Navigations : A Translucent world.

The term “orientation’ is at the centre of various considerations I wish to confront in my work. These range from physical to conceptual, veering between three-dimensional objects to simulation and abstraction, resolving into the question of “real” “unreal” and “virtual” all of which play significant roles in the practical conception.

The use of 3d animation enables a complexity of references concerning architectural forms that appear in my work. These introduce simulations of actual buildings brought back to the primal condition of plans, concepts. A similar yet verbal attempt may be traced in Umberto Eco’s Travels in Hyper-reality; “This is the reason for this journey into hyper-reality, in search of instances where the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake: where the boundaries between game and illusion are blurred… “[1]

Central to my approach were numerous texts written during the 1950s, and onwards by Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg. These are also closely related to the act of taking what may appear as aimless coast to coast travels across the U.S. As much as a journey is a search for Eco, it can be seen as a need for constant movement with no obstacles and no barriers that are immanent part of the urban space, when considering Jack Kerouac’ notion of the roads.

The mental conception of urban space that may or may not be based on actual experiences is complimented by the view of urban landscape itself. Therefore a different yet relevant aspect to my work is Modernist Architecture of the International Style and the conceptual approach of Archigram. Blueprints, concepts and views that exist on these two completing poles in man made urban spaces where theory and practice intervene. This is clearly demonstrated in Barry Curtis –“Archigram- A Necessary Irritant” - “Although the Archigram oeuvre is too complex and contradictory to reduce to a single narrative, there is a distinct move from architecture as physically massive and integrative to a scenario in which structure gives way to transportable tools, environment and states of mind.” [2] The use of the word “scenario” and its implications will be further discussed while considering references to texts relating to works of Liam Gillick and Jean Nouvel.

The reference to the International Style in architecture is due to its various versions that exist in the three cities that I use in my work: London, Tel Aviv and Chicago. The choice of such buildings in which the abstractions of forms were already done by their creators and therefore I can continue this very notion of abstraction into their appearances in my work.

The beat culture: an urban legend?

The lack of reason and therefore the seemingly lack of orientation in “Naked Lunch” is an excellent starting point for any attempt to even refer to the very idea of orientation. In this case the possibility of discussing an subject\object relationship is well demonstrated in Burroughs words – “I was standing outside myself trying to stop those hangings with ghost fingers […] I am a ghost wanting what every ghost wants, a body. After the long-time moving through odourless alleys of space where no life is only the colourless no smell of death…”[3] All these related to physical abilities and senses in a time when the making of art tended to consider such abilities as unnecessary, when abstraction seemed the highest quality for art. Minimalism and formalism may be seen as opposite of or as conclusions to the intense search for life experiences manifested in the Beat generation subculture.

As formalized notions of the making of Abstract art dictated “Rights” and “Wrongs” the conception of “real” and “Imagined” were clearly illustrated in “The nightmare of last night is the soggy toast of this morning breakfast. This is latest revelation and way of action (…) So-called solid reality is only crystallised dream. It can be undreamed. There is nothing stronger than dream because dreams are forms of the law. ”[4]

In Burroughs writings the place of the imagination is often closely connected to narcotic experiences that ironically enough may be pointed out as resolving in physical reactions that influence perception. A recent reference that combines such notions can be seen in the work of Francis Alys - Narcoturismo, (1996) [i]. This work documented seven walks in a city done on seven consecutive days under the influence of a different drug each day.[5] The work relates the actual, physical and hallucination that continues the beat culture but also go back to Baudelaire All can be read as mixed feelings towards the urban environment where everything is in a flux yet nothing changes. Therefore obviously the emotional and the physical co exist and involve each other. Such references to atmosphere, personal experiences and the private in urban public domain are encapsulated in Alys work.

