project spring 2008

The studio focuses on the issues of time, memory, the uncanny, figures, and fictions by revising Raymond Roussel's idea of the 'Locus Solus', a fantastic literary garden where the issues of motility, scale, and identity are brought into question. See studio schedule.

Raymond Roussel (1877-1933)

micromegas garden: locus solus
studio schedule / members' briefs / notes and messages / weekly assignments

The garden exists in the mind as an idea as well as in specific locations as features of actual landscapes. As such, the garden is a 'state' that uses the phrase locus solus (solitary place) in a number of ways and at a number of levels. It is the 'garden' that recombines these ways and levels to form potential experiences that, added up, themselves constitute the garden.

Raymond Roussel, a major figure in Surrealism, wrote the novel Locus Solus in 1914, at a time when his theatrical productions were being hooted off the Paris stage. In his mind was the problem of success and failure, and the impact of these on artistic thought. The hero/gardener of Locus Solus, the mysterious godlike figure Canterel — master scientist, poet, artist, philosopher — thus creates a retreat, a precinct where he assembles exhibits that demonstrate how a certain honor remains as a residual of defeat. With a retraction from the world as well as an abdication of the limelight customary to a great mind, Roussel's hero pursues his experiments without caring whether they work or not, interested more in the spectacle created by subverting the normalcy of the world outside.

Using Canterel's idea of retraction, defeat, and disinterest, the idea of the garden itself can recover many of its traditional associations. Gardens are determined in large part by a key relationship to anxiety — the one emotion, Lacan notes, that cannot be faked. This anxiety has to do with the very margin that defines the garden as both a part and not a part of the landscape surrounding it. As 'temenos' (exception; forbidden precinct), the garden is sacred in both senses of being surplus, meaningless, detestable; and, at the same time, privileged, ideal, and delightful. This irrational combination of opposites has to do with the garden's primary relationship with the uncanny: it collapses distances between the subject and the object-cause of desire. It uses the standard distance-creating mechanisms of motion, scale, and identity 'in reverse' so to speak — to create/recreate a 'blurred condition' where subject and object, here and there, inside and outside, no longer enjoy their customary separation.

This studio project will chose several sites, among them a site accessible in the 'usual ways' (i.e. nearby), some sites accessible only through drawing, others only through dreams. In each site, the idea of the uncanny will be used to pry open relationships that may yield to architectural actions: creating landscapes and architectures that, like the exhibits in Canterel's locus solus, are belated misprisions that nonetheless offer 'operations' that any audience may perform to achieve their own solitude.

—Raymond Roussel, Locus Solus (Paris: J.-J. Pauvert, 1965). English edition trans. Rupert Cuningham (London, 1970).
—Mark Ford, Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams (Ithaca NY: Cornell University, 2000).
—Michel Foucault, Death and the Labyrinth: The World of Raymond Roussel, trans. Charles Ruas (London: Continuum, 2004).

The Garden of Eden. Source: Athenasius Kircher, Arca Noe


This procedure is a suggested generic protocol for producing a variety of projects; a specific project has not yet been determined. The method, drawn from Roussel's example of locus solus, anticipates the traditional progression from trials and errors, supported by sketches, discussions, and experiments, to built realities realized as models or 1:1 installations.

(1) Anticipation. Drawings and models shall be accompanied by discussions, performances, film screenings, and presentations. Macquettes will be used to model specific ‘machines’ incorporated in the work. A ‘seer’ will be chosen based on clairvoyant powers.

(2) Development. A half- or full-scale installations made of corrugated card-board and other materials (plastic, paper, metal,etc.) will model the whole proposal; placeholders may be used to locate final graphic elements; some machines can be indicated graphically rather than 3-dimensionally. All components must be demountable.

Locus Solus, site 1, sculpture garden with L-scheme, Louisiana State University Department of Art

(3) Foundation. The site will be circumscribed and purified, following the rituals of Romulus. Divination shall determine the correct orientation of the site, but this must be done through parody. The installation site shall be surveyed using ancient techniques of geomancy. A jig will be constructed to maintain locations and dimensions. Outlying optical devices, levelers, and scales will be installed to maintain correct placement and proper cosmogramic effects.

(4) Construction. Installations be erected in the space of 24 hours, although pre-cutting can take place before. Afterwards, also within 24 hours, the solids will be engraved if specified, and superficial components installed, before a final coat of primer is applied. Materials collected for the collage will be applied or, if unavailable, marked as a site. Full installation of framing and sighting devices may be installed over the following week, after being tested independently.

(5) Consecration. Opening of the Garden will take place at a ceremony with food and music, presided over by the Seer.

(6) Exhibition. Visitors will be allowed to enter the Garden. A Garden Program will document the design/construction teams and explain the Garden’s design brief.

(7) Disassembly. The beds and their devices will be disassembled and stored safely or, if no storage space can be found, mingled with the ashes of Katrina.