Davis' topic was 'sacred space'. I don't recall the entire context of the presentation anymore, but the bottom line was that he was proposing to bring a small group of students from each school to a remote, forested area of British Columbia for six weeks during the summer with the purpose of constructing out of local raw materials a sacred space that the group would define, design and build together.
There was a lot of discourse on the nature of 'sacred' - we had all learned about the sacred/profane dichotomy of Durkheim by then, required reading in 101 - and I remember being completely enthralled by the lecture. I wasn't able to participate in the project due to the cost, however a good friend of mine did go, an architecture student whose true passion was anthropology and agriculture (she later became a landscape architect and now owns her own business out in Seattle). She filled me in on the whole experience, from arriving in the woods, to the meetings over campfire to talk about the meaning of sacred space and how they would design and build such a thing in the remote woods.
In the end, they built a structure that was like a tree house, but much larger; the trees grew so densely that the building was constructed around several tree trunks and was mostly open-sided. The pictures were absolutely amazing, I couldn't believe that they'd built it in six weeks and with very few tools and no experience. She said they barely slept at all, that there was always a team of people working away, not because of the deadline or so, but from a driving belief and passion that the space they were creating had a purpose. I remember thinking 'all that work for a place they are not likely to return to in their lifetime'; such a strange idea to labor and believe like that and simply walk away when you are done.
In retrospect, I would guess this is a bit like the artist experience, of spending many hours to create something that is an expression of self on some level, only to give it to the world and let it stand alone, and be infused with meaning and associations entirely different in those who view it in another space and time. Is the self lost or multiplied or both in the process?
Anyway, since then I have been interested in this idea of 'sacred space' and that this could be anything, not just a place of worship or so. And that you could construct a sacred space yourself! I think that was the biggest concept for me, actually.
There are places you enter which immediately attract you, resonate with you, inspire you, bring you peace, etc. And there are also places that after association become a kind of sacred place for you over time. Ultimately our own nature and interior landscape engenders the deeper meaning, the objects and the place itself do not hold meaning on their own.
I'm kind of leading up to the new Apparatjik suite at The Thief here, but in my mind I haven't really made all the connections between these two topics yet. What I mean is that it is simply a hotel room, and for those with no exposure to the Apparatjik world and iconography, it is probably at most 'quirky' or 'interesting' and of passing impact. But for those of us who have been following along from the beginning, there are elements in the room that jump out at us and form an immediate touchpoint. The space has a significance quite different depending on your degree of previous exposure and openness to the whole experience. And I do find myself wondering about this old project and the definition Davis used for 'sacred' and how a place derives meaning from its occupants; basically what might have been only a fun design project for Apparatjik has resulted in a space that reflects, draws from and - I think - expands the experience for the rest of us.
Hmm, well I am not sure where I am going with all this, but the armchair anthropologist in me finds it all really interesting. I feel like I could walk through the doors there and feel immediately at home, and recognize details that have meaning for a specific group of people, of which I am a member, and that is very special. It could very well fit the definition of 'sacred space' in that it will resonate with people in a unique way. Perhaps that is not their intention in creating it, but I like the idea somehow :-)