“The House of Spiritual Retreat” M.o.M.A. – Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2005

The “Casa de Retiro Espiritual”, belonging to Argentine architect and designer Emilio Ambasz, is located at the heart of an immense estate in the middle of Andalusia.

In accepting the task to seek to give a sense to this unusual construction or, rather, to reveal all the emotiveness it is able to stimulate solely with its hierarchical presence, through a video-photographic work, I have had in the first place to effect a ‘philological’ selection. In other words, I had to decide whether to be ‘faithful’ (to the extent photography can be) to the intentions underlying the work, or whether instead to give a purely instinctive response to the feelings the “Casa de Retiro Espiritual” transmitted to me. From this selection, as a result, depended the technical specifications of the work. From a purely conceptual point of view, indeed, the building takes on a series of such broad-ranging values as to be disorientating: we might consider it a lighthouse for land as it is visible from every corner of the estate but from nowhere outside of it. It possesses the authority of a secular cathedral, with two brilliantly white, smooth walls like the wings of a nave, with the Mirador as the pulpit for theoretical sermons. Within, it possesses a sense of privacy and extreme asceticism. The interior is set below ground-level but is in constant contact with the terrace, inundated with light. Nor is this all, for just as the daily home of the man who lives in it is set into mother earth, so the construction juxtaposes the sinuosity and maternal sweetness of the internal forms with the totally male hardness of the two high walls and geometric regularity of the terrace. In the final analysis, it was the clash between these two natures that I accepted as the common theme in my work, but with a precise aim: I would photograph the house and its dazzling whiteness within and without simply for what it represents for the natural estate containing it and for me as man: an expressive possibility. No perspective depictions dear to the purists of architectural photography, no details, no chromatic ‘fidelity’ or, better, an absolute fidelity to the possible colours given by the colour temperature of the natural and artificial light.

The house has for me been everything that the light, wind, weather have made of it as they passed over the two walls resembling the sails of an immobile windmill. The house has for me been a compendium of forms altered by the surrounding nature (the undulating gait of the banister and the outline of the lake, the winding nature of a path, of the estate in the moonlight and of one of the external lamps…).


The house has for me been the continuous flight of the swallows building their nests in the Mirador, criss-crossing in front of it (and this is what inspired me for the video); an observatory to appreciate the immense changeability of the Andalusian clouds, a slow progress of geometric shadows on its façade or sudden and dazzling strips of light within.


It has been the reflection of an indigo sky on the terrace wet after a shower, or the glowing forms of the lamps suspended in the midnight between earth and sky; it has been the climb to the Mirador in the depths of the night to await the dawn, and contemplate its effects, and then awaiting another night to portray it alone and illuminated from afar.


During the long days and nights of all the seasons in which I retreated to it, the “Casa de Retiro Espiritual” has been an extraordinary human and professional experience for me, and probably unique. My hope is that my work may convey at least in part the intensity and astonishment that I felt in realising it.


Michele Alassio, September 2005