On windows

"Vision itself has a history."
— Heinrich Wölfflin, in Principles of Art History

"What one can see out in the sunlight is always less interesting than what goes on behind a glass pane. In that black or luminous square life lives, life dreams, life suffers.”
— Charles Baudelaire, Windows
GIF from Giphy
Vintage Vhs  
By Rotomangler

In his poem “Windows”, Charles Baudelaire famously expressed the conditions of the city at the turn of the nineteenth century. Aware of the rapid changes of modern life in which the line between the private and the public world became increasingly imprecise, he has a special interest in windows. The transparent “walls” that simultaneously seem to pierce and reinforce the barriers between the in- and outside world. To Baudelaire, a window represents a mystery, an obscured transparency.

Blocking the physical intimacy it seems to promise, the reflection of the glass throws the gaze of the observer back upon herself; granting only limited voyeuristic access to what happens outside her own view. Penetrable only by our own imagination, by our ability to invent the stories unfolding beyond the glass.

Baudelaire doesn't look at windows as an architectural invention, but as viewing machines. A brief history of the word "window" (which stems from the Old Norse vindauga, which translates as vindr, "wind", and auga, "eye") demonstrates how the window as an opening for ventilation and light ceded its priorities to Baudelaire's definition: to frame a view, or to hold a view in place.Since Baudelaire strolled through the Parisian streets, this definition of the window has evolved rapidly. Elevators, escalators, cars, trams and trains introduced new ways of seeing the city through a glass wall at a different pace. These new means of transportation provided us with an unprecedented urban mobility that changed our view tremendously.
Looking out the window in the heavy darkness of the subway channels, for instance, we find ourselves in a dual state of mind: we can see oneself mirrored in the window and, at the same time, see the outside world, all smudgy, passing by. The rearview mirror in our cars provide us not only with an image of where we have been, but also with side views of landscape unfolding, distorted by speed.

While these new modes of transportation provided us with a new mobile visibility, mass media introduced a virtual mobility. Replacing the windscreen with a television screen, the viewer sits not longer in a moving vehicle but still in front of a screen. Here, the window itself is used to transport moving images and information to the viewer. This experience does no longer rely upon the physical mobility of the spectator, but upon the mobility of the gaze.
Image from page 103 of "International studio"
Title: International studio
Publisher: New York
Contributing Library: Robarts - University of Toronto
Digitizing Sponsor: University of Toronto

Sitting in front of our televisions, we are immobile spectators that rely upon a mobility that is simulated on the black mirrors in our living rooms. Screens that show us temporal worlds in which we do not really participate. As Walter Benjamin so famously outlined, mass media introduced distraction as a mode of reception.
This distracted mode of reception is becoming more apparent with the development of personal computers. As an early component of the graphical user interface, the “computer window" referred not to the actual frame of the machine, but rather to a subset of its screen surface: a screen within a screen, a window within a window, layered on top of each other. This multiplicity of perspective resonates on the screens of our phones, tablets and laptops.

Image from page 309 of "The Bell System technical journal"
Title: The Bell System technical journal
Authors: American Telephone and Telegraph Company
Publisher: [Short Hills, N.J., etc., American Telephone and Telegraph Co.]
Contributing Library: Prelinger Library
Digitizing Sponsor: Internet Archive
If Baudelaire would be alive today, he would hold a phone in his hand to record cities in which actual windows are replaced by screens, and walls are coloured by projections. He would travel in-between cities by train, not looking out of the window, but gazing at the window in his own hand. It’s in that black or luminous square contemporary life lives, life dreams, life suffers.
GIF from Giphy
Windows 95
by Unknown