Antonia Hirsch presents a series of photographic portraits in which participants were asked to gesturally estimate the length of a meter. All images of this series are scaled consistently, preserving the differences in these estimates.While methods of measurement form an integral part of trade transactions, which in turn represent an elemental form of human interaction and social behavior, the divergences between each person’s estimate question the validity of any standard as a truly shared notion. The hand, and its gesture, is revealed as the site where individual imagination and assumedly shared values [NOT "value"] — such as the meter — are negotiated. As a pre-eminent figure of modernist architecture, Le Corbuiser hoped to create a system of measurements that would reconcile biology with architecture through the use of geometry. His system, the Modulor, was based on a harmonic scale of human proportions inspired by musical notation. The Modulor was intended to permit its user to create spaces which would feel grand, open, expansive and at the same time human. Albert Einstein commented that the Modulor was a “scale of proportions which makes the bad difficult and the good easy” [Modulor: 58]. With all its utopian intentions, the Modulor was a victim of modernism’s eventual failure. Le Corbusier’s system was based on the height of an Anglo-Saxon man. The French male was too short for the geometry to work well [Modulor: 56] and the female body was only belatedly considered and then rejected as a source of proportional harmony [Evans 1995]. It is not surprising that no one from outside of Europe was ever contemplated. After much experimentation, Le Corbusier settled on a six-foot-tall (1.83 m) English male body with one arm upraised as the basis for the Modulor. Le Corbusier’s Modulor system represents a curious turning point in architectural history: a brave attempt to provide an unifying rule for all architectural measurement, it simultaneuosly records the failure and limits of such an approach. Le Corbusier notes that the Modulor has the capacity to produce designs that are “displeasing, badly put together” or “horrors” [Modulor: 130]. Ultimately, Le Corbusier advises that “[y]our eyes are your judges” [Modulor: 130]. Antonia Hirsch’s series of portraits, Photographie Métrique (2004), resonates with Le Corbusier’s Modulor system through its attempt at healing the rupture between geometry and its users. The portraits present individual figures in vacuous white spaces as they estimate the length of a meter with their two hands. Importantly, all photographs in the series are presented on the same scale, allowing the viewer to judge the subjects’ discrepancies at estimating the size of a meter. From the expression on the faces of the participants we can see that some are sure of their estimate; others question the exactitude of theirs. Beyond this, we notice the gestural position of the hands and the subjects’ assuredness based on their stance. With Photographie Métrique, Hirsch personalizes a system that is devoid of any human consideration or resonance. Hirsch allows us to further consider the meter as something beyond a unit of measurement. The meter is the basis for most architectural construction and this impacts our bodily perception as we pass through the spaces we inhabit. How does it feel to move through a space that is based on systematic measurements arrived at for the purpose of universal trade, versus a space designed according to human proportions? Moving through a space based on measurements of the body resonates within us. We sense humanity and harmony between the construction and our own corporeal structure. Having erased the disarray intrinsic to the human body in favour of an ordered standardized system, we discover the challenge a globalized world poses to the concepts of individuality and culture. Moving beyond what Le Corbusier advises, Hirsch suggests that in the end, we permit the intricacies of our bodies to be the judges. Jesse McKee Jesse McKee is an artist and curator. He holds a B.A. in Visual Arts from the University of Ottawa and will be attending the Royal College of Art (London, U.K.) to study a M.A. in Curating Contemporary Art.
Thursday, May 31, 2007 to Saturday, June 30, 2007Opening
Le Corbusier (Charles Edouard Jeanneret). The Modulor and Modulor 2. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2000. Evans, Robin. The Projective Cast: Architecture and its Three Geometries. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995.
- Thursday, May 31, 2007