Jimenez Lai in response to G. Exhcanged October 15th, 2013G: For your writing technique, you have chosen the architecture parable as the method for the dissemination of your ideas on architecture rather than the traditional model of the essay/ treatise. This idea of conveying the architectural morals of the author into the short story is part of a rich history dating back to Laugier and into the twentieth century with the parables of Loos. What advantages have you found in the use of narrative as a construct into which architectural ideas and commentary are embedded? JL: The significance of theory is extremely important in the production of discourse. However, theory is not fact – it is a very well articulated expert opinion on a subject matter. The word I would like to emphasize here is opinion–not dogmatic, not factual–but a very thoughtful opinion. In other words, the material of language that theory operates around is a subjective voice. The representation of the subjective voice can take many forms, but in my earlier years I took on storytelling because I saw it as the skeletal work that an amateur as myself (at the time) could begin to build my thoughts upon. G: As an architect whose reputation has been built just as much upon the intersection between narrative and illustration as on built work, how does an idea develop? What is the relationship between narrative and the physical artifact during the creative process?
Which comes first? Similarly, at a more focused scale, do the words come before the images or vice versa?
JL: I am a believer of spirit of the times, and I am not a subscriber of intuition. In other words, it is my opinion that ideas do not come from thin air – it is an accumulative archive that informs a reflexive action towards the construction of cultural affairs. Now, this work is very difficult, as it requires an ongoing diligence in the practice of remaining inquisitive as well as digesting the consumed matters. In a round about way, I am trying to express that this thought process is very fluid (built work, drawings, text, so forth), but the core of its embankments always circles around the range of thoughts that exist in the universe of the intelligence that this world seem to evidence.
G: In Citizens of No Place, the stories appear to take place in a hypothetical future with a degree of independence from the real world. What is your work’s relationship with reality? In what ways are the time, settings, and characters of these stories grounded in reality?
JL: My relationship with reality is an affinity towards plurality. In some ways, I do not think my work is futuristic—I think my work attempts to construct the alternate realities that allow myself the freedom and space to reflect upon our current realities. Perhaps a revisit to the etymology of the word utopia is very useful here.
I am (and have always been) talking about utopia—but not the misconceived meaning of ideal place, but rather its Greek root no place—an alternate reality that alleviates pressures of obligatory assignments, and frees our minds to wander into possible wonders that our current reality can find joy and satisfaction in.
G: I have always been impressed with graphic novel artist’s ability and freedom to construct the full environment around the events, moods, and atmospheres of a specific narrative. This is a freedom granted by the medium that architects typically do not have. As someone who works in between these two mediums, how do you control the creation of your own site? What are the limits you placed upon yourself in the creation of these worlds? As an architect is there an obligation to maintain a degree of reality? As a graphic novelist is there a certain disconnect necessary to uphold the format?
JL: To engage this thought, I would first proclaim that I am first and foremost interested in buildings, and this is why I signed up for this profession. The byproduct of the graphic novel was a relationship I wanted to form with my predecessors I looked up to, as the practice of paper architecture (often in the form of drawing) frequently took an earlier arrival than that actual built works. While I very much appreciate the observation of the environments I was trying to construct, I feel a lack of satisfaction in the reality that paper space offers.
It is also interesting you referred to this medium as a site – I resonate with this thought. If No Place is a site, it is a city that one might find the lingering warmth a fire that philosophy and sociology once roared rampant. It is a place where a qualitative act always is valued more than quantitative proliferation.
G: In the Citizens of No Place universe, the characters exist in a subjective relationship to the protagonism of the architecture that surrounds them. In this universe, architecture’s ability to affect the occupants that interact with it is magnified and made explicit. Is this done as a hypothesis that architecture is indeed fully capable of these effects in our actual world, or as a device that promotes the conversations between the characters within the stories that always appear to be hyper-aware of their spatial surroundings?
JL: The Citizens of No Place universe featured a few recurring characters that had distinct personalities – varying degrees of angst, foolishness, zeal – and perhaps this was a personal work I was working through. I don’t know that if the architecture of Citizens of No Place offered a space to stage such players, and perhaps in the next installment of this work I might be more attuned to the inner-workings of it.
G: An important part in the construction of fiction is the role of the narrator. How do you use the tool of narration and omniscient voices within your stories? Where do you put your own voice in relationship to these contexts and characters?
Specific for the medium where there are three main ways to deliver text, what goes into the decision of process of when to use a caption box, speech, or thought bubble? Who is speaking in each?
JL: I suppose I am the one speaking in all these stories – but I am also speaking through my journalisms of my peers. In addition to that, as a fan of movies and manga, I do try to find a way to produce rhythm, tone and mood. There were times I wanted to construct a sense of absurdity, and other times I went over-the-top with darkness. But it would have been more of a reflection of my life then – I am a much more optimistic person today.
G: In the preface to the book, you discuss the composition of the page as the actual object you are designing. What lessons have you learned from the using of the page as site that have become manifest in your later, physical work?
JL: As a fan of the Rolex Learning Center, Toledo Glass Museum, and Moriyama House, I see the loose-fit-plan as a very strong urge that I want to satisfy. The values I learned from composing comic book pages have been instrumental in better understanding proportions, directionality, and pace. The superfurniture series is a direct result of all of this exploration, in plan. My upcoming endeavors for the Taiwan Pavilion at the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale would be an extension of this thought.