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Interiorities and exteriorities of rejection in fictional space; Gernot Böhme’s atmosphere revisited

Lookup NU author(s): Kati Blom


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This paper will pick up some observations made by phenomenologist Gernot Böhme about aesthetics of built environments. He found it useful to use ‘atmosphere’ as a key concept to describe the character of a city, environment or locality, due to the concept’s undefined and ambiguous connotations and implications, comprising both the subject and object into reciprocity of the particular environmental experience. Additionally, Böhme uses also spatiality to explain the particularities of atmosphere-we can interpret it as a located synaesthesia and animated, motile topos, so generative living totality in atmospheric experience of a place. The visual image of any place does not tell much about the actual atmosphere on the location, e.g. its mediated qualities like temperature, breeze, smell, acoustic conditions, not to forget the cultural or social factors.Special interest is put to Böhme’s idea of abrupt, sudden sensation in the atmospheric sensing. The sudden realisation for instance of twilight or smell is anything but conceptual, and is linked with conclusive inferred emotional and bodily response. The sensations have their distinctiveness, even if the emotional response might be more vague or ambient.The mechanism of sudden realisation of a specific sensational atmosphere has relationship with the uncanny, which also breaks through the indifference of the mundane living in a precise manner. This preciseness, even if not at all conceptual to start with, forces upon us an affection, so emotional and sensuous linkage to the space. The sudden break-through of unconsciousness of the embodied imagination is not explained fully by the mechanism of aesthetic experience of the atmospheric quality by Böhme. Instead, this paper will suggest that the spatial imagination gives rise to atmospheres and spatial fictions, which are only partly dependent on the Magic of the Real as atmosphere (Peter Zumthor). I am interested of the imaginative in some instances of environmental sensing, which is a specific case under the general atmospheric experiencing.The rise of virtual and fictional, even negativity in relation to the acuteness of the real space is present especially in sensually deprived environments, like high tech mannerist exteriorities. The exteriority of rejective fictional is exemplified by the perception of the French National Library by Dominique Perrault (1995) by W. G. Sebold. The interiority of repulsive fictional with qualities of a disturbed hygienic confinement is exemplified by Mike Nelson’s In The Memory of H. P. Lovecraft (1999, 2008). In both cases the atmosphere is obviously distinctive, but it is not only explained by phenomenology of the objecthood and subjecthood in the actuality of reciprocity. The inferred fictional steps in to make more sense - sensate -, what the body had already imagined while its capacities are exhausted searching for explanation of the sensually reduced environs. Definite absences are captured involuntary in a deprived or intensified sensory universe of rejections.Gernot Böhme: Anmutungen Über das Atmosphärische. Ostfildern vor Stuttgart: Arcaden, 1998.Gernot Böhme. “Atmosphere as an Aesthetic Concept” in Sturm der Ruhe. What is Architecture? Wien, Salzburg: Architekturzentrum , Verlag Anton Pustet, 2001, pp. 35-39.Brian Dillon: “Mike Nelson” in Psycho Buildings, London: The Hayward Publishing, 2008, pp. 99-100.Julia Kristeva: W. G. Sebold. Austerlitz, London, New York: Penguin Books, 2002.Peter Zumthor. Atmospheres, Architectural Environments, Surrounding Objects. Basel, Boston, Berlin: Birkhӓuser, 2006.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Blom K

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Conference Name: Sensory Worlds, Environment, Value and the Multi-Sensory

Year of Conference: 2011