August 30, 2011

Reconceptualizing the Familiar

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Imagine you are reading a book.  Visualize how the pages look; how the lines of words sit neatly on each flat piece of paper. Now picture every word and every page of that book as three-dimensional.  How do you conceptualize something that abstract? This is the question four recent graduates of Cornell’s Bachelor of Architecture Program try to answer through their exhibit The Spherical Book, currently on display at Hartell Gallery in Sibley Hall. The graduates, Eric Bernstein ’11, Jeremy Burke ’11, Kirk Finkel ’11 and Michael Lee ’11, who together form the group Hither Yon, have blended elements of architecture, science and literature into The Spherical Book, and the product is some deeply philosophical art. The exhibit features four distinct sections, one on each wall of the gallery, which each member of Hither Yon worked on separately over this past summer. Each wall is supposed to represent a scale relating to the abstract concept of a spherical book. One wall for example, features an animated multi-media representation of the spherical book at its origins. This animation, according to Burke, “articulates the most immediate scale and most intimate relationship with the book.” If as a reader you do not quite understand what is meant by this, you are not alone. One could spend hours at the exhibit and still not comprehend all that is being presented by the members of Hither Yon.

The more time you spend analyzing each wall of Hartell Gallery, the more you come to appreciate the work.  Much of the artwork transforms itself from being a little pretentious to being rather clever once the full scope of the complex work is understood. When you look at Lee’s section from several feet back, what up close looks like a series of simple gray squares instead becomes a meticulously planned out piece that challenges the conventions of parallel drawings. At each corner of the four exhibit sections, Hither Yon has placed a quote from a famous writer, filmmaker or philosopher that corresponds with the artwork of the section. The quotes were selected from men who “also questioned the norms of a contextual given” said Burke. Below each quote are representations of what the words of the quote look like from the side and above dimensions, thus continuing the theme of a three-dimensional book. “It’s interesting how they depict the realm where 3D topology can become 2D fields” said Carly Dean ’14 as see looked upon on of the quotes.  Sophia Buffara ’14 added, “It’s fascinating how they took such a familiar font and made it abstract.”

Bernstein, Burke, Finkel and Lee decided to form Hither Yon in 2009 while all four were abroad in the AAP’s Rome program.  The students all shared a passion for their common field of study.  The men of Hither Yon will once more be working together overseas this upcoming year in Berlin. The students were awarded the Robert James Eidlitz Travel Fellowship which will allow the group to continue their work on the concepts developed in The Spherical Book. “We had already planned our move to Berlin prior to the application, but the grant really gave us the ability and the motivation to organize our thoughts into a legitimate proposal” stated Burke. The group looks to be staying in Berlin for 1-2 years.  The four will at first have to fulfill their Travel Fellowship, which includes comparing the contrasting city environments of Berlin and Rome for a German firm, before they can continue with any future projects.  Whatever and whenever these future projects might be, the Cornell graduates of Hither Yon look to incorporate the spherical book concept in their work.  As Burke puts it, “We consciously chose a topic [spherical book] that embodies our way of working and living, and we plan to develop and adapt the firm in Berlin and other cities in the future.”

Original Author: Brian Gordon