Architecture, Time and Consciousness


Pilar Ribal i Simó



“Les temps et les lieux se heurtent, se juxtaposent ou s’inversent, comme les sédiments disloqués par les tremblements d’une écorce vieillie”.

Marc Augé1



Whilst those communities that remain immersed in an eternal present protect the natural environment that hosts them, transmitting their rich intangible cultural heritage, and passing down their technical skills by word-of-mouth from generation to generation, western man is interacting with an increasingly heterogeneous and shifting landscape. For this ever-growing fraction of civilised humankind, cities are a “distorted sediment” of past and present ages, a quickened field of signs made up of interwoven forms of yesteryear and more recent times, competing for the visible supremacy of their symbolisms and rising up defiantly as irrefutable testimonies to time and consciousness.

A vast repertoire of thought turned construction, the architectonic juxtapositions of styles and eras within a single human landscape add to the sense of time lived to the full, and are the tangible proof of the diverse influences of a cultural identity forged over the centuries.

Only the urban homogeneity of certain, more recent cities2 clashes with the layout of a land where nothing seems real anymore, with its imposing screen buildings and wide avenues; with those newly-built residential districts that are almost impossible to tell apart; with fast-growing trees that have replaced the autochthonous species, with identical vehicles driving around the streets on the entire planet; with the same restaurant chains awaiting us on every corner; … or those in- dustrial and commercial “non-places”3 where the time-space references that do form part of historic cities are lost to us. It is closely related to modern-day man’s need for differentiation, the phenomenon known as the “desire for the past”, which drives the 21st century tourist to seek out the contrasts offered by historic centres, monumental sites or even those exotic cultural destinations abroad where we can still tread on ancient flagstones. As Marc Augé puts it succinctly, “les ruines existent par le regard qu’on porte sur elles”.4 The greater the presence of things new, the greater modern man’s need to assure the stability of that which is known to him. In the face of the fleeting nature of the present, dominated by the ephemeral and throw-away consumerism, everything – the environment, monuments or custom- ers – that has a tangible or intangible historical value is the object of growing attention.

The tradition of demolishing “the old” is not a thing of the distant past. Long before Europe’s disastrous loss of heritage as a result of World War II and the founding of UNESCO and its famous “World Heritage List”, new generations were replacing or transforming the landmark buildings created by their grandparents. The victors stripped the defeated of their cultural forms; the new masters added other styles to their traditional dwellings, and the new – everything and anything that was new – became both good and desirable, yet on occasions also synonymous with something as short-lasting as the changing tastes that came and went at an ever-faster pace.

This is a practice that can be seen at various levels of architecture in even the oldest of cities and that is also to be found in Palma de Mallorca, with its large ancient palaces sheathed in the nobility of the Baroque style and whose splendid seafront cathedral is the subject chosen by pho- tographer Roland Fischer for his latest project, commissioned specifically for the exhibition on the main floor at Casal Solleric. Built on the site of ancient Paleo-Christian, Roman and Moorish stones, this ancient spot in the capital of the Balearic Islands is home to what is possible the only Christian temple whose tower faces Mecca, reminding us of its original use as a Mosque during the Moorish occupation of the island, just one of its many outstanding features5.

Displaying the cultural diversity of today’s world is one of the objectives reflected in the lens of Roland Fischer’s camera. This German artist, an author of grand portraits, a master of impeccable finishes and elegant distances, skilfully combines his admiration for the history of art with a fascination for contemporary architecture. In this sense, just as he outlines the head and shoulders of his models against the water in resemblance to Nefertiti, he is equally capable of focusing on the most radical contributions of contemporary architecture.There is not a single work by Roland Fischer that fails to speak to us of the traces left by man and the world that surrounds us. Regardless of whether he is revealing his love for a hidden garden, or seducing us with the visual boldness of a magnificent abstract façade, his work is a lesson in empathy for tradition and innovation. Indeed, his dogged determination to seek out cultural forms comes as no surprise to us, for we are all too aware that he is a delicate hunter of times of consciousness.

It is true that the democratisation of housing based on the concept of habitat posited by Le Corbusier and others, introduced the reiterative aesthetics of the module that many claim is unable to compete with the nobility of ancient styles. Yet it is equally true that contemporary architecture is more than capable of surprising us with its amazing ideas, inspired by elements taken straight from nature or by applying visual concepts that originated in pictorial art; either through the use of experimental mate- rials that take a building to unimaginable heights or due to its capacity to blend in with the works of the past6. Roland Fischer’s vision pursues that essential factor, that tangible and intangible value that is inherent to fine architecture from any time or place. There is no doubt that the relation between photography and architecture could not be more idyllic: irrefutable proof is to be found in the works of the great contemporary photographers. It is thanks to the highly commendable work of countless image artists that the value of the most diverse landscapes has been recovered, from humdrum urban environments to the most breathtaking images of humankind’s natural or cultural treasures. Photography has shown us not only the beauty that lies within man’s creations, but also the shame of poverty and scarcity.

Yet of all those visions, Fischer’s perspective on architec- ture is truly outstanding in terms of the equidistant ap- proach he adopts towards ancient remains or the signs of modern-day creativity. Indeed, this is probably one of the greatest achievements of this artist’s works: his capacity to make us believe that the radical outlines of an anonymous private home are as worthy as the image of the most fa- mous cathedral or monument.

