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How space (interior design) can mirror unfeigned human emotions and even influence them.

This intriguing space-body dynamic being something Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni aesthetically explored in his 1960s cinema.

If there is one thing that we have learnt from spending so much time inside during this past year thanks to Covid it is that space, in the interior design sense of the word, is important. For the reason that it can both influence and mirror emotions. Choices in design and decorations reflect homeowners’ states of mind. Whereas reactions to surroundings, such as feeling calmed or agitated by a minimalist room, showcase how interior design does more than mirror mindsets, but also influences them. Space is personal…

Think of your bedroom for example … What does it say about you? How does it make you feel? Why did you choose to design it that way? What was your state of mind at the time of decorating it?

Now think of your least favourite room in your home or office. Why does that room depress or disappoint you? Is it the wall colouring? The layout? Or perhaps the architectural space?

The fact that a room can make you feel unsafe, negative or demotivated goes to show just how influential interior space is to our psyche, particularly the way it is decoratively and architecturally designed.

You can learn a great deal about somebody from their choice of interior design or by how they respond to indoor spaces. For example, some may prefer to sleep in large spaces, whereas others prefer smaller, cosier spaces.

The same applies to work environments. Some companies may find that bright, colourful offices suit their brand better, while others find that the minimalist look works better for their image.

Were interior design not important, there would most definitely not be such a wide range of themes for spatial decorations: traditional, modern, eclectic, contemporary, minimalist, mid-century modern, bohemian, modern farmhouse, rustic, shabby chic, coastal, Hollywood glam, Southwestern, … etc etc …

Environmental psychologist and interior designer Migette Kaup notes how ‘Architectural cues can provide reinforcement to the desired behaviours that we would like to see enacted in specific place types’.

Mid to late twentieth-century Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007) was familiar with this psychology of space — the interaction between people and the spaces they inhabit — and put it to cinematographic use by encoding characters’ emotional turmoil through their unique interactions with surrounding spaces.

In the opening of L’eclisse (1962) [in the image above], for example, Antonioni’s couple stand at opposite ends of the room with the camera framing them individually and so creating two spaces out of an otherwise single space. If the couple is filmed together, one of the two has their back either to their spouse or to the camera, depicting their utter emotional separation and inability to communicate.

At the end of the scene, Vittoria looks helplessly outside the window which becomes a barrier-like symbol of her feeling of imprisonment in life and marriage she does not enjoy.

It is this interplay between bodies and spaces that tells us the couple are having marital issues, rather than us learning this directly through the couples’ voices.

Similarly, in La Notte (1961) the couples’ marital issues are conveyed through Antonioni’s use of obstructive structures: walls, windows, balconies etc, that divide them.

What ultimately makes Antonioni’s use of space so unique is that space becomes a societal mirror. In the sense that the aesthetic spatial division between characters (as a result of obtrusive structures such as doors) symbolically represents the alienation that Antonioni, among other Italian art cinema directors such as Fellini and Pasolini, felt had underpinned Italy’s post war economic boom in the 1960s.

Space within Antonioni’s trilogy therefore serves to illustrate how ‘modern society may have eclipsed human contact’, as observed by Orban, establishing a figurative microcosm of what Italian society was experiencing at large. In a similar way to how someone’s bedroom may give cues to their personality, space within Antonioni’s cinema becomes a mirror onto which the emotional or personal may be reflected.

Antonioni’s cinema also made use of exterior space through the choice of urban settings such as Rome and Milan. These spaces, filled as they were with towering buildings and construction sites, represent the fast pace at which 1960s Italian society was then modernising and so enabled this cinematographic space to become a mirror to the then prevalent reality.

The mismatch between the scale of these cities against the individual heroines (who walk through them) captures the isolation, negligence and shock people felt at the time as they become mere specks in big cities.

In short, your surroundings are important; so choose wisely! Pay attention to which surroundings you feel, work or sleep best in so that you may learn to emulate your desired sentiments through the aid of your chosen interior designs. Why not take this as an initiative to be bold and change your bedroom wall colour or alter its layout ever so slightly?

Giacinta McNaught-Davis

Industry Trends Director

Cambridge University Fashion & Luxury Business Society

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