Book Review

Res Fictae as Res Factae

Fedja Košir, Architectural Theorist, Author, and Professor at the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Ljubljana

Or Ettlinger explains his intentions in an extremely straightforward manner. He is well-aware that the main and entirely original contribution of his book is the simple fact that what we are reading is probably the first consistent theory of virtual space. It deals with fundamental areas in the theory of art and architecture such as a definition of terms and theory of presentation. Its most interesting accomplishment is that it opens up a multitude of totally new points of view, while at the same time clearing up many misunderstandings. Dr. Ettlinger’s work introduces a systematization of concepts and phenomena concerning the world of images realized as pictures. It considers the very depiction of res fictae – non-existent imaginary spaces – as inevitably resulting in the creation of res factae – that is, seemingly empty (or negative) antitectonic voids, which contain tectonic (or positive) architectural solids, and which hereafter function as reality. In doing so, the author indicates that he is aware that he is touching upon the fundamental philosophical question regarding how real the world in which we think we live actually is. His treatise succeeds wonderfully in its two main objectives: first, to explain what this so-called virtual space is; and second, to provide an overview of the (meta)architectural artistic products that are included in the domains of other visual arts – from painting to motion pictures and digitally rendered visualizations of the tactile environment.

The narrative thread which binds this text into a historiographically logical whole is so skillfully laid down that the reader does not even notice that its course is in fact an overview of the architectural themes which can be considered virtual. The main topic is depicted architecture as the type of architectural production that is normally, though unfairly, neglected or at best overlooked: “…a virtual place in virtual space…” In the author’s opinion, which is undoubtedly correct, the father of virtual space in the illusionistic sense is Leon Battista Alberti, who constructed one of the methods for producing mathematically accurate linear perspective. The list of important contributors to this tool of rendition ends with Maurits Cornelis Escher. Yet this is not the end of the story, but only the beginning of a new chapter, whereupon a wide window opens onto the world of contemporary visualization techniques. The author is a well-informed expert on the newest and latest media: starting with panoramas and continuing with photocollages, paintings à la Feininger or Woods, science fiction graphics and ironic caricatures à la Mordillo, he then goes on to analyze the production of classical films and projection technology à la IMAX, extending into the border areas of commercial videos and video games, TV and holography, and finally VR (‘virtual reality’) and AR (‘augmented reality’).

The book is intended for readers from a broad circle of disciplines. For instance, it deals with the world of motion pictures so intensively that it could belong to the field of film aesthetics just as much as it belongs to that of the aesthetics of architecture. This is precisely the hybrid yet well-calculated interdisciplinary method that is so irresistibly charming and that makes contemporary art research so attractive, since it avoids the dull and often hollow practice of specialization. Such a varied and demanding context requires the terminological precision characteristic of this text. Nevertheless, the author’s language is exceptionally readable. The book is distinguished by its excellent choice of references, both recent and classical, and the selected pictures are positioned very prudently. The overall result is a truly smooth and flowing reading experience for such a weighty intellectual work.