Window is a transparent threshold. It is an opening in a wall of matter that lets in air, moonlight and sunlight, the colours of the world, the dark of night. The window is where inside and outside meet and cross, bringing together two worlds and their elements.1Kathleen J.Martin and Ami Ronnberg, Window
At Turner Contemporary the ‘frame’ is the undoing of spatial proximity. The outside turns in on itself, both obscuring and making visible. The familiar is dispelled and the distant is perceived with a closer intensity. It is almost as if the seascape is being interrogated, as the observer’s introverted gaze is no longer self-contained, seeking, directing and altering their frame of mind. Arnaud Millet writes that “The innocence of the gaze is a way of creating a tabula rasa, of unlearning how to look in order to finally become capable of looking.”2 An almost cinematic vision of the world becomes visible, as the sea appears shallow and flat.
A frame acts as a cue, directing our eyes to a specific and particular view, both opening up and conversely enclosing it. Cut off at the edges, it contracts and expands beyond its limits. A clock frame holds the glass in place in order to protect the mechanism inside. Similarly, the window frame also prevents nature from eroding the building’s interior over time. Impenetrable glass panels float side by side and only the light and seascape pass through.
The seascape does not pose for the frame, it is positioned within it. Neither does it speak of being observed. Nevertheless, it suffers a transformation. Its effects are tamed, shortened in length. Now viewed within limits it is made into an image, even as the sea falls and laps. The sound of waves crashing upon each other is barely audible, and yet they are felt. The silent sense of the scene creates an almost spiritual place of contemplation and reflection.
What is the sound of an unfurling wave cut off midway below the stomach and just above the ankle?
Chipperfield’s use of the frame directs the viewer to look upon the seascape as if it is a painting. The viewer has the simultaneous sensation of being both near and far from the sea. In turn the ever-changing scene is blurred by the rain, over exposed by the sun, and heightened, or flawed by weather. It would be easy to imagine Turner feeling an affinity with this scene. His paintings were revolutionary physical constructions and yet, he painted everything that is transient and impermanent: the wind, rain, light and fog. He captured the ethereal nature of all things that are elemental. It is the alchemy of Turner’s work that allows the viewer to inhabit the scene. The physicality within his paintings makes the viewer envisage the movement of the waves before and after his image.
The longer you look at something the more it transforms. From inside the gallery, the view at first glance can appear to be frameless. The window’s frame isn’t raised, nor does it protrude; it is flattened and set into the structure of the building. The eye retracts and bulges as it zooms in and out, creating an almost double vision of the view itself. The seam of the horizon is lost between sea and sky. It is a place where blue dissolves into white. It becomes hard to separate the outside world and the image seen from inside the building. The frame distances the observer from the seascape, where the immediate is made un-immediate.
Within Chipperfield’s ‘framing’, the everyday seascape of Margate is repositioned and experienced in a fundamentally new way. To paraphrase Chipperfield, a building encloses people into a space and isolates them from the outside. By framing the view the architect is suggesting that the building presents a new way of seeing it. In this way architecture has the potential of making a place such as Margate appear to be beautiful in a way that perhaps, had previously gone un-noticed.
In 1989, Richard Wilson’s sculpture, She came in through the bathroom window, was exhibited at Matt’s Gallery, London. A section of the gallery window was removed from the skin of the building and repositioned inside the gallery space, so that the window frame occupied the greater part of the gallery’s interior. Wilson’s cropping of the frame accentuated the subject matter by dislocating it from the outer parts of the whole form.
At Turner Contemporary, the frame and the building are an indivisible whole. Chipperfield evokes a dramatic immersion into the seascape, where ships graze like driftwood-cows, minute and distant, moving through shivering lines. The frame is static but the view constantly shifts inside and outside the imposed and restless boundaries.
The frame is a bridge between the building, nature and the elements. If the window is a threshold where the outside and inside cross paths, then the frame is the illusion of their separateness.