Erik’s Sabbatical Reading List: Post 2

“I shall now speak of vermillion.” Vitruvius
“The harbor faces north, in shadow.” Calvino

Works cited:

Vitruvius Pollio, Marcus. The Architecture Of Marcus Vitruvius Pollio: In Ten Books. Translated from the Latin by Joseph Gwilt, London: Priestley and Weale, 1826.

Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. Translated from the Italian by William Weaver, London: Secker and Warburg, 1974.

Brief description:

A man named Marc addresses an emperor on the subject of building cities. Vitruvius is a practical construction guidebook. It is dedicated to Caesar August and was written by the Roman architect and engineer Marcus Vitruvius Pollio during the first century BC. Its subject matter includes a broad range of categories such as city planning, the architecture of civic, domestic and religious structures, acoustics, color theory, metallurgy, popular history and ornamentation. Invisible Cities is a fictional and fantastical imagining of conversations between the Venetian explorer Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, the emperor of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century BC. These conversations are centered on the description of cities encountered by Polo on his travels, and are based in the imagination and the personal histories of the book’s author and all those who encounter it. 

How do these texts relate to scenography?

Vitruvius specifically discusses the construction of theaters, both Greek and Roman, in chapter 5. He also addresses set design as an art form in his description of the three types of scenes (tragic, comic, satyric), later elaborated on by Sebastiano Serlio. Vitruvius speaks to set design as a practice with his discussion of public events and their physical arrangements, basic construction technologies, and the practice of paint and color mixing. In contrast, Invisible Cities seems to be scenography itself. It is not interested in telling a discrete linear story but rather in creating a world of memory and imagination. It is poetic and dreamlike, and purposefully challenges time and space. Its atmosphere is built through the mind and experience of the author and reader in a performer/audience exchange that seems to reverse itself many times throughout the text. Like good scenography, it is an example of the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” axiom.

Taken together, these texts are a powerful combination. They remind me that a set designer is responsible for both poetry and practice. He/she/they must construct and arrange physical things in ways that address human bodies and the human spirit. Other important themes: collaboration, cultural borrowing, cultural marauding, cultural plagiarism, “jack of all trades, master of none,” creativity, science, imagination, East/West, time, Empire building, magical realism. Does water have a plane or spheroidal surface? (Vitruvius: we don’t know for sure, so here’s what to do . . ; Calvino: yes.)

These texts seem so important in relation to scenography that I plan to revisit each one individually during the upcoming year. I consider this post an introduction. — at The Portico Library.

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