I am seduced by the materiality and proliferation of screens – these reflective, glowing surfaces that act as portals between online and offline worlds. At times the screen is a black mirror for contemplation – at others filled with ever-expanding universes of information. A visit to the Scuola Grande de San Rocco in Venice last year had a marked effect on me. Inside, a ceiling of Titian’s paintings jostles with ornate gold leaf surrounds, complex geometric marble floors and in places neon pink fluorescent lighting. The audience is given mirrors to navigate the ceiling, and you look downwards to look up. The resulting line of enquiry led to ideas of the Digital Baroque. In a world transversed via the screen, Baroque obsessions with the fold, light, repetition, excess and affect are reiterated.
“… new information systems enhance the intensity of this [the force of time’s] flow, this displacement of possessive individualism by the wonder of data accumulation evokes the very ideal of knowledge that Walter Benjamin argues to be characteristic of the Baroque – the process of storing and schemata to which the emergent libraries of the 17th century were a monument.”
[Timothy Murray (2008) ‘Digital Baroque – new media art and cinematic folds’ p.34]
‘working table’ used the mirror not only as a material (in the form of black glass) but also as a structural device intervening not only in sculpture but also in audio and moving image. The piece consists of small sculptures arranged on black glass computer tables, in which the immaterial space of the reflection is as central as the physical objects themselves. Alongside these, moving image works are playing on small screens topped with prisms to refract the light. Short looped sequences like a hand caressing a mirrored table are taken from tributes to the sci-fi movie Equilibrium, which includes scenes in an interrogation room with a black glass table. These are set to a Bach fugue – which is slowed down slightly and then repeated reversed. Within Bach’s arrangement the notes are arranged as a form of aural palindrome – if when played the sheet music was the right way up and then turned upside down it would mirror itself.
Background image: John Dee’s obsidian mirror, the British Museum collection.