A Curious Combination
“Desiring is supposed to be significant, right?”
Can you pay attention? Seeing the Vimeo icon on the embedded boxes above, you would expect a moving image. Instead, you get a landscape painting. The action happens offscreen, it emerges from your speaker. The videos calculate their own viewing: a work presented online, to be watched on a laptop, a smartphone, a tablet, to surface from something in physical proximity to the viewer. It creates intimacy: you, the artist’s voice, the view from her window.
“That tension between what you know you can have and what you do have”
There’s this really famous essay by nineteenth-century art scholar Lorenz Eitner, “The Open Window and the Storm-Tossed Boat: An Essay in the Iconography of Romanticism.” Every art history major undergrad reads it. It’s a defense of looking at subject matter in art—“The neglect of subject matter stems from the conviction that the essential qualities of art reside in form, not in extraneous ideas .… Whatever can be said for that view, it has the disadvantage of severely limiting the study of a period in which painting, for better or for worse, contained a great deal of ‘literature’”—that focuses on the two themes in its title. Eitner traces the use of the open window in early nineteenth-century painting to Dutch seventeen-century paintings of interiors, but then moves on to discuss not the formal influences on these works, but rather, the romantic sentiment that leads them. “The pure window-view is a romantic innovation—neither landscape, nor interior, but a curious combination of both,” one that conflates the idea of possession (the interior) with the desire to leave it (the landscape). Because the window is always both “a threshold and at the same time a barrier. Through it, nature, the world, the active life beckon, but the artist remains imprisoned, not unpleasantly, in domestic snugness.” What Eitner fails to note is that half his examples are the windows in the artist’s studio.
“Almost tasting it. You swallowed.”
There’s a texture to Unsal’s language. She reads in a sustained tone, but the text quickly shifts between ideas, all loosely tied to the view from the window but belonging to the “literature” Eitner writes about. Why are the windows a view from the artist’s studio? There’s a convenience to it: you paint what’s around you, and you paint in the studio. But there’s a poetics to it: you pay attention to the world around you. The windows in Unsal’s videos are all in Beirut, where she is currently in residence. Looking out the window is a way of paying attention to the world.
Can you pay attention? Only the sound is moving. “Almost like eating without tasting, but different.”