Architecture depends on its time. It is the crystallization of its inner structure, the slow unfolding of its form.
– Mies van der Rohe
‚The Plastic Number‘ is an installation model, a maquette that can be applied a priori to any exhibition space, regardless of its functional designation. In this manner, the site in which this model reveals itself becomes a space that actively engages the place and its users in thinking about how this site can be instilled with this model. Herein lies the social nature of ‚The Plastic Number‘: museum personnel and visitors can make use of the space. That usage can be performed simultaneously and in contradictory ways: relaxing, social, cultural, critical, functional, political and perhaps even religious. Hence, Van den Berghe and Shlyk have designed an artificial space that can open up our perception of reality.
The plastic number refers to a mathematical formula discovered by the monk and architect Dom Hans van der Laan. This formula served as a basis on which he could elaborate his notion of archetypical architecture. This ‘archetype’ by no means involves archaic architecture, but was influenced by modern primitivism. The monk was seeking an architecture that was grounded in its own original essence: to offer man a place within nature. Could utopian and escapist ways of thinking not be categorised within the same movement, but in opposite directions? And if one were to ignore a single piece of knowledge, would this imply an unconditional belief in the fiction of the knowledge that one does recognise? In ‘The Plastic Number’ the boundaries between fiction and reality become fluid.
Upon entering the space, one notices that most of the walls have been covered with images taken from inside recognizable places, some of which include the gardens of an exotic resort, an abbey and the Barcelona pavilion. These photographic images have been laid out to create an optical illusion, turning the walls into spaces.
Not only do the images defy the notion of space, but the pictures themselves are also fictional. For example, regarding the architecture of the abbey, it would be tempting to look at these images as photographic representations of Dom Hans van der Laan’s architecture: as photographs that have been digitally edited. But the reality of the photos would only be undermined by uncovering these manipulations. The artists are taking things further. These photographs are based on images of the architecture of Dom Hans van der Laan that the artists have found on the internet. The virtual space that is subsequently created, has been tailored to fit the existing exhibition architecture. In this sense, photography becomes a fictional construction of reality. This construction can be taken quite literally: a construction as an architectural structure.
Besides the „wallpaper“, there are some spatial elements that are immediately visible upon entering ‘The Plastic Number’. One example would be the lounge chair accompanied by a typical „office water cooler“. Furthermore, there is a soundscape. Followed by long periods of silence: baby sounds, crackling fire, bubbling water and occasionally the refreshing sound of a can of beer or soda being opened can be heard. The total duration of the soundscape is approximately one hour. The space is even infused with perfume. The sum of all these elements results in a photographic architecture that is truly spacious.
With the crackling noise of a can of beer being opened, in addition to the jacuzzi sounds and the presence of the lounge chair, one suddenly appears to be relaxing on the beach in a jacuzzi, enjoying a fresh brew. One could hardly even imagine anyone not wanting to be here. Through introducing an object such as a lounge chair in the space, the limits between the artistic and the functional space become fluid. Moreover, if the boundaries between the resort‘s image and ‚The Plastic Number‘ become fluid, the visitor end up in a space that possesses the characteristics of different spatial elements which usually remain strictly separated. Would the trompe l‘oeils not be cheating us after all?