Mirror. Medium. Art. On the history of mirror in the age of image

A closer look is a must if we want to begin to appreciate the reflecting material and reflexive effect of German-American artist Werner Klotz’s array of Wahrnehmungsinstrumenten – his Instruments of Perception [1] from today’s standpoint, better still one taken a step aside from the exploding Art of Exhibiting currently vying so with the media’s thirst for sensation. Completed in the 1990s, these mirrors of both their viewers and their wider environment are rooted in Klotz’s work during the early 1980s, when, with several other artists, he founded the association called Material und Wirkung (Material and Effect) in what was then West Berlin (1981). The aesthetic appeal of the Instruments of Perception is undeniable. They are ‘catoptric’ objects created as much with the viewing of their environment in mind as with the aim of being viewed themselves. It is interesting now as it was interesting then, to observe how in Werner Klotz’s oeuvre, following an artistic logic, they entered into a symbiosis with the closed-circuit video installations but have ultimately left that stage to today’s world-wide Public Art. Now as natural analogues the mirrors and reflections meet kinetics and electronic visualisation technology in a manner that demonstrates the formers’ supremacy in both the exhibition business and the hard-contested theatre of ‘Public Art’. The history of mirror-surfaced glass cases with integrated spy tubes and binoculars in the work of Werner Klotz goes back to the history of optics and of optical instruments, which, in the words of R. Happel, can also be described as ‘a history of the constant extension of the human compass of vision into macrocosm and microcosm’. [2]

Visitors find themselves literal eye-witnesses of the topicality of the historical trial-and-error method in the (self-) discovery of visualness. Klotz called this central set of about thirty works in his oeuvre a Gymnasium for the Eyes (plates 523 – 5; ill. 530). As the titles of the objects and installations already suggest, the intention is that reflection and openness toward encounter should be seen as a game of norms and deviation from the norm. The Sisyphus Syndrome (1992), Cheval-Syndrom (1992) or Unidad Syndrome (1992/98) raise an anticipation of various ‘symptoms’ manifesting simultaneously – in this case, as visual laws which do, in fact, become manifest. The expectations placed on the act of observing become enmeshed in a perceptual and aesthetic, not to mention conceptual process that induces them to reciprocally interlock. Thus processed the expectations are not only ‘left standing’ with none of their original referent, but find themselves projected out into the vastness of the world. It takes only relatively simple interventions in the mechanisms of focusing and diffusing light, of close and long-distance vision, to generate a vertigo effect which insists on being taken seriously – and that is only the beginning. The anamorphoses and other ‘impressions’ brought about by mirror-faced glass tubes and curved surfaces are tangible at all levels as fluid traces of the media by which they are conveyed , as if in the act of evanescing: tangible, comprehensible and to be questioned, for all or precisely by reason of their inscrutable, reflecting ‘superficiality’; and also, or precisely because the ‘connection between the slice of reality and its extreme mirror image […] is as good as impossible to construe’, [3] both the compact objects and his multi-part large-scale environments fundamentally defy the dictate of storage and often even that of a meaningful snapshot. – The rotating mirrors of the installation, Cinemobile (2002) [4] thus lit up a cavernous royal stables interior and, in spite of the hi-tech apparatus involved, turned it into a paradox, entertainingly spiritualised Indoor Land Art Piece (plates 531-3). On the far shore of his light-animated artistic dialogue with nature stand the glass and mirror splinters of cultural references which Klotz completed as early as the 1990s in a series of (show-case) objects and installations – Dionysus’ Lounge, From Dionysus’ Collection (1993), Dionysus’ Carousel (1995), Dionysus’ Travel Bar (1996), or Dionysus’ Supreme Selection (1996), to mention here only the compact cycle of works  with glossy, mirroring bottles and other glass vessels. Then, Hall of Mirrors (1998) and Exercise Room (1999) operate as modern halls of mirrors optimised for the human scale and their capacity for reflection enhanced to the utmost while their interior and exterior spaces remain for all that, preserved anamorphically in their individuality (plate 526).

