Distant Objects Becoming Near

by Benjamin Tiven

“From the moment I know that something is going to be built, the drawings become something else.” Translations of a building for the blind.

“Distant Objects Becoming Near” was published as part of Triple Canopy’s Internet as Material project area, which receives support from the Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts.

A blueprint aims to produce the experience of inhabiting space, and yet they are incommensurable. Here, the narrator speaks of the differences between looking at floor plans and living in a building. We hear him pause, stumble, feel his way through sentences, and repeat words as he reads: “How great is the concrete distance between a place on a wall of my dwelling which borders on a neighboring house, and the corresponding place on the other side of the wall in the other dwelling? Abstractly, mathematically seen, it would be a few centimeters, according to the thickness of the wall, but in concrete terms it is much further.”

The narrator now assumes the position of the architect, then that of the tenant, which is to say himself. He reads first from an architect's interview: “When I draw, the drawing is not a step toward the built but an autonomous reality that I try to anticipate. It’s a whole process of anticipation, anticipating that a line becomes an edge, that a plane becomes a wall; the texture of the graphite becomes the texture of the built. Now, when you translate the drawings, one also has to distinguish between the drawings you make in this autonomous process—where the drawing is the ultimate reality. I draw first for myself, not for somebody who is building—which means there has to be an absolute clarity in my mind, and the ability to retain the idea that I’ve established in the drawing, and furthermore, the anticipation that this idea will be buildable. From the moment I know that something is going to be built, my drawings become something else.”

The narrator then reads from an interview he has given, in which he reflects on his decades living in Selis Manor, a Manhattan housing complex for the blind, the blueprints for which we have just reviewed: “In fact, I know from reaching my hand out the window and just feeling the side of the building that there are no ornaments or curves. No columns, no bay windows. Just a straight drop down.” The blueprints describe a building that cannot be experienced; the tenant describes a building that cannot be seen.