Another precedent for these walks is Vito Acconci’s “Following” (1969)[ii] that consisted of following a person as he or she got out of private spaces into the street and until they reach a private space where the act of following can no longer take place. In order to manoeuvre his way, Acconci cling to a random focal point (a passer by in the city) for as long as he can. Similar situation was emphasised in Edgar Allan Poe short story – The man of the crowd.[6]

The tale describes a person, who can only exist in a crowd of people and therefore is constantly seeking to be in extremely populated places. The crowd enables his existence although in the crowd he disappears. He fears the actual moment when the people around him will disperse. The figure can only maintain focus on his route and this focus create a temporarily illusion of orientation.

A confusion of orientation is in common to the various sources I refer to further on and the term “orientation” will be considered in certain aspects.

A crucial aspect of orientation can be found in Robert Smithson’s approach to the non-site. Smithson describes the non-site as a place of focus and therefore the site becomes an unfocused place – a place where one consciously loses his boundaries and just drifts in all directions. This is a moment where the sense of orientation is lost or in Smithson’s own words when a “quiet catastrophy can take place”, such a moment, with its tendency towards entropy is evident in his Partly buried woodshed in Kent state university (1970) .[iii]

In this sense one can refer to Gordon Matta Clark – films in the deserted subway tunnels of Harlem or the journey in to the “The Zone” in Tarkovski’s film “Stalker” (USSR 1979). Those places can easily disappear or get lost in time exactly like the memory of the partly buried woodshed. In Smithson’s own words –“This is a map that will take you somewhere, but when you get there you wont really know where you are.”[7]

This quest can go back to William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch in a passage where the character wakes up in an unfamiliar house and the owner of this house starts to shout at him – “what are you doing here?” while in the same time the character doesn’t have a clue where he is. The only thing he can realize is that he wasn’t there for the beginning and he will not be there for the end.[8]

Here with a rare awareness one finally admits to oneself that he is actually lost.

Architecture: Dreams as conflicts

“Cities like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspective deceitful, and everything conceal something else.”[9]

From the diverse possibilities invested in architecture, its mere existence as urban landscape is significant in this context. Being a sight, a view, relate to what is seen, ways of seeing, perspectives, lack of perspectives: all refer to perception in the act of looking.

In this specific case architecture is created through what is seen in extreme conditions such as darkness and light, distance and proximity, presence and non-presence of life.

The notion of voyeurism seems relevant although the starting point for this urban landscape constructed from images (photographs) of buildings from Tel Aviv, London, and Chicago resolving in a hybrid, made up environment. In this case no close view existed and the idea of voyeurism was limited to the basic condition of light and darkness being an abstraction for existence\non existence of people in these buildings.

Any attempt to combine three cities into one entity will obviously acknowledge “memory” and the notion of the “real”.

Reliance on memory is a key issue for personal orientation in space and time. However, memory can be deceiving and this case of combining different places, both enables familiarity and rejects it at the same time.

Further than that a place can look constant while it is actually constantly shifting. For example, an apartment threshold in the Bronx can become for Gordon Matta Clark a “threshole” (1972-3) [iv]. By cutting the floors and walls of buildings Matta Clark reconfigures the places and reveals the “The spaces between”; his amputated structures reveal their memories like layers of ancient rocks.

From the holes the streets invade the buildings - “Floors could float free of supporting walls; walls could be tunnelled through to provide new viewpoints and access to sun and wind”.[10]

In his work Window Blow-Out (1976) [v] Matta Clark pointed out how a meaning of a “Real” event can easily shift into a legend, a myth. An image of an non-featured, neglected industrial building with all its windows broken, suddenly turns into the “Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies” in New York with all its windows blow out by the artist with an air gun just one day before the opening of the show. On the opening day all the windows were replaced so there was no hint for this action other than its Photograph.

This case of windows blow out and the possible myth of Matta Clark journeys through the deserted subway tunnels of Harlem obviously raise the question – ‘Did it really happen or is it just a tale?’ casting doubt on them being actual events. This can be said in various occasions when photography stand as a proof of events, blurring once more notions of factual and fictional.

The place of photography in my work takes into account such factors as fiction and factual however uses them as starting point for various possibilities that appear to be random.

