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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!

Palazzo del Lavoro. A Forbidden Land

Palazzo del Lavoro – The building stood before us imposing and abandoned. A broken glass and multiple graffiti were evidence that many before us had violated its solitude. Right through a smashed window we penetrated into the concrete soul of the building. Here, an infinite space opened in front of us: a basilica of our time, a cathedral of architecture with no god or religion, a modern days’ ruin.

The Barbican Centre. A Quiet Confusion

The Barbican Centre – A place of connection, a place of transition between two different worlds: the street and the courtyard. The former, a reflection of everyday life. The latter, an image of the pleasure of stopping, sitting, observing and thinking. Two universes governed by opposing laws: that of motion and that of stillness.

Saint Peter’s Basilica. Scale, Power, Wealth

Progressing through the maze of columns, towards the centre of Bernini’s eclipse, we find ourselves in front of an imposing white wall, the Dover’s cliff of Rome: Saint Peter’s Basilica. Decorated to the last detail, it can only be compared to the English steep rock face for its whiteness and grandeur. In all other aspects, we can say that the craft of man has equaled if not surpassed the force of nature.

The Pantheon. Of Greatness And Deception

If the essence of architecture – its intrinsic and determining constituent – is empty space, every man has experienced an archetypal feeling when visiting the Pantheon. Confined in an immense space, we can never embrace its entirety. Ignorant but curious, we marvel at how such a great dome can stand. Questions whose answers lie in subtle ploys: secrets buried within the structure and the material.

Convent de la Tourette. Le Corbusier

The Convent de la Tourette hovers weightlessly on a hill overlooking the nearby town, uncannily reminiscent of a temple atop the Athenian Acropolis. Visitors willing to make the pilgrimage are initially met with a visual field of low intrinsic interest – but the beauty of the architecture slowly reveals itself the more one looks.

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.