I was walking around Palo Alto tonight after work. As I passed the fancy houses, I was struck by what I saw. I saw people’s private lives and household activities all out in the open for everyone to see. I saw people eating dinner, talking, playing, something that looked like tutoring, at least five households watching the state of the union, and one make-out session. I could also see art. Private art that most likely will never be seen in a gallery or museum. Much of it was positioned and lit as if it were meant to be seen from the street. It’s a new form of street art. I decided to continue walking and to try to find as much art visible from the street as possible. I present here a few samples of Palo Alto street art (taken with my phone):
While I was doing this activity I was reminded of work by Shizuka Yokomizo which I saw in a show at SF MoMA called Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera Since 1870.
Shizuka Yokomizo, Stranger No. 2, 1999, chromogenic print; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Accessions Committee Fund purchase
Shizuka Yokomizo Untitled (from the series Stranger) 1998 – 2000
C-type prints, 127 x 108 cm
To create this series, Yokomizo sent letters to residents which explained, “Dear Stranger, I am an artist working on a photographic project which involves people I do not know…. I would like to take a photograph of you standing in your front room from the street in the evening.” If they wished to be photographed all they had to do was leave the curtains open and be present at the specified time. If they didn’t want to participate they were to leave the curtains closed.
Walking around Palo Alto tonight, it felt as if some people were doing this without a formal request. Perhaps they do it every night. They weren’t intentionally standing and posing in their living rooms (I think), but they were living their private lives in the front rooms of their homes with the curtains open. Sure, some houses had closed blinds, curtains, screens, opaque glass, hedges, fences, or were just dark. But it was fascinating to discover how many interiors I could see just passing by on the street. I personally always want to close the blinds at night because I feel like people can see me and I can’t see them (because, ahem, they can!) My husband gently mocks me, saying I remind him of his grandmother who would always tell him, “Fermez donc les volets mon petit, qu’on soit un peu chez nous.” With that, I’ll be closing my curtains now.