Orders and Fascinations

The Absence of a Permanent I
Essay on the artistic practice of Gauthier Oushoorn
Published by Lyre Press
ISBN: 9789082465501


Orders and Fascinations
Part I: From Drawing to Sculpture

‘’ ‘ He commanded that its (the city’s) outline be drawn in ashes. He then proceeded to enter through each gate and to walk among its walls, its arcades, and its courtyards, all of which were outlined in ashes… Having done that, he ordered cotton seeds placed on this outline and oil be poured on it. Then he watched as the fire flared up, seeing the city as a whole and recognising its full plan.’

According to the legend, this is how the Abbasid caliph Al- Mansur founded the city of Baghdad in 762 AD. After the fire had risen he is said to have walked through the flames into his future palace in the middle of the circular city, to get a grasp of the space. The description speaks of the tremendous power of imagination; the idea has an elegant simplicity that gives an immediate impression. A city that is conceived on the ground before it is built, by the simple means of drawing that becomes a sculpture of flames remains after thousand two hundred years a stunning performance to imagine. Yet Al-Mansur’s trust in the process of drawing and his need to understand his city before the first stone was even placed, explain his method. It is an outrageous approach, but it is also very practical, for the flames are simply the quickest way for making the walls rise. In fact, the act of marking the outlines of an edifice on the very ground where it will later come to stand is historically quite a common method, used by many architects. In the first century B.C. Vitruvius described this method in his book ‘De Architectura’ as ‘ichnographia,’ ‘ichno’ meaning the ‘trace’ in Greek. One thousand five hundred years later the Renaissance architect Leon Battista Alberti noted in ‘De Re Aedificatoria' that the practice of outlining a building or a city on the ground with plaster or dust was still common practice. These markings on the ground were complimented by a few architectural drawings on paper, which some historians also termed ichnography. However, the intimacy between physicality and drawing indicates the close relationship between the plot and the drawn plan. Another Renaissance architect, Cesare Cesariano reflected on ichnography by comparing the architect walking the legs of the compass on paper to the architect physically walking through the plan on-site.

The practice of outlining architecture on the ground was also involved in specific rites, as in the town of Pharos, founded by Alexander the Great on an island in the River Nile. The emperor had ordered the outlines of the town as well as the light tower to be drawn with flour on the ground so that soothsayers could foretell the town’s future: if birds were attracted to the edible plan thus distributed, the city would flourish, with many primary resources. In such stories there is a quality that underlines the ritual signification of imagination, making and building. But what makes the legend of Al-Mansur all the more remarkable is the direct step he takes beyond drawing into the third dimension: the drawing becomes a sculpture on the spot and then disappears as soon as the flames rise.

Like many sculptors, Gauthier Oushoorn also works with drawings in preparation for his three dimensional work. But in two recent works from 2015, drawing obtained another role in his practice. In these interventions called Space Filling Patterns and Dome respectively, drawings became sculptures as a consequence of how they were executed. Few drawings on paper preceded these works, which he bases on ‘The Sense of Unity’ by Nader Ardalan and Laleh Bakhtiar, a book consisting of analytic explorations of the Sufi tradition in Islamic building history… ‘’