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  • Lily Ekimian

A Room with a View: The Unconventional Art Gallery of Third Floor Window

In Pittsburgh’s Mt. Lebanon, three floors up a nondescript apartment building, hides a gem of public art. Lily Ekimian speaks with Carolina Alamilla, the curator and artist behind Third Floor Window, about how she utilizes her apartment window to share art.

Third Floor Window Pittsburgh art gallery
Illustration: The Pittsburgher / Image from "Ravenous" (2020) by Marina Shaltout

It’s winter in Pittsburgh. You’re out walking on a Saturday night. You’re cold, wet (it is Pittsburgh, after all)—maybe even wishing you lived somewhere a little...brighter. You pass by a building, a four-story red-brick apartment building with a stone entrance and dimly lit stained glass windows running down the middle—it appears perhaps a bit church-like, possibly even stuffy, and not something one’s attention would readily be drawn to. However, as you pass, something quite absurd catches your eye: lily pads—captured in 16mm—softly sway before flaring out into dazzling bright pink and fading into ferns, then palm leaves—warm and welcoming and full of summer, all displayed within the window of an apartment on the third floor. For just a moment, this unexpected sighting on that cold dark street transports you to a time and place (and temperature) far from the present. Perhaps it even allows you to muse on a loftier concept: how we are meant to experience art.

The curator behind this window is Carolina Alamilla, who uses her Mt. Lebanon apartment to project video art on a loop every Friday and Saturday night in this non-traditional art-space aptly called the Third Floor Window. Once the sun goes down, the films are rear-projected onto a curtain for any and all to see. “By looking up, a curious neighbor, dog walker, and restaurant-goer can all be enchanted by a glowing window,” Alamilla writes in a curatorial statement. “One quick view can instill joy and healthy questioning as the artwork presents different visual scenarios.” The aforementioned video of tropical foliage, titled “Florida, You’re a Dream” by Ivette Spradlin, certainly instilled joy, and maybe even nostalgia, in onlookers that winter night.

That Floridian scene was not dissimilar to the very first video that Alamilla showed through the Third Floor Window, one she had created herself of a bright summer sky filled with beautifully soft clouds. “It really was this experiment for myself,” she said. “I was just going to show a loop of a Florida sky.” Alamilla moved to Pittsburgh in the thick of the pandemic, and with this past winter being her first in the city, there was something especially gloomy and lonely about it. “I think it was really birthed out of necessity,” she added, and during the early months of 2021, she decided to experiment with her projector.

She recalled how impressed she was with the image quality and color after viewing it from across the street. She decided to put together a schedule and reach out to artists to showcase in the Window. She began finding artists through friends and contacts she already knew, but as she continued the Window, she started to receive emails from artists she never heard of asking if she would show their work. Because of the public nature of the Window (patrons at nearby Hitchhiker Brewing get an excellent view), it can introduce people to art they may not otherwise have engaged with.

Alamilla is primarily a ceramicist; she began video art by projecting images onto her ceramic sculptures. Doing video work herself gave her a stronger appreciation for the work she puts on in the Window. “For me, video is already hard to get into,” she said. “It’s very much a medium that is for artists. And if I can just open up that channel in any way possible I will. And I think that’s what the Window has done. There have been works that are very obscure, very strange for non-artists. And so even just showing that type of work is intriguing.”

There is a very interactive quality to the Window. More often than not, it acts as an interruption, disrupting whatever activity you had previously been engaged in, be it walking alone or sitting with friends at a brewery. The Window has reached out to you and, even to the most passive viewer, you will inevitably return its gaze. The videos are played without sound, so it is the beacon of light that attracts your attention. The Window, stationary as it may be, has an active role on those weekend evenings as a sort of anthropomorphic being that communicates with you on a philosophical and artistic level. It can cheer you up. It can make you think. It is there for you, whoever you may be. ▲

Lily Ekimian is an independent filmmaker from Washington, D.C., now based in Pittsburgh. You can follow along with the films that she and her partner, Ahmed, are working on via their social media @dogdoorfilms or at their website!

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