And as everything has its place and reason, whilst the Alhambra Palace in Granada or the Cathedral in Palma de Mallorca reveal and exemplify a multicultural past in which architecture was a tool of political, religious or noble pow- er and influence, the new constructions and architectonic elements carefully chosen by Roland Fischer reflect not only the impact on the contemporary consciousness of artistic aesthetics7 that have been fully assimilated by the great museums and repeated throughout the world, but also how the financial clout of multinational corporations and vast private fortunes is symbolically wielded in the ex- clusivity represented by owning a work by an internation- ally renowned architect. It is commonly accepted that from the time of “Adam’s House in Paradise”, the title of the fa- mous essay by Joseph Rykwert8, man has used architecture to project his understanding of the world, his imagination and his technical skills.

Whether it is a case of Arab palaces or Asian temples, of buildings in the shadows or a close up of a decorative element, Roland Fischer, as Javier Panera so succinctly claimed9, “manages to extract the greatest possible advan- tage of the dramatic potential of photography (…) expanding on that ‘visibility’ (or correcting it digitally) to reveal all that was indeed present yet we were incapable of perceiv- ing. The resource he employs is as simple as it is effective: reducing the frame and extending the format”.

His particular reconfiguration of reality “according to his rules”, leading Fischer to adjust the margins of the pho- tographic composition to the actual size of a window, revealing an entire façade or adding extra elements to the composition, was also a point of discussion in a conversa- tion with Bea Espejo10 in which the artist acknowledged his intention to capture what he termed a “third” reality which shows “that meaning is not limited by what is recognizable”.

In his essay entitled El beso de Judas. Fotografía y verdad (The Kiss of Judas. Photography and Truth), Joan Fontcuberta quotes Kershner, who wrote that “the mind of man is capa- ble of anything, because everything is in it, the past as well as the future”.11 In this sense, Arquitectures, Roland Fischer’s exhibition in Casal Solleric, represents a unique opportunity to admire together in a single space so many series dedicated to architectonic projects, with the similarities and differences,coincidences and disparities to be found both in the works and the artist’s vision, to the extent that their contemplation puts to the test what Rosalind Krauss termed “the optical unconscious”. It is precisely that ability to relate visual information that makes us the privileged interpreters of the immensely rich cultural world that is laid out before us. The delicate fruits of talent and human sensitivity, Fischer’s works provide us with an insight into the beauty implicit in those architectonic sites that are rich in history, and also the constructive clarity of a 21st century work. An experience that will also lead us to consider the proximity between fiction and reality and the intelligence with which Roland Fischer faces the dilemma of choosing the motif worthy of becoming the subject of his photography series.

We will have the opportunity to appreciate details that our eyes would be unable to perceive without the assistance of the perfection assured by digital photography techniques. We will analyse the proximities and distances that separate these interpretations in the study of the reality we perceive when visiting a monument or strolling the streets of a particular city. We will trace the influence of the painter in the works of one architect or another… and in short, we will share with the artist that singular experience that is discovering the world by reformulating the nature of the visible.

We will finally understand that time cannot exist without space and the consciousness with which to interpret it. That architecture is also observation and perception. Indeed, and as we have commented on a previous occasion, “Fischer’s world is undoubtedly one of seduction, a conceptual space in which opposites live in a perfect and harmonious construction, a mental construction and a contemporary tale that tenses the bow of our emotions”.12



Pilar Ribal is the director of Museo Casal Solleric in Palma de Mallorca



1. Time and space clash, are juxtaposed or inverted, like sediments dis- placed by the tremors of an aged crust. See: Augé, Marc: Le temps en ruines. Editions Galilée, Paris, 2013, page 13.

2. Examples include some of the Asian or Gulf cities which have emerged as the result of rigid planning and rapid building work.

3. See: Augé, Marc: Los no lugares. Espacios del anonimato. Antropología de la sobremodernidad. Editorial Gedisa, 1993.

4. Ruins exist thanks to the eyes that turn towards them. See Augé, Marc: Le temps en ruines. Editions Galilée, Paris, 2003.

5. In addition to this particular feature, mention must also be made of the large central rose window – one of the largest in the Gothic style -, the size and height of the central nave, or the intervention of artists such as Gaudí and Miquel Barceló in its interior.

6. Examples include the famous glass pyramid that encloses the entrance to the Louvre.

7. Something that is common to the entire history of art and architecture.

8. This essay, written in 1971, analyses the idea and evolution of the concept of architectural construction throughout history, starting from the primitive hut exemplified in “Adam’s House”, up until the present day.

9. See: Panera, Javier: “El tamaño sí importa –Seducción y “Abstracción Postográfica” en la obra de Roland Fischer”. In the catalogue published for the retrospective exhibition at the DA2 in Salamanca in 2011.

10. See: Espejo, Bea: Roland Fischer. “España tendrá un papel importante en el futuro del mundo del arte”. An interview published in El Cultural on 25th September 2011.

11. See: Fontcuberta, Joan: El beso de Judas. Fotografía y verdad. Editorial Gustavo Gili, S.A., Barcelona, 1997, page 67.

12. See: Ribal, Pilar: “Roland Fischer, el gran seductor”. Published in El Cultural on 2nd September 2011.










Pilar Ribal, „Architecture, Time and Consciousness“ in: Roland Fischer ARCHITECTURES, Museo Casal Solleric, Exhibition Catalog, Palma 2014