FRIGHT AND ENCHANTMENT
THE GLANCE IN THE MIRROR
The phenomena of reflection play a central role in the objects and installations that Werner Klotz himself calls “Perception Instruments”. Although these devices obviously want to be perceived as works of art, in their technoid form they seem to originate in a border region where scientific experimentation and aesthetic contemplation still belong to the same field of experience. Indeed, one can see these apparatus, which are based in the experience of seeing, in a tradition. In the Renaissance, when scientific research in the laws of optics still went hand in hand with the pleasure of the sensual experience of pictures, the tradition led to the construction of complex catoptric devices, furniture, and rooms. The mirrored halls, the mirroring porcelain, art, and curio chambers of the Baroque also testify to this “wonderful science effortlessly engaged to produce via devices these strange things that call themselves pictures, in contrast to other sciences that make a cut in nature, a separation, an anatomy”.
The depiction of mirror phenomena and the use of mirrors as aids have a long history in art. Alberti called narcissus the father of painting, and Leonardo da Vinci called the mirror his mentor. In the Fifteenth century, painters employed curved mirrors to produce fish-eye effects. Attempts to use mirrors to expand the picture space and to involve the viewer range from Velazquez’ “Las Meninas” through Manet’s “Bar aux Folies-Bergere” to the mirrorings of Op Art (for example Adolf Luther) and the mirror architectures of contemporary artists like Dan Graham.
As much as the objects and complex arrangements of Werner Klotz’ “Apparatus” appear to emerge from rational and analytical thinking, it is impossible to overlook the mythical and with it a kind of “pre-scientific” dimension. But it would be erroneous to see mere poetic mystification in the references to, for example, the ancient myth of Dionysus. Mirroring drinking bowls did play an important role as oracular instruments in Dionysus’ bacchantic initiation rites. Dionysus, formed a unity with Apollo, stood for the fleeting, the constant change in life’s forms (but also for their affirmation), while Apollo –the god of appearance and thus of art –stood for structure, order, and actual being. The strange double character of the mirror –it vouches for reality and is yet illusion –has fascinated mankind for millennia. According to the mystic Jakob Boehme, Adam’s fall consisted in his seeking his own face in the mirror instead of God’s face. The Christian tradition displaced the mirror’s ancient meaning as herald of truth. Especially in the middle ages, the mirror was regarded as devilry. Thus it was also forgotten that Hebrew has only one word to denote vision as well as mirror.
For us, the riddle of the image in relation to reality seems to have submerged in the inexhaustible flood of artificial images. And yet, as Jacques Lacan has shown, the basis for the humane lies in the “mirror stage”. In his famous seminar of Freud’s technical writings, the French philosopher and psychiatrist showed that the experience of the mirror image is the precondition of construing a person’s ego, “because it reveals certain relationships of the subject to his image as the primal image of the ego”. Lacan makes clear that the small child’s ability to recognize his body as his own is the precondition of the integration of his motor functions. Thus the body image that arises in the small child’s experience of the mirror gives “the subject the first form that allows him to situate that which is ego and that which is not ego”, which finally also means the form that allows him to perceive things as objects.
One should realize how complicated the process of recognition must be that is carried out in the face of one’s own mirror image. There is perfect congruence between body and reflection, and yet the difference is obvious. Right and left are reversed in simple mirroring. With a double mirror, it is even possible to see oneself as “alien”, i.e. as if with other eyes (for example, in profile or even, as Klotz manages in the work “The Sisyphus Syndrome”, from behind, i.e. as an object among objects). But the perfect congruence also leads to our constant temptation to see the mirror image as an image of another (the Closed Circuit Installation with video camera and monitor is a kind of mirror as well). That is the double character of the mirror image: The body appears as object and as subject, which means we are confronted with an image and its simultaneous confiscation, the temptation to regard the ego as another; and this suspension between sensual perception and meaning is what produces the fascination. This is why Umberto Eco called the human being the catoptric animal, “which has gained the doubled capacity of viewing itself…and the others in the perceptive reality as well as in the reflexive virtuality .” Jean-Paul Sartre describes a similar process when he describes the glance of the others –the subject’s imagining that he is seen (including through the glance of things) –as essential for the formation of the subject.
Narcissus’ position –bent over a body of water’s mirroring surface, sunk in himself –is ambiguous. In it is expressed the mythical beginning of a long process of culture in which the human learns to view himself and thus to see the world as an object. It is the beginning of the world’s metamorphosis into pictures. For the Greeks, language, which responds ot fright by trying to ward off the images, was also a mirror, the precondition for the formation of memory and thus for distinguishing between the past, present, and future –i.e. the precondition for the formation of “time”. That is the core of blind Teresias’ soothsaying that, in looking into the mirror with his image, Narcissus must also look death in the eye.
In the Renaissance, the domination of nature received a new impulse through the distanced glance provided by the invention of perspective. Conspicuous in this is the growth of the fascination for such catoptric devices that show one something other than one’s own reflection. The complex mirror devices appear to evidence growing pleasure in objects. This instrumentalization of the glance has deepened the dichotomy between subject and object. The Greeks were still clearly conscious that the glance cannot guarantee dominion over oneself and the world. The cosmic powers one was subjected to were experienced via the ear, and this experience was portrayed in music and dance. The myth of the west wind, who could confuse the dances, expresses the danger the subject is exposed to. And the Latin word for masks (the dances were usually masked dances), “persona”, recalls that the security of the subject is brittle.
In answer to the question of what the mirrors have to do with the natural objects (snails play an important role in his earlier works), Klotz says that for him nature s the mirror of the human. With this, he clearly places himself in a tradition of thought that stretches from Kant to modern Constructivism. What is meant is the recognition that the world is not given to us, but is construed by us. Klotz creates aggregates with which the certainty of the illusory and the illusion of the real can be experienced.
As early as 1990, in an old factory building in San Francisco, he realized a work anticipating the dialectical structure of the later apparatus and installations. The windows were blocked except for tiny patches. On a ladder, the viewer reached various boxes that allowed him to look through. The distanced, objectifying glance that keeps the world at a remove is thus connected with the glance at what is close. The dominance of the glance is broken by listening and by bodily movement in space, through which one can experience that perception means activity. This puts Werner Klotz squarely in the Modernist tradition, in which the center of aesthaetics increasingly shifts from depiction toward reflection of perception.
FRIGHT AND ENCHANTMENT