CHAIR AS A SOCIAL PORTRAIT
"If one takes architecture as the expression of an individual's life, one starts at the centre rather than at the face, asking what space is created rather than what plot is filled. Places thoroughly lived in become internalised in a series of adjustments till they represent a person to himself, a process the critic can try to follow in reverse, deducing life from the quarters".30
This chapter will define the relationship of the chair to the public space. The threshold space of the porch/verandah is significant in the context of the house. This space belongs to an architectural sequence of private spaces, yet does not engage with them. The threshold space is where the ownership of one's spatial interaction with the world is first made visible to the public. The threshold becomes a transition zone and the signifying symbol of the chair as the disembodied occupant, plays a role in this dialectic. In Robert Harbison's passage the house is taken from the centre as a reflection of life but with the threshold space it is reversed. The process of working from the threshold as the centre allows the chair as the disembodied occupant to act in a diplomatic role, between the private space of the home to the public space of the street.
Occupants engage in some form of social interaction through the placement of the chair. Identifying with the chair the occupant consciously or unconsciously defines certain intentions. These visible intentions significantly outweigh some of the other domestically related internal household decisions. The occupant is revealed through the exposed threshold and not through the home's internal structure and design. These internal structures are entombed and never seen unless by a momentary glimpse through a half open door. The chair on the threshold looks away, around, to the side, rather than inwards, never peering down the hall to the modelled rooms which reflect a person's sense of place.
Whilst the chair on the threshold seemingly looks away it is nevertheless a symbol of the occupant. The spatiality of the threshold as a delineated area also has its own metaphoric state, which is charged with a number of possibilities. Lefebvre states 'Ought we to look upon architectural or urbanistic works as a type of mass medium, albeit an unusual one'.31 The placement of the chair in the threshold space acts as a type of mass medium, a marker, an identifiable object that can be mapped. The ability to map a space becomes discernible only by the identification of objects and being superimposed onto a girded area. The map expands by quantifying and qualifying the position of objects in relationship to one another. This process creates interesting contextual relationships in regard to what is identified and defined on a map as well as what is not. Could we conceive of a street directory map which identified the symbolized chair on the threshold? The chair could become an icon on the map that designates the social relationship the occupant has with the world. The scale of the map could be used to define the spatial relationship of the chair to both the threshold and the house. The map, by reducing its magnification, can embrace the threshold's relation to the street. By making further reduction of the street to the city and so on we can attain a universal connection. In this case the mapping of the threshold can take on a whole new meaning. This meaning would allow the seemingly insignificant symbol of the chair to be given significance in a socially mapped interactive structure.
The narrative of the lone chair standing on the threshold, can suggest a single person's house. A chair by the front door stands as a sentry, not to stop people from entry but to say, 'here is a threshold of solitariness'. The chair acknowledges the visitor upon the threshold with a sense of aloofness. The allegorical projection of the occupant through the on-guard chair exemplifies its confrontational value. The chair placed on the threshold acts as both aggressor and 'aggressed'. It watches as you walk by suggesting that at any minute the occupant could come out and confront your over eager gaze.
The single chair placed in a strategic position has a commanding presence in the threshold that is otherwise vacant. The chair's monologue with the street is continual and relentless. It has the power to demand attention, assuming importance by its very position. A position which has been so carefully chosen. The chair projects the occupant as an orator in the public space. The authority of the chair on the threshold in reality is only that of the understudy.
The dual chair threshold which suggests more than one occupant, allows the chair to engage in mirroring the interpersonal relationships within the house. The chairs can have two completely different personae and engage in acts ranging from intercourse to negation, acting out their roles with degrees of conviction. The threshold stage allows other characters to arrive and take up their positions, some with associations and placement that emulate a farce. The scenario develops further with the arrival of items of furniture to the point of inverting the entire household. The threshold becomes the stage for a possible subconscious puppet theatre, with the chairs as central characters and the occupants the puppeteers. The scripts are written and revised sometimes daily like a soap opera that becomes addictive. The chairs act out their roles, these are the days of our' lives.
The threshold as an area can reflect a playful anarchy, in which the Kitsch or luxurious chairs are appropriated in an avantgardist approach to life.
