Villa Medici, Roma 2018
... Collective Energy>
... Phenomenon >
... Take me >
... Analogue >
Collective Energy addresses our uses of energy and the individualistic aim that any of its current infrastructure has. The way we produce and distribute power (just as many things we consume) has these perpetual means and consequences: being delocalized, standing out of any’s sight, being out of any direct impact; being abstracted, pretending that switch on / thing goes off is the natural state of things. One could discuss which reevaluated balance to choose between our needs and our tastes, one global perspective in mind… but instead, we praised the idea of a cultural shift for the better.
In energy and its substances lie matters of desire: at the Arpoador beach in Ipanema, people gather as the sun sets and applause when it disappears.
A «collective energy».
The Pantheon was built as a retrospective evidence that political power is a divine gift, and this phenomenon happens the 6th of April when sun and architecture lineup. For our contemporary eyes though, should one enters any time of the year, should it be on a sunny day or during a storm, one gets strike by the precious substance fulfilling the space. There, we found ourselves standing as contemplative apes before an architecture that has given a refinement to both its built and unbuilt matter; and nothing can compete or compare to the emotional and energetic load one has going through its gates.
The completion of this architecture is such, it uses both concrete and climate as mean and goal. How can light become tangible here, how isn’t it decaying to our eyes, why are our shadows straight with no fuzz? And how is it that we stand amazed, being able to perceive all of this whereas we usually don’t care?
It is a statement: there is a gap to be filled between the way we look at Nature and the way we produce our modern culture; there is a way for Nature’s rawness to enter our cultural scope of fascination; the necessary artificial means, which rule the production of our current art, can be easily outpaced. What would it be to look at « L’Incredulità di San Tommaso » at sunset?
Our current modeling techniques for architecture’s sustainable planification relies on the simplification of natural phenomenons. The « daylight factor » is for example calculated under a « normalized sky condition » which name speaks for itself. And since lastly, the standards of construction have been the airtight insulation which, even when putting its plastic consumption aside, sounds as a strange idea: as a reluctance to calculate comfort in regard of climate. All this is to be understand within a specific economical and industrial context. Yet, to an outside expertise, it is as if we gained the ability to predict some small phenomenons happening in monitored spaces, as if we knew about this model’s limitations and yet decided to be legally bound to it. The rules of our comfort are set in an aiming-for-perfection white box, but reality is elsewhere or at least, allows other perspectives: Bruno Latour’s hybrids. In Japan, many houses, some amongst the richest, are poorly insulated and heated. Their mastering of timber construction compels it: wood breaths, ans so is their space, and so is their design. After a cold day and preparing for a cold sleep, people gather in public baths, and through rituals of self-cleaning and vaporish social intercourses, they get the heat and high-comfort they need. Forging its resilience, this culture doesn’t see heat as a compulsory individual purpose, indeed Japanese’s high expectations of comfort would be unreachable individually. Then, it’s up to public architecture to answer the needs for luxury; up to each one to turn himself into the vessel of his own needs in energy: a «collective energy».
Modernity and its original will to achieve a global beneficence, stands more and more as an unequivocal quest for a truth and a solution with no “s”. Yet it is the idiom of our current cultural pursue, and as we’ve seen, nonetheless is this last relatively recent, it is also relatively local. Should we be reminded that all ensues from one primal specification within a larger field of study ? Indeed, modern times began somewhere between Giordano Bruno and Michelangelo, between astrology and cosmology, between Nature, the foresight of its complications, and the different resources its description had to mobilize, should it be science, art or both.
Alongside a research lead at the Villa Medici on our cultural relationship to energy and its substances, “Collective Energy” appeared to us as a way to address our strong belief in sobriety: a spin to avoid the profound contradiction that bears the subject of our study. But from this first semantic pirouette it turned quickly into a conceptual hope: “what would be a temple to energy? Could we really be collectively harvesting sun-rays with enthusiasm ? Could this be the skyline of a future landscape: backlight silhouettes moving towards shiny and unfriendly structures?
500 Soli evolved into a significant experiment.
It turned to be a spectacular lecturer about our potential for relating to energy and its substances. Just as if we were looking for a protocol to study human performances in a field of high energy, or solar-rays stimulations for human brain; a protocol to study human photo-exciting cells.
