'Why not try swapping windows?' the couple asked, gathering a group of friends together to submit their views, and the site grew from there.
The Reset: Window Swap
Watch the video interview or read on for the highlights:
WindowSwap is a website that allows you to 'open a new window somewhere in the world.' A simple conceit, and yet one that combines wanderlust, slow-looking, self-soothing and trading places. Singarpore-based couple Sonali Ranjit and Vaishnav Balasubramaniam while stuck in the midst of a circuit breaker, during the pandemic last year, when they ‘were only allowed to go outside the house for 15 minutes a day,' as Vai explained. Then a friend from Barcelona 'posted this beautiful view of this vista. But he was dissing the view, and it was obvious he was sick of it.'
'Looking through all these windows from around the world, it puts things in perspective,' Sonali said. After exploring sites all around the world, 'When you look back at your own window, in your own life, you sort of look at in a new light. You see the magic in the every day.'
Exactly. Sometimes the most 'mundane' windows are the most transfixing. 'it could be this beautiful, uh, you know, a bunch of snow-capped mountains in Switzerland,' Vai suggested, 'or it could be just the backyard of some, some, some person's house, like a backyard chickens and the chicken coop, but it doesn't matter. One man's trash is another man's treasure.'
Indeed, the form of the site – static camera videos from wherever the contributor finds his or herself, amidst a worldwide pause – invites a meditative gaze, from wherever you happen to find yourself. Sonali said, 'it is really like looking at a painting and sort of appreciating all the tiny details.’ When the couple started Window Swap, she explains, they were thinking about the project far more in terms of travel – ‘a way for people to travel without moving’ – but since then, they have found ‘we get a lot of repeat visitors who come for the sort of calm that it brings’: amidst the business, chatter and constant noise of the internet, it is ‘a peaceful kind of Oasis’.
Sonali said many users have written to her and Vai describing the site’s calming effect. ‘The world right now is so anxiety inducing,’ she said. ‘The whole internet is just like one dopamine rush after another.’ In contrast, Window Swap does not have a ‘like’ button or space for comments, to stay clear of the notion of competition.
'We very consciously did that,' Vai said, ‘After Window Swap turned into this calm space, we realised that we were going to leave it like that and not add features that could induce more stress for people. That’s how it is right now – a very simple, single button website.'
Beyond the joys of looking out a stranger’s window, WindowSwap has sparked a wave of creativity. Sonali and Vai explained the huge response they have had from people working across different disciplines, including writers, artists, and musicians. The response has spurred them on to launch a subsection of WindowSwap, an art collaboration platform.
The first collaboration presents fifty windows from thirty countries, accompanied by a piece by Swiss musician Anicia Kohler. Her piece ‘Jitaku’, which means home, includes contributions from a virtual chir sourced from all over Bern, where Kohler lives. Harpist Julie Campiche, from Geneva, contributed to the composition, along with her partner, bassist Emmanuel Hagmann. Then it was down to director Uttara Krishnadas and her team in India to select the windows and string them together to capture the pervasive yearning of the music.
Clearly, there is art in staying put. Beyond creativity, Vai said he hoped that people would work more from home after the pandemic, in order to make the world a greener place. ‘A lot of people have taken up cycling these days in Singapore,’ he said. ‘I think across the globe, as well. I think that should continue, for sure.’
Sonali reflected that the pandemic has ‘sort of made us all take a minute for ourselves. And there's been a little more self-love in the past year, I suppose.’ Yes -- with the demands of work and all the other things that can make the world feel like a hectic – if exciting – place, it can be tricky to find those minutes to look out for oneself. Yet, I’d recommend looking out someone else’s window.
By Sammi Gale