THE CHAIR AS METAPHOR
"Chrysler Building Chair, AT&T Building Chair, One Family House Chair, Side Chair, Door Chair, Acorn Chair, Easy Chair, De Witt Chair. Womb Chair, The Blind Man's House Chair, Lorry Chair. Rib Chair, Different Management Chair, Rose Chair, Chair with a Past, Manet Chair, Courthouse Chair, Kitchen Chair, Ceremonial Chair, Fan Chair, Looking Chair".27
This chapter will explore a number of scenarios for viewing the chair as a metaphor by examining different types of threshold spaces. The critical reading of the chair on the threshold is elucidated through historical and cultural references. These scenarios suggest that the angle and position of the chair within the threshold space can designate the occupant's point of address to the world. From the porch/verandah certain chairs can look straight ahead to the bridging device of the path and surrounding delineating fence which separates the home from the street. Other chairs placed within the threshold can hide behind various objects but still maintain their position under the roof line of the home.
A narrative for the chair can be developed through its implied status derived from social history. Relationships are also implied through the interaction with other chairs, couches, lounges, chaise longues. The chairs placed on the threshold in turn display an internal dialectic with the seer.
The chairs develop their own narrative, brought about by their own spatial relationship with each other in the threshold. Two disparate chairs of different origins, creeds and cultures could sit together in various displays of marital union. In certain dialectics the style of the chair will determine its role. One chair through its style can appropriate a patriarchal role as opposed to its matriarchal partner. Other partnerships are equal in status, the chairs being of identical styles, where only their placement can provide an insight into the signified roles undertaken. Two chairs in a confrontational position can stand out like a beacon in the charged area of an otherwise deserted threshold. In this threshold, an Oprah/Donahue style expose of the symbolised occupants is staged, with the private space of the threshold revealing all to the public space. Sparing no shame, the candid upfront revelations are aired in this very public forum, leaving only subtle re-positioning of the chairs to retell another story whilst the threshold stays the same.
Not wishing to be seen, the concealed chair reveals a timidity. Hidden behind a shrub it engages the seer in the psychoanalysis of the occupant as the positioner and the positioned. The chair's position implies an introversion that the seer can identify, which transforms the seer's role into one of a psychoanalyst. The psychoanalysis can continue over a period of time where the subtle changes in positioning of the chairs indicates the ongoing therapy.
A row of four red vinyl covered chairs placed in the threshold, act out through associations and memory, an externalised waiting room of a doctor's surgery.
Other groupings of chairs on the threshold, rearranged spatially, mimic the social gathering of a tea party. All chairs are open, willing to engage in social intercourse and lack any form of confrontation.
A conglomeration of various types of disparate chairs which herald from a variety of cultural backgrounds, come together upon the threshold. These vagrant chairs, each with their own history, all congregate within the threshold at one point in time. They meet in a multi-cultural congregation of acceptance, as well as reflecting a tolerance to the public space. The acceptance of difference is displayed to the street, as the seer witnesses the scene with caution, questioning the ease with which these disparate chairs can all coexist.
A single chair on the threshold is seen sidled up to a gas and electricity meter. The chair constantly keeps a vigilance over the flows of energy or any other forces entering into the house. By conceiving28 the house as an energy field, the chair understands the relationship between the various forms of power that it patiently watches.
Andy Warhol's Electric Chair of 1965 stands as an icon, an image obsessed with these flows of energy to the seat. The electric chair designed in 1888 was one of the first electric products, pre-dating the electric iron and the electric stove. The use of the chair in this context instead of a bed or a standing device is endemic of the view placed on the chair. The electric chair with its terminal relationship to power enables us to envisage chairs in their acrimonistic guise.
As the chair senses these flows of energy through their pipelines and airwaves, it is linked to all other chairs on an information super highway of potentiality. This information which is transported down the super highway becomes part of the chair's understanding. The chair in physics is linked to the energy of data by its very nature. Energy is what holds the material substance of the chair together and it is the same energy as that of data. The chair positioned at the threshold of the home is therefore also metaphorically sitting at the threshold of new technology. The chair conceives of its new relationship to the public space, seeing the potential for industrial spaces to become more redundant and the private space of the home to become more pertinent. The chair at the threshold of the home is to have a renaissance. It has waited patiently knowing that as all things flow to the family home, so too would Internet, the super highway of optic fibre cable, microwave and satellite. The work place, the industrialised public space, will become more redundant, home would become the new factory. At the gateway, ready to receive this on the threshold, stands the connected chair, the chair's signal is transmitted and received to and from the world.
