Monday, February 26, 2007

Memory, the burden of

My word this week comes from the book Kokoro by celebrated Japanese writer and scholar Natsume Soseki (1867-1916), first published in 1914 (Edwin McClellan translation published by Tuttle, 1969). His most famous novel, Kokoro, centers around the life of an unhappy university student and the relationship he builds with a reclusive old man he calls “Sensei”, whom one day confides to him the burden of a tragic memory from his youth. As with Soseki’s other late novels, Kokoro deals with themes of alienation, guilt, loneliness and memory set in the context of Japan’s modernization during the final days of the Meiji era.
The character below is Chinese in origin and pronounced xin, for heart. In Japanese it is shin or the more onomatopoetic kokoro, which can also connote mind, spirit, thoughts, feelings, emotions. McClellan explains that the best rendering comes from Lafcadio Hearn, who put it as “the heart of things”.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Burchfield's Journals

September 18, 1914
Windows. Windows rattled by wind. Sound of sleet striking them. Darkish night. Swinging arclight.
Wind. Winter wind. Snow-laden wind.
Winter. Wind. Rattle.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Burchfield's Journals

October 3, 1941

The cave dream--the marvelous wooded cave that keeps recurring from year to year in my dreams--I rejoiced that I was back in the dream-cave. I was in pajamas--to get to the entrance to the cave I had to climb down a wet slipp[er]y clay bank, which was thinly coated with dry leaves.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Interior & Inbetween Spaces

A recurring motif in twentieth century visual art is the domestic interior, a subcategory of which is the 'empty room'. Take, for example, these three rooms:—What’s the significance of emptiness here? More specifically, what is the actual subject matter that lends them their unsettling quality? Is it in the material objects that describe a condition of inhabitation, or rather the space that surrounds such objects? What about the walls, floor and ceiling planes which circumscribe the spatial volumes, while implicating the viewer through a careful manipulation of perspective?

It seems to me the emotional power of these images lies in the fact that they do not have a subject matter per se, but instead succeed at evoking something—an atmosphere, a latent presence, if you like—that escapes pictorial description altogether. Here emptiness, that is, negative space, is assigned a positive value, which creates in effect a moment of tension between what one expects to see (an object) and what one is confronted with (a non-object). This trick of inversion is what gives rise to that curious sense of surreality and ‘presence of an absence’.

Not so much representations of physical places as metaphors of the mind, the rooms further suggest a sort of topography of the unconscious, where interior spaces such as rooms, closets and corridors describe an analogous landscape of private memories, thoughts and desires. As in those dreams of wandering one’s childhood home, the experience is that of feeling both foreign and familiar at the same time.

A similar line of thinking can be found in the Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, who in his introduction quotes Carl Jung:

“We have to describe and to explain a building the upper story of which was erected in the nineteenth century; the ground-floor dates from the sixteenth century, and a careful examination of the masonry discloses the fact that it was reconstructed from a dwelling-tower of the eleventh century. In the cellar we discover Roman foundation walls, and under the cellar a filled-in cave, in the floor of which stone tools are found and remnants of glacial fauna in the layers below. That would be a sort of picture of our mental structure.”

Image Source:
1. Edward Hopper, “Rooms by the Sea, 1951,” in Gail Levin, Edward Hopper: the art and the artist. (New York: Norton, 1980), 295.
2. Vilhelm Hammershoi, “The Artist's House, 1915” in Anne-Birgitte Fonsmark, Vilhelm Hammershoi, 1864-1916: Danish Painter of Solitude and Light. (New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1998).
3. Antonio Lopez Garcia, “House of Antonio Lopez Torres, 1972-75.”

Work Cited:
Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969. xxxiv.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Burchfield's Journals

August 1, 1914

The bark of a buttonwood where peeling is completed seems as smooth & soft as a horse's nose.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Burchfield's Journals

April 29, 1916

I thought of a moth taking refuge under a leaf at midnight during an August storm— (442)

Monday, February 5, 2007

Toronto Power House

Name: Toronto Power Generating Station
Architect: Edward James Lennox (1854-1933)
Completed: 1904-1912

Location: Niagara Falls, Ontario
Closed: 1973
Owner: Ontario Power Generation & Niagara Parks Commission
Power Generated: 134,000 KVA
Current Status: Decommissioned (renovation Spring 2007)
Wheel Pit: 22 ft wide, 158 ft deep
Tail-race: 2,000 ft long
A lesser known building of E.J. Lennox, architect of such Toronto landmarks as Casa Loma and Old City Hall, the TPGS was amongst the first hydroelectric power stations to provide two-phase alternating current in the world. Called by Pierre Berton “the high point of industrial architecture in North America” for its grand Italianate exterior (84), for over thirty years it has lain more or less dormant—a slumbering stone garbed giant on the banks of the Niagara River just upstream the Horseshoe Falls. Major renovations started in 2006, which includes the removal of electrical and mechanical equipment, sealing of multiple portals, and backfilling of the inner forebay. Future use for the building is still to be determined.
“The real interest of Niagara for me was not in the waterfall, but in the human accumulations about it. They stood for the future, threats and promises, and the waterfall was just a vast reiteration of falling water. The note of growth in human accomplishment rose clear and triumphant above the elemental thunder.” (H.G.Wells, c1906)

Berton, Pierre. A Picture Book of Niagara Falls, Toronto: M&S, 1993.
Cline, Carl Gordon. History of the Hydro-electric Development at Niagara.
[1,3,4] Historic Niagara Digital Collections:
[2] Author