I recently wrote about meeting a person ‘for real’ whom I had previously only known as ‘a blog’. Now I have just heard about a room at Knole, in Kent, which has been ‘dematerialised’ – but which you can still physically step into.
The Reynolds Room at Knole contains a group of paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, George Romney and others. The Reynolds paintings include portraits of the artist himself, of Samuel Johnson, of the Chinese pageboy Wang-y-Tong and of the actor and impressario David Garrick.
As the first stage in a major programme of conservation work, this room was recently stripped of its paintings and furniture. The windows were sealed with new lead, the floor and ceiling were insulated and the walls were rewired and fitted with hidden environmental monitors.
Then a seamless panoramic photograph, produced at ultra-high resolution by Corvidae, and exhibition and website design company, was installed in front of the walls. This will allow an estimated 90,000 visitors to walk through the room from now until October. The monitors will be collecting environmental data, enabling our conservators to work out what the optimum climatic regime should be in future.
Not only is this a fascinating conservation project, it also poses some conceptual paradoxes: Here we have a room which is a real space and simultaneously a virtual one. It is a room containing a life-size copy of itself, questioning Korzybski’s dictum that ‘the map is not the territory.’ And you could even call this a ‘self-conscious’ room, as it sits there monitoring itself and contemplating its own future.