500 soli’s phenomenon
The installation takes all the space in front of the Loggia: the Piazzale. The 55 two-meter-high columns are arranged on a radial grid centered on the Villa Medici’s north angle (the main shadow limit). The 7 raws are parallel to the building and spaced by 5 meters. Each pillar supports 4 mirrors. Each mirror is adjusted individually to conduct the reflection of the sun toward the Loggia at 19h00 (our too-much-shadow-from-the-trees-of-the-garden’s limit).
That’s 220 suns
The 31st of May, Hans-Ulrich Obrist’s talk was happening in the Grand salon with doors open toward the Loggia, and the buffet was set on the Piazzale next to the installation. People were free wondering in the whole space: some were at the talk, others were already celebrating in the Piazzale or the Loggia after having walked through the exhibition.
It works this way :
13h00>16h45, reflections appear slightly on the ground in front of each pillar. Due to the strong direct lightning of the sun and because of their apparently erratic geometries, those are not striking to anyone. From the Loggia, the specularity between the reverberation of the sun on the Piazzale and the mirrors are equal. Mirrors are still quiet to the energy they receive.
16h45>17h45, the first raws of reflexion enter a shadow area and become noticeable. Moreover, as their respective distances grow, their collective geometric organization starts to show; lines and overall target are appearing.
17h45>18h00, some first reflected lights reach the facade and gather around a coherent area. The closest raw of pillars get out of the shadow and adds their high energy to the system. For the eyes of the most curious, questions are asked: something is happening.
@18h00, the part of the sky each mirror is reflecting has turned from blue to bright yellow as the sun approaches it. For a viewer standing in the Loggia, the landscape gets brighter and intensifies. Light starts to get palpable as wind blows a thin cloud of golden dust.
18h15>18h30, lights are getting closer. Some reach the balustrade of the stairs going down from the Loggia. As one could see it from the Piazzale, the aim of the installation gets obvious. From the Loggia, one still can’t understand the proper mean of the show that has already started. The landscape gets brighter and brighter. The density of light increases dramatically minute after minute.
@18h30, direct sunlight reaches the back of the Loggia for the first time in 430 years. The first raws of reflexion are projecting a low-angle light on the floor.
@18h35, 2 long-ranged pillars arranged out of the matrix and closer to the gardens got out of the shadow they were in. They hold 6 specially adjusted mirrors to project signals directly inside the Grand Salon. 4 of them appear high on the tapestries. 2 were adjusted to hit Hans-Ulrich Obrist in the face; unfortunately too many people were standing in the doorway: missed!
@18h45, the travertine lion that ornaments the Palladian-window-like opening gets a flash in the head, and his attitude turns to surprise. The Loggia is already full of light and excitement grows. In the Grand Salon, listeners are disturbed by a rumor from the doorway: « something is happening.»
MINUTES AFTER, David, friend and fellow at the Villa Medici, tries to interrupt the talk so everyone can be free to go. We are obviously turning late, and he steps out.
@18h55, almost all reflexions have reached the Loggia. More and more are hitting the back of the Grand Salon and the top of the head of the doorway-standing people. Those last appear like saints crowned with gold. Outside, rumor, brightness and light density are at their peak.
@19h15, everyone is out and has picked his place. The evidence of the installation expresses its depth by itself. Some stay in the Loggia and walk front to back, left to right, to see as many flashes of suns as they can in the same movement. Some pick a point where to stand, waiting for a light to come to them. Some get fascinated by the dancing and shifting shadows projected at the back of the Loggia: a group of 10 making 220-times-more intersecting silhouettes on the walls. Light has got too strong to perceive landscape and one’s eye-range stops whenever struck by a flash. Air in the Loggia is clean of dust but highly energetic: some get frenetic.
19h25>, people gather little by little in the Piazzale for drinks and wonder in the space between columns and lights. After the Loggia which stands as the phenomenological experiential space as it is the most energetic, the Piazzale gives a more aesthetic perspective as one can see and count each spot of light on the entire building. Yet the density of light remains high as more and more dust rise up. There, no-one gets strike by strong lightning anymore, but the whole space gets more and more suspended to a bright cloud of light appearing in the air. Selfies, « mirror selfies,» snap snap are multiplying.
19h45>, things are calming down. The sun has started to disappear behind trees and reflexions have carried their course on up, on the facade. The celestial voute is still bright, and we are approaching the golden hour. 220 suns have set on the Loggia of the Villa Medici, and people are sharing their own experience with each other.
