Neil Spiller

Technological (Sur)realism
Excerpts from an interview conducted in March 2010

Neil Spiller's work—which spans his theoretical ventures and architectural practice, and was shaped by his training with both Cedric Price and Gordon Pask—explores the friction between media and reality, interrogating the oxymoron inherent in the notion of 'virtual reality' and how this divergent term informs the built environment. Here, he sits down with Volume to reveal the Surrealist methods latent in the dream state of the architect.


When I first started writing, the big buzz was full body immersion in cyberspace and Mondo2000. Since then, a lot of us have realized that our intelligence is literally embodied. Our intelligence is made out of virtual and real things, and the synthesis of the virtual and the real is where my explorations lie. Certainly the idea of living in a pod with my bodily functions wired up to the sink is not a good thing. For me, architecture is embodied in a series of reflexive objects or narratives. I often say that architecture can exist from the microcosmic and the nanoscopic to the cosmographic. I'm interested in the blurred boundary as a place from which to speculate, in both architecture and drawings. I'm always kind of sniffing and licking them a bit, not sure if they're any good yet.

I spend a lot of time talking about, perhaps reassessing, the spatial protocols of Surrealism as a way of finding methods to  expand aspirations and knowledge of the digital world. Specifically, the Paranoiac-critical method, as Salvador Dalí's psycho-sexual approach, is how I re-interpret the world. People have described my drawings as a kind of myth-making, and certainly my work over the last ten years has become very mythic. So I try to link to his body of work, which I think was brave for its time, and uses it to question some of the assumptions we (architects) have about our role in the contemporary world ... Soon we'll be able to start to make spaces that aren't dictated by the tyranny of the planner or the aesthetic tyranny of the architect.

What has disappointed me is the way the architecture profession has taken to virtuality by one particular route, which has now been exploited to the point of ubiquity. There is a lot more of the virtual world that rubs up against architecture that needs exploring. I am interested in what I call architecture of the second aesthetic, which is essentially algorithmic. I think there is a place for algorithmic architecture, but to explore it properly we might have to leave the computer behind.

I think I'm an 'optimistic Futurist'; I'm much more interested in what's going to happen a year or five years hence as opposed to thirty or fifty years from now. Scientists call that 'deep future' and it's actually almost entirely unpredictable. When you're a student, you're like a heavy metal guitarist: you want to rush up the fret board as fast as possible. And when you're my age, you want to play the blues, because it's about the emotional content of the work. So blues is the thing. [Laughs] 

1. Sculpture Dynamics, Pen and Ink, 2009
2. Greasy Links, Pen and Ink, 2008

All images: C. Neil Spiller