GOTHICNESS. On the Strangeness of Rib Details

In his treatise ‘The Nature of Gothic’, the English writer and theoretician John Ruskin identified six defining characteristics of the Gothic; however, Ruskin encountered a problem. Most buildings contain some, but very few contain all of his characteristics. Thus, Ruskin decided to evade rigid classification by suggesting that buildings may exhibit “Gothicness” to a “greater or less degree.” With the suffix ‘ness’, Ruskin’s Gothic becomes a movement embedded in a social agenda. It serves as protagonist against classicism; thereby eradicating a milieu of styles in favor of degrees between these two opposing movements. For Ruskin, Gothic is dedicated to the love of change and workmanship, while classicism is dedicated to the direct reproduction of idealized form; or as he posits, “an architecture invented, as it seems, to make plagiarists of its architects and slaves of its workmen.” For Ruskin, Gothic and Classicism are not passé styles, but oppositional agents that manifest in movements throughout history.

Brandon Clifford sees little difference between Ruskin’s social agenda of Gothicness and our contemporary social experiment—the digital revolution. Despite Ruskin’s attempts to claim there is no one version of Gothic, there is one element that is ubiquitous across all Gothic buildings: the rib. The rib is a critical element because it is the vehicle by which all six of Ruskin’s characteristics manifest into degrees of Gothicness. What is most intriguing about the rib is that it is simultaneously a practical tool as well as a rhetorical device. There are three peculiar moments of transition from functional to rhetorical ribs that hold resonance today - Pierness, Springness, and Vaultness. The exhibition illuminates the strangeness of Gothic rib details, examining the possibilities, potentials, and peculiar moments that parallel contemporary digital practice.

Gothicness is curated for the Wolk Gallery by Brandon Clifford, the Belluschi Lecturer in the department of Architecture at MIT and Principal at Matter Design in Boston. Exhibition design by Johanna Lobdell. Support for the exhibition has been provided by the Marion and Jasper Whiting Foundation.