I started with what was the oldest recon choice and, ever since then, a big question mark has been hovering above the work – how does Piranesi remain relevant today and, most importantly, why through looking at the relationship between the fake and the fact?
Piranesi’s work is embedded with a degree of narrative, of movement, it almost scripts out the passing through space. Perhaps this comes from his set-design background and is certainly the reason why most of his readers are themselves fiction makers – from the literary, with Poe, to the cinematic, with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or Bladerunner.
Piranesi’s forgeries, his unclassifiable fake antique artefacts, were the physical manifestation of paraphernalia that he populated his partially fictitious renderings of ancient Rome. He attempts a 1700s response to authentic documentation of his pathological obsession with excavation – one embedded with his own authorship and interpretation. Here, an inadvertent accident happens – today’s readers believe in the authenticity of the excavation etching, the factual accuracy of the plan. Thus, these fictitious moments of an imagined ancient Rome are misread as real, including for many, the fiction of Campo Marzio. The two later Carceri additions, finished at the same time as the Campo Marzio series, open towards an imagined ancient Rome. Piranesi almost anchors his Carceri by the means of these wormholes looking into a fictionalised version of a space – from fake temples to a fake St. Peters. In other words, we misread Piranesi’s fiction as real through forgeries.
In the case of Piranesi, it is the way that we read the project, through these forgeries, that accidentally builds a very material alternate fiction in our minds, much in the way that we purpousfuly read the Unbuilt projects of today. I’ll return for a second to the recon example timeline, which start with a very early Piranesi, almost immediately jump into the early 20th century and abruptly stop in the 1970. The reason for this abrupt stop rests, I believe, in the medium. In the past decade we have again started to read the Unbuilt through forgeries, much like we misread Piranesi’s body of work. We live in a world that functions on the copy-paste, a world in which we so often find ourselves asking “Is it real?”. Fakes create alternate fictions within our very lives every day, from boob jobs to CGI to fake architecture in China to photoshopped images that we are inundated with online. This cornucopia of fakes has made us both incredibly accepting of it but also more attune to the fake itself – we are aware that anything we see could be a fake. The way that the Unbuilt is represented today has become, consequently, almost the selling of a fiction through a series of constructed fake paraphernalia, much as I have been doing during my recon, with the artefacts that support the fiction of the excavation of the Carceri. The line that separates the photograph of the built from the render of the Unbuilt has dissolved to such a degree that it almost always requires a double-take. The weightlessness and immediateness of the fake appeal to the digital reader. The fictions of today’s Unbuilt require forged paraphernalia to support its existence.
We have almost come full cycle, from Piranesi’s 1700s to 2013. We started off with misreading Piranesi’s fiction as reality and arrived to the necessity of reading today’s unbuilt through a similar process, only this time on purpose. We have an inherit wish to believe, to emerge ourselves in these alternate realities of Unbuilt. Here lies the paradox of the digital reader – the more he is saturated with fakes, the more he wishes to believe in them.