Create Space within Limitations

Strategy 2: Create Space Within Limitations

Every space provides two resources: its physical parameters and its axis of experience. In order to create space within limitations, we must rely on the latter. 

As part of her BLUE ROOM EVENT VI, Yoko Ono wrote a small sentence on a wall of London’s Serpentine Gallery:

"Find other rooms which exist in the space." Yoko Ono, Serpentine Gallery, London
“Find other rooms which exist in the space.”

It was a provocation that had already motivated me for years. 

There are always more rooms within the space.

It is a delicate word in usage. Used on its own, the word space implies a vast, endless, open expanse. The moment it is quantified as “a space” it is interpreted as a confined physical entity: personal space, public space, outer space, storage space. This is the first limitation to overcome. Astronomers attest that space is limitless. So is my personal definition of it. I even devoted an entire book to the creative possibilities of limitations.

“Music is the space between the notes.” 

Claude Debussy

The final chord of The Beatle’s Day in the Life is given its intensity partly by the space between the end of the orchestral cacophony and the delivery of the final chord, “one of the most famous final chords in music history.” It is the space between the two moments that gives it such power. Within the limitations of that brief moment of silence, The Beatles created a vast amount of space. When the final chord finally fades, the silent space that follows holds equal intensity.

The poster for Amsterdam nightclub Paradiso always comes to mind as an example of a design that creates space within limitations. It transcends the 2D limitations of poster design and becomes multi-dimensional in its application. 

Paradiso Poster

Knowing that the majority of club posters will be fly-posted over previous posters, the cutouts in the design appropriate the colors and textures of underlying posters to use the existing aesthetics of the space the poster occupies.

The available room within a fixed space—and the ability create space within limitations of space—is multiplied when you blow the definition of space wide open. The spaces in-between, the surrounding space, spatial contexts, and, most importantly, the mental and experiential space on the Y-Axis activated by the recipient.

The Axis of Experience

When I work with spaces, I begin by exploring the many opportunities available within what I refer to as the Axis of Experience. 

Axis of Experience, Create Space Within Limitations

In my axis, X is the established entity—the thing being worked with. The space, the material, the notes, the area on the page or screen. Y is the infinite variable—the space the runs through the middle of the limitations. The Y Axis is where it becomes possible to create space within limitations.

One of many resources that occupy the Y axis is the passage of time. Every outdoor space moves through seasons and times of day. Each presenting variables to be worked with. The Montreal artist Roadsworth created an entire lexicon of shapes and images around the city that would only make sense and come to life when night fell and shadows extended the visuals to a new reality. 

YEAR OF THE WHITE TIGER, Montreal, 2010, by Roadsworth

A book spine painted on the sidewalk made little sense during the day, until the shadow of a park bench at night became a bible, bound by the painted markings. Tigers painted on the ground required the shadows of a neighboring fence to complete the work. An entire new world came to life at night in these locations, layering a new reality onto a fixed space. 

There is so much space on the Y axis: history, memories, ambiance, the sky above and the soil or infrastructure below. Everyone has their own definition of a great experience. Every space has its own definition as well, and the most meaningful ones can often be found along the Y Axis. 

Over to You

What spaces exist within the space that you work with? 

What layers of time, context and connections waiting for you to discover them and propel your work to limitless potential. 

Next in the Series: Strategy 3: Focus on the Minimal Viable Project

This Could: Creating Opportunity from Limited Resources

To learn a lot more about the power of conditional thinking, my latest book This Could: How Two Words Can Create Opportunity in an Era of Limited Resources will be of interest.

Header Image: Circle by JULIAN_ICON from the Noun Project