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A Mocking Perversity: On Representing Movement

Part 2 Dissertation 2003
Scott Grady
Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL) | UK
The impossibility of personalised flight has naturally made it a prime subject matter for depiction as a frozen moment in two dimensions. A mocking perversity. Flight violently contradicts those two states of being.

The dissertation explores the interpretation and representation of physical and theoretical movement in two or three-dimensions in the fields of art, sculpture, photography, film and architecture. The choice of this topic was a response to an increasing architectural interest in dynamic systems and a personal interest in a design project, realised through the translation of bird movement. Architecture is often conceived on a two-dimensional plane, the drawing board or computer screen. If architects are to work with movement, they must explore new ways to translate movement into two- or three-dimensional representations. The dynamic nature of movement presents inherent difficulties with any such translation.

The subject of movement and movement-generated architectures is not new. However, flight has rarely been explored, despite man's obvious fascination with it over the years. This dissertation approaches the representation of movement from a different standpoint, taking examples from the arts and sciences. Description of artworks by artists and art historians are cross-referenced with writings of theorists, naturalists and scientists to establish a more dynamic standpoint.

The dissertation establishes two categories; static representation (a literal, pictorial approach) and dynamic representation (an abstract representation where movement itself is integrated into the outcome). It shows that in representing movement, there is a certain paradox; although movement is a dynamic system, traditionally it has been captured in a snapshot, a frozen moment in time. Such snapshots fail to describe movement in terms of time and qualitative change.

Architects working with movement today tend to capture movement almost like a photograph – to freeze it in a series of diagrams. The reductive nature of architectural practice results in a static - rather than a dynamic - representation. Architects might instead allow new parameters to be introduced, avoiding literal, two-dimensional translations, looking to examples such as Paul Klee's Dance of the Moth which is successful in capturing the dynamism and essence of the movement.

Scott Grady

The representation of movement, the subject at the heart of Scott Grady’s sophisticated dissertation, has been an important topic for architectural discourse for some time. We expect familiar examples – dance notation, the human body in motion, virtual animation - but ‘A Mocking Perversity’ enters the debate sideways, opening up fresh possibilities through a fascinating set of images that each attempt to represent the flight of birds and insects. Scott draws his selection from the visual arts and from scientific research, setting up a dialogue between his examples, and looking at each with an intensity that finds innovation and poetry even in representations often overlooked as diagrams. It is one of those rare and modest dissertations that makes one wonder that no-one has thought to do it before.

At a detailed level, the analysis of individual images has moments of brilliance and sheer delight. Scott’s discussion of Klee’s painting of a moth finds a layering of movements - the pull towards the light, the fluttering of wings, the paralysis – and a multitude of techniques from figuration to abstraction. Out of an understanding of two dimensional representation, the science of the moth’s flight and Deleuze’s work on the diagram, a rich and highly original interpretation is evolved.

It is refreshing to see a serious interrogation of the limits of representation produced at the Bartlett, a school well known for the graphic dexterity of its students. ‘A Mocking Perversity’ shows how a critical engagement with drawing can have profound implications for architectural practice.

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