With Anish Kapoor and his mirrored pieces as the starting point, I researched further into the use of mirrors and the mirrored effect in modern art. Mirror is unique in its familiarity to us yet retains a powerful ability to directly engage people. It’s used by artists, designers, architects, makers, and all other types of creative practices.

Some take advantage of the reflective properties to explore, fragment, ask questions of perception, to create and distort space and environment, or allow people to contemplate themselves in their own reflections. It invites viewers to interact with a piece and become part of it, while simultaneously changing it and seeing it change within its environment.

Looking at existing works help give insight into what is possible with the material, and also inspiration with ideas and themes to create something engaging for the community of Brereton and the StoryPost project.

I’ve created this Pinterest page with examples of pieces from a selection of artists from roughly the 1960s onwards and mainly from a Western cultural background. Some have extensively worked with mirrored surfaces while others have used reflective properties in specific pieces.

In Pinterest, click on a thumbnail to enlarge it, and then click on the main image and it will take you to the relevant website or video. Explore the Pinterest page and see where the art takes you.

I’ve narrowed the frame of reference for practical purposes, and to the style I felt was best suited for StoryPost and Brereton. Mirrors have been used through history by folk artists, outsider (untrained) artists, craft makers and also carry unique qualities and meanings for different cultures across the world.

I was initially drawn to some of Robert Smithson’s work by the simplistic way he placed mirrors directly into the landscape or ground. There were indoor pieces such as Corner Mirror with Coral (1969) and external pieces where mirror intersects with sand, stone or leaf such as Yucatan Mirror Displacements 1-9 (1969). Looking further into his work, I learn that some pieces were actually photographs of arrangements that were disassembled after the photo was taken. I feel his themes of displacement and time were relevant to the StoryPost project. I remember when first being part of the project and hearing Brereton being described as an ‘in-between’ place that people come to or come through but mostly don’t live here.

About Robert Smithson (1938 -1973)

“Since the mid-sixties and at the onset of the 21st century, Robert Smithson remains one of the most influential and original artists… His complex ideas took root in many forms: drawings, projects and proposals, sculpture, earthworks, films and critical writings. Smithson’s provocative and seminal works, made in the mid-sixties to early seventies, redefined the language of sculpture. He was one of the founders of the art form known as earthworks or land art, and is most well-known for Spiral Jetty, 1970, located in the Great Salt Lake, Utah.”

Although he uses the environment and nature, they are not the main themes of his work. Robert Smithson used the aesthetics of ecology to explore ideas of entropy, mapping, paradox, language, landscape, popular culture, anthropology, and natural history.

Smithson’s describes his mirror works into two areas, ‘Nonsites’ and ‘Displacements’.

“The Nonsites, created a dialectic between the outdoors and indoors, and were examples of Smithson’s explorations into sight and its simile – site, displacement and location. Literal and allegorical, the Nonsites confounded the illusion of materiality and order. The mirrors functioned to order and displace, to add and subtract, while the sediments, displaced from its original site, blur distinctions between outdoors and indoors as well as refer the viewer back to the site where the materials were originally collected.”

“Conceptually the Displacements differ from the Nonsites. Displacements were works that incorporated mirrors or structures made from natural elements temporarily sited in the land, such as Yucatan Mirror Displacements, 1969, Mirror Displacements (Brambles), England, 1969. These works were never intended to be permanent pieces as Smithson had said in “Fragments of a Conversation,” “I don’t leave the mirrors there. I pick them up. It’s different from the site/nonsite… It’s another level of process that I’m exploring. A different level of containment.”

Read more on RobertSmithson.com

As StoryPost looks to the future, artist Trevor Paglen also considers Smithson’s use of ‘Time’

“Smithson is not talking about time, or he’s not interested in time, that’s actually not the framework he is using. And he is actually interested in ‘duration’…”

Henri Bergson wrote about distinguishing the mechanical science of time and the ‘time’ we live through, experience and feel. He called it ‘durée réelle’ or ‘duration’ in his thesis ‘Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness (1889).

George Kubler’s book The Shape of Time doesn’t reference Bergson, but carries on the theory, Trevor Paglen states:

“Kubler’s art history is an art history of duration where duration is a sustained note, passing though time and giving shape to it and for Kubler, archaeological works are signals that pass through time like radio waves going through the cosmos… for Bergson, duration can only be known through intuition and through images that can never be complete.”

“… artefact becoming a signal through time and the circles of interpretation that spiral around that signal but can never reach it because that signal does not speak and that because we can only ever interpret that artefact through our contemporary intellectual and affective frameworks and so the spiral here is the dance, that dance between the past and the future, the past is intertwined with the present and the past is being constantly remade by the present, the past is not stable, the past is not dead, to paraphrase [William] Faulkner, ‘the past is not dead, it’s not even past’. But nonetheless we have these artefacts that are a time before us but, and those are brute facts, but those do not speak.”

Watch the full lecture from Trevor Paglen on YouTube


“I Think It’s Art Because You Communicate It”

Jeppe Hein is a Danish artist born in 1974, whose practice involves creating interactive sculptures and installations that are exhibited internationally. Jeppe was an assistant to Olafur Eliasson who has also produced many mirrored works, and is influenced by Minimalists from the 60’s and 70’s including Donald Judd, Robert Morris, and Felix Gonzales-Torres.

Intrigue and playfulness are qualities found in many of Jeppe’s pieces. Works including ‘Mirror Labyrinth NY’ (2015) and ‘Semi circular Mirror Labyrinth II’ (2013) create spaces that naturally invite participants to explore and experience.

“I see my work in general as a tool for communication and dialogue and empathy creating… it’s first start, to really start when people actually interfere with it, when they meet it, when they feel it. For me it’s not so important what you see… if it’s art or not, but it’s the way you feeling about it, the way its creating what is it creating…”

This type of interaction would be the perfect quality to have in a piece for the community space. The spirit of Jeppe’s practice and process places importance on social interaction, empathy and joy, which is a natural fit for the StoryPost project and positive values that I also share. I especially feel the sense of fun is a powerful expression that is overlooked, but can elevate works to transcend frameworks and boundaries.

“I think it’s a need because our society is going so fast that no one cares about anyone else, more or less. And I think that some artists can do, but interaction of course can create empathy and dialogue between people. And I think we need that in our society.”

Watch the full talk from Jeppe Hein on YouTube


Main image credit: viaartfund.org / Jeppe Hein

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Gary Nip
Twitter @Burnip80