by Seunghan Bae (11b4)
“Out My Window” is the first global project of HIGHRISE, a long-term documentary experiment by the National Film Board of Canada. This project is about apartments all around the world and people who are living in them. Photos taken of and by those dwellers are uploaded on the interactive “Out My Window” website, where viewers can explore thirteen different locations: Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, Havana, Sao Paolo, Amsterdam, Prague, Istanbul, Beirut, Bangalore, Phnom Penh, Tainan, and Johannesburg. Each location includes a real story of a unique person living in that city. Once entering through the window of one apartment, the user, almost like a virtual voyeur, faces many photos and video clips depicting hobbies, dreams, and the facts of life. According to Katerina Cizek, the director of HIGHRISE, “Out My Window” aims to show people different cultures in standardized residences of the twenty-first century.
In my case, I visited Prague, where a woman named Sylva lives with her two twin daughters. She is a visual artist; she makes graphics and illustrations with computer and takes photographs. She starts her story with her memory of when she was five years old. She and her family moved to South City, Prague. Her family lived in a huge concrete block building nicknamed “The Great Wall of China,” because it was one huge concrete building. At that time, the whole apartment was completely grey with bare concrete on its outer surface, and the surrounding was barren with mud and sand. These made negative impressions on the people, and the huge building became a symbol of socialism and poverty. Then, the newly established government decided to renovate this concrete society. They painted the edifices with bright and vivid colors, and made a park near the “Great Wall.” With many other renovations, South City changed completely. Now, Sylva says that when she takes photographs, she finds beauty from the once ugly concrete building.
As I looked at Sylva’s apartment, I noticed that many things were different with my home, even though my family is also living in an apartment. First, the mood of the building was different. In Korea, especially in Bundang where I live, apartments are usually painted white or ivory or covered with glass. Inside the house, walls and furniture are white, ivory, or dark brown. Korean people usually say that they feel warm with these colors. On the contrary, the “Great Wall” in Prague is painted both outside and inside with vivid colors like pink, yellow, blue, and green. Another difference is the surroundings of the buildings. In South City, Sylva’s apartment was the tallest concrete building when it was built. The nickname, “The Great Wall,” originated from its wall-like shape in the midst of small houses and plains. In contrast, there are so many apartment buildings in my hometown. What I can only see through my window are skyscrapers, roads, and some trees along the street. In fact, it seems that my apartment building is a tree in a huge concrete forest.
Not only the building, but people also seemed to be different. In Korea, people normally consider houses as their properties. By selling old houses and buying new ones, people try to earn a huge amount of money. Consequently, it is rare for Koreans to live in one house for a very long time. I was surprised when Sylva said that she has been living there since she was five years old. Now, she became a mother of two young daughters. In Korea, this could only be seen more than a hundred years ago before industrialization. In Sylva’s video clips, I could feel her reminiscence of her childhood. In my house, nothing makes me remember my infancy and childhood except for some photographs. I was a little bit envious of her positive attitude toward the house of the people living in Prague as a place for the sweet memories of family.
After I finished exploring Sylva’s house, I was curious about other people and traveled through the twelve other apartments. Each location had its unique interior style, mood, culture, scenery, and people. Every person had his or her own different background, hobbies, and specialties. When people see apartments from the outside, it is often very hard to verify one from another. However, if they see their inner facets, they will be amazed by the variety of the cultures, customs, behaviors, and dreams of the inhabitants. Now that I finished the online world tour, I wonder what it would be like to feature my life for the “Out My Window” project. I 'd hope to show people how Korean families live in their apartments surrounded with tens of other identical buildings. I'd also want to show many students all over the world how Korean students in a boarding school live together in harmony. All in all, the experience provided at "Out My Window" is one I recommend every one take to truly appreciate the precious things in life.
In the "concrete forest" life is very active.
Like mountains rising up out of the ground,
construction is swift and ongoing.
Some say these neighborhoods are "cookie cutter."
But what about the people in them?