Where, how and why did architect Steven Holl mysteriously vanish in Richmond, Virginia?
As I type this, I stare at the wall above my desk and its accumulation of yellow post-it notes filled with arrows and the names of places. Did someone last see the architect entering the basement of the Egyptian Building on College Street? Could Hollywood Cemetery have something to do with his disappearance? Or would it be better to search the grounds of Virginia Commonwealth University for clues?
While it momentarily remains unclear to me where he vanished or why, I do know that the chain of events leading up to his disappearance began when the architect first read the Argentine author Jorge Borges’ short story, The Garden of Forking Paths. In Borges’ story, a character describes time as having multiple forks in the road and an endless number of outcomes. This idea from Borges resonated so strongly with Mr. Holl that he eventually decided to design a building that would include a version of Borges’ forking paths. Somehow, this led the architect to visit Richmond, where he then vanished from sight.
You might wonder at this point if I am talking about the same Steven Holl whose team recently designed the newly constructed Institute for Contemporary Art [ICA] in Richmond, a building which actually does contain several gallery spaces that radiate out from the same plane, as though they are forking paths in space.
The answer is yes. I am talking about the same Steven Holl. And no, the architect is not actually missing in real life.
But in the short work of fiction the ICA has invited me to create, Mr. Holl has inexplicably vanished in Richmond while conducting research to design the ICA’s building. This story, an illustrated mystery occupying the length of a novella, will be produced as a multiple in time for the ICA’s grand opening.
The novella’s story will be narrated by a nameless protagonist who is referred to in the second person as “you”. As you start to read through its pages in your search for Steven Holl, you will encounter a narrative fork-in-the-road at the bottom of the page, one of several, in which you may choose to keep reading one version of the story or turn to a different page to travel down the path of an alternate version. With this Borges-inspired nonlinear structure, you might find yourself reading through the book several times, as each combination of paths chosen will transport you through a different mix of imagined episodes relating to Steven Holl, the ICA and its building site as well as Richmond’s past, present and future.
Seeing as how this story is still in progress, I better get back to writing and to tracking down the mysteriously vanishing Steven Holl.
Deb Sokolow is an artist and writer based in Chicago. Her work can be viewed here: www.debsokolow.com