The abstraction of life to their signs such as “window with light” and “dark windows” one is allowed to consider scenarios relating to the existence of life, filling in these very abstractions with peculiar details. This is related both to the work of Jean Nouvel and Liam Gillick both refer to “scenarios” in their work. It also brings to mind Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities: “However the city may really be, beneath this thick coating of signs, whatever it may contain or conceal, you leave Tamara without having discovered it.”[11] This text combines the idea of a place, a city and therefore public space with the name of a person, specifically a certain woman, and leaves the reader in ambiguity concerning its subjects. This can be considered a point of reference in the consideration of the term orientation. Another case in point considering Calvino’s text is the constant acknowledgement of memory in his titles and through considerations of the construction of memory such as: ”The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past.” [12]

The possible connections between the factual and the imagined once again with the mentioning of “scenarios” appears in an exhibition catalogue considering Jean Nouvel’s work “So it will not be a question here of the condition of architectural practice but rather of imaginary scenarios and their inscription in the real. Articulated between the representation of the project and its reality – the instance of its constriction...”[13] this text related to the context of an exhibition of Nouvel’s architectural projects. An exhibition is intended for viewing and therefore is the most similar condition to the use of architecture in the making of sights that is done in my own work. A main consideration in Nouvel’ proposals for buildings are reflections and transparencies of surfaces in Kiriyat Arie- I project (Tel Aviv 1999) [vi]. These play a seductive role however the attempt to plan reflections for a real building turned out rather problematic since such reflections cannot be seen in the realized building. In this case Nouvel’s use of the idea of reflections and transparencies is far more interesting than their actual realization from my point of view and in this case they have more to do with my decision to use projection of both video and slides.

In difference from the discussed scenarios of Nouvel and Gillick, the previously mentioned reference of Archigram introduced the lack of physical realization of an idea.

Scenario relates to possibilities, preferring one of many, however still acknowledging the existence of other options. In a text included in Liam Gillick’s exhibition catalogue “The Wood Way” [14] , Daniel Birenbaum refers to the word “scenario” often being used by Gillick himself, describing photographs of cityscapes: “Another scenario: it’s the late 1970s, it’s a foggy night. It’s autumn or maybe already winter. The brightly illuminated windows shine in suburbia. The buildings are too far away for any human traits to be visible. (…) However, these subsidised Public Housing Projects ended up being an architectural and social failure.” Of course this text combines a description of what is seen and further textual information that creates context for this visual imagery. In this case not only the use of the word “scenario” enables evasiveness but also the mixing of verbal and visual information that is typical of Gillick’s work and may be considered disorienting.


The complexity of constructing an exhibition that takes the term “orientation” as a key aspect has numerous precedents as noted in this essay. One can go far back to Plato’s Cave [15] that relates to orientation in perception. Or on a more recent occurrence one can refer to Laurie Anderson’s work –“Performance - walking in the USA”(1983) [vii] - in which case Anderson was seeking her way blind by the light of the Headlight Glasses she wore that night.[16] In both cases the lack of ability of knowledge of a place but also of any eye sight is easily connected with knowledge at large: to differentiate true from false ending up in an ironic 1980s remark on the ability to “see the light” and if such possibility exists at all...

In between Plato to the 1980s it is important to note the formal debt to Modernism and the use of abstraction that may be considered as “dead end” in their extreme reductive forms. In this case these acted as starting points for the indecisive nature of the scenarios.

These scenarios range between conceptual ideas to actual choices made. It is important to note Liam Gillick’s physical use of parallel structures in his work that can be read as synchronized use of more than one scenario. “Spaces, interventions into those spaces, objects placed and\or arranged in those spaces activities, texts, sites for planned or imaginable events and occurrences- all these together constitute a complex, a constellation of potentialities. Gillick uses the term “scenario” to describe this complex.

The word holds within itself the idea of a scene (…) “[17]

The use of precise engineering in Liam Gillick’s structures and the way Robert Smithson used a scientific theory and realizing it as was done in his work pointless vanishing point (1977) [viii] are both examples of as well as precedents to the construction of an object which inhaled in itself the deprivation of a form. In this case hyper controlled structures are in fact mechanisms of losing control.

