Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s View from the Window at Le Gras. c. 1826. Gernsheim Collection Harry Ransom Center / University of Texas at Austin. Photo by J. Paul Getty Museum.
The testsite collaboration between artist Cliff Hengst and writer/curator Lawrence Rinder draws inspiration from the presence in Austin—at the Harry Ransom Center—of two remarkable historic artifacts: the very first photograph (c. 1826), a simple image of rooftops seen through the window of the photographer Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s home in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, France, and the archive of the English author Denton Welch (1915-1948). Welch himself frequently used the image and metaphor of the window to express the threshold of the imagination and the entry point into the unknown. Echoing the Niépce photograph while addressing the domestic status of the testsite location, Hengst has painted on the living room wall an image of the view from the upstairs bedroom window of the house’s occupant, Laurence Miller. (Hengst has installed in Miller’s private area a single work that remains concealed from the visiting public.) Also painted on the walls throughout the downstairs area are quotations from Denton Welch’s Journals in which the author introduces images seen through, or thoughts inspired by, windows. The overall project seeks to inspire reflections on internal and external experience, on the psychological character of domestic space, and on the charged relationship between public and private territories.