Essay
Body : Wall
Nithya Iyer
Nithya Iyer, Archways Echo, 2018, Collage.

How to tell you that I understand that you are no one, and yet I feel you there? You are the absence/presence, companioning my street/lane/sidewalk paces. Upon your face at dawn and dusk, and sunlit afternoon I turn my shape over, arranging and rearranging my choreographies upon the outline of negative spaces cast upon you, as you tell me something of what I am among this quiet reflection.

Through my window on the ninth floor I see 27 of your faces across 14 buildings, living expanses refracting light and shade, distorted and constructed image, carving out the non-matter of this city for me to peer upon from my lofty perch so I can exhale and know something of the harmonics and discontinuities of this place. The cumulative partitioning and bordering you govern achieving this precise intersection of space1 within which I locate.



Simultaneously, the space of me is configured by you. My gaze, movement, and being, engaged in an indefinite series of discontinuous acts2, is entrained by your linear orchestrations. I am encased in a binary solitude, the chaos of my body-lines held by you, before an industrial window, upon a linoleum floor, and within four painted cement walls.


Of course, I should say, what more could we have done than to build such a thing? That foundational unit of first survival, of protection from, of the familial within, of the mine and yours. And yet you appear an apparition of planar logic, an attempt to reconcile that subject-object of what it is for one to Be against a backdrop of a nothing that Is. You suggest to me a first relativity against which to know my weight and form, my disallowance and order, my beating fists and private temples.

If it is the frame that creates territory from the chaos of the earth3, it is you, the Wall, that we reach for amid the existential crises of living. (‘Build a wall’)


When I land the sidewalk at 2:11pm I enter the median rhythm in swift kinetics. My body against the pavement has pre-negotiated a particular dispositive4, and within a few paces, I am floating on the wave-grid of Flinders Lane, embedded knowledges of stoop-sitters and office workers goading easy adaptations between and among other bodies.

I am the torn-denim-slashie common among such spaces. My characterisation is established in the unfettered direction driven from crest to sub-laneway to barista-head-nod. A patterned sock flashes above the snap of polished business shoe that bypasses me and we, acclimated, are the lane; It is we, subjectified within the aesthetic experience of the lane5 that produce the lane, as do the tourists taking photos, the cup-holders asking for change, the Big Issue sellers hawking, the workers on their coffee break.

And when I assume form, knees wide and semi-squatting on the wooden boxes of that noodle place, I recognise myself through the gazes of the viewers upon me, fulfilling a narrative and locating a temporary identity. A shoulder crooked within the wall-to-low-ceiling nook, chopsticks afloat in action, I become a sub-gesture of the gesture that is that takeaway place in the alley.6


French architect Bernard Tschumi says that architecture is first and foremost a form of knowledge7, but what are these knowledges and where do they land in the spaces between our agentic bodily expression and our ideological narratives of place and identity?

Taking the wall as a first frame, as ‘the basis of our co-existence’8, my experiments lead me through a myriad of embedded socio-political frameworks within my own cognition. The Wall, engaged as a live agent, evokes intimidation in me; an oppressor, an enemy, powerful, merciless. As I move closer, I feel a near-magnetic pull towards its surface, my moving shadow appearing as a reflective Other. It conducts a living privacy and an invitation to introspection; a spatial alone. Its’ cold linearity creates a dialectic with my aliveness. My face rested upon its surface is supported with unwavering solidity, and ‘I can’t help but feel like the division, here, is just me against myself’.9

Yet a world ordered by walls becomes one inevitably ordered by territories. A perpetual series of inside/outsides, transforming the boundless surfaces of the earth into a delimitable space’.10 Such solid and immoveable protrusions redraw our lines of engagement, as we adapt and persist in forging new connections, new social and interpersonal relations.11 Those entrusted with the creation of these architectural protrusions - these actualised narratives - wittingly or unwittingly, govern our compatibility through the stratum of designed proxemics. It is their vision of who and
what we are, in relation to one another and in relation to what has come before us, that suggests the potentialities of our becoming; the spectrums of what we ought to be. We intra-act with the felt senses of allowances and disallowances embedded within these intersections, performing our identities in association with subtle understandings of societal status, permission and visibility.


The question for me becomes, what are the properties of this intra-action upon my life and the stories of humanity in which we are engaged? Where does my identity end and the wall begin?


In this early iteration of my research, I can return only to the knowings that have emerged through my dialogue with the Wall:

I know the shape of my body, form and expressive gesture through its framing upon a neutral screen such as the Wall. As the framing changes with environment and landscape, so too do the meanings of my gestures to myself, and to others.


A relationship exists between the lines of my body and every line that exists and can exist in the world. All perception draws from relativities. The non-linear line of the human body against the linear plane of the wall suggests the first binary of these relativities. 



When I am asked to engage with the Wall, an intimate dialogue begins with myself, extrapolating the innumerable relationships intertwined within my being. (This may be true of every inversed subject/object relationship.)


We are not linear. (This is the trick of walls.)


  1. <p>Thomas Nail, T<em>heory of the Border</em>, 2016, p.48.&#160;<a href="#fnref1:1" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">&#8617;</a></p>
  2. <p>Maurice Merleau-Ponty, <em>Phenomenology of Perception</em>, 1945; 2002: p. 225.&#160;<a href="#fnref1:2" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">&#8617;</a></p>
  3. <p>Elizabeth Grosz, <em>Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth,</em> 2008, p.11.&#160;<a href="#fnref1:3" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">&#8617;</a></p>
  4. <p>Mohd. Shahrudin Abd. Manana, and Chris L. Smith, ‘Beyond Building: Architecture through the human body’, <em>Alam Cipta Volume 5 (1)</em>, Department of Architecture, Faculty of Design and Architecture, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Serdang Selangor, Malaysia, June 2012, p.36.&#160;<a href="#fnref1:4" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">&#8617;</a></p>
  5. <p>Ibid.&#160;<a href="#fnref1:5" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">&#8617;</a></p>
  6. <p>Ibid.&#160;<a href="#fnref1:6" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">&#8617;</a></p>
  7. <p>Bernard Tschumi, ‘Red is Not a Colour’ lecture, <em>AA School of Architecture</em>, 2013.&#160;<a href="#fnref1:7" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">&#8617;</a></p>
  8. <p>Bernard Cache, <em>Earth Moves: The Furnishing of Territories</em>, 1995, p.23.&#160;<a href="#fnref1:8" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">&#8617;</a></p>
  9. <p>Nithya Iyer, <em>Live Recording -Wall Interaction</em>, 12 August 2018.&#160;<a href="#fnref1:9" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">&#8617;</a></p>
  10. <p>Elizabeth Grosz, <em>Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth</em>, 2008, p.13.&#160;<a href="#fnref1:10" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">&#8617;</a></p>
  11. <p>Ibid.&#160;<a href="#fnref1:11" rev="footnote" class="footnote-backref">&#8617;</a></p>