Carefully curated over a period of more than 20 years, I’ll Be Your Mirror is a 21st-century Kunstkammer where nothing is quite as it seems. The collection represents a contemporary meditation on one of art history’s most fundamental themes: the relationship between reality and its reproduction.
Playful and disarming, the collection invites us to enter a parallel world both familiar and strange. Simulated sunlight beams forth from Olafur Eliasson’s National Career Lamp 1. Time stands still in Elmgreen and Dragset’s Broken Clock. Christian Marclay offers a recorder stripped of all musical potential.
Unified by a common language — one of imitation, replication and appropriation — the collection brings a single question to the fore: in an age of avatars, digital simulation and virtual identity, how do we measure our own reality?
In confronting this question, each of these artists engages with a debate stretching back 100 years to when Marcel Duchamp bestowed the values of high art upon a series of ‘ready-made’ objects. In doing so, he fundamentally ruptured the distinction between art and daily life, declaring that the two were interchangeable. In I’ll Be Your Mirror, a new generation of sculptors, video artists, photographers and painters carries this legacy into the 21st century.
Berlin-based American artist David Adamo creates uncanny replicas of objects ranging from the utilitarian and banal to the comedic and whimsical. Untitled (Margret) was originally conceived as part of a larger installation piece, in which a variety of objects — including an empty violin case and bow, squashed tomatoes, a pair of socks and six sledgehammers — were arranged like discarded props on an empty stage. This perfect bronze cast of a sparkling red shoe lay upon the floor, abandoned by its leading lady: perhaps a Cinderella who never found Prince Charming, or a Dorothy who lost her way on the Yellow Brick Road.
In Untitled (11 Erasers), (shown top) Adamo turns to one of his favourite subjects, painstakingly reproducing in clay the smudged, weathered appearance of a group of used rubber erasers. In doing so, he not only strips them of their original function but also recasts them as hallowed artefacts curated upon a shelf.
In 1995 Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset began to collaborate on what has since become a wide range of thought-provoking works and installations which span art, architecture and design. In a series of projects entitled ‘Powerless Structures’ (1995-2002), the artists transform the meaning of objects and spaces by re-contextualizing the familiar.
Broken Clock, 2001 (above), is a wonderful example in which Elmgreen and Dragset attempt to alter the conventional function of the object to establish new possibilities. The seamless crack that shatters the clock into two fragments transforms it into a fictional entity. As the artists explain, ‘We prefer to create art works which can function on various levels and can be read from different angles.’
R.R. (above) belongs to Kaari Upson’s definitive series of silicone mattresses. Cast from discarded bedding found on the streets of Los Angeles, these works embody the Californian artist’s fascination with the physical traces of human existence.
Evolving from her landmark series ‘The Larry Project’, based on possessions salvaged from the ruins of a house belonging to her parents’ neighbour, the mattresses were inspired by Upson’s own experiences of being bedridden by illness. ‘I am very interested in their stitching and fabrics that are made to camouflage the bodily fluids of years of living,’ she explains.
With their steel frames draped in brightly-coloured woven fabric, Franz West’s ‘Onkel-Stühle’ (Uncle Chairs) are among his most important works. Evolving from his early ‘Adaptives’ — a series of abstract sculptures meant to be handled by the viewer — West’s chairs embody his fascination with the relationship between art and object.
‘In historic art museums... you find tables and chairs in the exhibition spaces that are not to be used,’ he explains. ‘I used to ask myself, “Is that art disguised as furniture, or is it furniture disguised as art? What gives these items of furniture the right to be in these rooms?”.’ The subject of his acclaimed installation at documenta X in 1997, West’s chairs invite the viewer to sit down, while simultaneously retaining their status as elusive works of art.