Cupped hands may have formed the first manmade vessel, to catch water, to transport food to the cave mouth. Does the idea for vessel stem from a thirst? Does the vessel solidify a train of thought? Do creatures create containers intuitively? “Vessel” existed before man straightened up; calyxes, nutshells, nests; vaces, craters, lakes and the seas. Untouchable and magic, the horizon, the cosmos and, who knows, the Big Bang? Man creates vessels as utensils, artefacts, cult objects and symbols. Aboriginal bowls, goblets, Socrate’s cup of hemlock, Ming vases, the Pantheon, ocean liners, space shuttles, the Olympic Beijing nest, a proton accelerator, …
Rooms are vessels of anticipation. Unless full of things, they fill up with imagination. They have an aura. Accomodating our cognitive creativity they facilitate stories. Space suggests scale and size — bigness — and the universe implies the infinite. If we look into the skies, we think we see space, as if! Space becomes object when certain events occur: prescribed enclousure, defined form and a recognisable idea, a concept. When the space/object is very large it can become monumental, manifest, develop charisma, its aura inviting entry. And isn’t the inner volume of the vessel also a place where someone or something can settle, a place of possibilities and options even when it’s empt? Lao-Tse considers the middle should remain empty or as an ancient saying puts it: “mass is the servant of the void.” Vessel has purpose and function if we eliminate its voids, if we fill it with substance. Yet the unused and empty vessel is more absorbing. Its hollow form is spiritual, an anticipating vacancy. Being empty, the hollow form elicits invention. Space as emptiness seeks to be conquered. Boundaries add to its identity: lines that describe, planes that mask, smaller spaces that settle within, larger spaces that encase. The vessel is an itinerant space looking for a place to rest and serve us — temporarily or permanently. The vessel is a container of a visible substance or an invisible idea, creating Place around and inside its volume.
For Aristotle, place is the invisible hull of a body/volume that envelops it like an unseen glove. It creates an auratic field of inexact dimension that nevertheless remains fixed — “in place”. The body/volume can change position, move in space, seek a new place. The space — the vessel — can be transported through all dimensions to a different place, out into the cosmos or into other volumes.
Small vessels stimulate a paradox: can void and boundary be distilled to an indistinguishable dimension, such that we recognise both as being a single entity? Does the vessel make space tangible? What makes the smallest, even inaccessible vessel space enjoyable? Is it the character and constitution of ist boundary? What makes a large space enjoyable? Is it the notion of expansion, or the perception of the beauty of its boundary? What makes a very large or cosmic space enjoyable? It is the notion of the invisible boundary, the fascination with infinity. We know the senses alone are not enough to understand space. If the boundary becomes invisible, space becomes pure imagination.