A Room with a View
Text by Louise Clements
“A fly bangs against the window attempting freedom while the door stays open...”
The first thing I do when I arrive at a hotel room is look out of the window, compelled by curiosity whatever time of day or night it is. Simultaneously it is a place for orientation, a vantage point and veil from the streets below. The city is impenetrable from the window... you have to leave its safety and walk the streets or risk a kind of cyclical psychosis.
The window, the surface of which should be invisible, makes itself present through what it reflects. Its labyrinthine nature comes to life during the twilight zones of night, dawn and dusk, the time at which the reflections win over the view outside. In Nuno Cera’s windows, people and spaces appear to float calmly above the city. Despite the calmness we can detect a note of existential desolation, solitude and alienation. The shots are an eloquent metaphor. We become immersed in the city yet inherently severed from it. Sofia Coppola used a similar device, in the film Lost in Translation, to illustrate how being alone in the city and looking out from anonymous hotel room windows can be one of the loneliest things in the world. Sometimes we are looking out onto the landscape other times we are looking in on ourselves. It is through the window, that we might take comfort in the reflections and the fleeting, shallow company they provide.
In our recent past, painters were instructed to consider the canvas as an open window. We can read Cera’s images as paintings, of light, that combine elements that would not ordinarily overlap – a lamp looms larger than an office block, a blank TV screen glows on the horizon, traces of life and latent love lap over the roof tops, a half naked body sleeps within the skyline. These images capture two complex layers of life collapsing into one another, moments where the representations of temporary domestic and urban worlds merge into one-dimension. The photographs consolidate these worlds, equalizing their roles and defining one within the other. In the images you can read a sense of vertigo in collision within the flat plane where traces and details of the private life above, the streets below and the horizon beyond, show us fragments of what was there while we are free to read what was not.
A Room With a View gestures to life played out in reflection, directing us to speculate on what is happening beneath the external action and surface level. The photographer reiterates his existence through an occasional conscious inclusion of himself in the scene, reasserting his presence by transforming and expanding the ‘reality’ of the image. The images are an existentialist collage that toy with the ‘Gaze’; both of the viewer and the artist. The ‘Gaze’, a psychoanalytical term used by Jaques Lacan to describe a condition where a person observes a reflection of themselves and questions their autonomy through the projection of their ‘identity’ on to an exterior object. Therefore triggering ‘tat tvam asi’ , a realisation of self, an idea linked with his theory of the mirror stage, where in childhood we are engaged in the formation of our external identities though moments of existential reckoning.
Something that fascinates me are the numbers of transient lives lived in hotel rooms and the traces they leave behind or erase; the dramas or merely the mundane played out in these temporary homes, their functionality and their personality redressed daily by anonymous service staff. It feels as though Cera is trying to figure where the photographer stands in this world of his. By surveying events from behind the glass, through the reflections in the window, he is trapped within the city which creates a sort of surrealist ‘whole’ with himself as witness. Although abstracted from literal meanings, his artists statement for the project is about the multiplicities and anxieties of the world that he wants to examine and represent. By experiencing a kind of internment, caught between the hotel room and the layers of the window, his personal space becomes simultaneously cast out into city and fundamentally separated from it.
“A man looking out of an open window never sees as much as the same man looking directly at a closed window. There is no object more deeply mysterious, no object more pregnant with suggestion, more insidiously sinister, in short more truly dazzling than a window lit up from within... What we can see out in the sunlight is always less interesting than what we can perceive taking place behind a pane of window glass. In that pit, in that blackness or brightness, life is being lived, life is suffering, life is dreaming.... But what does it really matter what the reality outside myself is, as long as it has helped me to live, to feel that I am alive, to feel the very nature of the creature that I am.”
As much as the membrane of the window plane and the conflict of internal and external readings, these photographs are also concerned with horizons. Another dimension, the horizon is the apparent line that separates ground from sky, the line that divides all visible directions and the poetics that it affords. “A person who has no horizon is a man who does not see far enough and hence overvalues what is nearest to him. Contrariwise, to have a horizon means not to be limited to what is nearest, but to be able to see beyond it….” Cera’s analogous images of window panes and planes are perhaps also a response to the fact that we spend so much of our time staring at the screens of computers, televisions and other devices. Windows full of moving images, texts, and icons offer us endless unknowable horizons. How the world is viewed has become as important as what is in the view. In this series Cera examines the idea of window as metaphor, as an architectural component to articulate an open reference to the dematerialized reality that we see on the screen, on the computer and then on into our physical lives - the place where multiple windows coexist and overlap and where perspective as we knew it, may have met its end.
“Last thing I remember,
I was running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
‘Relax’, said the night man,
We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave”
Hotel California, The Eagles