TED Conversations

Lindsay Newland Bowker


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Have You Ever Had An Unexpected Spiritual or Emotional Encounter with a Building or Built Structure?

Thomas Heatherwicks designs have such a powerful humanity to them that it is spirit soaring even to see them in videos. Beyond aesthetics, beyond the beauty of the shapes and surfaces, certain buildings and structures seem to have an almost universal spiritual engagement..somethings that speaks to us beyond pure aesthetics..something that somehow speaks to spirit.We expect churches to have that effect eg Mark Rothko's Chapel and Stonehenge are two examples. Many buildings and structures not associated with worship have an almost universal emotional impact,for example the Vietnam memorial in Washington DC, and The Brooklyn Bridge, Christos Gates Project in Central Park, Anna Schuleits installations. They emanate something beyond the materials , beyond aestehetics alone.

(1) Have you expereienced one of Thomas' building sor structures? What was it like to be in its presence?
(2). Have you ever had an unexpected emotional encounter with a structure or building? (include a link to any photos or sketches you may have done)
(3) What do you recall about the particulars of the encounter?
(4) What do you think that was about? Was it just your mood that day? Were others around you having the same experience. (At the Vietnam Wall many people cry as soon as they see it and everyone there becomes a community sharing grief)
(5) Mark Rothko ‘s painting are especially noted for having a sort of living connection with viewers. He often meditated and many of his paintings were an expression of the meditation. He thought it possible that many viewers sort of recalled the meditation before the painting. ( similar to the tradition of icons
(6) Have you experienced one of Anna Schuleits installations? http://www.macfound.org/site/c.lkLXJ8MQKrH/b.2070789/apps/nl/content2.asp?content_id=%7BE1ACAFB1-7C83-4DF9-97E5-92CCD1E87BFF%7
(7)Did you walk the Gates Project at Central Park?


Closing Statement from Lindsay Newland Bowker

Thanks you, each and all, who shared your story of a building or built structure suddenly and unexpectedly engaging you. I was glad to find a few others who have made several such experiences and very intterested ti see similarities..as in the sense of time stopping ..two iwth a life long connection of unown origin and reason to a partcilar building and also differences..one person reported having very parictular viisons of a building she had never actually been in which was later confirmed in every detail when she got to see the room she envisioned. A few reported encounters with art that on further inquiry together turned out to have powerful intentions and to perhaps express powerful and controversial ideas. Two of us agreed that these things happen whe we are in a "thin space"..reflective, introspective, sercahing within, perhaps grieving. Great fun to find each other here and share and compare our experiences.

I had aparicular interest in this intersection between arhcitecture/design and psyche as my underagraduate thesisi andsome of my graduate work and my early planning carer were about exactly that. My undergraduate thesis was on how the built environment and its unfolding outward into the larger community via, parks, river wlaks etc. helped us identify outward from self to successively larger communities.. By coincidence the head of Urban Deign at NYU graduate school. Oscar Newman was modifying public housing projects to incorporate the exact same principles I had explored in my thesis and advocating a rdaical shift in the built enviornment for public housing away from the Le Corbuiser hi rise towers to wards a more humanist scale which fostered neighborhood and community. I was luckly enough to work closely with Oscar Newman as consulstant and associate inmy very early days as a city planner.

In my heart, this conversation was dedicated to Oscar as well as celebrating Thomas' vision..

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    May 22 2011: Great question! Thanks Lindsay for the opportunity of sharing experiences and learning from each other and thanks for the way you are leading this conversation. I am enjoying the many thoughtful narrations from commentators. Here goes my humble contribution:

    It is about my very first visit to the Museo del Prado. That summer, I was going to the South of Spain to see my family and I added a trip to Madrid, just to visit the famous museum. I went early in the morning and remained there for many hours making sure not to miss any spot, any work of art. It was a great emotional impact. There are no words to describe what I felt once inside the building, surrounded by paintings of Velazquez, Goya and many other great artists, paintings that I had always seen and admired in books but never in person. It was quite an experience! I especially remember the atmosphere near the famous painting The Family of Felipe IV, or Las Meninas by Velazquez or the two Majas by Goya. I don’t know how much time I spent watching these paintings from close, as if I couldn’t believe what my eyes were watching, some of the people portrayed were so vivid, they seemed to talk. Everything was amazing and I felt a great connexion with the place. I found myself in a big sea of people, mostly in groups, some families, others with tourists’ guides, most of them with cameras and taking pictures… I imagine they were talking, but I was not listening, I was too busy, I lost track of time and did not even feel tired or hungry. I was delighted by the beauty I was contemplating. I eventually took some pictures too and asked somebody to have my picture taken but the pictures I remember more are the ones that were not taken by any camera, the ones that remain in my memories.
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      May 22 2011: Veronica..nice to see you here and thnaks somuch for your wonderfyl story of many surprised encounters with art at the Prado. knowing th works you refer to I could almost walk your narrative with you and had images and impressions as I was redaing it..especially of a certain color red and a certain color blue.Your account of the paitings coming to life , the narratives actually running in real time is a a frequently reported one with icons.. it is almost the definition of an icon..that it somehow embodies and replays a specifc message a specifc story. Wile the works you mention are not icons they do have that iconic qulaity and I think it is clear in the images themseleves that the painter held a narrative passionately and was conveying it through the painting passionately.

