What is a mirror without something to reflect?
A reflection on space, symbiosis and the senses
By Sophie Prince
It is strange to dream, and to have mirrors
Where the commonplace, worn-out repertory
Of every day may include the illusory
Profound globe that reflections scheme.
– Jorge Luis Borges, Mirrors, 1960
A force. A symbol. A hook. An echo.
A mirror reflects and duplicates. It can even conjure an image of the infinite.
The mirror replicates an image of the universe.
While vanity pulls us into the scene presented before us – many will look more closely at the reflected space than to that which is reflected.
20th century Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges often incorporates the device of the mirror in his writing to recurrently consider the slipperiness of life and human consciousness. Borges’s fantastic literature, such as The Library of Babel (1941) or The Mirror of Enigmas (1962), harnesses fiction to illustrate the absurdity and limited knowability of reality.
I was led to think of Borges’s work when I first viewed Jeremy Blincoe’s sculptures for Tumbling Together, Apart, which were in various stages of being realised when I visited his studio in Eltham. This was not only because mirrors feature in his work, but our conversation of the exhibition – which touched on artists such as Alicja Kwade, Anicka Yi and Jessie French (whose practices I encourage following); and ideas of symbiosis, plant knowledge, biology and empathy (which I will discuss in due course) – led me to reflect on the notion of returning to or sustaining an interest in a framework. It was Marina Abramović who once said, “I believe that I had one good idea – to work with my body”, and as a curator who has researched many expanded practices, I often identify a common thread across an artist’s work. I see this as strength rather than the sticking point of becoming a parody of oneself, which is judgment often cast upon creatives, particularly when they become famous or god forbid, old. While new forms do prompt new ways of looking, Tumbling Together, Apart belongs within Blincoe’s practice that seeks “to exist in that metamorphic, liminal space where nature and culture meet and the past and future are but crumpled folds.” His work is dually a rupture, a window and a continuation within life itself, achieved by summoning devices that call into question reality, energy and the universe. Big ideas deserve to be returned to as there are so many perspectives to consider, and thankfully practices such as Blincoe’s creates space for the focus and ambiguity required to peel back the layers of possibility.
Although Blincoe’s work is not in dialogue with Borges’s – this is a relationship of my own making – I will just introduce one more intersection that considers the ways in which surrealistic art facilitates meaningful thinking about reality. When unpacking the functions of his fantastical writing, Borges asserted that there are four basic devices of all such literature: the work within the work, the contamination of reality by dream, the voyage in time, and the double. For example, The Library of Babel, tells the story of the universe that exists in the form of a library containing all possible writing and thought – it is a meditation on the infinite. This library also contains a mirror that gives the impression of another infinite space. Infinity is replicated, and through this device the reader is handed some familiar imagery to hook onto – a library and a mirror – to then conceptualise and grapple with incomprehensible vastness. Within this vivid image, the mirror exists as the necessary destabilising trick that introduces consideration of perspective. The non-absolute must be present if any story is to truly consider existence. Furthermore, like the mirror itself, the work of conjuring such a story produces another fragment of reality while also creating a space to reflect upon reality. We may consider that the world is the book and the book is the world, or within the context of Tumbling Together, Apart the world is the art and the art is the world.
Blincoe’s work considers the vast web of interconnectivity. The interconnectivity that persists between humans, animals and plants; the natural and the man-made; and the truths that time is relative; the atoms which make up the work are 99% empty space; and that we do not know much more than we do know about the universe (physicists claim to know about 5% of the universe). The collapsing of boundaries, both physical and psychic inform the uncanny and metamorphic quality of Blincoe’s sculptures, such as We have never been individuals and Everybody is a corridor, which dually allude to and evade definition as flora or fauna, alien or earthly. Their space between represents the interstitial connection between these seemingly polar definitions.
Looking to research within the sciences and the humanities, Blincoe maintains a connection with an ever growing field of evidence that details interconnectivity. With an appreciation of the unknowable centre of the universe, whereby “we can assert with certainty that the universe is all centre, or that the centre of the universe is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere,” Blincoe upholds a non-hierarchical approach to materials that include wood, steel, foam and resin, and navigates materials and form with a kind of intuitive magnetism that in my mind demonstrates embodied trust and respect for the decentred flow that persists within and around us. The forms themselves, also show a hand that reflects upon the biological principle that humans and nature are intertwined. Biologists Scott F. Gilbert, Jan Sapp, and Alfred I. Tauber surmised this widely understood idea in A Symbiotic View Of Life: We Have Never Been Individuals, positing, “What constitutes the individual organism?”… “Neither humans nor any other organism, can be regarded as individuals by anatomical criteria. To capture this complexity, the term ‘holobiont’ has been introduced as the anatomical term that describes the integrated organism composed of both host elements and persistent populations of symbionts.” In Blincoe’s sculptures, we can see this idea expressed in the bone-like forms of Metamorphosis of a life that came before and The world is a cocoon that may be arranged in an intuitive and modular way, inviting direct engagement with the way materials and forms interact. Alluding to bone is also an interesting reference for bone exists betwixt and between that which is known to belong to a sentient creature and as well as being one with landscape. As a cohesive experience, Tumbling Together, Apart invites us to remember that humans belong within an interrelated system. A view that may hopefully map onto our considerations of the environment, each other and our perhaps inner peace beyond the gallery.
To experience is to learn embodied knowledge. Tumbling Together, Apart is an opportunity for sitting with the insights presented by Blincoe, as well as those that emerge from one’s own reactions. Not only is it meaningful for artists to revisit ideas to present new perspectives and thereby go deeper, but also for the viewer to give time to their perspective when encountering new work or ideas. The act of revisiting is an honouring of the evershifting and unstable nature of perspective. German philosopher Edith Stein articulates “the same world is not merely presented in one way and then in another but in both ways at the same time. And not only is it differently presented depending on the momentary standpoint, but also depending on the nature of the observer.” This is a concept not easily accessed at once, but rather through accumulated experiences that may build upon themselves to produce better understanding. Despite the limited knowability of the universe and the nature of subjectivity and the senses we should not forgo trying to connect. Maurice Merleau-Ponty puts the idea of accepting subjectivity nicely in Phenomenology of Perception; “true reflection presents me to myself, not as an idle and inaccessible subjectivity, but as identical to my presence the world and to others, such as I currently bring it into being: I am everything that I see and I am an intersubjective field, not in spite of my body and my historical situation, but rather by being this body and this situation and by being, through them, everything else.” Ultimately, we are connected despite being conscious of only some aspects of this connection, therefore the scope of this consciousness is as real as anything else. Indeed, we are tumbling alone, together.