18 September 2015

Atmospheric Encounter / Griffero - Proietti / 6

6 / Can morphological qualities produce similar atmospheres throughout time?

Prof. Tonino Griffero: As ecstasies in a certain space, forms always convey an intense feeling of their spatial quality. They make the space vibrate, but not always with the same result. Summing up, the possible forms of atmospheric encounter, we can say that an atmosphere can overwhelm us, it can find us in tune with it, it can be recognised without being really felt, it can elicit a resistance that pushes us to change it (only relatively of course), it may (for various reasons, also absolutely idiosyncratic) be perceived – here is the problem touched in your question - differently in the course of time, and it may be so dependent on the perceptual (subjective) form that it concretises itself even in materials that normally express completely different moods. At times, the subject-dependence can impede even the mere sensorial-affective observation of the atmosphere one is in, thus causing an embarrassing atmospheric inadequacy for oneself and for others, like when you are moving in a disorderly manner in a church or in a too conventional way during a party.

In all these cases atmospheres are mostly an “in between”, made possible by the (felt-bodily but also social and symbolic) co-presence of subject and object. They are something that exists “between” the object, and his qualia, and the felt-bodily subject. Nevertheless, this assumption of an inter-corporeal communication (the “in between”) must not be reified to the point of counting as a third element interposed between the two margins, because this would lead us to the strengthening of the dualism that we are willing to avoid. Making a simple example: in a holistic joyful atmosphere, the joy is indeed not so much my joy, but rather and first of all a joyous situation, in which the subject and the object are not independent and isolable parts. 

But, once stressed this pre-dualistic vision of the in-between, back to the problematic issue of the constancy of the atmospheric effect. First of all, it will be enough to point out that, along with transient atmospheric qualities, there are relatively persistent atmospheric qualities. The bright, olfactory etc. atmosphere, for example, of an alpine landscape, which obviously varies depending on the weather, is one thing; the atmosphere of sublimity it arouses (almost) regardless of weather conditions is another thing. You can then add that there are things and situations that stably arouse certain atmospheres, and others that occasionally take charge of them. That is to say depending both on the constellation they became part of (covariance) and the mood of the person who considers them (retentional and protentional influences). A wild atmosphere, for example, ceases to be such when, sensorially perceived components being equal, its origin is ascertained to be artificial, or the rounded shapes of much eastern sculpture suggest to Western men, today obsessed with diet, ironically not peace and ease but aesthetic ugliness and high cholesterol! It is also well known that even the most prosaic things irradiate an atmosphere of familiarity (international brands and multinational products, for example) on someone travelling through a non-place. Precisely the possibility that a not enough atmospheric object which is in a sense always atmospheric, however could become a full atmospheric object seems to prove conclusively that in addition to stable atmospheres there are also contingent atmospheres. In a nutshell: we should think of atmospheres as stories (scripts) in which we are involved and that have possibly also their own specific development. They may be born and endure unchanged over time, but they can also go out and cease to have the previous suggestive force.

But if an atmosphere changes over time, what is the real atmosphere of an object? Is it always the last one? The first impression for me is important because it is the point of departure for every other experience of the same object. Every experience unfolds from this first impression. So this is for me the “real” atmosphere” of a place or an object. The other impressions are part of a story of atmosphere that is developing with our perception. It is indeed necessary to emphasize two points here. 1) We must not fail to recognize one of the main characteristics of the atmosphere as quasi-things: like the spirit that (in the Christian view) blows where and when it wants, the atmospheres appear and disappear, but we cannot sensibly ask ourselves where they have gone and how they have existed in the meantime (Hermann Schmitz). In other words: while being legitimate about two temporally different appearances of one thing, this question is absurd with regard to atmospheric and climatic intermittency (what does the wind do when it stops blowing and where was it before it blew?). While this is obviously not entirely true when we perceive objects that are stable and available, it remains true, however, that even the atmospheric (and immersive) encounter with the same object can be conceived as a script. 2) Just as the experience of trompe-l’oeil and “immersive” spaces relies on the fact that an immersive phase will be followed by a partly emotional and partly reflective phase of emersion, so an atmosphere is poorly manipulative, an ethical-politic advantage that should not be underestimated in the so called society of Erlebnis when it stimulates this sequence, when the “I” that it calls upon is neither a wholly non-reflective subject nor a subject placed at an excessive contemplative distance. Provided, of course, that such coexistence of affective and felt-bodily involvement and relatively self-reflective detachment can be incontrovertibly (and philosophically) demonstrated.

Tonino Griffero is professor of Aesthetics at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, Italy, and director of the Master 'Comunicazione estetica e museale' at Scuola IAD, Univ. di Tor Vergata-Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome. He is also Director of 'Sensibilia. Colloquium on Perception and Experience','Lebenswelt. Aesthetics and Philosophy of Experience'and 'Atmospheric Spaces. Aura, Stimmung, Ambiance'. Besides he is member of the Guaranty Committee of SIE / Società Italiana d’Estetica, Scientific Committee of 'Estetica. Studi e ricerche', 'Atelier delle immagini. Semiotica del visivo', 'Ambiances. International Journal of sensory environment, architecture and urban space'.

Tiziana Proietti (1983, Rome, Italy) is an architect and researcher in architectural design and theory of contemporary architecture. She gained her PhD at the Sapienza University in Rome in 2013 and worked as Visiting PhD researcher at the University of Technology TU Delft. Since 2007 she has worked as Teaching Assistant in architectural design and theory, Associate Editor for specialized magazines, and curator of art events. Since 2013 she has been working as researcher at Satyendra Pakhalé Associates where she cultivates her interest in the historical and theoretical roots of sensorial design.

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