@20h20, the sun sets behind the hills of Monte Mario. Golden hour starts and the installation fades away. The east part of the sky gets darker and bluer whereas the West remains illuminated in silver white: we are waiting for the contrast to increase.
@20h45, David, who surely is sensible to the energy he receives, runs to us: « come… it’s even more beautiful now… I had to run to tell you… ». Indeed, just as projectors filled with energy, mirrors are flashing with lights from the still-bright sky and give the strongest of contrast with their dark and nightly backstage. The rumor starts again as more wine is spilled over debates about the best meanings to give the piece, as its final starts…
@20h55, blue hour starts and we expect it to last 20 minutes. This is the last expulsion of light from the horizon within the night sky. The bright lights of mirrors are getting stronger and stronger as contrast between East and West increases. One final phenomenon to accompany people to some less excited nervous states. The tensions and excitement brought by the overload of golden energy are scattering and dissipating to the relaxing spectacle of the flight of blue fireflies. Space has lost its energy but is still levitating around people. As we are getting to the night, everything fades slowly away, and some starts to turn to us, the artists.
@21h45, yet Rome has its own thing with light. The contrast is still sufficient for the mirrors to shine bright blue.
Boltanski, Obrist, Parisi’s Take me (I’m yours)
That’s the invitation people received when took a mirror (because they were invited to). Take it, and take back…
The 21st of June was cloudy, but people came. At 17h30, I was talking with someone who was early, as mirrors were quietly standing in front of us, bright and luminous upon dark and grey. And indeed the white and shiny squares, spatially arranged in a slightly diverse manner, were beautifully standing out against the threatening East sky. He, argued with his photographer’s eyes that it might be better that way, without sun, as those pieces of bright light were starting to fill the space up with their diminished yet persistent power. We took pictures and indeed it rendered nicely. We agreed yet, when at 19h00 the sky washed its cloud out, and the experiential space of the Loggia got its high energy back. Fewer people assisted to this less advertised event, and silence and brightness suspended space and time even more efficiently than before.
For the people who took our invitation seriously and brought their mirrors back, we offered new ones, labeled with two stamps from the 2 days they accomplished their tasks. The others were left to be taken over the days.
267 mirrors are now out of our hands,
233 remain with us.
We didn’t have the means nor the taste to design with complex technological tools. Indeed, the research we were on was more likely to use references from early moorish architectures or Renaissance’s philosophy than any other contemporary structures. Moreover we were driven by the intuition that being too technological was a dead-end if we were to underline some of energy’s cultural aspect, and if we wanted to get the best from our architectural know-how. Yet, how could we build a complex structure that is supposed to adapt to the thinnest of angles, as solar geometries doesn’t allow looseness? And the computer models and sketches we prepared underlined this particularity very well : deviating from half a second of degree and the reflexion would find itself out of the box.
We made the choice that design should be able to integrate complexities by offering easy adjustments tools for each and every geometrical parameter. And we also chose to let all of these express into the final object.
Due to economic and delay considerations, the project had to be doable by ourselves. Moreover, as it includes multiple elements, the assemblages are to be easy to repeat. Everything was made out of the same two different sections of timber elements which insured rational uses and consumption of matter : two 19 x 34 x 2000 mm cleats kept uncut for the molded post body. And 39 x 39 mm with various length pieces, for all other parts. Sanpietrini rocks were used to counterweight the base of each pillars.
As we didn’t expect we would manage to tune all mirrors independently at once at the correct time of day (using visible reflexion only), we built a series of tools to adjust each mirror anytime of day. Yet for those to work we had to consider the relative referential we were designing into, as proper descendants of Galileo. And indeed our project was not only to be adjusted toward the Villa Medici and its situation : we had to bridge solar and geographical references with the same precision.
The structure has then to give each elements it was composed of, the same dependency to our measuring tools which only adapted to specific parts. And in this way, the molded post body became en evidence, so every of its components could align naturally.
As designers and former managers of public-space projects, we knew an important issue was to adapt to the geometry of the ground of the Piazzale. For patrimonial and technical reasons (and that suited our envies well), the pillars were laid with no fixings. The base was made of a squared cross, each of its ends outfitted a 10 x 120 mm bolt allowing 4 centimeters of tuning (which was just enough, we’ve learn when installing). The 4 independently adjusted feet allowed great stability and resistance to the strong winds the hill is exposed to. A plumb-line fixed to the head of each pillar and spanning to its bottom guaranteed a geo-referenced verticality, whatever should be the precision of the base’s assemblage.
