Takashi Homma’s show on Le Corbusier’s windows is a ‘re-enactment of the gaze’

STIR speaks with Louise Désy, the curator for the Japanese photographer's exhibition Eye Camera Window: Takashi Homma on Le Corbusier at the Canadian Centre for Architecture.

by Meghna Mehta Published on : Feb 05, 2021

Tokyo-based photographer Takashi Homma recently did a visual interpretation of the window in Le Corbusier’s architecture with his exhibition, Eye Camera Window: Takashi Homma on Le Corbusier, at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, Canada. Between 2002 and 2018, Homma revisited the window as a fundamental architectural element of Corbusier’s buildings in Europe and Asia as he delved deeper into his own investigation of the photographic medium.

12 mins watch Takashi Homma talks about the exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal | Eye Camera Window by Takashi Homma | STIRworld
Takashi Homma talks about the exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal Video: Courtesy of CCA

Homma first came across Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret’s works during 2013 when he visited Chandigarh, India, to produce photographs commissioned by the Canadian Centre for Architecture. In 2019, Homma also came out with the book, Looking Through Le Corbusier Windows. Following his experience in India, Homma went on to research and photograph the spatial and perceptual richness of windows in other works by Corbusier across the world.

Through the photographs, the exhibition addresses the complexity of the relationship between interior and exterior space, architecture and landscape, as imagined by Corbusier. Homma's photographs reflect and transcribe embodied experiences mediated by the eye and the space of the window.

Windows for me are the lens in a camera as well as the windows in architecture. They form a kind of a nested structure in my mind. And as an extension of this concept, even the human eye is a window. – Takashi Homma
The viewing boxes to see the photographs | Eye Camera Window | Takashi Homma | STIRworld
The viewing boxes to see the photographs Image: Courtesy of CCA

STIR speaks with Louise Désy, the curator of the exhibition Eye Camera Window: Takashi Homma on Le Corbusier, and Francesco Garutti, Curator, Contemporary Architecture at the CCA.

Meghna Mehta (MM): I believe the exhibition is trying to talk about the connection between architectural photography and the experience of spaces. Is that correct?

Louise Désy (LD): Yes, it talks about the fact that the window is like a camera, and the analogy between the architectural window and the camera. The frame is the common element between the two. And the same for Le Corbusier looking at a window. He was a photographer himself and collected a lot of images. He was well aware of the camera and what the camera could bring, he was looking at the window as a photographic frame. This is what we wanted to say - that the two are kind of the same in a way.

Francesco Garutti (FG): If I can add further, the idea of the experience is very true in the exhibition that Louise put together. Here, it is also related to the spatial experience, and also curating the approach for the photographs in relation to the devices but also to the different walls because each one is unique in the octagon. The wall where we talk about the zooming or the cinematographic movement of the zooming, I think the overall show in the end, organically happens to also be an experiment on curating the relation between the view and the base.

In the end, even if this space is one because the octagonal gallery is really at the centre of the space. This geometry of the octagonal with its different corners and angles adds another layer of complexity that we added after the commission and the publication of the book in the space.

The viewing boxes that look like kaleidoscopes | Eye Camera Window | Takashi Homma | STIRworld
The viewing boxes that look like kaleidoscopes Image: Courtesy of CCA

MM: Have you tried to create any unique experience in particular for the visitor to the exhibition?

LD: We created these little boxes, which are viewing devices, where you also have photographs of Homma depicted in these boxes. You have to bend and experience the photographs and this is something that Homma spoke about - a relationship with not only the drawings, the photos, but also the way a spectator or a visitor engage with the work.

MM: This looks like a kaleidoscope, where you see it through a certain lens  and are able to engage with the visuals in a very different way, which is also in line with the title of the exhibition.

LD: Yeah, exactly! That was the idea. One talks about the time, how the buildings have not survived, the present condition today as some are in better condition. Also the other two buildings in Paris, which are being restored at the moment but were lying abandoned for years.

It is also how the person can realise, when one takes a photograph, that what you want to include and exclude from the frame so that the experience is totally different than being in the centre of the room and looking at the large images on the wall or approaching the drawing. These are different ways to make the connection.

The entrance to the exhibition | Eye Camera Window | Takashi Homma | STIRworld
The entrance to the exhibition Image: Courtesy of CCA

MM: As you pointed out, you tried to create certain things with the physical aspects of the exhibition. Can you walk me through the spaces?

LD: Sure, first of all, this special room has two doors but the goal, or let's say, that the challenge of this specific space is that when you enter, you see everything. You cannot direct the visitor. So, the exhibition was thought by ‘approaches’, and each cluster of images shows a different relation that the visitor can experience with the photographs of Homma. We have different images by Homma but here the window is not necessarily the protagonist. Some showcase what it is like when the building is an observation platform. In another one, there is also a view which has really no architecture or framing at all.

