Santiago B.Olmo: Inside Architecture, 2004

Inside Architecture

Roland Fischer is known for having managed to develop a penetrating glance, which is able to expose the visual mechanisms of photographiy, turning them into a tool, which is simultaneously reilective, analytical, a means of knowledge and a perceptive challenge. Throughout his different series, from the portraits in Nuns and Monks or Los Angeles Portraits to the cycles of façades of contemporary architectures (Façades) or Gothic cathedrals (Cathedrals), as well as the project on the Road to Santiago, conceived and developed for the CGAC or in the collective portraits started in China, it is possible to observe the systematic way in which his glance achieves a higher level
of complexity, acquiring an acute and penetrating sense of visual analysis, able to explain the mechanisms in which images are located before the tradition of genres. Each image is carefully built subtly integrating the perceptive process of a reinterpretation of the corresponding genre (portrait or architecture), which is solved as a formal analysis and subsequently as a re-composition. The analysis then proceeds to a crumbling of elements or visual particles, which are then redefined and articulated in a different manner, in order to create a new perspective, which allows to simultaneously understand what is new and old in those images and how those syntheses respond to a new contemporary glance. Alongside the aesthetic values of image, there is another modality, which could be defined as cognitive. In other words, the analysis also aims at presenting photography as a cognitive and interpretational tool.

To a certain extent, the treatment of apparently opposed genres, such as portrait and architecture, tends to delineate a parallel investigation on the multiplicity of meanings of our look, which is understood as a visual architecture. From the redefinition of portrait as a genre done by Roland Fischer, especially in the series Nuns and Monks (1984-86) and Los Angeles Portraits (1990-94), the portrait appears as a complex architectural construction, in which we have the spheres of appearance, individuality, pose, inexpressiveness, expressiveness and psychological burden,
On the one hand, the faces of enclosed monks and nuns are framed by headdresses and hoods, which, as frames, contain faces of accentuated psychological penetration. On the other hand, the faces of women in Los Angeles Portraits, submerged to their shoulders in swimming-pools, are framed by the turquoise blue of the water, a background of uncertainty, which becomes a mundane allegory as compared to the individual features, which tend towards inexpressiveness, but in order to determine where the identity of individuality lies. Therefore, portrait tends to fade into monument and allegory.

The treatment of architecture is going to follow very parallel guidelines and we could somehow say that we are faced with an attempt of architectural portrait rather than a photograph of architecture.

In the series Cathedrals, started in 1996, he approaches the typology of the Gothic building superposing façade and interior, profiting from the fact that there is continuity between both spaces. Outer appearance and inner structure merge into a complex vision, which seems to gather in the same plane one of the classic resources of the portrait genre, the contraposition of appearance and psychological burden. Our glance enters the building piercing the façade in order to show what lies inside, reinforcing a totalising vision in which the building is more clearly explained as a geometrical order.

On the contrary, the extensive series Façades, started in the new financial and office quarters of different Chinese cities and created throughout the 1990’s and 2000, including other European and American cities, shows the abstract quality of contemporary architecture on steel and glass buildings. The surface of the façade condensates a geometrical visuality containing and expressing the density of the culture of contemporary appearances, focused on some kind of ornament ascetics. The different façades show an archive of images of deep pictorial, ornamental and decorative tension.
These four cycles (Nuns and Monks, Cathedrals and Los Angeles Portraits) open up the road towards visual exploration of the last piece of work conceived in Santiago de Compostela. Amongst these cycles, there are subtle parallelisms related to the portraits in Nuns and Monks or Cathedrals as formulations of a spatial and architectural vision, whereas Los Angeles Portraits and Façades appear to be the search for identity.

