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IDEAS / art

The Art Of Mirrors.

6 March 2018

words & photos:  Natalie Donat-Cattin

The SANAA Terminal – more a shelter rather than a building – disappears in the vastness of its surroundings, almost invisible but accented by its choice of materials. Countless white pillars stand in an obvious grid – placed to give rhythm to the landscape or to pace the speed of the clouds – every now and then interrupted by a mirror or a pane of glass.

While promenading along Naoshima pier, lost in the mirrors, the sea, and the horizon, my mind wonders upon freedom. Facing my trapped reflection, yet seeing my-other-self immersed in nature, I seek for a way out. Are art and architecture offering me an escape? Or is freedom just another mirror on life’s path?

Last Christmas, I was gifted Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. A note on the first page said: to a girl, who once loved saying “it was another me in the mirror”. In fact, in my childhood this piece of shiny metal nourished my imagination. Every time I misbehaved, I would try to convince my mum of how this girl, identical to me, had taken my place, committed a “crime”, to then jump back into the safe and untouchable “other side”.

The power of a mirror lies in its simplicity. A single surface allowing for endless possibilities. Multiplication’s machine, illusions’ creator, reality’s extension are just some of its magical properties.

Magic mirror, on the wall – who is the fairest one of all?”

Much like Snow White’s stepmother, Alice and I, many others use the mirror as a medium. Michelangelo Pistoletto envisions it as an element of connection, dialogue and comparison between antiquity and contemporaneity – an illusory tri-dimensional space where everything coexists. His works, like Lightbulb and The Architecture of the Mirror, evade the pictorial space with the desire to join the fleetingness of existence.

In the same way, Robert Smithson during the Ithaca Mirror Trail challenges the idea of the locality of an object. In the world of mirrors, every item belongs to the surrounding, maintaining its independence yet merging into the landscape.

This artistic tradition finds its extreme in the work of Yayoi Kusama. Infinity Mirror Rooms mocks reality. This closed-open box is a fictitious realm of possibilities, where we are urged to reflect on our existence. More than ever we feel objectified in the vastness of the world.

Such artists have inspired the first representation of the Continuous Monument by Superstudio, exhibited in 1973 in Fragments From A Personal Museum at the Neue Galerie in Graz, Austria. A creative irony oscillates between classicism and utopia. These two concepts, trapped and transposed into a never-ending space, are freed from the weight of conventions to find new meanings and correspondences. This monument, finished but infinite, lies between art and architecture on a linear trail, that goes from Pistoletto to Smithson, to Kusama.

In the primitive space of the Naoshima Terminal, charged with magical objects, I do not find answer to my questions. I am teased by the beauty of the reflections, but at the same time enthralled by it. The building’s strength lies in its non-character: a chameleon in its context. Anonymous, silent, yet able to conjure my uncertainties.

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FURTHER READING / essays, ideas, photography and more!

Transcending Monumentality. Of Boullée And Kahn

Architecture is the embodiment of the arts and sciences, a complex combination which results in an ambiguous whole. What once was just a means of shelter, has evolved into a means of which to communicate and express the ever evolving necessities of contemporary society. The demands of the people coupled with the zeitgeist of the period, more often than not, precipitate a prevailing architectural style, one with which the architects of the period rally to. Two centuries apart, Étienne-Louis Boullée and Louis Kahn, through their tireless re-examination of the discipline, have established profound ideologies on the nature of architecture, which remarkably allude to common principles.

La Tour Eiffel. 125 Years Of Love

La Tour Eiffel – Paris is an old romantic man. Two things distinguish him as french: a baguette under the arm and a revolutionary spirit in the chest. A bit Bohemian, a bit Jacobin, but with one motto: liberté, egualité, fraternité. Like all men – or all lovers I should say – he has two weaknesses: absinth and women. But it is known that every Casanova has one true love. Paris’ everlasting one is a lanky old lady with an iron soul.

The British Museum. Never The Same

Walk up the steps, cross the pronaos, rush through the first room, enter the main courtyard and look up: you will be rendered speechless. The modern roof designed by Fosters and Partners hovers above you. 3312 glazing panels frame 3312 triangular slices of sky. This is the heart of the British Museum.

The Pompidou Centre. Inside Out

What is the best house for an art museum if not art itself? With an open heart and bones of steel, the Pompidou Centre towers naked above the French roofs of the 4th arrondissement. Among them it stands out, an alien surrounded by mortals. A myriad of pipes wraps the back of the building: not to protect it but to make it work.

Yayoi Kusama. Pumpkin Magic

Kusama Pumpkin, Naoshima – The pumpkin often has a connection with the magical world. In Cinderella, it turns into a beautiful white carriage, darting towards the dance. In the same way, it could easily be one of the strange and wonderful inhabitants of the Lewis Carroll world – out of scale, context and with no apparent purpose. If the pumpkin could talk it would ask nonsensical questions while giving absurd non-answers.

architasters / project by Natalie Donat-Cattin and Jian Yong Khoo. It is a platform for speculation and discussion, functioning as a complementary repository for their design work.