Review: Metaphors of Space. SWF 2009

Review: Metaphors of Space. SWF 2009

I must admit that the Bangarra Mezzanine is one of my favorite festival locations, particularly in the late afternoon. It’s hard to beat milling about at the pier’s end, beer in hand, while the dropping sun moves its own architectures of shadow and brightness over the timber floor.

On this occasion, the closing Sunday of the festival, it was a poetry event presented by Mascara Poetry and MCHP Architects. A series of models and panels about the room incorporated designs by Innovarchi, Welsh+Major and Silvester Fuller. Local poet Michelle Cahill was acting MC.

The event was convened by Chris Smith, who lectures in architectural theory and Techné at Sydney University. Smith’s opening paper must be recognised as one of the event’s highlights. Compacted as it was by the 10 minute slot, he managed to take our minds out over the harbour, through the nomenclature of clouds, and return us, via the French philosopher Michel Serre, with architecture and poetics elegantly gathered together in the one net.

Smith was followed by a procession (what is the appropriate collective noun here? a palisade? a punnet? a profundity?) of poets: Elizabeth Hodgson, Pam Brown, Andy Quan, Peter Boyle, Mario Licon Cabrera, Julie Chevalier and David Musgrave.

Perhaps it’s poetry own spaciousness that permits it to engage so precisely with architectural spaces, but there is something of an affinity between the two. Sydney poet Andy Quan certainly found an apparently natural intersection. Very much a scribe of the urban, Quan offered a controlled, resonant reading of a poem on Kyoto Station, and a tribute to the ‘poet of light’, architect Louis Kahn. The Kahn poem’s final movement reads:

The impulse of silence to become creation.
The chasm between ideal, what is, what could be.

The words pull us into a transcendental opening, the magic of delineating space that remains architecture’s special domain. This concern is a unique mix of the material and the ethereal. All too frequently we forget to take note when lugging our bags through train stations or wandering the city, but these creations are part of what defines our humanity. To build, as Heidegger reminds us, is also to dwell. The relationship we have with place is an important one.

One of the strengths of this reading was its diversity. Pam Brown read with the poise and precision that consistently marks her work. Peter Boyle gave an expanded sense of myth to the local, and David Musgrave finished with a finely tuned and hilarious series of sonnets, which toured the house of an unnamed deceased poet, T. The tour’s highlight was a bathroom that, choked with keepsakes, journals, and curios, also contained the throne upon which the late, imaginary poet, had died of a stroke some 15 years prior.

This diversity is essential. Architecture is not only the glass geometries of Kyoto Station or the vaulted curves of the Opera House, but also the private spaces of our homes: the quiet corner with the couch, where you curl up with a good book; the front door that you walk through with a sigh after a trip abroad. Architecture uses material elements to gather together ‘natural’ space with the vital impulses that motivate our love of light and locale. It’s nice to be reminded that all these places are, in one way or another, sacred.

First Published at The ABC Online.

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