Benjamin Menschel Fellowship: Cooper Union
Kelsey Mitchell (A'18) and Natalia Oliveri (Arch'19)

Given to a select seven people each year, the Benjamin Menschel
Fellowship at the Cooper Union is a grant which invites and funds
a proposed project that incorporates the interdisciplinary nature of
Cooper. To receive the grant, an individual or a group must submit
a proposal and then have an interview with faculty and administration
from all three schools at Cooper, at which the applicants present and
pitch their project to receive the grant. The fellowship is completed
over the summer hiatus, with an exhibition in January.

I am completing the Menschel Fellowship with an architecture student,
our show will be in January 2018. Our proposal took us to Florence
and Siena in Italy, as sites for medieval civic and religious
performance. Our proposal is as follows (the abbreviated version):
 

Our proposed environment is a space in which medieval imagery, symbol,
and two-dimensional aesthetics intersect with the sensorial space of
immersion and four-dimensional experience. The proposal's goal is to
combine the devotional and experiential sentiments and urges of the
medieval world with the modern inclination to access virtual worlds
through multimedia. With the use of immersion spaces, projections, and
two-dimensional prints to explain in a modern lense, the symbology and
fantastical narratives of the medieval world. The show will focus on
the architecture/symbology of a medieval tower in relation to the altar
and apse of a cathedral and will also feature a selection of
ceilings as artworks.

 

Proposal Excerpt
The Mystic Abyss: Windows of Medieval Miniatures and Monumental Operatic Stage Design

The delineation of space in an operatic setting—the stage, the
orchestra, and the liminal area between audience and performance,
“the mystic abyss” according to Wagner—demonstrates the same space
the medieval margin of manuscripts establishes,  a threshold between
Divine and Earthly space formally and spiritually. The illustrated
illumination holds the Divine, the condition in which the spiritual
world can be contained, never to be fully accessed by an earthly
spectator. The quality of being completely immersed in this separate
realm in manuscripts is comparable to the separation of stage and
audience present in an opera.

In practice here at the Cooper Union, we are mutually fascinated by
the idea of the frame and how it affects the line of sight in our
work as graphic designer and architect. We arrived at this proposal
after recognizing the link between several Medieval art courses taken
during previous semesters, and the opera course we are currently
enrolled in. This proposal is rooted in the idea of collaboration.
Through the examination of two scales of representation, we would be
able to design and articulate new modes of perception through the
manipulation of these historical images and traditions. We are proposing
a comparison of how the images illustrated in illuminated manuscripts,
(and a selection of panel paintings), provide a view into a system of
intangible world-building which was then adapted and enhanced further
into the fourth dimension by operatic set design through the introduction
of advanced perspective.

An active analysis of Siena becomes essential in this comparison. The
city is rich in its medieval history, becoming a cosmopolitan center
because of its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea. It is because of this
rapid cultural growth during the early Renaissance that the oblique style
of drawing in medieval manuscripts transitions to a more advanced form of
perspectival investigation through devices used in operatic theater. We
believe that the relationship between the illuminated page and the operatic
set lies in the element of visceral theatricality; they are stages for
observation, operating through the miniature and monumental scale.

We begin to explore the question of authorship, and whether it rests
purely in the ambiguous creators of biblical and mythical stories or in
a certain renewal of narratives. We are a graphic designer and an architect.
Considering these roles in a parallel context, there is the implication
that these forms of representation require a collaboration between practices,
and consequently the involvement of more than one ‘author’ to create a
complete work. The same relationship applies to the creation of the
illuminated manuscript and the opera. We believe a collaboration between
the schools of art and architecture will give us the ability to explore
this sense of fluidity in authorship which is essential to the
manipulation of space.