Open Interpretation

In architecture, the interpretative meaning of open work can be easily spotted in the unbuilt work of Mark Foster Gage, with his “Kit-bashing” approach to design. His buildings, such as his proposal for the Guggenheim Museum in Helsinki, present a mash-up of different objects, characters, body parts, animals–things, all composed in a contemporary bas-relief that envelops the building. A human leg right beside a dolphin, a baroque detail intersecting with an anime character, a multitude of references and callbacks that have nothing to do with each other, in a potpourri of sorts. The individual pieces are then stripped of its individual meaning and are now part of a bigger arrangement, allowing for the observer to connect them in any way they see fit, dependent on their own base of knowledge and culture. This refers back to the first definition of open work introduced by Eco, the different interpretations of an art piece. This slightly strips the author of their power and control over the content, in a way, since the final message might not be something that they predicted or even agreed with. With this, Mark Foster Gage’s building itself becomes art, allowing people to observe it from a distance – but from a distance, it is not aiming for approachability, it does not allow people to interact with it in any other way than the one intended by the architect, on the contrary, it creates a distance between the work and the user. Stay behind the line and don’t touch the artwork, please. The gap is exponentiated by the use of marble and other fancy materials in the creation of his sculpture, that, just like the objects on the bas-relief, limits the openness to a superficial level. When emphasized and focused on, this freedom of interpretation approach can still be relevant today, but if it is not accompanied by other methods of promoting active engagement it feels performative and only goes skin-deep.