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The 2020-21 pandemic threw many of us into a forced exploration of our domestic interiors. For some, the limited contact with the exterior world provoked a need for a refuge and escape: the recurrence of the interior eventually gave way to our interiorities. Looking for ways to simultaneously materialise and circumvent a spatial, intimate, and spiritual sense of self, this visual essay borrows the sumptuous patterns and textures of the interior in Kitagawa Utamaro’s 1788 erotic print, Lovers in an Upstairs Room (Figure 01). These, cut-out as inspired by the block-printing process, have been layered with my own absolutely mundane, domestic setting.
At the same time, two fragmentary voices, one ekphrastic and one auto-theoretical, mirror the print and the graphic layering, creating a third text by overlapping. These voices host a multiplicity of others: from the mystical classic The Interior Castle, 1577, by the sickly, cloistered, Spanish nun Teresa of Ávila, which describes an ecstatic topography of the soul; to Canadian poet Lisa Robertson’s 2003 ‘Soft Architecture: A Manifesto,’ which calls for softness as a form of resistance; and for description as a mystical practice: ‘Practice description. Description is mystical.’01
Can the crash of voices, cultures, and imagery add up to one particular description? Can this description of one’s interiority at a very specific time build connections between tangible and immaterial, ordinary and extraordinary? Can there be a secular, soft topography of the self, of one’s interior castle, able to resist the advances of a hostile reality?
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Lisa Robertson, ‘Soft Architecture: A Manifesto,’ in Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2011), 20.
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Cristophe Marquet, ‘Estampes Eròtiques,’ in Ukiyo-e, eds. Gisèle Lambert and Jocelyn Bouquillard, trans. Xavier Pàmies (Barcelona: Fundació Caixa Catalunya, 2008), 183.
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Teresa of Ávila, The Interior Castle, trans. E. Allison Peers (Floyd: Sublime Books, 2014), 33.
Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space: The Classic Look at how we experience Intimate Places, trans. Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994), 118.
James Oliveros, ‘Untitled,’ object guide, Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts, accessed January 4, 2021, https://mofa.fsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2018/05/Untitled-by-Jun-Hwa-Chinese-James-Oliveros-Ridley-Thomas.pdf.