      Also wnated tonote the connection again with that sense of losing touch iwth time . Two or three other commentors here have had that same expereience as part of their unexpected encounter.

      Thank you again, Veronica, for a very rich sharing that has added texture and dimsension and new territory to this conversation...( Yours is the first to mention this "coming to life" aspect which I have also experienced on two ocasion and may post about here before it is over)
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      May 22 2011: Further to Veronica's woderful sharing above, I wanted to inlude this link which has images of the Two Maja and also a bit about the story behind them that might explain someof what Veronica may have tapped into while she was there.http://artstoryinamedium.blogspot.com/2009/03/goyas-two-majas.htmlThese paitings were scandalous in their inception..a noblewoamn ( no oneknows who) being prortrayed as a harlot and also..a total shock to scoety at the time.."the full monty"..full frontal nudity. So especially at that time the act of painting it was a daring venture on the part of both subject and painter.putting each at great risk. Also if you giigle images the two maj you will see them near the balcony as Veronica must have seen them and can stand with her there as you think about her story.
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        May 23 2011: Thanks Lindsay for your kind words and for mentioning the iconic relationship. I opened the link; you seem to be passionate about art. Yes, indeed it’s a big enigma; there are many stories about the mysterious lady that was painted. There are also books, movies and articles about this fascinating story sometimes adding a bit of fantasy to it. If you visit the on-line gallery from the Prado museum you will notice the same reference you found and a few more details as you can listen to the audio guide:


        One more thing that I didn’t mention before, most of these paintings are huge. Some of them are life size or near to it. The dimensions of the two Majas are 95 cm x 190 cm. I guess this may have an impact in our reaction. They are vivid images and they come in life sizes. No wonder, you have the feeling they come into life. And, some paintings have some much depth of field, like Las Meninas by Velazquez that looks like a big window; you can almost enter in the room and interact with the people painted there.
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          May 23 2011: veronica..thanks for those two links..I will check them out at my aftrenoon tea break.Your comment about the size of the Maja is interesting..I haven't seen them in person but reading your words and knowing the great risk and controversy involved in even conceiving these paintings one has to assume that the size was very intentional ( it wasn't some tuny secret hideable thing). It was meant to confront the values it opposed and did that not just through the subject but intentionally through the choice of the size of the canvas.And now as I am writing this to you I am wodering if the lady of hi position who commissioned this was alo involved in all the choices, including the size of the canvas, to make a statement about eros in the life of a lady..about celebrating eros asa physical and spirtual and wonderfully human.Were the Maja hanging in that same sapce when you saw them..in that balcony gallery? Do you think thna hanging also contribnuts to the expereince of thee Maja to the viewer?
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        May 24 2011: That’s a good point Lindsay. In The Nude Maja, there are definitely many intentions which may have come from the painter himself, the lady who posed or the person who commissioned it. But, I don’t know if the choice of the size of the canvas was intentional too. I’m not an expert in Spanish art but from what I have observed, I can tell that the paintings from that period of time were all quite big. It may have been the trend. As far as I remember, most of Goya’s paintings shown at that museum are big canvases, except his self-portrait. The other painting that I mentioned, Las Meninas from Velazquez, is even bigger; the canvas is 318 cm x 276 cm.

        For more modern painters, yes I can assume that the size of a canvas can be intentional. For example, at Picasso museum, in his hometown Malaga, I have found that his works vary in size; we have to remember that he painted in many different periods. There are many works that are small but there are others that are just as big as highway panels.

        Concerning the location of the two majas, yes, I remember seeing them not too far apart one from the other; they are both in the same room. They almost make an effect of replication to the viewer, even if they are not the same painting. The Clothed Maja was painted some years later and from a slightly different angle, almost unnoticeable.
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      May 23 2011: Veronica..for the benefit of our commenters here so that they might enter your expereince withyou more fully, here is a lovely exploration with images of Las Meninas ( The Family of Phillipe IVe) which you mention in your sharing


      AgainAside form the art istelf ( mastery of perpective etc. etc.) it is a complex and controversial composition..an essay,encoded in paint. His own presence here in the act of painting..the invisible Queen & King whose presence we only catch in the tiny figures in the mirror at the back..all deliberately expressing what might not have been allowed in words.The same is true of architecture and its details..thing sthe artist or the architect chooses to iexpress a value or anidea..often one that at the time could not be expressed in words or which the architect chooses to express through the building rather than through words. Thi seems so clear when you hear Thomas speak of the intention, values and ideas behind his work and see the physcal form so beuatifully and powerfully including that idea..saying it without words allowing people to feel and recapture that just through the expereience of being in the building itself. ( In my case..I caught it mid air..it excited me even via video to see the idea so cleearly encoded in the building..to see the idea relived in the way people are using the buildings.
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        May 24 2011: Thanks for mentioning it and for the link. That painting is indeed very controversial and there have been many interpretations of the subject. I guess that makes it even more attractive. I like the “movement” it has, as coming to life. Everybody seems to be doing something; they look so vivid, even the painter himself or the Queen and King reflected in the mirror. It’s more like a photo shot. I cannot imagine all those people there posing that way for long hours or many sessions to be painted. I think that the painter captured a moment in movement in his memory, and this is my interpretation.

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