Domus magazine issue #931
In the famous ink drawing Six Persimmons, by Mu Ch’i, the 13th-century Chinese master, the relation between form and background, between the six persimmons depicted and the blank space that surrounds and intersects them, is precariously balanced and forever poised to work the other way round. What happens between the two elements of the picture is a phenomenon of dynamic equivalence, which Chinese painting calls mutation. In mutation, form communicates closely with background. The latter is not colonised by form. On the contrary, it emerges on the surface, pivoting on the dark signs and contrasts that reinforce its spatialising power. As in a text by Hermann Rorschach, in Mu Ch’i’s imagination, too, it is not clear whether the subject of the picture is its form – the persimmons – or its background, the absolute space manifested by their presence.
Traditional western painting has been mainly affirmative. Its perspective frame constructs spatial relations around a main subject that is always perfectly in focus, leaving the background in an indeterminate and ancillary landscape stage. Conversely, Chinese tradition has other balances. Long before the avant-gardes, it included the centrality of background in optical space: the unnatural perspectives of Chinese painting are the result of a symbolic equivalence – a mutation – between subject and context.
The two pictorial models are clear and comprehensible paradigms of two different poetic approaches to the world. One is the affirmative, declarative, muscularly phallocentric approach: that of the hypertrophic subject, the constructor of forms imposed on context. Having nothing to be ashamed of, these forms can and must boldly declare themselves to the rest.
The other is a more reflexive, sentimental and delicate attitude to the production of forms, in a continuous exchange with their background. The philosophy underlying this more implicit, indirect and hermeneutic approach is encapsulated in the formula of revealing by concealing (itself). This logic does not in any way express relinquishment. Instead, it is couched in a mood of seduction aimed to enhance the particular, as the mutation and variation of a total sense, of an ineradicable background.
This text is an attempted rhetorical deviation. It seeks to disguise an architectural reflection on camouflage, the subject and context of the Intersections feature in this month’s Domus.
(From a conversation with Giuseppe Santonocito)
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