Chairs when positioned on the threshold facing towards a potted plant appear to be acting out a meditative state of contemplation. The contemplative position situates the chair as connecting with an ornamental Japanese gardens. The porch/verandah often contains a variety of bizarre, sculptured, dried and twisted plants placed in pots like arthritic stunted growths. These growths appear as though the occupant by neglect or desire has been manipulating nature in the bonsai tradition. These chairs are strategically placed to reveal a private spatial contemplative attitude which can be witnessed by the public space.
Threshold spaces display both symmetrical and asymmetrical design principles. Two potted plants placed at either end of the porch/verandah are punctuated by a chair, which in turn is placed directly below the window. This is opposed by the chaos of the asymmetrical space where chairs are positioned in a non-functional abstract array. The colour co-ordinated threshold becomes an illusion with its matching chair/bench-seat appearing as camouflage. This illusion is crafted throughout the space, forming a designed space, projected to the world. These spaces have been totally contrived, with all the elements of the threshold co-ordinated. The chair is painted with the decor colour range of the house concealing its presence like a chameleon on a rock. Thus the chair is disguised in the threshold.
The sexuality of the chair is displayed in its design and placement.
The chaise longue on the threshold might imply a figure in a pose as exemplified in Eduard Manet's Olympus . This allegorical reclining figure has a suggestive power which in turn is transferred to the viewer. The nude in Manet's painting looks straight at the seer, which can intensify the seer's excitement by the recognition of being seen. The suggested sexuality inherent in a pose can be intimated in the design of the chair e.g. the French lovers' chair implies its function from its form.
In times of war a conquering army might use the vanquished as chairs, demonstrating a complete domination of them. On the threshold, a chained chair, captured, debased, reflects its lack of freedom. The chair being pinned down by its chains or clamps has the visual sign of containment which implies various inferences such as bondage and sado-masochism, security and anxiety . Seeing one of these chairs with its inability to repel by its restrictions, empowers the seer with a sense of their own freedom to debase the chair. Whilst the occupant is seated they can experience domination of the chair. The occupant can also be dominated by their own feelings of vulnerability through the chair's inability to move.
In certain instances two disparate chairs placed on top of each other, interconnected, display a form of mixed social or inter-race relationships. They engage in simulated pornographic depictions as in an x-rated film. The notion of interconnected chairs an be seen in Denis Oppenheim's Two Objects (1989) in which he uses chairs as expressions of human interaction.
"Two chairs, one pink, puffy and upholstered, the other plain and stiff and wooden are motorised so that the hard wood chair slips its seat in and out from under the soft padded chair in a regular rhythm.... The incongruous contrasting partners in Two Objects reflect human equation more accurately and sympathetically than the figures in the later series and although the piece lacks their cynical bite its a more successful work".29
The correlation made by Oppenheim to the gender and social nature of the chairs is reflected in their materiality, with their engagement in an act of intercourse as a deliberate form of cultural mixing. The pink fluffy chair being penetrated by the more common wooden chair recreates not only a class distinction but a stereotyping of the male and female manifestations in chair forms.
The red light threshold spaces is probably another far-reaching analogy of what can be interpreted when viewing the chairs from the street. The idea of a red light threshold with scantily attired chairs is a bizarre concept. However, the chairs have a strong relationship with foreplay and love making due to their connection with 'making out' in such places as the back seat of a car or a park bench. So the memory of sexuality of the chair is implied and subconsciously transferred when the seer passes by these various configurations and designs.
The chair in the threshold space has sexual connotations, which can be further explored through the threshold's proximity to the house. Whilst still remaining under the roof line of the house the threshold space also maintains a detachment. This allows the occupants a freedom from domesticity and from being sexual inside their own home. This freedom can be transferred to the space of the porch/verandah where being aware of the possibility of almost being seen, creates a tension in a voyeuristic construct.
The single chair can act as a personal signature of the occupant. The signiture as an identifiable monogram is at the root of recognition. A migrant status can be linked if we examine the chair as a means of identifying a cultural heritage. This relationship can be associated with a multi-cultural society, constructing the chair as an ethnic symbol. The ethnic groups present their cultural status to the seer in the threshold space, as the chair signifies a tradition that denotes a cultural authenticity.
The hybridised space of the migrant threshold is formed by the restructuring of colonial architecture. The restructuring takes the form of an egalitarian sense of space with a specific cultural bias, creating a uniquely modelled threshold This threshold is one that is socially heterogeneous, contrasting with the back of the house which is culturally homogeneous.
The various categories examined in this chapter explore a number of readings of chairs in the threshold space. These readings are implied by the metaphorical nature of the chair, when placed in the threshold as a reflection of cultural values. The values were interpreted by the exaimination of various thresholds spaces which when their symbolic and metaphorical meanings are explored make these spaces a rich source for investigation. The interpretations made examine the threshold space and reveal the theatrical nature of the space.