(Excerpt from the The Air is Blue, Hans Ulrich Obrist, editor. Trilce Editions, Mexico City, 2006)
The viewer enters a high-ceilinged, rectangular room with one of the walls painted a warm red. A large black and white photograph hangs on this wall. It is an image of the roof-patio of the Casa Barragán; a copy of the famous photograph by Armando Salas Portugal (this copy commissioned from architectural photographer Jorge del Olmo.)
Stephen Holl starts his essay Barragán in Black and White (page ____) by separating colour from the other notable characteristics of Barragán’s work, such as space, geometry, texture, etc. He goes on to describe a recent cultural disintegration between the retinal and the corporeal experience of architecture, where the dominance of visual thinking has dulled “what the body feels moving through space.”
The installation El Muro Rojo experiments with this same opposition of the retinal and the corporeal in the controlled context of the museum. Similar to Holl’s formula in which “we subtract colour” to be left with space, proportion, etc., the black and white photograph of El Muro Rojo drains colour from Barragán’s architecture. This is a purely tonal representation many will be familiar with from period reproductions of Salas Portugal’s photographs.
The most conspicuous element of El Muro Rojo is the huge red wall. The large coloured plane was one of the characteristics of the “emotional architecture” promoted by Barragán, because architectural colour has optical and spatial properties which go beyond the purely retinal. Due to what Moholy Nagy referred to as colour’s potential for “sculpting space” it can change both the apparent physical and emotional qualities of architectural space.
By juxtaposing the black and white photograph and the coloured wall, El Muro Rojo recombines two distinct experiences: the retinal and the corporeal; the analytical and the emotional. The installation artificially generates some of the experience Holl describes as “what resonates… what the foot and hand feels” while moving through the spaces of Barragán’s architecture.