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The Window                                                                                                 

By Alejandra Celedón

PhD Architectural Association, Londres

María Gabler, Chilean artist, notices the simplicity of the fundamental elements with which architecture builds (vertical posts, beams, pillars, ceilings), in the archetypes with which a architecture composes buildings (stairs, corridors, windows, facades) to separate and unite bodies in the space. As Robin Evans's seminal essay "Bodies, Doors, and Galleries" begins (1978), "everyday objects contain the deepest mysteries" or the simplest things can contain the most important questions. In every one of her works Gabler criticizes issues that cross history, uses and conventions. Her installations respond to the spaces that are presented to her, much like of a site-specific work which, instead of accommodating itself to its context, reacts to it and challenges it.


In Fachada (“Facade”, Cancha Residence, 2014) the artist questions the concept of heritage by intervening in an existing building from its very marrow. Opening a hole in a fake ceiling using a staircase, Fachada renders visible (and problematizes) the fact that the only thing remaining intact in that declaration is its own covering. To discover the construction origins of its interior (bricks and original wall studs) one has to break through the contemporary layers and look at what the building is hiding. Terraza (“Terrace”, Matucana 100, 2015) has a new staircase that seems to lead only to a dark corner of the exhibition room. The staircase leads to a small platform that shows -in a photograph that can’t be seen from below- the panoramic view of the surrounding landscape that would be visible from that precise angle and height were it not for the walls of the buildings. The photograph shows what can’t be seen; it returns the horizon and brings the landscape into the building as potential, diluting the limits imposed by the building.


In Mirador (“Lookout”, Galería Tajamar, 2015), Gabler duplicates a building: she constructs a replica of the Galería Tajamar in which she has been invited to exhibit. It's an exact copy but made out of sheets of mdf wood -a material she has used in previous works. The gallery she has constructed is closed, its back is to the windows of the original, thereby dislocating the principal function of the exhibition space (a space which, in effect, doesn't exist today). By showing us its opposite she violates this space and reproduces (or rather translates) in an inverted (or subverted) way the gallery space on a 1:1 scale. The volume was later taken exhibited in the Galería Gabriela Mistral: a 1:1-scale model of a blind gallery exhibited within an open exhibition space. Some years later, in La Galería (“The Gallery”, Sala de Arte, CCU, 2017), she used mdf wood sheets to build a closed-off “gallery-corridor” within the gallery where the “architectural archetype” and the “collection of works” of art overlap in a single gesture. Muro falso ("Fake Wall", Galería NAC, 2018) excavates the layers of history of the wall on which an artwork is to be hung. A piece of that wall was extracted and exposed at the Ch.ACO Art Fair.

For the artist the sites of exhibition are ‘found objects’, dislocated constructions which she then reuses for other ends. Displaced from their original contexts and placed into new sites, they become instrumental to her aims. Any designation and then moving of an object, including ready-made, constitutes the modification of an object as our perception of its utility, its useful life or its state is changed.


With La Ventana (“The Window”, 2021) the artist delves into the past to use an old opening in the northern wall of the Galería Gabriela Mistral, building a tunnel from the window that looks onto the street along the traces of the memory of that window. The artist explores a similar historical reconstitution in Vertical (MAC, Quinta Normal, 2017). In La Ventana Gabler builds a tunnel that blocks all the light, bringing the old window closer to the street and thereby collapsing and obviating the gallery space. In architectural terms a window is called “blind” when one can’t look through it. A blind window exists as a drawing, as a structure that is a frame and chopstick when its ultimate function is denied. By blocking and obstructing the use of the gallery, as she previously did in Ruina (“Ruin”, Galería BECH, 2011) or La Galería (2017), Gabler shifts the meaning of the use of the interior by revealing the cliché of the "gallery window" overlooking the street, as she also did in Mirador or La Vitrina (“Display Window”, Galería Animal, 2011).

Windows delimit the permeability between interior and exterior, between private and public, between architecture and the city, allowing that determining limit of ownership to be crossed easily from both sides. Not this time. The intimate relationship between the window, sight and perception is disrupted. Mediator between spaces, the window is a site of communication; and as a word it has been metaphorically abused by other visual media such as painting, television or computer interfaces. Examining these metaphors reveals that the apparently familiar window might actually not be transparent but rather hide or refract what is on the other side. In this case one can only see the things that the artist permits us to see through this window. Windows are central to our concept of an interior: we look through them at the outside world (be that a city or a landscape) from a protected place; or we receive light, air and warmth (or cold) through them. On the one hand, the window frames a view of the world and the relationship of the viewer with what they are looking at outside. The window illuminates daily scenes, as Vermeer, De Hooch and others show us. The life that a window gathers around it in the interior, differentiates from a door. The light that illuminates the activity on the inside creates a meeting place that a door cannot create. On the other hand, from outside, the many windows that we pass make us look at the city as a series of interiors that our voyeuristic gazes connect into a collection of individual lives.

Windows, like screens for our desire to appropriate those lives, become part of the narrative of the city.


Cancelling both possibilities of the window as a charged threshold, Gabler’s work challenges the very idea of an interior. In this sense it gives us the window as a heterotopia: an Other, an impossible place. When we look from the inside we see the outside, but we also see ourselves reflected in a space which we do not, in reality, occupy. When we look from the outside we see the inside, but also ourselves. Reflected in a mirror we become aware of our own gaze. The window is a space for us to wonder and imagine. As Foucault writes, it is also a utopia: “I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal, virtual space that opens up behind the surface; I am over there, there where I am not, a sort of shadow that gives my own visibility to myself, that enables me to see myself where I am absent”. The image he observes imposes itself on the sight of the object of his desire, denied here in the breaking of all the promises that a transparent window holds. In many ways Gabler offers architecture a renewed epistemological status. Working always with minimal resources she promises a reconceptualization of the building from within: from the inside out. But even more radically she makes possible the reverse thinking of moving from the particular to the general, from the small to the large, from the architectural detail to the city. She insists on these themes, refining her strategies with new critical perspectives on the spaces that she occupies. Her work dilutes the frontiers of reflection between architecture and art, between the fake and the real, between the building’s past and its traces in the present.

Evans, Robin. Figures, Doors and Passages. Translations from Drawings to Buildings and Other Essays. 1997. London: Architectural Association.

Foucault, Michel. “Des Espaces Autres”. Conference given in the Cercle des études architecturals, March 14th 1967. Architecture, Mouvement, Continuité

La Ventana María Gabler
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