Wednesday 17 September 2014

the false azure in the windowpane

I went to the V&A to see 'Double Space' this week that forms part of the London Design Festival. I went with the specific aim to see this installation, as we have been talking a lot together about reflections for a piece of work we are putting together for Art Language Location in Cambridge that is coming up in Ocotber. We have been having conversations about what is seen, what is experienced and what is real. Focusing in on a quote from Vladimir Nabokov's 'Pale Fire': 

'I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane;' (1)

A bird tricked by the seemingly lifelike reflection of the sky in the window flies straight into it and dies. 

We will be installing work on the widow of the philosophy library, that draws on the dual nature of a widows ability to reflect the world around it and also at the same time to be seen through. It is then our point of perception that interprets this layered reflection and transparency. Pulling apart the different spaces and trying to make sense of them. What is outside the window can appear inside, through its reflection and vice versa. What we are working on has become an exploration in destinguishing the truth of spaces and how we know a reflection as a reflection and the room beyond the window as the room. Nabokov goes on to say: 

'And from inside, too, I'd duplicate
Myself, my lamp, an apple on a plate:
Uncurtaining the night, I'd let dark glass
Hang all the furniture above the grass,
And how delightful when a fall of snow
Covered my glimpse of lawn and reached up so 
As to make chair and bed exactly stand
Upon that snow, out in that crystal land!' (2)

Peter Jones - 'that crystal land' (3)

It suggests that the reflection can construct a parrelel space identical to the one that you are in, confusing the genuineness of the reflection and merging it with what is beyond the glass. 

This brings me nicely to the installation at the V&A. Two large aeroplane wing shapped mirrored pannels are suspended from a structure in the gallery. They are positioned high up in the eaves in the Raphael galleries and rotate in a choreographed pattern. The work has been created by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, it reflects everything in the room, the ceiling, the paintings and the people moving about below them. Of the work they say this: “It will amaze the visitor and enable them to appreciate the space in a totally new way, the visitor becomes part of the room for a fleeting moment. Through movement and reflections, the static display of the paintings are brought to life while inviting the viewer and the gallery to be part of the performance.’’ (4)

It is an amazing experience, a mirror that moves like a boat on the sea bobs back and forth reflecting a distorted room. It highlights parts that you may never have noticed before. The ceiling gets pulled down into the room, the floor gets pulled up into the ceiling. Its a strange phenomenon. The room all of a sudden has doubled in size but no extra space has been created. But this doubled space is not a true lifelike representation. The fact that it moves for one, but also the fact that the mirror is curved. the reflection is a distortion. It puts me in mind of the Nabokov quote. The way a window can project a reflection of the room you are in outside, these mirrors rather than project out project into themselves whats below them. Everything is absorbed but unlike the bird in Norbokov's pale fire you are not tricked into the illusion, you can see the room and the reflection in one glance. A double space that is more about the experience rather than the ilusion. Edward Barber says: "We wanted people to come in and take something away that was an experience rather than an analysis of an object." (5) 

You are experiencing the room in a new way and seeing parts you may never have seen before. The artwork that is already in the space almost becomes irrelevant. It is the room that is important and reinterpreting it on that scale is something you have to experience yourself. The reflection brings attention to yourself in relation to this space and you become central to everything. With your interpretation the room stretches out from you in and then again in the reflection 

Through this work and through the Nabokov texts I have learnt that the body is essential to the construction of this experience. It is your perception of the reflection that creates it as a space.

I strongly advise you to go and experience this work for yourself, as there is little you can gain from seeing the images. The design festival runs from 13th to 22nd September. For more information visit: You can see our work in Cambridge from 15th October to 2nd November for more information visit


1. & 2. NABOKOV, V. Pale Fire. 1962
3. JONES, P. the crystal land. 2012

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