Mirror Mirror took place in September at Atelier NŌUA as part of the Bodø Biennale 2020, Norway. My ambition for the exhibition was to create collaborative spaces in which remote encounters connecting bodies between Norway and the UK could manifest through live performance, photography and digital technologies.
I wanted to deploy ideas and actions of mirroring and mimicry to disrupt the conventional settings and environments in which art is experienced. Webcams were installed within the spaces of NŌUA, allowing myself and collaborators Alexandra Davenport and Clémentine Bedos to respond to the visiting public through movement and gesture in London. These live performances were subsequently streamed back to Bodō in real time and projected onto the gallery wall. Initially, most gallery visitors were unaware of the live, interactive nature of the display. Subsequently, wonderful and intimate collaborations unfolded, from afar, stretched over the internet. The traditional and predominantly passive relationship between audience and artwork was deliberately broken and entangled, presenting a live inquiry into the acts and rhythms of looking, moving and being.
It is not so astonishing that photographs are filled with the dead, the assassinated, complete and incomplete infants, the living universally condemned to death. Hence this aura of pity that floats on photographs. Moreover this pity reveals the under-determined reality in the photograph, improperly used for excessive ends, like a weak thought or a weakness to exist. Unleashed, the photograph would like to pass into existence but remains decidedly a flat larva.
The birth of photography, a democratic art for all, carried the political promise of equality. However, from the moment Daguerre’s invention was announced to the world in the mid-nineteenth century it played an integral role not only in upholding but also in constructing the hierarchies that its proponents had hoped photography could help to undo. From the moment it became a popular cultural practice photography was used to create and perpetuate ideas about class, gender and race, about what constitutes normality and desirability.
In the hands of those who throughout history monopolised the production of discourse photography became a means of mass manipulation and political domination. It is the task of every generation to free images from the frameworks to which they seem so inextricably linked, and to scrutinise the photographs heralded as icons. François Laruelle’s writing on the ethics of the photograph is a call to arms. Engaging in a form of iconoclasm, he maintains that the ‘photograph should be reduced to the simple status of a model and should be understood as a tool’. For Laruelle, the photograph, as it appears on our screens, in the pages of our newspaper or on the wall of a gallery, is an inchoate fragment that requires action to fully release its inherent potential. But how can we ‘unleash’ the photograph? How might we redetermine its reality?
Tom Lovelace frees photography from its traditional role as a realist mode of representation by creating photographs and sculptural installations that become a critical index of themselves. Drawing our attention to the surface, to the physicality of the photograph, through staged and spontaneous interventions in which we become part of a performance, the artist asks us to rethink what it means to witness in an age in which seeing no longer means believing. By disrupting the passive process of viewing photographs, of merely seeing through them, Lovelace challenges us to think with these images, and by bringing us into relation with others, including himself, he makes us aware that there is a politics at stake. Invited to interact with selected works, we are confronted with our own unique preconceptions of what constitutes a photograph and what distinguishes it from a work of art.
In the artist’s constructed reflective landscapes and collaborative installations, spectators become actors, and judgment becomes collective experience. It is not surprising that Hannah Arendt’s political theory of judgment, which foregrounds the value of collective deliberation, was rooted in Kant’s aesthetics. For Arendt, the philosopher’s notion of ‘subjective universality’ was the key to understanding his politics, signalling that judgement can only be exercised as part of a community.
Underlying Kant’s third critique, which Arendt believed was the first attempt to bring aesthetics and politics into correspondence, was a radical equality of thought, a ‘disinterestedness’, very similar to the idea that was born with the invention of photography. However, in recent years even photography’s self-proclaimed arbiters of impartiality have become subject to intense scrutiny. Even the most accomplished photojournalism is incapable of the kind of generality, or universality championed by Arendt, if only because within the new media landscape whatever objectivity was left in the photograph gets entangled with language and is ‘improperly used for excessive ends’. Perhaps, then, it is the task of the artist to unleash the photograph’s potential for real change, to show us how, instead of being used to sow division, the photograph can bring us together.
This is part of RHYTHM, a section of The Learned Pig devoted to exploring rhythm as individual and collective, as poetic and biological, and the ways that rhythm dictates life. RHYTHM is conceived and edited by Rachel Goldblatt.