Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

The Line, the Crack, and the Possibility of Architecture: Figure, Ground, Feminist Performance

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

The Line, the Crack, and the Possibility of Architecture: Figure, Ground, Feminist Performance

Article excerpt

[E]very cavity must be filled and no pocket left empty; [El one of the reasons for this is to prevent any creature from gaining access and making nests there or accumulating filth and seeds, which might result in the wild-fig sprouting from within the wall. I have seen an incredible weight, a whole mass of stone, disturbed by a single root.

(Leon BattistaAlberti, On the Art of Building 73)

Dorothy falls and Alice falls, but into other worlds of magic and strangeness. Adam, Lucifer, Humpty Dumpty and Icarus fall to less desirable ends. These figures of the construction called masculinity attempt to rise to power and fail, lose, fall from grace. The feminine ones drop out, fall down the hatch, use the exits [...]. The position to take is perched on the rim of the hole, at the moment the trap door closes, ready to fall. Not to fall from, but into.

(Jennifer Bloomer, Architecture and the Text 162)

Air, that which brings us together and separates us. Which unites us and leaves a space for us between us.

(Luce Irigaray, i love to you 148)

1. Ground plans

Picture a root cellar door, London, 1665. Locked inside: the maid of a wealthy family, dying of plague, confined by her master to fortify against the illness creeping in through his walls. Trapped outside: her daughter, Morse, hinged between loss, rage, and mourning. Mother asks daughter to hold her. Morse cannot: the door is fast, cuts between them. Still they fight, struggle for connection, lie with their mouths pressed up against the crack between door and casement. They inhale one another's breath (Wallace 58).

The door is architecture erected by capital to insist upon the relative worth of the sick and the well, the wealthy and their chattel; the crack is the echo of their separation. But the crack is also the possibility of coming together, a last chance for contact as one body unravels beyond the touch of the other. The mother does indeed die before long. Soon the master's other servants die, then the master and his wife die, and finally his own daughter, Lissa, dies. But Morse survives, by chance or luck, perhaps by cunning, perhaps by magic (64) (2); she steals the dress and the surname of the rich man's little girl, then steals from the house, steals into the night, steals in through the single open window of another plague house, boarded up somewhere else in the city. She carries the freight of the locked door on her back. She carries the hope in its crack.

This is a story of lines and cracks: of the supposedly unbreachable skins of built spaces and the extraordinary power performance holds to break into them, to excavate the bodily relations they construct and reproduce, and to play those relations in a different key. I begin from two interwoven premises. First: that architecture, as both the theory and practice of built space, is always both literal and metaphoric: it is literal space shaped by metaphor, specifically by metaphors of containment and separation. Built space is erected between things; it has an unmistakable, originary dividing function. I cannot help but notice, as I wander around my home city, that contemporary architects seek more and more to challenge that dividing function: I think of recent work by KPMB on the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art and by Jack Diamond on the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, both in Toronto; both projects take shape around large walls of glass arranged to link those within to those on the street. And yet in so doing they inevitably reiterate division as the central operation through which all architectural processes are understood. To put up a wall is to put something between us; if the wall is glass, the "something between us" is all the more longing and desire. That is architecture's pleasure as well as its burden.

My second premise may perhaps now seem obvious: architecture is always already about bodies. …

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