In 1985, Microsoft launched Windows 1.0, a graphic personal computer operating environment whose dissemination was one of the fundamental moments of the technological revolution that ushered the democratisation of access to computers and computer language. Since then, “windows” have been defining how we relate to and access digital content. The possibility of browsing between windows, running through different information streams simultaneously, has generalised a relationship between images that evokes a Warburguian compilation that allows us to establish information hierarchies using qualities such as dimension and overlaying while promoting a simultaneity of actions.
Whether as an architectural element or as a concept, windows are deeply linked to humankind’s modern condition. Photography, for example, emerges as the first major technological window, creating an access to realities which were otherwise inaccessible, a window to different times and geographies. Removed from all metaphor, windows are essential elements for the development of modern consumerism, distinguishing the notion of consumption from that of acquisition. The act of window shopping is symptomatic of this condition in which consumption happens through seeing, a fantasy of acquisition that does not necessarily materialise in an actual purchase. Even if it prevents physical contact, the window allows for emotional contact.
When seen as a form of individual realisation, this action of looking through a barrier presupposes some kind of fetishist logic, as is suggested by Walter Benjamin in his opus, Die PassagenWerk, when he recognises that, in a consumerist mentality, “everything desirable [can] be transformed into commodities as fetishes-on-display” — it is this fetishist relationship that holds “the crowd enthralled even when possession [is] beyond their reach”. Thus, an object’s representational value surpasses its utilitarian or production value.
Emphasizing the fetishist quality of the commodity-on-display, the window compels us towards a voyeuristic attitude that is encouraged by a sense of protection. Coming from a place of comfort, peeking through a window may take obsessive forms, with manifestations so varied that they can include carefree observation, daily rituals of sociability, mental escapism accompanying visual stimuli, or an invasion of the other’s space, much like in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Through the window, we may see the other, but they often do not see us.
This sensation of comfort and safety is a factor in the proliferation of contact through windows. With the development of the technologies that enhance and enrich our online existence, screens have become windows to the digital world, giving us access to a diversity of content that we can manage and organise in the comfort of our homes. Through screens, we exist in a virtual reality — we consume images and commodities, products and information — that we explore and in which we participate under its umbrella of protection.
Today, given the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, or relationship with windows has gradually become more evident. The virtual world has become a necessary reality, either to sustain a consumerist condition, to support spaces for social and cultural leisure or simply to provide areas for alienation. The quarantine has increased our reliance on the windows to the virtual world, intensifying the fusion between the physical and the digital. At the same time, physical interactions are now mediated by windows, be it in family, amiable or professional circumstances. Children and grandchildren visit their parents and grandparents through windows; new windows are installed to separate us, all kinds of transparent walls that isolate clients and store attendants. Physical contact is now limited, while digital contact emerges as a condition of human existence, an inevitable projection of hybridisation.
Referring to the image of a computer screen, the works in the exhibition are presented as overlapping layers that hierarchise and complement the information contained in each, but only permit a total view through the frame of the window. Both in its works and in its configuration, the show invokes the theme of the window as a space for the mediation of physical and digital interactions. Much like the selection of the works was contingent to the circumstances of the confinement imposed by the current situation, the access to them is also limited to one point of view and one organisation.
The overlapping of works in an apparently chaotic and disorganised structure that evokes a digital ‘desktop’ also refers to the experimental practices of the Independent Group that, in the shows presented at the ICA (London) in the 1950s, proposed a revision of a notion of culture that subjected all kinds of human activity to an aesthetical judgment — something that today has materialised in the social networks, where a visual culture has been developing, supported by a consumerist logic that translates into Likes.
– Miguel Mesquita, July 2020