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On the Speed of the Construction and How a Descending Bridge Falls over You
(Over de snelheid van de montage en hoe een neerkomende brug over je heen valt)

published by Gerrit Rietveld Academie and Tijdschrift Terras (2011)

On the Speed of the Construction
and How a Descending Bridge Falls Over You

In one of his essays, Oliver Sacks writes about a man who, after having been blind for 45
years, was able to see again due to an operation. Technically his eyes worked perfectly
now; but his brain couldn’t process the continuous influx of images. Space, light and
darkness, shapes and colors tumbled over one another into a messy heap—he couldn’t
assign meaning to any of it. A dog curled up in its basket and the same dog turning
were two different dogs. He didn’t know this melting of a two-dimensional plane into a
three-dimensional image. Nothing would click together; every perception entered his
head as a separate entity. The speed of the construction lagged behind the speed of the
incoming images causing a short-circuit. His brain gave up--he turned blind again.
Every morning you wake up to a world you once learned to see. Everything knows its
place--an immediate whole.

A baby sees the world as a mush of shapes and colors. By connecting experience to a
loose fragment in this mush - a smell, a word that’s being repeated - a shape is freed
from the whole. A visual memory has come to life. The following years all forms slowly
separate themselves from each other in the same manner, until a new whole has been
created. It’s a circle: to experience the whole, you have to see everything separately first.
You’re waiting to cross an open bridge. Normally the bridge is a carrier. The day takes
its course. When a ship lies waiting this situation changes. The traffic towards the
bridge falls silent. Engines are turned off; the pavement breaks free and rises up against
the sky. Behind everything that moves – an orange blinking light, the mast of the ship
sailing through the shaft – the bridge, a big black surface, towers over everything.
When the ship has passed, the pavement slowly lowers itself. Its shadow stretches itself;
the descending bridge falls all over you, and then connects with the horizontal line. The
foreground retreats to the background, the obstacle is a carrier again. The day resumes
its course.

Every image is an accumulation of surfaces that seamlessly merge into a whole. Only
when a bridge is open, it disconnects. Facades are outlined planes; next to which a tree
waves its own outline against a backdrop limited by the peripheries of your sight. This
is how a city unfolds. The planes that form an image change with the speed you move
with. Lines dissect differently every time; the subject keeps shifting. A square is an
embraced space; a stadium an oval that inverts this embrace. A statue forces the
surrounding space to recede because it draws all the sightlines to itself. A cord hanging
loosely between two poles determines the difference between entrance and exclusion.
Flowers should be arranged from a shared midpoint.

In linguistics, ‘shifter’ is a term applied to the hollow words in a sentence that mean
nothing until they are associated with something or someone. Here, yesterday and
tomorrow are shifters. Tomorrow by itself doesn’t say anything in particular. Here is
always somewhere else.

You got used to ignoring the shifter. It is submissive. It pushes the attention to the
subject of the sentence and encircles the message.
Lines, edges, corners and movements – they are all shifters. They are taken up into the
construction of the image. You overlook them until all of a sudden the subject that is
encircled by them reveals the shifters. A ship that navigates through the opened quay
illuminates the vertical bridge. For an instant the shape is torn from the whole. Sunk
into the road again, the bridge goes unnoticed, like the tiles in the sidewalk, a curve in
the road, a yellow coat that enters your sight. The parts interlock like bricks. Every
time they establish different meanings. Every second they pave a space for something
to take place.

When a cruise ship enters the city and you, the viewer from the dock, stay at the same
spot, an event starts to happen. The tip of the bow slides into your image. With the
entrance of the ship, a surface rises. Depth becomes shallow; a wall looms; momentarily
the event changes into a place.

For the blind man who could see again, no event ever took place. He didn’t have enough
information to see the world. A dog kept falling apart into ears, paws and a wagging
tail. The man couldn’t discover a constant; the loose parts didn’t meet in one place. He
never arrived anywhere.

Not that people who do see arrive anywhere. The place that came into being with the
arrival of the cruise ship remains in continuous motion. The cabins keep moving ahead.
Cars pass behind your back. Gulls carry branches in their beaks. The parts are
assembled in a different way every time. Loose pieces float to your retina, which reflects
them as one image - a place takes shape. But here is a shifter that is always being
constructed somewhere else. Here is an accumulation of different bricks: a corner, an
edge, a yellow coat entering your sight. Here is only a place when you close your eyes.