Review of Mirror Affect: Seeing Self, Observing Others in Contemporary Art | Leonardo

Review of Mirror Affect: Seeing Self, Observing Others in Contemporary Art

Mirror Affect: Seeing Self, Observing Others in Contemporary Art
by Cristina Albu

University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2016
312 pp., illus. 40 b&w. Trade, $105.00, paper, $30.00
ISBN 978-1-5179-0005-2; ISBN 978-1-5179-0006-9

Reviewed by: 
Ana Peraica
March 2017

Mirror Effect: Seeing Self, Observing Others in Contemporary Art by Cristina Albu extrapolates a theme commonly more frequently analyzed in image science and visual culture: the mirror (see, for example, Sabine Melchior-Bonnet's Mirror: A History, 2001). Working a widened definition of a mirror as a medium that enhances a "mirroring act," Albu is not restricted to analysis of only mirrors and objects incorporating mirrors; rather, she spreads her interest over mirroring media, such as closed-circuit installation in video, and interactive, or responsive, technologies, which are not necessarily visual. Defining the mirroring as both seeing oneself, imitating others, and imaging displacing oneself, Albu crosses academic fields of history of art, visual studies, media studies, phenomenology, the psychology of perception, and neuroscience. Still, she writes inside an academic discipline of [contemporary] art history, respecting all the rules of the chronological narration, visual analysis, and literary review.

The first chapter, covering the art from the 60s, deals with mirror used as a material of construction of the environment in artworks of Robert Morris, Lucas Samaras, and Michelangelo Pistoletto. Chapter 2, dedicated to the 70s, crosses over works of Dan Graham and Lynn Hershman, while Chapter 3 goes into contemporary installation art by Anish Kapor, Olafur Eliasson, and Ken Lum. Finally, the last chapter is dedicated to interactive media arts by David Rokeby, Christian Moeller, and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, crossing over telematic pieces.

While mirrors in objects and installations of the 60s were primarily constructed as sensorial experience, the 70s were producing an additional meaning, commonly engaged in social relations and socioeconomic environments (often related to surveillance), slowly setting up new visuals paradigms. The new century has again withdrawn the communication in arts to a field of perception, which finally leads to a real interaction in arts, and "development of interpersonal modes of art spectatorship."

Choosing precise pieces to patiently interpret, Albu performs a deep analysis of not only visual artifacts, but also primary and secondary sources accompanying them. In the last chapters, she performs audience analysis in addition to visual and literary ones.

Although writing in a slightly limited, narrative frame of art history, the integration of media art into a conventional art historical narrative, by an idea of participation challenging the definition of art as a fixed object and perception as a lateral activity, is more than important. Besides major pieces addressed by analysis in Chapter 4 and an important analysis of works by Lynn Hershman, also earlier art and technology groups as GRAV, Nouvelle Tendence [New Tendencies], LACMA Art and Technology and projects as E.A.T.'s Pepsi Pavilion, The Magic Theatre show are covered.

Scholarly written, the book recapitulates some known and less known passages of contemporary art commonly not set together and jointly that are now unified via the research concept of the mirror. Although written for advanced readers in art history (or users that can browse the Internet simultaneously while reading, trying to see how these pieces looked alike, as illustrations in the book are rare and pretty small black and white), Mirror Effect is an interesting reading to researchers in the joined field of art, science, and technology. One conclusion, after reading it is; it would be great to see a curated show with a precise selection of pieces.