Interiorities and the All-Seeing Land


Alberto Burri, Cretto di Gibellina (1984-2015).

When, for example, the question arose about the treatment of those lunatics who said that they had received the power of seeing the insides of things, I would quote the saying of an ancient Circle, who declared that prophets and inspired people are always considered by the majority to be mad; and I could not help occasionally dropping such expressions as “the eye that discerns the interiors of things”, and “the all-seeing land”; once or twice I even let fall the forbidden terms “the Third and Fourth Dimensions”.

– Edwin Abbott Abott, “Flatland”. Chapter 22: How I Then Tried to Diffuse the Theory of Three Dimensions by Other Means, and of the Result.

A binary notion of interiors and exteriors suggests that space can be defined through a distinction between a material shell, or something that can be touched, and an immaterial space that is encompassed by this form. Architecture is often concerned with creating these types of defined interiors: shaping typologies, instructing materials to divide space in specific ways, and provoking fixed experiences of moving through, into, out of, towards, and away. It is a challenge to create and experience spaces that are more suggestive, indeterminate or subtle in the ways that they express this presence of form and its perceived absence as a kind of ‘interior’.

A material form maintains a delicate line of communication that is always indicating elsewhere — to something else outside of itself, anywhere but at itself, but doing so through itself. Seen this way, interiority is not only a consequence of the space or an intermediary non-place, but can be understood as an elusive form of its own, affecting us through sensations of dimension, weight, texture that are deceptively assigned to the domain of what we can see and touch. A bit of magic may be necessary to make this invisible space visible — for the obvious to meaningfully divert our attention towards something that is not.


Susumu Koshimizu, Crack the stone in August ’70 (1970).


Susumu Koshimizu, Paper (1969).

So how can we become enchanted with place? How do we see into what is contained, and concealed, by the surface? Mono-ha artist Susumu Koshimizu’s work is a provocation to discover an interior through situations that contrast negative space against form, showing at once ‘what is’ and ‘what is not’. Paper contains a stone within a large, pillowy bag made of Japanese hempen paper, often used for wrapping. The stone can simply mark the end of our looking: we see it and that’s it. But, like the paper bag, it also exists to indicate outside of itself, to the space around it, and inside this larger container. This creates a curious tension between the sculptural presence of the paper shell and the stone, and the ultimate insignificance of the material. An object that might as well not be there simultaneously needs to be there to show us something that is otherwise hidden. In a similar way, Koshimizu’s Crack the stone in August ‘70’ expresses this fluid nature of interiority through a ‘broken’ material. A flaw, a crack, in a monolithic stone creates a new, other space out of what appeared to be a whole. A crack emerges out of a solid. An empty space is created between two edges. A material can contain more than itself by being allowed to misbehave, or rather — if it is bound to crack — to behave precisely according to its inherent and hidden qualities.

This elusive ‘otherness’ of a place is similarly contained in the monumental landscape sculpture of Cretto di Gibellina, by Italian sculptor Alberto Burri, where absence occupies a physical place and, in a beautiful contradiction, is reliant on material in order to continue existing as absence. Constructed between 1984 and 2015, Burri’s project preserves the spatial memory of Gibellina, a Sicilian village destroyed by an earthquake in 1968. A skin of white concrete encases the demolished building sites, each section measuring between 10 to 20 meters on each side and 1.6 meters in height. The roadways are retained so that the shape of movement through Gibellina is carved into memory. The concrete mass over the obliterated buildings distills a site of multiple and complex networks, of multiplicitous and transient space, into a single gesture. The sculpture itself seems to be a single mass, the unadorned and continuous surface of concrete punctuating the emptiness of space. An acceptance of annihilation gently inhabits this demi-place of suspended disappearance, preserving the physical trace of an entire village while requiring immersion into its ghostly absence.


Alberto Burri, Cretto di Gibellina (1984-2015).

richard-serra-strike-to-roberta-and-rudy-1969-1971   richard-serra-delineator-1974-75

Richard Serra, Strike: to Roberta and Rudy (1969-1971) and Delineator (1974-75).

While material form may be dignified with sculptural attention, it always indicates and lends its weight to the intangible, occasionally becoming entirely weightless itself, in this transfer of its character. Located ambiguously between the two-dimensional and the sculptural, Richard Serra’s Strike and Delineator are two works that express this exchange with the edge — reductionist in comparison to the cocoons of Olson and Blind Spot, and the weighty masses of Grief and Reason, or even the simple fold of To Lift. These surfaces contain the suggestive quality of looking behind and moving around, so that even what appears to be ‘flatness’ encloses within it the possibility of many other spaces. The sheets of hot-rolled steel appear to have no heft, slicing space in the way that a line is drawn across a sheet of paper. The flat planes create and shape additional dimensions in the rooms in which they are found without having to envelop: invisible walls, interruptions, and concealed areas create additional layers that are within and outside of perception.

Interiority is made possible by a kind of transparency of form — that is all of the potentiality that a form contains. Material, form, presence: these point towards something else, and move us outside of themselves. These interiorities are not even necessarily enclosed, because as we see, while Koshimizu creates a literal interior, Burri and Serra’s interiors are uncovered. A latent state of multiplicity is contained within every place, so that something else co-exists through what is most apparent. The movement of our looking, like the traces of Gibellina’s absent roads, shifts our experience of these places, so that we might find the optimism which, in turn, lies in this: that wherever we look, we have still farther to look from this.



“The sheep you asked for is inside.”



[1] diagram at top is from Edwin Abbott Abbott’s Flatland (1884).

[2] diagram at bottom is from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince (1943).