘Making River Avon Mud Circle‘, 2011).

From a recent forum discussion I became aware of Joachim Koester, a danish contemporary photographer. In is recent exhibition at Turner Contemporary ‘The Other Side of the Sky‘ he was inspired by J.M.W Turner’s painting ‘Snow Storm‘ (where Turner claimed he was being lashed to a mast and experienced the snow storm at full force – most likely pure fiction). This painting is about the vortex and the relationship between nature and human psyche. As the artist explained the experience of spaces with associated narratives and merging of different voices and identities. He relates this to ‘The Trip’. (see Vimeo video available from: – accessed 30 Nov 2016). His work is a phenomenological approach to sublime experiences and its translation through images into a time based sequence. Somehow I do see some parallels to my recent exercise work ‘InsideOut‘.

In this research I am looking at an essay  by Juhani Palassmaa (b. 1936) a finish architect and former professor.

Pallasmaa, J. (2000) ‘The Architecture of Image: Existential Space in Cinema‘, Rakennustieto, Helsinki. (Lived space in architecture and cinema). Available at: (Accessed: 20 November 2016).

Pallasmaa is interested in the ways cinema creates mind-spaces. It is a “reflection on the inherent ephemeral architecture of human mind, thought and emotion.” Further he elaborates how the mental task of buildings and cities is “to structure our being-in-the-world and to articulate the surface between the experiencing self and the world.” In that sense it is quite aligned with my current course work on ‘Looking Out‘ and the relationship of Me as Self and the external world. The looking through a window or a doorway is another metaphor for this statement.

Walter Benjamin said once that film and architecture are tactile arts as both imply a kinesthetic way of experiencing space. Like how Joachim Koster (see above) approaches his subject. And one could add painting here as well.

Pallasmaa explains that the role of the artist, architect in such a way that  ‘… a mental image is transferred from the experiential realm of the architect to the mental world of the observer..’ The architecture as a conception is therefore a direct reflection of mental images, memories and dreams: ”In a work of art we encounter ourselves and our own being-in-the-world in an intensified manner.”

Pallasmaa looks deeper in the cinematic approach and use of architecture by two directors:  Alfred Hitchcock (1899 – 1980) and Andrei Tarkovsky (1932 – 1986).

There are two distinct differences between both. Hitchcock gradually empties a building of its emotional content and prevents thus the viewer from projecting her/his positive emotions onto it. The left shallow structure is than filled with terror. By that Hitchcock emphasised the human mental request to find consolidation in familiar structures and environments. And by citing the french philosopher Gaston Bachelard  (1884 – 1962) Pallasmaa links the relationship between the comfortable home and the impact of fear: “Home is a place where one can dream in peace. But as fear penetrates the space of home, the experience of home becomes a mental impossibility.”

Tarkovsky on the other plays with the emotional connotations. He allows erosion and mold to corrode the walls. He takes away the building’s mask of utility, rejects the perfection of the building, and reveals by that the vulnerability of its structures. The building becomes itself a mirror of the human vulnerability and the viewer involves his/her feelings and empathy in the architectural structure. And with that time is present as an “unfocused longing for home and patina of remembrance.”

In summary Pallasmaa explains that “a useful building addresses our reason, whereas a ruined building awakens our imagination and unconscious fantasies.

In the following Pallasmaa describes specific architectural elements in the context of C.G. Jung who made strong associations between the human body and the unconscious imagery of the building/house. As an example Pallasmaa describes the element of the Staircase in cinema. The  staircase is been considered as the spine of the house. It moves upwards or downwards. The upwards view for the movement of ascending can mean the exiting from the social stage, a withdrawal into privacy, or the final journey to disclose a secret. The downwards view for the movement of descending can mean self- presentation, joining a group, or the entry into the public space. A staircase photographed from above can express vertigo, falling, and panicking.

I find another explanation quite insightful “A work of art does not reflect the affections of the artist; the subject lends his own emotions to the work. When experiencing a work of art, we project ourselves onto the object of our experience.” I can this as being quite true when it comes to post modernism discussions of way of seeing, some gender issues and whether it is relevant to know more about the artist, the motivation and reasoning of a work.

As conclusion I can sense how architectural elements can play an important role even in a portrait painting. Francis Bacon‘s portraits with only indication of architectural spaces is a great example here for me. I am wondering how I can apply my new learnings more deliberately in expressing mood and certain mental states like claustrophobia or even self-consciousness as my tutor feedback me on some works in part 3. I feel once again that it could be crucial to write down some associated words linked to that to come up with new ideas – a relationship between verbal and non-verbal. Both a way of visualizaion.



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: