In one of my favourite works by Virginia Woolf, the author reflects on the fleeting life of a day moth as it darts from one edge of her window to the other, unable to access the pastoral landscape unfolding just beyond the pane. A similar sense of confinement resonated as I traced the perimeters of my apartment during recent weeks spent sheltering in place. Like the insect, many of us were restricted to our domestic spaces, finding refuge in momentary glimpses of the outside world through Zoom, FaceTime and other virtual windows.
Not just innate voids in a facade, windows compose particular visions of entire exterior and interior worlds as they merge inside and out. Their strategic positioning is carefully considered, echoing that of a camera’s lens. “Ever since I had begun photographing, I concentrated on the idea of the frame, of the window,” says photographer Takashi Homma, who between 2002 and 2018 documented these elements in the work of Charles-.douard Jeanneret, a.k.a. Le Corbusier.
Homma’s rich trove of imagery is the subject of the exhibition “Eye Camera Window,” opening at the Canadian Centre for Architecture this fall. “Windows can be understood as the eyes of a house,” writes historian Tim Benton, adding that “behind Le Corbusier’s structural arguments lie a more personal obsession.”
In one of Homma’s scenes, the artist captures a view looking out from a small hut in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, not far from where the architect drowned. The rustic cabin also surveys the site of Eileen Gray’s landmark Villa E-1027, intended to be private and concealed. The architect would later vandalize the residence with eight murals, a technique he had onceconsidered a way to “violently destroy the wall, to remove from it all sense of stability.” Gray’s name was subsequently removed from Le Corbusier’s later documentation and circulation of the graffiti. As historian Beatriz Colomina suggests, he kept a watchful eye on the property and deemed these paintings a “gift,” while Gray did not.
In this sense, Le Corbusier’s windows are also an aperture, framing our view of his history — how it is understood and valued, from whose perspective we perceive it. Like Woolf’s moth, we’re often unable to see beyond the narrow sightlines he offers. If both the camera and window are a kind of eye, are we looking at or through them?
“Eye Camera Window” runs from October 22, 2020 to April 18, 2021 at the CCA in Montreal.
An upcoming exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal opens up questions of isolation, the framing of history and the modernist canon.