Our ever-growing collections of information and objects can lead to thoroughly modern crises that echo the past. Commentary by Momus.
I’ve been thinking about the parallel between object storage and information storage — apartments and computers — ever since visiting an interesting exhibition at London’s Barbican last month.
Future City looks at experiment and utopia in architecture over the last 50 years. I was particularly impressed by a quote from Japanese metabolist architect Kiyonori Kikutake. “A Japanese room is determined by information,” Kikutake was quoted as saying, “whereas a Western room relies on objects.”
I thought immediately of Kyoichi Tsuzuki’s photographs of Tokyo apartments. These tiny places (I lived in one myself for a year) tend to consist of an empty living space — typically a tatami-covered floor — surrounded by densely packed information-storage systems.
The information “saved” to these spaces might be clothes, records, knickknacks, magazines, toys — the obsessively collected, meticulously arranged, somewhat pointless “hard copy” of countless shopping trips. The tatami-and-futon floor space, meanwhile, is where processing happens.
There, the room’s occupant does his living, eating, loving, sleeping, thinking. This is the room’s RAM, its processor, where the present moment is all. Here the timeline of human attention scans through a book, a manga, a magazine or website, one page at a time.
Never one to pass up an opportunity to think of my lifestyle as Japanese rather than Western, I decided there and then to create a “Japanese” apartment in Berlin, a place devoted to information and the storage of information. My new apartment, after all, was on the small side. I’d have to resort to Japanese tricks and a Japanese sensibility to make it work. I had in mind not just Tsuzuki’s photographs of stashed Tokyo pads, but also a lovely book I have (it’s in a box somewhere) of photographs of Japanese writers’ rooms.
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