The octagonal space | Eye Camera Window | Takashi Homma | STIRworld
The octagonal space Image: Courtesy of CCA

There are three walls when you enter and these three walls are about photography sequences. Much like looking at a window from different angles of point of view. For the Villa Savoye, he changes his way of looking at windows. Instead of being inside the building, and looking out of the window, he decided to stand away from the house and look at the house. It again is different for the viewer to look at the experience of the window and the landscape. There is another room besides, where there is the video about the interview with Homma.

FG: The centre has these two galleries where we show exhibitions. There is this octagonal gallery that is this one room, ideal for making, or using the form of the exhibition as a tool to exhibit one argument, because you have to build it within one space. And then we have the CCS main galleries, wherein simultaneously we are showing two main exhibitions, let's say, but those main galleries include seven larger spaces that are connected.

A story expressed through the photographs | Eye Camera Window | Takashi Homma | STIRworld
A story expressed through the photographs Image: Courtesy of CCA

MM: What led you to curate this particular documentation by Takashi Homma?

LD: There are many, many photographers who documented Corbusier’s architecture. I think Homma had a very creative and personal way to do that, after so many people, looking at his architecture, it is not obvious to find a special approach. Photographers have looked at windows over the years, the narrative would have been totally different. But the space also, of course, is important.

When one curates an exhibition, you have to think about what the space is? What can you do with the space? What do you want to say? And how to organise the material.

The re-enactment of the gaze created in the exhibition | Eye Camera Window | Takashi Homma | STIRworld
The re-enactment of the gaze created in the exhibition Image: Courtesy of CCA

MM: What makes this exhibition unique or different from other exhibitions put together at the CCA?

FG: Well, we were talking about the relation with the space and Louise was mentioning how imagining this project in the other galleries, of course, would have affected our approach to conceptually imagining it. I think this exhibition is really fitting to the idea of this space. And it is really the concept that is suitable for the circular gallery as fitting in the typology of the space.

What I found really striking while doing this show was, they said we are attempting the ‘re-enactment of the gaze’. I think this is what moved me as compared to other shows. Even if there is a component about the history of architecture, there is a component which is about photographic campaigns. Or a mission connected to the work. It is also very interesting that the process was not just somehow about on and off taking photos, but was part of a mission that became a part of the journeys and travel. There is a strong relation between the ‘re-enactment of gaze’ with the ‘spatial experience of the visitor’. I personally feel that this is a special character of the show, though these components can be found in other exhibitions, I believe they are particularly strong and evident in this project.

A visitor looking at the photographs | Eye Camera Window | Takashi Homma | STIRworld
A visitor looking at the photographs Image: Courtesy of CCA

LD: Also, the book has an essay by Tim Burton, but it features hundreds of photographs taken by Homma. And the exhibition does not repeat the book. You have the book, you read, you turn the pages, you see the images, but in the gallery space, you don't see the same images, the experience is totally different. So that was also one of the goals of the exhibition, to make it, I do not want to say unique, but to bring another layer of observation that the photographs can provide to that space.

Sequence and cluster of photographs used in the exhibition | Eye Camera Window | Takashi Homma | STIRworld
Sequence and cluster of photographs used in the exhibition Image: Courtesy of CCA

MM: If you were to go back in time, what is that one thing that you would do differently or like to change with this exhibition?

LD: Homma’s approach has changed over the years, when he started with the documentation in Switzerland, with the idea of the window in mind, and went on, and he himself says, that he did not know what he would find. Another way of representation could be that we could have communicated that story chronologically from the beginning to the end, how the observation or approach changed. There are different ways in which we could have talked about that.

Interview with Takashi Homma displayed at the exhibition | Eye Camera Window | Takashi Homma | STIRworld
Interview with Takashi Homma displayed at the exhibition Image: Courtesy of CCA

FG: I agree with Louise. We could have developed a different concept but maybe there is another dimension that is very important to this show. And of course, that and related to the content of the exhibition design that we could have changed, which is the topic of the ‘light’. Light in this exhibition is very important and we thought about the type of light, how do we want to focus it, and that becomes something that is always interesting to test in an exhibition. There is a mix of natural and artificial light in the galleries and also the need to protect the Corbusier drawing. I think it could have been interesting also to change the light settings, imagine, like a darker space, what kind of exhibition could it have been only with natural light. These are all spatial, physical and viewing experiences that we could have tested and made this a totally different show keeping the design as is.

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