Exhibition Review: OUT MY WINDOW: Interactive Views from the Global Highrise

OUT MY WINDOW is a 360 degree web documentary created by Katerina Cizek in 2010.  Although it is a couple of years old, I feel that this is one of the most powerful documentary projects I have ever experienced and warrants a review.  Katerina is a director and part of the National Film Board of Canada.  Along with Gerry Flahive they are the producers of the documentary.  OUT MY WINDOW is a multi-year and cross-media piece that tells the stories of thirteen families living in thirteen different cities around the world (Scrivener 2010).

The abstract reads: “You see them all over the world.  Concrete residential highrise buildings are the most commonly built form of the last century.  On the outside, they all look the same.  But inside these towers of concrete and glass, people create community, art and meaning” (NFB.ca 2012).

OUT MY WINDOW was shot in Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, Havana, Sao Paolo, Amsterdam, Prague, Istanbul, Beirut, Bangalore, Phnom Penh, Tainan and Johannesburg (DocLab.org 2012).  Cizek used thousands of photographs and hours of documentary material to piece the apartments and the stories together digitally.  Since we live in one of the largest and most dynamic cities in the world, although not represented here, I often find myself staring at our plethora of concrete highrises.  A project of this magnitude really shows how individuals need to create living spaces that suit their lives.  While obviously different in design and cultural aesthetics in each city, these people, like us, need to have living spaces of comfort and living spaces that stimulate our minds day to day.

The material aspects of this project are especially compelling.  The director has used documentary material to capture these physical spaces and the physical objects within them, to the digital realm by way of a user-interactive layout.  I find David, a musician, and his wife living in Havana, Cuba to be one of the more compelling stories featured.  They live in an area called Alamar, which is the largest public housing project in the world (OUT MY WINDOW 2012).  David built a small studio within his apartment that he proudly claims is his favorite part.  In one feature he explains that Cuba’s Ministry of Culture has been quite oppressive with regards to an alternative arts scene within the country.  Despite this, David stated that, “The life in these buildings is ‘underground.'”  He makes music at his studio all day with other Cubans and they collaborate on a variety of projects.  Specifically, he has also helped run a spoken word festival in Havana, ‘POESiA SIN FIN’ (Poetry Without an End) since 1997.  People in Alamar lent him and his colleagues their apartments to host the festival.  ‘POESiA SIN FIN’ was suspended, like other rock and hip-hop festivals, by the government but David claimed they will keep having it “because they can’t stop us” (OUT MY WINDOW 2012).  It is incredibly inspiring to see others in the world doing whatever they can to produce artistic endeavors with oppressive governments.  Despite certain problems in the U.S. that I am critical about, it is projects like this which make me feel grateful to live in a country where artistic ideas and endeavors can flow quite freely.

In an 2010 article in the Toronto Star, Katerina Cizek makes some great points about the materiality of the high rise and her observations from completing the project.  She was surprised at the colorfulness behind the concrete.  She said, “You see the lack of humanity in the physical structure, then you see people… living, what happens between the cracks in the concrete”.  She went on and stated that, “To be human in this century – more than ever before – is to be urban.  We can find inspiration in the periphery of our cities and search for meaning amid the concrete” (Scrivener 2010).

In going back to the spoken word festival, David described it further with a stern and fearless voice.  He said, “Despite the oppression, the audience attended.  Despite the oppression, people lent us their apartments.  We had the festival in seven apartments and the public response was good because it was a respectful public.  Very united, very fraternal, very spiritual.  We will maintain this tradition in Alamar.  They’ve taken things from us many times, but the authorities can’t keep messing with our spaces” (OUT MY WINDOW 2012).  That last sentence is hard-hitting.  After exploring these virtual spaces through OUT MY WINDOW, one of the most obvious observations is that these people truly care about their living spaces.  If there is one thing to take away, it is that despite language, cultural, ethnic and government boundaries we has human beings need to have spaces that make us feel comfortable, and most importantly, alive.

Works Cited

“HIGHRISE/Out My Window.” IDFA DocLab 2011. Web. 07 Apr. 2012. <http://www.doclab.org/2010/highriseout-my-window/>.

“OUT MY WINDOW: Interactive Views from the Global Highrise.” NFB/Interactive. National Film Board of Canada. Web. 07 Apr. 2012. <http://interactive.nfb.ca/>.

Scrivener, Leslie. “Online, A Window on the World.” The Toronto Star. 15 Oct. 2010. Web. 07 Apr. 2012. <http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/article/876179–online-a-window-on-the-world>.

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