Monday, May 08, 2017

Conquering? Architecture

While I was watching a short film about a menhir, one of the speakers, presumably an architect, said something along the lines of "architecture is about domination; as soon as you stand up a stone, it confronts you:  you must stop or go around it."   This was all said while a camera panned over rows and rows and rows of standing stones--some with glyphs carved onto them--near a shoreline.   I'm pretty sure phrases like "conquer the landscape" were in there, too.  

The words struck me as very stereotypical white-European-male, because I always thought architecture (at least non-military architecture) was a response to the questions, "how do I make a safe space for my family?" and "how do I arrange building elements into an aesthetically pleasing fashion?" and "how do present the space as a delightful puzzle of discovery?"  not, "how do I conquer you?"

The stones were raised in paleolithic times, when Alpine jade axe heads were status items.  I'd like to think that humans in this time were less isolated by civilization from the natural word, and that in part the stones were an artistic or "natural" response to the natural world.   There was some evidence that the stones were being used as maps and safe channel markers; that they were a reaction to the surrounding waters... OK, given the boat  and axe imagery, and possibly chronicles of invaders or explorers.  The documentary mentioned that wave glyphs on the stones could be indicative of a final funerary voyage.  (I've romantically imagined a passage through a Labyrinth of Waves.)  

But what if the stones were sympathetic magic to control the sea currents -- or an artistic expression of the waves executed in standing stones on the land?  Maybe the rows and rows of stones are like the rows and rows of grave markers at Arlington.  Unlike some of the shore-side dolmens ('The Merchants' Table), I don't know if there are graves under all the stones lining the shore (research!) but I could imagine a line of the dead standing between a village and the power of the sea. 

But then again, maybe the stones are a kind of phallic marker, the architectural equivalent of pissing on a tree to mark a territory.  I'm trying to think what the difference between a wolf or a bear or a cat  marking a territory and a human doing it is.  It's like pissing one's name in the snow, which I've never understood the appeal of....  Which I guess is me asking the question, "If a man pisses in the woods, is space conquered?"

I'm sure there's a metaphor in there somewhere.
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