Tower Ghosts and Swing Shifts
Three sequential viewing spaces in Corin Sworn’s exhibition, Atmosphere and Architecture (2006), frame several photographs and a projection installation that consider the gaps and erasures in escalating technologies of perception and the phenomenologies of experience that these sprawling representational systems cannot describe.
Entitled The Toronto Dominion Towers 1969–2005 (2006), the first work in the show merges two photographs of the Toronto Dominion tower complex designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, whose International Style architecture aimed to accentuate functional and technological coherence through the use of exposed structural frameworks and mass-produced building materials (iron, steel, reinforced concrete, and glass). Complicating our view of these structures, Sworn superimposes two exterior shots of the TD complex through a cross-dissolve technique borrowed from film. Each photograph, taken from a different vantage point in 1969 and 2005, is made partially transparent so that the other is visible through it. The 1969 image, taken just following the Towers’ construction, surveys the two skyscrapers from the ground. The other photograph, taken in 2005, overlooks the entire complex from the height of the CN Tower and includes the Commercial Union Tower, a third Mies-designed TD tower that was built in 1974, just following the architect’s death.
The oblique angle produced by Sworn’s superimposed perspectives presents an aporia: its implausible span connects a vanished viewpoint situated on an area of land now usurped by the third tower, with a vista taken above the TD complex from its priapic, camera-friendly vanquisher. While the earlier photograph only faintly registers the significant expanse of lawn space designed to integrate the domain of the towers with street-level Toronto, evoking perhaps the later development of civic bonuses for the corporate accommodation of public amenities, the more recent photograph records the built-up area around the complex and brings to mind shifting conditions of labour under advanced capitalism. Yet, in the composite, neither appears distinct, setting up a representational impasse that confronts architecture’s social claim to present an object for simultaneous collective experience. If, as Walter Benjamin suggests in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936), buildings are appropriated by habitual use and incidental perception, might this subjective mode demur the recording of history “Would it emit any symptoms?”
The third TD block, visibly subordinated in the CN Tower-mounted aerial shot, is rumoured to be haunted. Haunted, Sworn appears to propose, by a range of haptic, affective, intuitive, or intersubjective modes of perceiving space that modernist architectural discourse occludes. The perpetrator of the disturbance remains hidden, yet the first work in the show suggests that attending to the history of the Commercial Union Tower might give us a sense of its ghost. This tower sidesteps the ostensibly linear development of history maintained when a building is designed, completed, and received during the life of the architect. In its posthumous condition it veers outside a dynasty projected by the primary twin towers. Within Sworn’s exhibition, accounts of paranormal encounters in built-space counterweigh the problem of how to narrate the subjective experiences of tower occupants, their relationships with the building in time and space, and their erasure from forms of representation that work to objectify.
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About the Author
Jessie Caryl works as Curatorial Associate at the Catriona Jeffries Gallery, co-facilitates a free school currently taking place at Spartacus Books, and most recently titled the exhibition, And to stop you interfering, I shall have to dematerialize you again.