Therefore, under strong winds, the installation looked like a strangely strait marina, as all parallelly aligned pillars were standing with no vibration, followed by the flapping of their plumb-line ropes.
Tic and tics made the wind when expecting sun to come.
Individual mirror tuning and magical realism
Let’s be clear : involving both solar and geographic geometry in the conception meant one thing : each of the 220 mirrors has its specific adjustment determined as the perpendicular to the spatial bisectrix of the angle formed by the incidence of sun rays at the chosen time, and the position of the mirror toward the focus point; that way, every angle is different. We’ve worked on scenario where those 220 differences were categorized as 12 types of vertical angles (allowing 7 raws with spatial, hight-by-depth retrieval) and a pillar-determined horizontal angle. Yet to preserve the spatial flexibility of the arrangement, a nice alignment of structures, and also because a large-scale on-site survey of the relative positions of pillars would have required a strong team, we chose to make every pinch adjustable in the 2 directions which was enough to accommodate every situations. The holding-mirror-head’s pinch is therefore articulated. Horizontally, by a loose assemblage of timber allowing the final piece to turn. Vertically, by a multi-angular slot with one screw as continuous negative notch, and based on the mirror’s own weight to hold.
Solar-referenced measuring tools
With each pillar properly adjusted perpendicularly to the center of the Earth, properly arranged on the Piazzale on a radial matrix which filled us with satisfaction as it allowed a difficult-to-catch alignment, thus appealing to the eye as a fluid organization, stayed the means of all-day reflexion adjustments.
We used two solar referenced tools that are plugged on the structure:
A solar compass that fitted the base, and indicated the angular alignment of each pillar. The base of the molted post being properly oriented, all the structure and mirrors’ pitched-head followed.
A solar-angle simulating stick that fit behind each mirror with the same relative position, and indicated the expected position of the sun in the sky, at the correct date and time. Thus, when standing at the desired focal point, one would be able to set the correct adjustment for each mirror when this sight would appear by reflexion.
The second of those two principles describes the way it was built, and this last was pretty inspired by the city we were in, as it is the Eternal City, where everything is to remind us how deep and diverse are the roots of our modern culture even though one doesn’t remember anymore. Sometimes you get lost in Rome, and you get to see tools used by Galileo, the same day than esoteric decors from a Cardinal’s Palazzo. And when you get lost you often find yourself Piazza dei Fiori, synthetically placed under the black and polished stone of Giordano Bruno’s statue. Here we will discuss the means and esthetics of the installation. We will discuss its technical aspect as related to our first reference which as you remember is the modern technics of energy production (when looked at through the prism of our own perspective), and thus we will discuss the aspect we gave to the subject of our current research and how one is able to read it through the installation.
There, we will describe the event that happened during the opening, and happened again but with some slight nuances the 21st of June when we reinstalled it and advertised for people to come back, though it was cloudy. For this phenomenon to happen, you need two ingredients that are highly familiar to everyone: one sun, and people.
The First of those two principles which we named “collective energy” stands as an attempt to put words on what happened during the opening of the exhibition, as we couldn’t really believe it would, and yet, it has in fact.
500 Soli is a spatial and temporal installation working genuinely with light and climate, thus being difficult to catch on film. Therefore, we have put together some references to build a story about energy which goal is to suggest the things we cannot properly describe as we are neither poets nor physicians. This story informally begins, suggesting that the reader should try to imagine himself looking at « L’Incredulità di San Tommaso » at sunset. Would one be as subjugated as the saint appears to be? This mental situation proposes that the refined Naturalism the Chiaroscuro’s Master had created his art with, has a straight bond to Nature as both Nature and Caravaggio are inspired the same way, just as if they were copying one another.
This narration will then continue more formally using the example of the Pantheon which is powerful at giving an image of the scale of mesmerization one has, standing under this esthetically reformed architecture which uses climate as its main purpose, substance, and appeal. And one could notice then that those two initial mental images we start with, are together bearing the idea that the modernist culture we described earlier has very thin and young roots. Our current philosophical pursuit of reluctance to built with Nature didn’t exist neither in Rome nor at the Renaissance, even thought those are the birth places of our contemporary art and science.
We will have to add one last definition as the piece has not only brought design and light together but also people, in a collective breath of excitation. The 31st of may, many were gathering enthusiasm directly from the sun thanks to their photo-excited cells.