Against the remarkable traits of buildings that often make architecture an attempt at creating uniqueness, it’s the ruin that possesses the ubiquitously transforming quality of turning everything around you into the same. I was walking through ruins. Wall fragments carried my sight through immutable layers of history of something made sublime by its absence. Somehow, I kept repeating in my head these lines by Borges:
From the past we keep some names that language tends to forget.
Mysteriously taking material form around me.
The ground crumbled under my feet. Dust particles defied the laws of gravity in their relentless and chaotic ascent. From within exposed masonry and curved metal bars I saw a building that was left untouched. A bearded man welcomed me in. He had a deep, serious look. His clothes were stained with paint, although around us everything seemed neat and organized. It looked like he lived alone, but was somehow not surprised to see me.
He led me down a long corridor. After taking a left turn we entered a studio. The room was lit with sunlight falling from a slit on the ceiling, washing its naked concrete walls, exacerbating the austerity of living in lack of excess.
I will show you what you came looking for—he said with emanating calm in an accent from another time.
Left without an option, I confusedly accepted.
After taking some slow, thoughtful steps, he pointed at two rags of fabric attached to the wall with delicate, thin nails. Worn down and stained by time, each cloth displayed a simple geometric shape. The irregularity of their edges disclosed a sense of urgency in their creation. Visible cracks revealed the eminent dissipating elasticity of old pigment. Both pieces, one displaying a black square, the other a white vertical rectangle were radically neutral, unadorned.
You must have come looking for answers—he claimed.
I didn’t offer any response and he continued:
Time ago I created two images of a desert, each one with a single geometric form. Misinterpreted and misread, each one of these paintings led a vision of the world with a particular philosophy. Full legions of followers believed they have deciphered the meaning of these works. They believed in their metaphysical presence. In their latent promises.
But—he added, a work of art is nothing if it doesn’t fulfil its role of autonomy. There could be no exactitude in the meaning of a work of art. There is no other certainty than the truth of what the work of art is by and for itself.
The light of the works, they claimed, led them to build entire societies, villages, and towns, buildings and cities.
Obliged, I intervened:
Are there still remnants of these societies?
He nodded without uttering a word, staring blankly to the wall, the paintings now looking more intriguing than before.
What happened to the buildings? To the people?
Driven by blinding excitement, people built two monuments, or rather, lived their lives as dynamic monuments to each one of these pieces. For the black square, they created a monolith out of the blackest stone. Of unprecedented size, the structure was as tall, as was wide at its base. All life in the villages and towns turned around the Black Cube.
People spent great part of their lives building and mantaining the Black Cube. Aways dressed in black of the darkest hue, they lived to admire and defend it. To justify its importance they created schools based on its philosophical teachings. Education was devised to explain through diverse forms of science and philosophy the ideas behind the Black Cube.
To protect it they created an army of like-minded people in adoration of the Black Cube. What is a society without defending its doctrines? Artists paid tributes in all the forms to the Black Cube. What is a society where art doesn’t represent the philosophy of its people? People lived for the Black Cube. Art was meant to represent the Black Cube.
And what about the White rectangle? I interjected.
Following dogmatic tradition, those left out by the doctrines of the Black Cube, decided to create their own parallel society. The white rectangle was the icon of a life of transparency. They built a tall, slender tower of glimmering glass façade. Around it, people dressed in white. Their visual interest in the glass tower was manifested in things you can see through.
In this society privacy was forbidden. Education and philosophy was based in a concept of complete revelation. Its army would do anything to defend this transparency, to fight the values the Black Cube represented.
Like the Black Cube—he added, the White Tower was an image that defined the aesthetic concepts of societal life. It was the base of the language people used to communicate with each other. Life existed because of the White Tower—or the Black Cube, to learn from them, respect them and fight for them.
Language—he said— is nothing but a decipherable set of images. To control the image of life is to define life. The leaders of the Black Cube and the White Tower understood the power of image, but underestimated their effects on the mental state of people. Aesthetics is a device where concepts are portrayed as the sublime manifestation of truth. Through these concepts, their meaning in relation to other concepts you can control the image of life and therefore the lives of people.
Disagreement ensued as each society channelled every scientific development, every ideological cornerstone into discrediting the opposite worldview. It was a matter of time—he added to my silent stare.
Speechless, I walked behind him back into the ruins, leaving the house behind. My mind it’s still fixed on the two paintings, and in the nothingness they tried to portray.