Santiago, as a pilgrimage centre since the Middle Ages, see of the religious power incarnated in the figure of the archbishop and a very important university centre, is a city marked by monumental and religious architecture, in which stone and original urban solutions are predominant, with very remarkable examples from Romanesque to Baroque. Its historical core concentrates a great number of monuments and has preserved its unity. However, throughout the last two decades, after becoming the administrative and political capital of Galicia, its urban development has included very different architectural projects in order to shelter different cultural, administrative or
sportive services, all of which were assumed by both national and international prestigious architecture experts. When approaching his project on the city of Santiago, Roland Fischer has precisely focused on these new architectural projects, which have enriched the urban network, and he has developed an analytical look over them able to make architecture and his visual perception much more complex.

Despite the fact that this is a closed project, speciticaly conducted in Santiago, the formal characteristics o the nituresalow us to tentatively deduce that it is an assay in which some results and findlings from previous series have been gradualy applied in order to open up new discursive lines in his work.

Each of the pieces is an aesthetical and formal analysis on singular buildings, which are treated from the superpostion of several images. Superposition opens up an interesting reflection on the process of architectural thought, which as a projective art tends to reflect on the possible and then realise it.

The five pieces of work come up with different possibilities of analysis and contemplation, which are complementary in order to reconstruct the relation of the individual with architecture.
The piece focused on the sports venue Multiusos Fontes do Sar, designed by Arenaza and Pujol, takes up again the idea developed in the series of Gothic cathedrals, superposing the inside and the building’s façade, but the result does not emphasise the continuity between appearance and inside, but its contrast, between the lightness of structures sustaining the ceiling in the internal space and the heaviness of the granite façade. Contemporary architecture is not ruled by pre-established schemes from style neither does it follow homogeneous guidelines, it rather tends towards a subjective interpretation of constructive resources, which lead to surprise and contrast.

From the unity of Gothic, this sports centre seen through Roland Fischer’s eyes tends to stiffen the concept of closure and openness or those of heaviness and lightness. Whereas from a more descriptive photography, architecture is documented in its different sides and perspectives so that contrasts can be appreciated from the fragment, Fischer’s glance endeavours to achieve the synthesis of unbalance in a single image in order to show its contradictory and tensioned nature. Therefore, we are not beholding a photograph of architecture, but a synthetic image containing several analyses, which account for the complexity of the perception of a building and thus the inside seems to frame the outside.
In the image of the Centro Sociocultural A Trisca, conceived by John Hejduk another parameter is introduced, more linked to the suggestions and the visual expectations advanced by each building. In this case, we could say that Fischer tries to highlight the association of ideas between spaces and shapes: a façade angle in the shape of a rounded chamfer taken from a vertical foreshortening shows an interior staircase. Even though it is not an exact correspondence, the suggestion from verticality works as an interpretation.

In the pieces dedicated to the School of Media Studies, by Álvaro Siza, the distortions produced by the superpositions establish dilferent parameters and in a very accurate manner, he takes the perspective of cubism to the world of photography, not as an element of analysis, but as a visual resource, which has been acquired from painting and has been integrated in everyday perception. In one of them, the building rises as a succession of intersecting planes. The building acquires the flexible character of the possible, the glance underlines the stages of the process, the corrections and the options of imagination.

In another one, the image is built from the superposition of an inner staircase over another one which serves as an access way from the outside. In this particular piece, the cubist legacy seems to adopt a stronger energy of evocation, segmenting the image into splinters with their own meaning, which allow to establish a coherent reading of the whole structure.

The building corresponding to the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, also designed by Álvaro Siza, may be the most complex image, in which the resources of superposition establish a visionary perspective. Several superposed takes in black and white, trim spaces of light and shade delineating accesses and corridors, which converge in a single vanishing point, located in the centre, slightly dislocated towards the left of the image, balancing the weight and tension of diagonals. The black and white effect refers us to the world of drawing, without determining the photographic medium and approaching it to an architectural sketch, as an unfeasible dream of the possible.

With this piece of work, Roland Fischer seems to claim imagination as the common ground for photography and architecture.


published in: Roland Fischer „Compostela“, CGAC Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea 2004

Santiago B.Olmo is a spanish art critic, curator and current director of CGAC Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea in Galicia, Spain