This approach demonstrates a complete disregard for historical reverence, where the variously styled chairs act as a confusion for terms of reference. As suggested earlier, the position of the threshold chair often seems to be looking towards memories on the horizon. Nowadays the chair positioned on the threshold claims to have a glimpse of the future. Through its style, the chair acts as a symbolic reaction to that glimpse.
The avante garde chair in the threshold acts out a political role where it reigns over its furniture state. The chair suggests its confrontation to authority by its ability to mix metaphors with abandon. So the threshold becomes the platform for the chair to be a political activist. The luxurious-ostentatious chairs are left to ruin and decay. On the threshold the elaborate and decorative chair contrasts with the plain wooden chair through style and use of materials. The styles and materials give an indication of the social status of the occupant. The chair as a cultural statement shouts out at the streets. The threshold becomes the platform for the futurist's chairs to pronounce their manifestos to the world, inciting rebellion and revolution.
"1.Destroy the cult of the past, the obsession with the ancients, pedantry and academic formalism.
2. Totally invalidate all kinds of imitation.
3. Elevate all attempts at originality, however daring, however violent.
4. Bear bravely and proudly the smear of 'madness' with which they try to gag all innovators.
5. Regard art critics as useless and dangerous.
6. Rebel against the tyranny of words: Harmony and good taste and other loose expressions which can be used to destroy works of Rembrandt, Goya, Rodin...
7. Sweep the whole field of art clean of all themes and subjects which have been used in the past.
8. Support and glory in out day to day world a world which is going to be continually and splendidly transformed by victorious science.
9. The dead shall be buried in the earth's deepest bowels! The threshold of the future will be swept free of mummies! Make room for youth, for violence, for daring".32
This section from a Futurist manifesto, correlates with the previous suggestion, that the chair is empowered with political meaning and therefore creates a political statement. These chairs that appear on the threshold in various states of disrepair can be recognised as expressing a political point of view. These points of view confront and also support the chair as a symbol of authority which is exemplified in the throne, the cathedra and the magistrate's bench. The chairs when placed on the threshold read as acts of total rebellion, object manifestos for a different rationale. Using these symbolic seats of power one could be subversive through their placement and appropriation. This appropriation could also be done by understanding the chair's materiality and stripping it of its class association. These debased chairs are then used as seats on the threshold allowing the occupant to absorb their historical context. The occupant seated on the threshold is then imbued with a new sense of history. This new perspective allows for a confrontation of historical issues. The history is not one of fictional winners, or of a religiously biased history but an anarchistic view of history, which denies the past and negates the future.
Chairs as metaphors can be manipulated by the hand of the occupant. This takes the form of a social conditioning where the seer accepts what is displayed in these shop window-like thresholds. Seduced by the subtleties of the display we are driven by some unknown force to interact with what is seen.
The process of autosuggestion is exhibited by the chair's positioning upon the threshold. From this position the exhibitors can transmit anything from a political message to lifestyle enrichment. These subliminal messages are projected out to the unsuspecting seer. If one person in a street has aluminium windows or new roller blinds installed in the threshold for example, then the proliferation of these improvements become obvious throughout the street. Social life styles are reaffirmed through a support program of interdependence.
Merleau-Ponty suggests in the following passage what the role of the seer is:
"Since the seer is caught up in what he sees, it is still himself he sees: there is a fundamental narcissism of all vision. And thus, for the same reason, the vision he exercises, he also undergoes from the things, such that as many painters have said, I feel myself looked at by the things, my activity is equally passivity - which is the second and more profound sense of the narcissism: not to see in the outside, as the others see it, the contour of a body one inhabits, but especially to be seen by the outside, to exist within it, to emigrate into it, to be seduced, captivated, alienated by the phantom, so that the seer and the visible reciprocate one another and we no longer know which sees and which is seen".33
Applying this passage to the threshold space the seers see themselves as though the threshold returns their gaze. What is suggested here is a process where the seer and the seen become indivisible. The subliminal images exhibited on the threshold re-enforce the seer's own narcissism.
The narratives described in this chapter re-define the chair in the threshold space as one that creates a social portrait of the occupant. The construction of a mapped environment categorises the chair as an icon. The constructions that include mapped, theatrical, anarchic and exhibited chairs, detail the attributes of the chair as a social portrait. The character of individual chairs develop personalities that allow the seer to explore their own identities represented through the threshold.