All this culminates in Werner Klotz’s mirror installations with closed-circuit video – the challenging synthesis and permeation of a natural force (wind) and of technology (video recording and reproduction equipment, wind gauges with electronic controls), of interior and exterior space, of observation and being observed. In Boreas (1992/4), the Greek god of the west wind features in a recurrent Klotzian movement, rotation – of the technical real-time mirroring of the viewer. That already points towards the way out of the restrictions of the exhibition space. Revolving reflection both through media and by means analogous with nature is also a theme in Zephyrus (1992)[5] The Narcissus Syndrome (1993)[6] and Sisyphus’ Flight (1994/6)[7] (plates 527–9).

It will be at once an interesting and art-historically necessary task to elaborate a genealogy of comparable works that also provide the cross-references back to the works of Peter Campus., for example, whose installation of 1973, Stasis, wrought an analogue, ‘individual-deconstructing’, reflection, real, in media and in mind with modest technical apparatus and the aid of rotating prisms involving two live video cameras. Especially in his current public installations and projects, Werner Klotz succeeds in raising the intense art of self-experience begun in the earlier example, onto a plane of experiencing the world, and in setting up a relationship between intersubjectivity and the as yet little researched phenomenon of interobjectivity.


[1] An illuminating and continually updated record is available on the artist’s website, at Also see Werner Klotz (exhn cat. at Kunstverein Braunschweig,  Heilbronn and die welle, the City Gallery at Iserlohn, 1996/97. Braunschweig [Brunswick/D], 1996). – Werner Klotz (exhn cat., Jena, 2000). – Material & Wirkung. Eberhard Bosslet. Werner Klotz. Otmar Sattel (exhn cat., Kunsthaus Dresden; Dresden, 1998).
[2] Reinhold Happel, ‚Im Widerschein der Wahrnehmung’in Werner Klotz (1996) (cf. note 193), 9.
[3] Happel (as in Note 2.), 11.
[4] Kunstverein Rastatt, Stables of Schloss Rastatt, 14/09–20/10/2002.
[5] The components were a video monitor, electronic controls and mechanisms, 1 video camera, 1 special mirror, 1 small metal windmill, 1 Medex box (wood, 230 x 65 x 60 cms).
[6] Centre d´Art Contemporain, St.-Rémy-de-Provence, 1993. A mirror is fixed to a column at eye-level. It is semi-see-through. Fixed behind it is a live video camera, recording the viewers through the mirror as soon as they have come up to it. At the same time this camera transmits their image to a monitor above the mirror (in the image the monitor stands in a corner of the room at the end of the diagonal of viewer – mirror – camera – monitor), in which the viewer can see herself/himself. The camera also responds to an infrared sensor which alerts the control system to the visitor’s approach at a distance of four to five metres and prompts the camera to perform a rotary movement. The camera rotates about its own axis such that the viewer, too, can see her/his monitor image in rotation. The controls respond to the perceived heat impulses in the sensor and depending on this, alters the camera’s rotational movement. The closer the viewer approaches, the faster the camera rotates. Inquisitive viewers will therefore see themselves on the monitor locked into an increasingly rapid motion the closer they step to the installation. As the latter attracts attention at first only via the mirror in which the visitors see themselves, the work follows its title. The closer visitors step toward their mirror image, the greater the image’s pull on them.
[7] The closer the viewer comes to the columns, the faster the camera rotates. This effect can be watched simultaneously on the four monitors. Even at the highest rate of rotation (double horizontal/vertical), the monitors will still display a clear image of the space and occasionally also of the viewers themselves in the space. The impression comes about of a rollercoaster ride through the space (components: four monitors, a live video camera, electronic controls and mechanisms, a video signal emitter, a mirror box, an electric turntable; infra red body sensor system; two MDF columns and four MDF pedestals) 

Text-excerpt from Slavko Kacunko: Spiegel.Medium.Kunst. Zur Geschichte des Spiegels im Zeitalter des Bildes
(Mirror. Medium. Art. On the history of mirror in the age of image)
publishing house Wilhelm Fink Verlag, München, Germany 2010
Translation from German: Stephen Reader