Where is the Window?
You sit or lay in a building welcoming you to some reminder of light. I remember there is such a thing as outside when I’m inside by a window. But where is inside exactly… and what is outside? I ask you: Can one window be the same window another looks out of or into? Is a window more than just an apparatus to see what is in versus out and vice versa?
In my first [window] case, the case of the newly opened and renovated Copycat building warehouse apartment/gallery space, Springsteen Gallery, the windows are set to a frosted glass tint where someone described to me: …when you look at a piece of work on the wall… you do not become distracted or look out the window at what’s there instead of in here.
But where is the gallery? If we are looking at artwork, why not talk about the artwork, where it is located, and how location affects its communication.
As I left a recent exhibition at Springsteen and opened up into the hallway outside it, I noticed a group of friends being loud, sitting on the windowsills. I gasped at my eyes adjusting to natural light, and I immediately focused on the murmur of friends, audible discussion, and—through the open windows—the sounds and sights of the street. I realized I was more interested in the windows than the artwork inside. A friend told me genuinely: …but look at it, Springsteen, it’s so beautiful—it’s pure.
Is Springsteen actually a white beautiful pure box?
Whiteness as pure beauty is no new thing in terms of the gallery or the Western world, but when almost everyone I know in Baltimore mentions this first about Springsteen, I am more than suspicious about its curatorial decisions/decorations. If the work in the exhibit Metaspace for example, was handled as magnificently as the fluorescent lights and windows, wouldn’t we be maybe talking more about the artwork, or the fact that people live in this sterile environment with two giant dogs? I heard no dogs barking at the opening as I do when I usually pass by Springsteen during the week. Maybe during the opening of the exhibition the dogs were quarantined.
At sophiajacob gallery, the only window I know of is frontal, to the street, and there’s usually a distinctively set flower display sitting on the windowsill. I wonder: What does this fragrant and contained flower arrangement on one side of a glass window tell a person driving or walking by? Is it reassuring to see, with each new exhibition, a flower bouquet watching the street and passersby—or watching the art?
As I visited a recent sophiajacob show, jacob, sophia, sarah (their most cryptic show), I was saddened there was no flower display. The flowers give me a constant sort of solace.
When a show is in the progress of being installed or the gallery is closed, there is often a painter’s tarp covering the window. Before or after business hours at sophiajacob (any day of the week besides gallery opening night, Saturday 1-4pm, and personal appointment), the lights are turned off. This means that during the run of an art exhibition, for most of the hours that there is art installed, the lights are off. (Once while perusing the gallery’s garbage, I accidentally saw their light traffic via BGE bill.) This fluorescent-lit gallery becomes a very dark space during the hours it is closed—which is most of the week! How does this gallery exist within or in response to the street activity surrounding it?
Window #1 and Window #2
The visibility and street traffic around sophiajacob and Springsteen are much different. Springsteen gallery lives inside The Copycat building, an old manufacturing warehouse repurposed for artists. The gallery is situated on the third floor of the building. It is incredibly easy to get to the gallery if you are one of maybe a hundred people who live inside the Copycat. But do the people who work at the Social Services building across the way ever gaze into this building’s rounded and giant windows?
Sophiajacob is located in a much smaller building. However I’m positive there are hundreds of people who walk by or drive by outside. At Springsteen, you may be frustrated by attempting to peer into the gallery through the aforementioned window frosting, but maybe if you find a way to get into the giant Copycat building warehouse, you can knock on the gallery door. Though, how do you know the gallery is in there if you’re not an artist? Could windows possibly propose, through their openness and accessibility to the street, an outlet, a road to inclusivity?
Will two people looking out one window, or in, ever see the same? Does the history of the window in any given structure matter?
In the third place, called The Bank, at 2013 Frederick Avenue, there is not much whiteness inside and the whole building is arguably the art. There are a variety of strange and riotous events each month. This space is certainly not an art gallery, but it features plenty of events that include art-as-life, art-as-music, and art-as-noise. The Bank has a few favorite windows of mine. On the exterior of the building facing Frederick Avenue, there are glasses embedded in grout much like stained glass. The glass-bottle-stained-glass allows light in at all times of the day (street light, car headlights, natural light).
Darkness set interiorly is pleasurably key to the success of The Bank’s events usually staged late at night. The escape of darkness has its allure. The outside backyard at The Bank is usually lit solely by light somewhere near the fire escape stairs that provide an entrance to outside. Going down the fire escape stairs to the backyard leads me to a second window. This window is accessible on the main first floor next to the kitchen and looks out onto the backyard. This window is in a small room that used to be a bank safe when The Bank was an actual bank.
I have met local neighbors every time I’ve visited the Bank. I have never met people walking by at either Springsteen or sophiajacob. (Perhaps darkness and noise music are less intimidating somehow than a gallery show of visual art?) Neighbors certainly add a surprising aspect to the events at The Bank, making the events more diverse. This diversity could be due to the later times that attract people in the area up late walking around perhaps drawn in by curious sounds.
A very similar space to The Bank is Tribal Haus in the Northeast Baltimore neighborhood of Waverly. A large portion of its shows and events also stem from noise music culture. Tribal Haus is a two-story house with only a few windows accessible by the upstairs residents’ bedrooms.
At a recent Tribal Haus show, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, the artist Justin Smith’s slideshow of photographs was projected at night accompanied by a soundtrack sampling music from varied genres. A large group of friends, acquaintances, and maybe enemies watched color photographs become more and more beautiful because of the flies that would swarm in and out of the projection. Each photograph paused to roars of commentary that would come in at times when images of remarkable scenarios would pop onto the screen. This projection full of flies with doo wop and drinks and darkness became its own window, a public window outdoors to peer into with strangers and friends.
Should I argue that the only difference in these various spaces is in what is concealed, hidden, and what is revealed? The arrangements made in a space like Springsteen are not immediately visible. If you want or stumble onto a tour of The Bank at a show, you may easily wind up in a dusty corner or peer into the zine shelf. I am aware each of these spaces I am describing have different intentions, but their intentions are more alike than dissimilar. On one hand, there is the perhaps more welcoming wandering space being obviously more lived-in and then, on the other hand, there is the fluorescent somewhat closed-off and tidied-up appeal of the gallery.
If these spaces took cues towards merging, reflecting, talking, acting as windows, maybe Baltimore art (noise, music, paintings, sculpture) could be addressed towards more of an integration than inside-crowd separation.
There is beauty in each window that one looks out of; what is dirty or messy or under the covers can and should be revealed. To reveal more, which is to integrate and include more person-to-person interaction… I think all four spaces are up for more activation. The function of the window is to view and gain accessibility to what is not inside, yet also exclude what is ‘outside’.
Please activate your street life and put neighbors in dialogue. Also offer tours and shows that propose new types of windows to be explored. A window may be closed, but it is ultimately always an opportunity for transparency.
Eton Corrasable is an artist. She had one big window in her room with vines stretched out on it and ten items perched on the sill. She no longer has a window in her bedroom and the windowsill items will go elsewhere. Art Criticism in What Weekly (whatweekly.com/artcrit) is made possible with the generous support of the William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, creator of the Baker Artist Awards, www.BakerArtistAwards.org. Marcus Civin edits these art criticism articles for What Weekly. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.