Diversi mesi fa, quando il primo step della collaborazione con Alessandro Melis stava per essere portato a termine con la pubblicazione di Lezioni dalla fine del Mondo, mi venne proposto, dallo stesso Alessandro e da Massimo Gasperini, di partecipare ad un nuovo ed ambizioso progetto: Shining Dark Territories, 100 Thoughts of Architecture, un progetto editoriale incentrato esclusivamente sul tema del disegno architettonico. Proposi a mia volta un lungo post teso il senso del disegno nei rapporti tra uomo e natura. Di fatto, il disegno è stato il primo medium che ha filtrato questo rapporto. Da quando la rappresentazione è diventato uno strumento per comprendere e rappresentare, ma anche de-reificare il mondo che circondava gli uomini, questo è diventato il principale vettore di ominazione della nostra stirpe. E questo a partire dai vari miti della creazione che ogni cultura si è voluta dare. Naturalmente, il primo scritto andrà a frugare proprio queste origini.
Ringrazio Massimo ed Alessandro per concedermi la possibilità di condividere l’intero saggio con voi tutti! Non mi resta che dire: buona lettura!
The Nature of Drawing
That magnificent, eternal, crazy attempt to see that which sees and express that which expresses
Part One: Genesis. Origin of Design, Origin of Civilization
One of the most fascinating elements that the various Western traditions share with each other is undoubtedly the so-called “foundation myth “. The personification of a people with a capital city, a village or a place whose origins are lost in the mists of time, then becoming the administrative and military heart of the kingdom or the empire, will tend to make the “creation myth ” coincide with that of the “foundation” of one’s capital city. A foundation that takes place through the ceremony of ploughing the land, a recurrent figure in many Mediterranean cultures.
After winning the challenge with his brother, Romulus attached a plough to an ox with which he traced the pomerium, the line that for the Romans represented the sacred boundary of the city of Rome. A boundary that immediately took on capital importance, bringing down the severest punishment on whoever proposed to defy the haruspex and defile the womb of the city, even if the gauntlet is taken up by one of the heirs to the throne. Titus Livius recounts that Romulus, having killed Remus for his mockery, pronounced a warning that was hard to misunderstand: “So perish whoever else shall leap over my walls!” Giambattista Vico would record the memory of these tragic events on the frontispiece that introduces one of his major works, New Science: Principles of the New Science Concerning the Common Nature of Nations. Vico devotes the first thirty-five pages of his text to introducing this plate, which has all the characteristics of a rebus. Without going into the description of the entire alchemy sketched out by Vico, it is interesting to note that the centre of the image is dominated by an element that is meant to represent precisely the origin of states: a plough peeks out from a funerary urn, resting on the altar where the terrestrial globe sits, as if to “give us to understand that ploughed lands were the first altars of the gentiles”. Marking out a limit, in fact, is not a merely geometrical action, it does not simply confirm the reality of an expanse. In a certain sense, limits define a transformation of the landscape, modifying the perception of a territory that man will occupy and inhabit: boundaries and borders “deeply influence the places and spaces that mark and shape our mental horizons, our more or less authentic identities”. After all, the notion of limit has always been closely tied to that of territory in its most material acceptation, as testified by many Indo-European languages: “‘draught’, ‘draw, ‘drag’, ‘furrow’, ‘plough’ describe the boundary as a sign, a track left in the ground”, and it is therefore symptomatic that Vico wants to give such a role to a plough in his allegory on the principles of new science: the plough is the member that fertilized the seed from which the modern nations would one day be born.
A track that, closed on itself, delimits a space by subtracting it from the void, from infinity; it attributes to it a dimension, an identity, and thus defines a margin of action within which to act. The sign left by the plough, in short, modifies a space by transforming it from just any area into a unique, unmistakeable place. Delimiting a place, fixing it in an irremovable position by means of a limit, a boundary, means “joining it in some way to the earth, or to the sky”.
But what does this joining imply, exactly? If it is true that one of the first representative conscious actions of man is that of legitimizing the boundaries of his land by means of the plough’s furrow, it is equally true that this action will be only relatively late, at the beginnings of history, when man, now master of the sky, decides to slow his long voyage around the globe to stop and found the first city.
But as long as man’s survival was still tied to uncertainty, he needed sure points of reference to which to entrust his destiny. Man thus:
raised his gaze to the sky, began to formulate hypotheses and beliefs on human nature. He created a parallel world, inhabited by deities similar to him or incarnating the forces of nature […]. Then, he began to see what he was looking at. And he saw a black space full of clear, luminous points. The gaze united them, creating lines, closed shapes, signs. He made them his own and transferred them onto Earth: it is said that the first letter, the first written sign, was the asterisk, the graphic representation of a star (aster) which explodes. The thirst for transcendence was satisfied (then as now) by bringing the transcendent closer to oneself, the contrary being impossible […]. Thus, the points of the sky were transferred to Earth and here produced concrete effects: doing on Earth what the eyes fixed in the sky did helped men to measure, to build.
Representation, drawing, play a key role in human history, which uses this tool not as a simple representation of the existing, but as a project capable of giving form to the unknown. Nature, therefore, is understood only in the moment in which it is re-drawn and analyzed. Even the word, the first and most intuitive form of conscious representation, would be used, according to Judeo-Christian myth, for the first time to describe nature: “So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field.”
The sensorial detachment between the pagan tradition and the proto-Judaic one is clear and will define two ways of feeling for many aspects antithetical and irreconcilable. But it will be precisely in this irreconcilability that drawing, or better, representation, will be able to give shape and content to the very concept of nature. Francesco Careri, in his Walkscapes, placed great emphasis on the active role of looking and the word in the birth of architecture. For Careri, “It was by walking that man began to construct the natural landscape of his surroundings”. An action inseparable from observation of what surrounds us, walking implies a transformation of places and their meanings, wresting a piece of territory from anonymity. The first boundary drawn was that given by the span of the gaze, which by making the projections of the signs traced with the mind in the vault of the sky fall back to Earth, contributed to the physical construction of a boundary with the single presence of man in a piece of space, thus describing “a form of transformation of the landscape that, without leaving visible signs, culturally modifies the meaning of space and therefore the space itself,” transforming it into a place. Limits and outlines trace a notion of nature as something not opposed to artifice, but organic to it: it is precisely the artifice of the gaze, the phoneme, the outline, the sign and the drawing that defines what is natural.
The Nature of Drawing is an essay that tackles the theme of the role that design has played, in the course of history, in defining the notions of nature and artifice. The aim of the essay is to demonstrate that representation, and the great vastness if makes use of, was one of the engines with which the West gave shape to itself precisely by the nature-artifice dichotomy. A dichotomy whose boundaries have begun to blur in the contemporary age, leading to doubt as to the advisability of using these categories as antithetical to each other. The essay is divided into several parts, which will be published
Titus Livius, Ab Urbe condita libri CXLII, ed. Benjamin Oliver Foster, Book I, p. 7.
Umberto Eco, Mnemotecniche e rebus, Guaraldi Editore, San Marino 2013, p. 37.
Piero Zanini, Significati del confine. I limiti naturali, storici, mentali, Bruno Mondadori, Milan 1997, p. XIV.
Ibid., pp. 5-6.
Ibid., p. 39.
Sigmund Freud, Letter to Wilhelm Fliess (1896), in Eugenio Tescione, Architettura della mente. Brani scelti di letteratura psicoanalitica, Testo&Immagine, Rome 2003, p. 5.
AA.VV., Genesis 2:19-20, in The Bible, Revised Standard Version, J. W. Cain, Publisher, San Antonio, Texas, 1962, p. 2.