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Aims and Research Design

An ephemeral installation in a regionalist mode, as exhibited in the Pasar Gambir (Jakarta Fair) in 1937 and depicted in the Dutch Indian journal D'Orient in the same year (Source: National Library Jakarta)

Style as a Dynamic Process

If styles in architecture are materialisations of (a) political, social and cultural attitude(s), then they can, as de-materialized ideas, notions and aesthetic concepts (material memories), travel between or be translated in transcultural/global space and time configurations such as colonialism (material memories on the move), before they re-materialize as hybrid, ephemeral or permanent physical manifestations. The challenging aspect of this project is to analyse architectural styles not only (a usual in classical art history) as a finalized material and static end products but to conceptionalise them as a processual practice. Formation processes of colonial styles range from an immaterial status (theoretical and aesthetical appreciation in/through orientalism, nostalgia, exotic desire, alterity and memory) to semi-material pre-configurations (travel and pattern books, architectural drawings, buildings surveys, stylistic treaties, politically motivated construction programs, buildings norms, drawing standards, curricula in architecture schools, conference declarations on colonial urbanism and architecture etc.) and partial/ephemeral re-materialisations (architectural pieces re-made by ‘traditional’ craftsmen for exhibitions, plaster casts, pavilions and staged village architecture during world and colonial exhibitions etc.) to fully materialized architecture (urbanism, colonial-/traditional-styled architecture).

Style as Agency

Processual practice involves agency which is often ignored in purely formal style analysis. On the way from immaterial status complete materialisation, architectural styles are (even more so in colonial power relations) imagined, re-invented, translated, negotiated, designed, mediated, sanctioned, normalised and executed by institutions (politics, art schools, public work divisions, research institutes, museums and exhibitions, conferences, amateur societies etc.) and individual agents and cultural brokers (like travel reporters, photographers, art historians, archaeologists, architect, art school teachers) who bridge, link or mediate styles in cultural spheres between the metropole and the colony and between centres and peripheries inside the metropole and the colony.

Style as an Ensemble of Representations in Different Media: the Picturesque Theory

In order map the wide variety of media involved in the different stages of the formation process of the colonial style in both colonial and the metropolitan settings, and merge and compare them in stylistic units, we intend to make use of the “ensemble of aesthetical concepts and techniques” (Macarthur 2007:2) of the image- and sequence oriented method of the ‘picturesque’. With its ‘screen-shot’-like picture productions of three-dimensional realities and emphasis on scene-like qualities and atmospheric perspectives, the picturesque can be paralleled with the formation process of collective memories (eventually on the move) as normative frames (Halbwachs 1925) in colonial contexts. After Vasari calling pittoresco in the 16th c. a quality in painting, the term simultaneously migrated from England (picturesque), France (pittoresque) and Germany/Holland (pittoresk) and into their colonies. The picturesque theory was consolidated around 1800 in the English context of the refusal of geometrical layout in artistic gardening and investigated possibilities of the pictorial vision/reception of nature as selectively framed sequences during the movement of an individual subject in a ‘cultural landscape’. It migrated into other art forms like urbanism and architecture where it was important in the discourse and creation of regionalistic styles in the metropole and colony alike. Therefore, the ‘picturesque code as a currency’ in West-East import/export relation (Orestano 2008) qualifies perfectly as tool for our transcultural approach.