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Street Art Made By Opening Curtains

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.

3 thoughts on “Street Art Made By Opening Curtains

  1. That’s interesting, to be able to see other people’s art. It is always interesting to me what people choose to put in their house, because it’s such a personal place.

    I was not sure how I felt about that Moma exhibition when I saw it. At first I thought it was contrived, because these people are editing what they want to show you. But I guess that is what makes it interesting, what they choose to show you and the fact they are choosing to show themselves.

    1. Man, we saw that show together and as I recall, you reamed it! You said you don’t like work that’s presented for its shock value. (Which I think you’re more sensitive about because you had to sit through so many critiques with shitty art students.) And I’m pretty sure you said I’m not discriminating enough when it comes to art because I liked the show. If it’s in a museum I by default like it – I’m still chewing on that one. You may be right. Although, I do find most curation to be utterly boring and unimaginative.

      I like Yokomizo’s work because like you, I enjoy learning what objects people choose to surround themselves with. I also enjoy seeing how people respond to being photographed. Some pose, some are awkward, some try to act casual. You can tell they have that feeling that they’re being watched, but they can’t see the photographer which creates this awkward tension between the face in the photograph and the viewer. Love it.

  2. Haha! I know I was trying to be more sensitive though this time. I guess I felt cheated because it just seems so much like it is spying on people but it’s not at all. Also, wasn’t that part of the voyeurism show? I remember not liking that because all photography can somehow be voyeuristic unless it is studio photography where everything is set up. I may be mixing this up with another show though.

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