In this 4 part essay I will attempt to situate “the representation and interpretation of being” and what it means – or rather could mean – in regards to reality (and to a further extent, architecture), through the use of various scholars and thinkers, but more relevantly, through the use of contemporary cinema. I contest that no other form of media has explored the idea of blurring the distinction between perceptual reality and virtual reality as much as cinema has. As such, no other form of media has challenged the notion of representation and interpretation as much as cinema has. We have moved from an era of “science fiction” to “speculative fiction” (and perhaps one can even argue it can now simply be called research) where notions of reality that were thought to be either fixed or far-fetched years ago, are radically challenged today.
To represent something inevitably means we must then interpret it, for if there is some form of representation, then there is some meaning involved that must be uprooted. Unlike abstraction, which simply is for the sake of it, representation alludes to their being layers of understanding which is to be revealed upon investigation. Lebbeus Woods, an American artist and thinker, gives a fine example in his article entitled Politics of Abstraction where he says “Representation occurs when one thing, say, colours smeared on a canvas, makes us think of something else, say, a mountain valley at sunset. Abstraction occurs when one thing, say, colours smeared on a canvas, makes us think of, well, colours smeared on a canvas.”
Firstly, allow me to frame what I mean by perceptual and virtual reality. Perceptual reality is perhaps the most overlooked aspect of cognition – due to its perceived lack of existence since we mostly take it for granted. Yet one can argue that perceptual space is that space where we are most powerfully affected, emotionally and physically. Affecting our subjective experience, perceptual space is that view of things that occur at a particular time in respect to the individual – it is thus our “waking life”. We navigate and orient ourselves within this space. The environment is acquired through our five (5) senses, coded and decoded, stored and recalled. One can say perceptual space is the “space of current reality.” Architecture, is deeply invested in this space, through which matter, material, constructional systems, structural configurations, space and place comprise a continuous spectrum. On the other hand, virtual space expands beyond the colloquial understanding of computer-simulated environments, to include the more sub-cognitive notion of cinema, dreams and the dream world. This virtual space can be very similar to perceptual space in terms of how “real” it appears, yet it can also have powerful effects on our emotional state, being “real” in terms of how one feels and not necessarily how the virtual environment appears. In virtual space, everything that can be conceived becomes, in its own right, a reality. For instance, when we dream there are no limitations as to what could happen. We are not bound by the rules of our “current reality”.
Let’s take for example, one of the most recent films in contemporary cinema which drew a significant inspiration from architecture, dreams, representation and interpretation; Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Inception shows an architect folding the city of Paris unto itself. In virtual space architecture conforms to the interests of the beholder. It can exist without doors and hallways, yet we can easily progress to the next room, where the next room is always where it needs to be and exactly what it needs to be.
Before diving further into the movie itself, let us establish the obvious, that Inception, like any other film, is a representation of an “other.” It is both real and not real. Existing in a virtual space all of its own, there is a mediate between the film and the viewer – the screen. It is not here, with us, now, though we have the ability to watch it whenever, wherever we want. Which makes the example I cited about the folding of Paris even more peculiar. We are separated by not only the mediate of the screen, but the proposed mediate of the film – the dream. An interesting and obvious enigma, but one that must be called out.
In the sci-fi thriller, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dominick Cobb, a professional thief and former architect who, along with his partner Arthur, specialises in stealing secrets from his victims by infiltrating their dreams; a process known as extraction. We are introduced to the pair on their latest mission, extracting information from the dream of a Japanese mogul named Saito, who, as it turns out, was auditioning them to perform the highly dangerous task of inception – planting an idea in a victim’s mind that will take root and spread like a virus, fundamentally altering the way the victim behaves and thinks.
To be continued…
 Woods, Lebbeus. The Politics of Abstraction. 23 October 2008. 10 December 2013. <http://lebbeuswoods.wordpress.com/2008/10/23/the-politics-of-abstraction/>.