- Mirror Affect: Seeing Self, Observing Others in Contemporary Art by Cristina Albu
by Cristina Albu. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, U.S.A., 2016. 312pp., illus. Trade, paper. ISBN 978-1-5179-0005-2; ISBN 978-1-5179-0006-9.
Mirror Affect: Seeing Self, Observing Others in Contemporary Art by Cristina Albu extrapolates a theme 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 the academic fields of history of art, visual studies, media studies, phenomenology, the psychology of perception and neuroscience. Still, she writes from within an academic discipline of (contemporary) art history, respecting all the rules of the chronological narration, visual analysis and literary review.
The first chapter, covering art from the 1960s, 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 1970s, 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 art by David Rokeby, Christian Moeller and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, crossing over telematic pieces.
While mirrors in objects and installations of the 1960s were primarily constructed as sensorial experience, those of the 1970s 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 The new century has again withdrawn the communication in arts to a field of perception, which finally leads to a real interaction in arts and “development of interpersonal modes of art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 not only of visual artifacts but also of primary and secondary sources accompanying them. In the final 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 means of 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, earlier art and technology groups such as GRAV, Nouvelle Tendence (New Tendencies), LACMA Art and Technology and such projects as E.A.T.’s Pepsi Pavilion and the Magic Theatre show are also covered.
The book recapitulates some well-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, since illustrations in the book are rare, pretty small and black and white), Mirror Affect is an interesting reading for 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. [End Page 544]