Suppose we didn’t know what a window is. That it opens, for instance. It would seem to us a different part of the wall, translucent, maybe. A decorative rectangle set in the wall a few inches above the floor, the embodiment of a construction mystery like liminality. It’s tantalizing to me when trapped in a room: a tormenting, mean tease. The wall is thinner here, porous, but still unpassable. How little effort it would take to break it and just go through the wall. Yet we can’t.
Suppose I didn’t know what a window is. That it can open. That, not only can I look outside, but be seen, too. This liminality requires expertise, a know-how: the possibility of being looked at, and allowing the viewer to look through it, at you.
Suppose we lived behind things like windows set in things like walls, and yet, we never knew.
-After Robert Kelly
The observation made by specialists that the urban and architectonic aspects of the Spanish cities are the origin and reason of everything that was done during the Colony, far from constituting confirmation of such statement, creates all kinds of doubts: Not only because of the details of the windows and balconies, which seem obvious at the formal level but because of the mixture of them and the urban environment that ensued. If there's something truly American about them, it's precisely the mixture of European ideas and techniques that could only be produced in the New World. It could be said that any attempt to measure the architectonic and artistic merits of the windows through the assimilation of Hispanic prototypes and examples is useless since, from it, only the systematic inferiority of the American can result.
I'm interested in the politico-sentimental and historic-anecdotic incidence of the windows. The latter, because Colombia has been historically interested in finding an "illustrious Spaniard" that lived here or there, or who built this or that, a Spaniard that came to "Hacer América"; and the former because the most common and most repetitive aspects of these architectonic details are the social classes implicit in their building materials like stone and wood. These balconies and windows connote memory: they remind us of other architectures and seem to belong to a style with a long history behind it.
During the Spanish colonization, the technological aspects of the processes of filtration and adaption are somewhat clear: The Spanish constructor substitutes European materials for their autochthonous equivalents in the New World, and gradually incorporates indigenous techniques to the building tasks that are fundamental of European origin. The formal language of the balusters in the balconies and windows consists of a translation to wood from what originally was turned marble or stone designed for castles and palaces, which were reserved for a nobility that never existed in the New World. It's a cheerful and carefree translation with stylistic freedom regarding their original patrones, whom they endow with a rich taste of originality.
And yet, the building techniques that arrived at the Colony are common to all the Mediterranean cultures, as are its textures and colors. You couldn't even call them Spanish. What we have could easily be called stylistic bastardy.
At some point, earlier in the 20th century, with the arrival of oil-based enamel paint to small Colombian towns, local 'culture' found a way to be visualized with colors in their domestic facades. We see then, colonial houses painted with electric blues, lemony greens and bright magentas that have no relation to anything that was there before them. This resulted in a syncretic and insidious ploy by which pluralistic and diverse cultures were held identified with its historical architecture. It reshaped the space per the political and social policies that came with American imports: even in the form of colored enamel paint and "taste".
With the arrival of government to Macondo, the first order was for all the houses to be painted blue in celebration of the anniversary of national independence: the color of the party in power. Jose Arcadio Buendía fervently refused, not based on political sentiment, but on the stubbornness of preserving his house white, like a dove.
By abstracting the windows, I'm re-thinking myself. The idea of bricolage has been present lately, a notion of an identity-pastiche, both national as well as personal. The Colombian colonial windows are not idiosyncratic in their originality –i.e., their color and shape–, but in how they were "designed" through mix-and-match. It's a natural assumption to believe that these windows are derivations or emulations of Spanish architecture, but we find that the combination of styles found in the balconies and windows are found all over the Mediterranean. There's a crisis here: a crisis in the very notion of the colonized subject. The colonized can only be that, inasmuch, they can recognize their colonizer.
The parallel with Latin-American mestizaje –miscegenation–, results in being obvious and too superficial. And yet, maybe this simple form is what's needed; the pieces, in constant conversation with their window counterparts, can only hint to their syncretic family tree. The pastiche, the bricolage, results then in a sloppy metaphor for a nation, but also myself. The snobbism of my generation, the constant hounding for first-world entertainment over our local culture, the desire to belong to another community outside of ours, is a hapless parallel with the stories behind these windows: there's no Spanish' illustrious ancestor' to be found, but a recycling of ideas of national unity and periphery.
Why, then, to leave our country? What do we seek when we seek to be another? What is this anxiety of making ourselves an-other?
I like to think that maybe I can seek an unfolding of the self through these reflections. To understand ourselves as an image, like a choppy mirroring, partially dazed by our architecture. These windows are terrible masks, festive clothing for indolent hearts; Fake lattices that seek to obstruct, like a grey wall of self-flagellation, and uncertainty. They open-up to a vagueness around our place in the world, a place we've built for ourselves, a place we've wanted to understand as post-colonial and of colorless, faded tones.
What I ask of myself is to just look through the railings: into a gnawed interior made up by shadows, husked walls that every night put their make-up on and walk the city to sell themselves. Falsehoods that leave no room for the intimate, whiny colors that fake a feast where no music is playing. There's a sadness to my country. A feeling of sterility, of lost opportunities and opportunities dead. Not of Albatross, but of limping sparrows and blind condors. A country where a seagull will eat a drowning moth.