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ON SOME COMMON PLACES

Gianni Romano

In a recent special issue of a popular architecture Space as Container


magazine that was devoted to Milan, two expensive
shops in the city's center were listedwithout any Perhaps this is only one of the symptoms of the
embarrassment or perplexityas indicators of the landscape's change, which is no longer our material
city's liveability. In reality, to paint Milanese live- territory, but the area to where communication has
ability in such a pandering way is a perfect example of moved. The passage from landscape to media-
the loss of identity of a place while it seems to be scape involves a change our perceptive rather than
labouring to hold in due consideration the identities communicative modalities, and it is the media
that compose it. More and more, Milan resembles one landscapethe decentralized place par excellence
of those condominiums imagined by J.G. Ballard. that appears to us all the more as a non-place of com-
munication. From the very beginning, new communi-
By now it has become commonplace to say that the cative technologies privileged spontaneous aggre-
metropolis causes alienation and fragmentation; gations: BBS, community groups, or concepts like
evidently, the places where meaningful aggregation MUD (Multi-User Domains = areas of multiple fre-
and communication are still possible are elsewhere. quentations), which tried to establish community
More than a social space, the city has become a Net of dialogues based on common themes and ideas. In
cells which don't meet, without center and without these cases, the space is constituted by those people
margins. According to some, the need for virtual who frequent it. The position of these areas of dis-
places emerges from this lack, not because of a de- course inside a virtual space has opened new roads for
mand for simulation, but due to the need for com- the complex architecture of communication, repre-
munication. The virtual develops as a reaction to a sented today by the Net.
world that has no other physical realities to develop.
It appears quite evident that if single spatial unity
Extraterritoriality becomes increasingly meaningless for us, we will no
longer be able to place and define it as a living/
The space that invites activity is the space that con- meeting place; the tendency is to widen the context
tains the present. It is not the case, therefore, that in a because it develops (or cultivates) an awareness of
society still sceptical of contemporaneity (and of art, place. Place, in general, is the true space for the
its illegitimate daughter), a virtual space has been transmission of content. It's happening in the new
created, though it's fundamentally extraterritorial. media landscape, but is it not absurd that this place is
Inside this space, ways and places find space inside revealed through the windows of those small boxes
those interstitial areas which usually deny them access called computers? The Net thrives on these incon-
because they don't conform. Yet, it is exactly in these gruities, it is an unbelievable mixture of public and
middle areas that meanings barter to ransom content private. Think of the use of the word home page,
from conformism and banality. These are the places which covers the site of a single person or a big firm.
that give the signal of a diffused metropolis, a dilated The home page vindicates the personalization of the
space, a place that is no longer possible to circum- message, the singularity of private space made avail-
scribe within the limits of urban space: a gigantic, ex- able to the endless communicative potentiality of the
traterritorial metropolis. Transition, exportation, and Net. Whereas in our cities, every culture of difference
communication are possible here. The boundary is waning, the Net forces us to consider them. In this
between the observer who interprets, classifies, and new space, the two symbolic places between which
orders, and the spectator who is confined to receiving the contents expand are, please note, the home page
in a contemplative manner, is definitely weakened and the World Wide Web. Which is to say, your own
here. house and the whole world, local and global. In this
uneasy, but extremely dense context of meanings, it
What I augur, however, is certainly not used diffusely has become necessary to open the right perceptive co-
in technology by artists as a healthy cohabitation, the ordinates, to cross what seems like the true contemp-
awareness of still wanting to investigate contempo- orary metropolis: a place that pushes the subject to
raneity as a space of endless inventionI always hope rediscuss every stabilized or normative boundary. In
that technology will help to bring imagination beyond this place, where you can no longer distinguish
the pure mimesis of a reality that's more and more between inside and outside, fragmentation is the
difficult to represent. model best adjusted to face reality, forcing us to see
again the traditional way of observing, living, and
criticizing the connection between space and com- The idea of house and the concept of habitation
munication. seem somewhat inadequate in an epoch in which
many are turning towards cyberspace and crossing
Here and now, values and styles, plans and visions, over appears more meaningful than any permanent
encounter one another in untraditional forms. Here is hypothesis. Even wanting to stand behind the most
a possibility to negotiate identity through the mani- enthusiastic, we are forced to acknowledge that it is at
fold territories in which differences cohabit. Above all, home that we have our personal computer and that
it is in this situation of virtualitywhich is very near the computer itselfonce torn asunder for the pleas-
the virtuality of artthat everything remains to be ure of our childrenreveals to us an image not very
built. distant from what the Romans imagined as the series
of rooms in which we distribute our memory. Answer-
ing machines and our electronic mail terminal testify
For a Poetic of Habitation to our presence even if we are physically absent. We
are available even if we are not there, and this doesn't
To inhabit, it seems, is attained only through building. seem to provoke in us any serious identity problems.
This ultimate, to construct, has that, that is to inhabit, The house seems, therefore, to replace our memory:
as its end. But not all constructions are of residences. we are everywhere, it is the place of eternal return. The
language html and the figured language in use in the
Martin Heidegger
Net have by now made the use of the term home
page common. From here, one departs to travel along
new roads; to here one returns to close the connection
We exist contemporaneously in different places: phy-
or go on toward another home page.
sical and virtual, mental and emotional... But there is
one place that is usually ignoredand in effect it is
Our houses have become ambivalent; on the one
small (at least mine is)perhaps precisely because it's
hand, they confirm the idea of shelter; from another
right in front of our eyes. According to Gaston
point of view, the invasion of home technology has
Bachelard all inhabited spaces communicate the
made them mere switchboards that can carry us
concept of house, a feeling that furnishes not only a
anywhere, mentally. If multimedia machines carry us
sense of protection and shelter, but also an environ-
in continuous movement toward a virtual physicality,
ment with perceptible limits... He is dealing with
it is also true that people have not been invited here to
limits that are remade to our innate attitudes towards
meet with a new world of fantastic objects, but to
centrality and to our natural inclinations towards
discover the expansion of their own communicative
privacy.
abilities within these objects, and, perhaps, to redis-
cover some places to share.
In many works by Italian artiststhat refer to the
image (...not all constructions are of residences)
the house is considered the central reference point in
our relationship to space; which is then the space that
we inhabit, or the inhabitable space. The house as
container from which flow images of passion and
obsession, images of empty, alienating, overflowing,
or extremely brilliant rooms. Rooms in which, like
rooms figured in the memory, artists create an inti-
mate architecture of experience and reflection. I speak
about rooms not to point out the easy icon of a closed,
circumscribed place, but as a metaphoric place inside
of which there are no physical barriers, only exper-
iences of relationships between oneself and the world,
rooms in which a simple object might remind us of an
image from infancy, or at times refer to the Bel
Paese, other times to the typical, which no longer
typifies, an empty referent testifying only to the loss of
identity. The house is certainly a cell in traditional
architectural terms, but in many works it symbolizes a
unity of place that springs out of the meeting between
traditional architecture and the visionary one of com-
munication, which is in turn composed from various
arts, but is based above all on our desire to contribute
and share.