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THE EMERGENCY IS NOT IN THIS ROOM




Notice that every window on your street is a square of other-world, each one saying THE

EMERGENCY IS NOT IN THIS ROOM. Not in the blue-LED beam from the attic bedroom, leaking floor-

mattress love songs all over the tarmac. Not in the room with the woman unhooking her bra

clumsily, curtains still open, as if she isn’t used to doing this alone.


It’s best to take field notes as you go. What colour is the wallpaper? The light? How is this room

keeping the emergency out?


Notice that the computer screen is a window too, as you type up your field notes at the end of each

day. Afterwards, while you’re reading about the emergency’s latest sightings, you’ll see them among

the forest fires and bombed hospitals and babies left to starve: digital squares of other-world. You

can peer into a bright green room with a perfectly-formed shoe in the middle, telling you to buy it

while stocks last. In other rooms, there are novels, diet pills, dance classes, people waiting to date

you; all safe from the emergency, even as their borders touch.


Field note: buy this shoe while stocks last and you, too, may be emergency-proof!


Notice that an image of a window is a window in itself. In 1975, Marina Abramović swaps places with

a Dutch sex worker for her performance Role Exchange. Abramović works in a Red Light District

window. She does it because she’s afraid of becoming a prostitute, and becoming a prostitute is the

only way to be liberated from this fear. In a photograph of Role Exchange, Abramović is smoking and

there are flowers on the sill. The photograph is in black-and-white. Without the giveaway red light,

it’s just a woman in her house, alone, perhaps waiting for a lover. Look closer. Something is false

here; something artificial about the careful purse of the artist’s mouth. Later, when the camera has

gone, Abramović might unhook her bra with the curtains still open, or brush her hair in the window’s

reflection, pretending she is unwatched. She looks unafraid, in the photograph. She looks like she’s

playing the part.


Field note: you must pretend you are not afraid.


Notice that woman-at-window art is not always about sex and fear. In Vermeer, Woman-at-window

pours out some milk from a jug, and it looks like peace. In Friedrich, Woman-at-window gazes out at

the ship-masts always leaving. In Degas, Woman-at-window is the only real thing in the room, and

the streets of Paris are softly bright behind the shadow of her head. Something makes you look

twice at this one. The emergency isn’t meant to be here, so why do you feel so afraid? You find out

later that Paris is under siege by Prussia while this woman is being painted, and that soft brightness

in the background is a fantasy. Degas is saying Look, no emergency here! But the window is open too

wide. The emergency leaks in.


Field note: you cannot keep the emergency out if you do not shut the window.


Notice that, sometimes, the window is not a square at all. It’s not made of glass or any particular

colour. Sometimes, it’s just the two hours spent in a dark cinema with all phones switched off. It’s

the quiet commute between the 9-5 and the 5-9. It’s the birthday dinner for one of your friends,

when all you can talk about is the funny thing that happened last week or last year or on television

and the voices keep folding over one another on every side of the table. These windows open up

around you while you’re not paying attention, still saying THE EMERGENCY IS NOT IN THIS ROOM

even if you can’t look inside them to prove it.


Field note: the emergency is not in this room.


Words + Image: Caitlin Forster, she/her

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