“It is as though one can were being imprisoned by the actual structure of two alien eyes. It is an illusion without an illusion.”

The challenged perception of orientation perhaps gains more from the mentioned disorienting factors than one may suspect, especially in times when navigating systems can be loaded to cars, personal palm, pilots and mobile phones. In a time when people tend to engage precisely in pinpointing targets, most likely no odyssey may take place.

Eli Zafran, London 2004
i . Francis Alys- Narcoturismo 1996
ii. Vito Acconci – Following 1969
iii Robert Smithson Partly Buried Woodshed 1970
iv. Gordon Matta Clark – Thershole 1972-3
v. Gordon Matta Clark – Window Blow out 1976

vi. Jean Nouvel – Kiriyat Arie  I – Tel Aviv 1999

vii. Laurie Anderson – Walking in the USA - Headlight Glasses 1983

viii. Robert Smithson – Pointless vanishing point 1977


1. Umberto Eco – Travels in Hyper-Reality -1967 Picador, London 1987.

2. Dennis Crompton (ed) Concerning Archigram, Archigram Archives, London 1999

3. William Burroughs, Naked Lunch, 1959, Flamingo an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers , London 1993

4. Oliver Harris - The letters William S.Burroughs 1945-1959 , Picador London 1993.

5. Exhibition catalogue, Rochelle Steiner, En Route cat , Serpentine Gallery, London 2002

6. Edgar Allan Poe – The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings, Penguin classics, London 1967

7. Jack Flam - Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, University of California Press, Berkely 1996

8. Gordon Mata-Clark: “The Space Between”, Centre for Contemporary Art, Nazraeli Press, Glasgow 2003

9. Italo Calvino- Invisible Cities, Vintage Classics, London 1972

10. Exhibition catalogue Chantal Béret -Jean Nouvel, Centre Pompidou , Ediciones Aldeasa Paris 2002

11. Exhibition catalogue ‘Liam Gillick’ - “The Wood Way”, London 2002 Whitechapel Art Gallery

12. Plato - Republic – The Smile of the Cave, (427-347 bc) Translated with an Introduction by Desmond Lee , Penguin Classics London., 1955

13. Roselee Goldberg – “Laurie Anderson”, Theams & Hudson, London 2000

14. Exhibition catalogue “Liam Gillick” Frankfurter Kunstverein and Oktagon publishers, 1999


1 Umberto Eco – Travels in Hyper-Reality -1967 Picador 1987 London p.8

2 Dennis Crompton (ed) Concerning Archigram, London 1999. p.66

3 William Burroughs, Naked Lunch, 1959, P21

4 The letters William S.Burroughs 1945-1959 P397

5 Rochelle Steiner, En Route cat , Serpentine Gallery, London 2002. P.16

6 Edgar Allan Poe – The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings, Penguin classics 1967. p. 131

Man of the Crowd was first published in Burtons Gentelmens Magazine in 1840.

7 Jack Flam - Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, University of California Press, Berkely 1996 p.249

A discussions with Heizer, Oppenhiem, Smithson (1970),

8 Naked Lunch,, p173

9 Italo Calvino- Invisible Cities, Vintage Classics, London 1972 p.44

10 Gordon Mata-Clark: “The Space Between”, Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow Nazraeli Press 2003 p.59

11 Italo Calvino- Invisible Cities, Vintage Classics, London 1972 p.14

12 Calvino’s Invisible Cities p.10

13 Chantal Béret -Jean Nouvel, Centre Pompidou , Ediciones Aldeasa Paris 2002, p.14

14 Liam Gillick’ exhibition catalogue “The Wood Way” Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 2002 p.7

15 Plato, Republic – The Smile of the Cave 514a-521b

16 Roselee Goldberg – “Laurie Anderson”, Theams & Hudson, London 2000 p.109

17 “Liam Gillick” Frankfurter Kunstverein and Oktagon publishers, 1999, p.139.

18 Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings P359