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What is space?


In the context of sound scenography, space is everything we can perceive with our senses to make sense of our environment. Space is the relationship between the things we can touch, see, hear, smell. Based on this phenomenological perspective, space is not the container, but that which constitutes it. As the 13th century Zen Master Dogen said: “To put the matter in broader terms, the universe has no gaps to put “space” into.” (Dōgen, On The Unbounded (Kokū), Shōbōgenzō).

Space is objective. As physical environment, space exists regardless of someone being actually present in it. Its physical characteristics can be measured with various methods. In this sense, space is objective. But as such, we are not capable of experience space itself because we can perceive only a fraction of space directly with our senses at one point in time. Over the course of a time period, we construct space in our mind by moving through it, by taking different perspectives. When we get to know a space, we create a deeper understanding of it. But our understanding of a space will always be subjective, and incomplete. Rather than space being directly exposed to our senses, we construct an individual representation of it in our mind through experience[1]. Despite being something very objective and concrete, space remains a subjective and abstract idea.

To distinguish between the abstract thing space and that what we individually construct in our mind, another concept is required: place. As the human geographer Yi-Fu Tuan said: “Place is a center of meaning constructed by experience”.[2]By moving our body, and by applying our existing knowledge about the world, we build an understanding of where we are, and of the relationships between us and the objects and subjects around us. We look, we see, we touch, we smell, we feel: When we explore space to make sense of it, to interpret it, to get to know it, then we experience space. Through experience, we make a place out of space. A place often is just a part of a space. In fact, we can experience different places in one space. A space is an invitation to be explored, and when we follow that invitation, we build a mental map of a that space. And we also build an understanding of the potential for exploring the parts of a space we don’t know yet

[1] “Place is created by human beings for human purposes. Every row of trees or of houses originally existed as an idea, which was then made into tangible reality. A building, a park, or a street corner does not, however, remain a place simply because it is tangible reality and was originally design das a place. To remain a place it has to be lived in. This is a platitude unless we examine what „lived in“ means. To live in a place is to experience it, to be aware of it in the bones as well as with the head. Place, at all scales from the armchair to the nation, is a construct of experience; it is sustained not only by timber, concrete, and highways, but also by the quality of human awareness.” (Tuan, 1975, p. 165)
[2] Human geographer Yi-Fu Tuan in Place, An Experiential Perspective, Geographical Review, Vol. 65, No. 2 (April 1975), pp. 152