Lookin' out my back door

Made by Kim Lister

Created: November 5th, 2014


I live in an old 3-story house in Shadyside. There’s a back door at ground level and another up a flight of wooden stairs on the second level. I enjoyed the view off of the second floor landing.

1. When you arrive in the space. Think about the words that come to mind when you take in the scene in front of you? Why do they come to mind?

Shabby. Run-down. Dilapidated. Urban. Overgrown. Shambles. (glancing up, further out) Neighborhood. Homes. Quaint.

Most of our backyard is rubble. There’s a stretch of gravel where we park our cars, and a structure that used to be a garage, but no longer has a roof. There are windows in the side that are half-smashed and boarded over. The brick is exposed in ragged chunks, and a pile of bricks and stones sits inside in a corner. Vines of ivy flow down the right-side door, but fail to hide the peeling paint. The pavement outside it is cracked; plants and debris have filled the spaces between.

Around and beyond our lot, though, there’s lots of cute old houses with neatly-tended gardens, and large trees here and there.

2. What are the objects you see directly in front of you? Name each of them in your mind.

The old wooden railing of this staircase. The dirt “lawn,” with a few ragged clumps of grass and many stray leaves. The gravel lot, with my orange (“ignition”) Kia Soul parked slightly crooked in it. The small, paved, dead-end road that serves our lot and our neighbors’. The short brick wall surrounding our neighbor’s property, then their patio and swimming pool. Rows of rooftops, house fronts, treetops.

3. Imagine there are lines drawn between all of objects or things in the space? How are they connected? Are they organized?

Rows predominate, running left-right across the plane, parallel to the streets running east-west. There’s some semblance of top-to-bottom lines also, but these are not quite as straight and well-defined. The yard below me is a jumbled mess. The neighbor’s yard has a couple things centered around the driveway, with its two cars, but mostly is centered around their pool. Chairs, tables, and assorted equipment is all arranged at a roughly consistent distance around it, and with roughly equal spaces in between.

4. Close your eyes for a minute and open them again. Where do your eyes go to? Why do you think they land in this location?

My eyes landed on my car, which is below and slightly to my left. I think my natural line of sight was forward and down, but there’s just a bit of paved road and brick wall exactly there, so instead I caught the shiny object just below that. It stands out from the surroundings, because it’s sleek and reflective whereas everything else is dull with some kind of rough texture, not seeming very bright because it’s overcast.

5. Close your eyes for a minute and open them again. What are the colors that you see best or appeal to you most? Why is that?

The greenish-yellow of the trees and the red-brown of clay bricks seem to be most dominant. That’s probably because they make up the majority of the view. I think in physics I learned that red and green are also the most attention-grabbing colors, so maybe that helps as well. I think the combination is appealing because they complement each other.

6. Look around. Is there anything you can’t see or can’t see well?

I’m wearing glasses, so the peripherals are always fuzzy. I can’t really see our next door neighbors’ yards because they have tall fences, trees, and bushes to block the view. After each row of houses in the distance, I can’t see the bases of the next row or the road in between. I can’t see individual leaves or roof tiles a couple streets away.

7. Look around. What are the textures that you see? How do the feel to you?

The gravel, the road, and the brick wall are all rough, though to varying degrees. The car is smooth but not slick. The wood railing has splinters and the paint is peeling. There’s some old cabinets that used to be in our kitchen in the garage area; the counters always feel dusty even when they’ve been wiped down. Overall it feels very rough and grey, kind of like the autumn day.

8. Let your mind wander. Where does it go? What do you think about and how is that related to the space around you?

I think about school and the errands I ran earlier in the day. This is the way I typically leave for campus, or to drive anywhere, so maybe that’s what sparked the thought.

9. If you attention shifts, what has it landed on? Why do you think your eye moved to this location?

I often find myself looking down into the garage area, trying to see inside, peeking over the nearest wall. It’s an enclosed space, so my eye kind of wants to find the center of it, and the ivy over the door is very inviting and makes me curious what might lay beyond it.

-What was your initial visual impression of the space you chose?

The disorder of something that has been made neat and tidy and then subsequently mussed by nature/entropy.

-How did you respond to it physiologically (where the eye moved to) and psychologically (in how you perceived and responded to the visual scene)?

My eye tended to move down to what I could look over and into. I sought out motion, glancing up at the distant treetops whenever the wind blew, or staring at the squirrels that would occasionally bounce past. Psychologically, I started feeling drowsy--overcast days tend to have that effect on me. There's nothing especially bright or dark and everything's just kind of glowing with a diffuse light like heaven or a dream world in the movies.

-What did you notice by the end of the experience that you didn’t notice initially? Why?

I noticed the state of the plants that surround our house. I guess usually they're just a greenish backdrop for the human things which are typically the focus of attention because they are functional, but when gazing out leisurely, it was interesting to examine their structure and color. I haven't thought about our plants or if we should be taking care of them. They don't look too good. I'm pretty sure Tom ran over some of them.