Recently I have found an interesting photostream at Flickr, both content-wise and as a case of ‘creative abuse’ of the service. Technically speaking, Flickr is a photo-community, one is supposed to upload own works only; obviously people do not care much about the official rules, and store there all sort of visual things. Myself, I keep there not only my own pictures, but also the photos by others I found on the web, and not only photos but also maps, charts, printscreens etc.
This photostream is a pure case of such unintended use; its ‘author’ (*Huismus, sparrow in Dutch) gathers there reproductions of various art works by a wide variety of artists (mostly paintings, but sometimes drawings too). Over time this visual blog is becoming a personal virtual museum, a new emerging phenomenon. As often with the museums these days, curatorial politics is as important as the art works themselves (and in some cases it may (sadly) play even larger role then the art – I’ve just written about one such case yesterday).
But that way how *Huismus collects and present the art works is not overshadowing them, but instead helps us to reveal their new meanings and allusions. For example, one if the sets in this photostream is about mirrors in the art (Mirror, mirror on the wall). It is already a large set, almost 200 art works, and it keeps growing, literally daily.
Tracking history of [put your object here] is interesting; gather, for instance, the use of knifes in the paintings, or the use of beds in the paintings, or the use of paintings in the paintings – all these, as well as many other cases may shed a novel light onto the history of material cultures, philosophy of technology or sociology of meaning.
Mirrors do all that: we can track the emergence of this technology in Europe (although it has been invented earlier in Greece and Rome, and also in the Indian, Arab, and Chinese worlds too, it was in European where mirrors and looking glasses became so popular and so widespread). This technology changed the way we see ourselves – literally, and eventually psychologically, shaping the foundation of modernist, self-reflective thinking.
There is also a rich sociological documentation here: the ways mirrors were used in different times, and by different social groups, the meanings attached to both the tool and the activity itself (e.g., looking at the mirror was a symbol of vanity for centuries, but lately became a sign of femininity and sensuality).
But mirrors have been also played a special role in visual art, due to their fantastic potential of making the depicted scenes more interesting – multiplied, multilayered, and often paradoxical. They can enhance or distort the perspectives, create visual illusions, or allow for unorthodox points of observations.
They are difficult and tricky a tool to use too; modern studies in optics demonstrate that artists tend indulge into wishful thinking (or rather wishful viewing) when painting mirrors. They often paint them, and the reflections in them that would be impossible in the actual physical world. Oh well, at the end art is about creating the imaginary, not duplicating the reality.
Beside, there are plenty of beautiful women in the set too; I was so inspired by this example that quickly started my own set too – Art Mirroring Art. There are quite a few Important Art Mirrors missing in the *Huismus – most notably, the one in the Las Meninas by Velázquez (Foucault described it as a pivotal (sic!) moment in the history of modern man. And the Alice’s Looking Glass too is not there; but will be in my own, hopefully soon.
I started to think what famous art mirrors I know in the Russian/Soviet visual art? I have a feeling that there are quite a few there, but by now I can think only of the one in the same-name Viktor Pivovarov’s work (it says Mirror in Russian):
There surely will be more.
ps: I forgot to mention, but there is a lovely feature in the sets by *Huismus; the works are placed in alphabetical order there, so you can see a contemporary work right after the old medieval piece, and the next could well be a romantic painting, followed by art-nouveau, and so on; pretty post-modern.