By Ellie Robins
What’s more honest than glass? It swept cities like a moral revolution with modernism, a century ago now. Land of natural luminosity! Air and light! Hygiene! Transparency!
Some other things glass can do: refract, reflect, distort, disguise. In Mussolini’s Italy, the magazine of the Fascist Association of Glass Manufacturers was called Il Vetro. Nothing more honest than glass; nothing more human than muddying things hailed as transparent.
From high modernism to fascism to late capitalism. Glass is the new neutral, the material assigned to urban ghosts: the anonymous future inhabitants, already out there somewhere, of property developers’ projects. Who could object to glass? It enlarges, brings the outside in. Air and light! Hygiene! Transparency! Profit! The trap of renting!
To be glazed over is to be absent, to have vacated your own body, and to be behind glass is to be on display. Often, these mean the same thing. Knowing you’re on display, can you ever truly inhabit your own body? Or is part of you flying out, always, to look back and see what others see? Pertinent question, in LA of all places.
These Silver Lake living rooms are almost ready for the curtain call: panes of floor-to-ceiling glass waiting for their urban ghosts, out there in the city right now, or maybe in some other city, dreaming of Los Angeles. The plays that will be staged, the lives lived, on the second story of Glendale Boulevard. Glazed-over ghosts behind glass, you could say, but that’s too cruel. Everyone is always a ghost of someplace in their own future.
It’s a Sunday, the day I visit this site. There’s nobody here. The front doors are open — or rather, the front doors are holes; there’s nothing to shut. I look through one, up a staircase that runs parallel to the hill behind, a frighteningly sharp hill I will drive up in 10 minutes. In another city, in another country, built before cars, the road would meander up the hill; there’d be no straight up or down. Here, I drive up, up, blinded by the gradient, and when I crest the rise I can see nothing below me. My body won’t do it: I cannot drive over what surely isn’t but fuck if it doesn’t feel like a sheer drop. I put the car in reverse, shaking, and perform a poor, dangerous three-point turn at the top of a blind hill.
This is LA: city of ghosts, performance, dreams, and traps; impossible city made possible, so long as you can make yourself believe.