An Ongoing Research
On Openness


In his 1962 essay, “The Poetics of the Open Work”, Umberto Eco discusses the meaning of the term “open work” and the different ways in which it has been interpreted throughout history. The first definition presented by the writer is related to meanings and comprehension – any work of art can be considered open, since it can be perceived in different ways depending on the observer, even if the author conceived the work with an specific meaning in mind. This type of openness is still relevant today and explored in works such as Mark Foster Gage’s proposal for the Helsinki Guggenheim Museum, with his “Kit-bashing” approach not only allowing for multiple interpretations, but stimulating it. This type of openness, however, is limited only to the debate realm; it produces a discussion around a work, but it doesn’t necessarily promote user interaction with the piece. A second kind of open work is then introduced, related to ownership, control and choice. It is a type of openness that can be found in modern music, for example, in pieces such as Pierre Boulez’s “Third Sonata For Piano”, that acts as a kit of parts with ten different pieces being presented in ten different pieces of paper. The parts can be organized and played with by the performer, adding their own emphasis and signature to the song, acquiring a sense of agency and ownership over the piece. In architecture, this “freedom of choice” approach can be found in many works in the 60’s, such as Archigram’s Control and Choice or Cedric Price’s Fun Palace. This type of openness has more to do with the performative and experiential, rather than the speculative area; it is an active manifestation of open work, unlike the more passive, interpretative, meaning. That being said, Eco still claims there is no loss of authorship in these open creations, since the product is still within the “field of relations” imagined by the author, the user is merely making choices based on a set number of outcomes, proposed by the author. The creator still has control over the final result, given it is made with the pieces provided by them; the performer is still just a performer, playing someone else’s work. This thesis, then, proposes a new type of open work, more meaningful for the people of the 21st century. This type of openness, unlike the other two mentioned before, has the intention of blurring the line in between the user and the author, promoting freedom of expression.