From Walls to Windows

By Charlotte Lock, Dorry Fox and Yini Wang.

@walls_to_windows instagram

From Walls to Windows is an exhibition created for our module in curatorship as part of our MA in Visual Culture. The exhibition was launched in June, as part of Durham’s Summer in the City festival (https://sitcfestival.org/). You can find the exhibition here: https://stories.durham.ac.uk/from-walls-to-windows/index.html

Reflection on the Exhibition Intentions, by Charlotte Lock

The idea which evolved into our exhibition, From Walls to Windows, stemmed from a desire to explore the situation many of us were finding ourselves in – dwelling in our homes more than ever before and using this space for entirely new functions.

Lockdown measures meant we were not able to visit galleries and museums in person; consequently, new forms of, and possibility for, online engagement with the arts emerged. This encouraged us to consider how we might think about the space of the home, in which we found ourselves, as not only the point from which the viewer might engage with our exhibition, but also as its subject matter. Bringing together the place of engagement with the theme of the exhibition, we sought to encourage a reflection on the space of the home.

the exhibition was structured around five objects or spaces often found in the home: the wall, the table, the chair, the bed, and the window; creating a journey From Walls to Windows.

We were particularly keen to enable the viewer to relate the exhibition to their own home, the space from which they were likely engaging with it. It therefore became our intention to design the exhibition as a journey – physical or imagined – through the home, whether it be the viewer’s current place of residence, a home they remember, or one of their imagination. To enable this, the exhibition was structured around five objects or spaces often found in the home: the wall, the table, the chair, the bed, and the window; creating a journey From Walls to Windows.

As we were encouraging such a reflective approach, one of our core concerns within the exhibition was to appreciate the complexity of the home, as a deeply personal space, meaning different things to different people. Home might be a place you live alone or with others, a place of loving relationships or difficult ones; it might be a place of familiarity, relief and security, or a place of discomfort, loneliness, confinement and fear. We sought to recognise that what the home means to each person is inherently individual and can change over time.

As part of this, we were really keen to involve different interpretations, which you can find in our exhibition, from academics to the arts-based education and training company, Changing Relations, to artist perspectives, as well as providing some personal anecdotes of our own; we are so grateful to everyone who contributed to our exhibition. The exhibition activities, which can be found on our Instagram page (@walls_to_windows), similarly encourage the viewer to consider and reflect on their own home – we hope that you might get involved too!

Reflection on the Exhibition Content, by Dorry Fox

It may be commonplace to regard objects as purely functional or aesthetic things: practical necessities, or the products of self-indulgence. However, From Walls to Windows seeks to elucidate the ways in which objects can be companions in our emotional lives and fulfil a mnemonic role, provoking us to think and remember. Our thoughts, memories and personalities are inseparable from our relationships with the objects that surround us in the places that we call our own: our homes

In this exhibition, the idea of home starts at the walls. The domestic interior – commonly regarded as a personal space, separate from the outside world – demands the enclosure provided by four walls. This desire to erect boundaries between households, creating areas over which we have control, became more entrenched in society from the Early Modern period. It was at this point that households started to narrow themselves down to a few, closely-related individuals: the ‘nuclear family’. 

Besides that, changing economic circumstances have since increased the likelihood of being able to possess a room of one’s own, or perhaps even a house or flat of one’s own. This domesticated and materialistic lifestyle of ‘settling down’ has become ingrained into us; all classes of western society cherish the private and independent spaces to which they belong, and in which they are most themselves.

Once the domestic space has been delineated, we can start to fill it with our possessions. For that reason, our exhibition follows the wall with the table: a universal object on which we can display a cacophony of belongings. While at its core it may be a place of eating and working, this simple flat surface has no end of uses. Ever since dining became a more deeply-embedded ritual, and ever since society veered towards consumer culture, the table has presented the stage upon which the habits of modern life can be performed. 

By sitting on a chair, we participate in this performance. Yet the chair exists independently from the table. Though it was once reserved for figures of authority and status, after the Industrial Revolution – bringing lower manufacturing costs and higher purchasing power – they have become a hallmark of western modernity. The need to take the load off our feet onto a chair rose concomitantly with work and leisure becoming ever more sedentary.

However, the most important space of relaxation in the home is most likely the bed. This object is at the core of our existence: not only do we spend approximately one third of our lives sleeping, but it is a place where many of us are conceived and born, and where many of us will die. Many people have a strong attachment to their beds, which echoes its common associations with love, affection and intimacy. Although we must not forget that for some, the bed is a place where a problematic relationship is concentrated or intensified. 

When we confront difficulties in the home, the window provides a frame onto another world, full of excitement and possibility. It provides a passageway from the closed private interior, to the outside public exterior. Although the door also fulfills this role, the window is more penetrable, providing light, smells and sounds to what would otherwise be an enclosing shell. This mirrors the fluidity of our own sense of self, passing between the internal mind and the material and social environment that surrounds us. 

We hope that, in viewing our exhibition, you might consider the relationship you have with your home and the objects that fill it.

From Walls to Windows thus explores the path from the opaque enclosure of walls, to the transparent aperture of the windows that puncture these walls. We hope that, in viewing our exhibition, you might consider the relationship you have with your home and the objects that fill it. While physically they may be small and confining, on the grand scale of things they are the spaces from which we can view and act out not only our own stories, but the whole history of modern society and culture. 

Reflection on the Exhibition Project, by Yini Wang

This exhibition is the first group project that I have worked on. I used to work as an artist, and always appreciated working alone. During the first stages of planning and curating, I had no idea where we were heading to. This was a task that was absolutely new to me. However, this also seemed to be an adventure, an excursion which we were about to go on. 

We were aware that the pandemic was having a remarkable impact on everyone’s life. We felt it necessary to respond to this situation as well as to inspire hope. This was why we chose ‘home’ as the theme of our exhibition, which aimed to encourage people to take journeys in their daily lives. 

Though the format of our exhibition was virtual, we hope that the connection we inspired people to embrace was actual – that they could bond to their surroundings in a way that they had never done before. We encourage people to launch a journey of discovery into the spaces and objects of their home, to find out what they have missed and overlooked, and above all, to encounter themselves anew. 

Before, I thought that an exhibition was supposed to be educational – a means by which audiences can acquire something. However, looking back, I can’t help asking myself what makes an exhibition meaningful. Is it that the objects are presented in a compelling way? Or that the objects are compelling in their own right? 

Instead of thinking about what we can bring to the audience, we prioritised the audience, bringing them the centre of the exhibition. Indeed, an exhibition is dead and remains dead if no audience comes to bring it to life. A canvas remains a canvas if it is left untouched by the painter’s brush. Interaction is crucial. 

However, this idea is not new to contemporary art. Many modern museums and galleries have already devoted themselves to inviting audiences to evaluate art. Museums and galleries used to be the narrators, guiding spectators through their established narratives. Even though they shifted the role and handed it to audiences, what they can achieve seems to be more or less restricted. They will have to make a compromise with physical collections. In other words, they have to mediate the tension between what is inscrutable in art, and audiences’ possible understanding of that. 

For museums and galleries, art objects are material and present. In comparison, From Walls to Windows has not taken physical form. There are no geographical limitations. There are no visiting times. There are no tickets. There are no rules. Audiences are free to choose whatever they prefer to read or to browse. They are the creator of the exhibition, and can bring to it any aspect of their personal lives, and any understanding of its content.

To find out more about this project, the curators, and family-friendly activities, follow our social media accounts:

Instagram: @walls_to_windows

Twitter: @FromWalls

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