“Half-Silvered,” the current exhibition in the Women’s Studies Research Center’s Kniznick Gallery at Brandeis University, features photographs by Karin Rosenthal and kinetic sculptures by Anne Lilly that explore the relationship of the human figure to its reflection. Rosenthal’s photographs are carefully composed black-and-white images of human figures disguised by water, wind, shadow and light. Lilly’s works, made of stainless steel, use visual acuity and motion to create a psychological space of wonder and suspense. The reflections of the self — in both water and mirrors — transcend mere representation.
Poetic intentions drive the decisions behind Rosenthal’s masterful photography and Lilly’s precision metal work. Each artist utilizes what is “halfvisible” to suggest the sublime or unseen world. The dynamic of a person secretly seeing from the other side of the glass very much connects the ideas in both of their work. Implicit with mirrors, reflection and self-image is the myth of Echo and Narcissus. This is where the pairing is most provocative, enriching and meaningful.
“The mirror works began three years ago with the death of someone very dear to me, though I didn’t immediately realize this while working on the first piece, “To Wreathe,” Lilly explained. “While developing that sculpture, I put a chair opposite it in order to sit down to study my own reflection and observe how the movement of the mirror panels manipulated the self-image, its alternate doubling and erasing of self. The resulting dyad of subject and object, of a self sitting opposite a changing structure of self-images, eventually struck me as a stupefying obvious metaphor to therapy — and as an attempt to fill the empty chair left by her death.”
In the beginning of Rosenthal’s work, the representation of the body was very sensual — belonging to the earth. Currently, she has brought the landscape to the forefront with nature predominant and the human body represented in an ephemeral manner. For Rosenthal, “Half-Silvered” implies two way mirrors, which is pertinent to the reflective nature of the surface of water. Since transparency and reflection depend upon light and shadow, the way they converge on the surface either hides or exposes the figures in her compositions, and often creates a third layer of imagery that is both accidental and profoundly spiritual.
Lilly’s recent piece on Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway, “Temple of Mnemon,” brought background to the foreground by shifting perception and transforming spaces with mirrors simultaneously reflecting human figures, the sky and the landscape. As Lilly continued the mirror pieces with “To Be” and observed people engaging with the work, several things became clear. Presenting a viewer with his or her own reflection automatically draws and sustains attention. However, fusing one’s self image with that of another is beguiling and strangely intimate. This visual ventriloquism is something Lilly continues to explore in her sculptures.
Rosenthal’s photos are equally puzzling. Her photographs are mysterious and require the viewer to seek things at a deeper visual level than what is immediately obvious. She recreates iconic landscapes that she has captured with her mind’s eye and often juxtaposes elbows and knees with rocks and tree limbs. Her technique utilizes a visual vocabulary which can place an aura behind figures or frame body forms with white lines. She is always searching for magic convergences of body, light, reflection and shadow that transcend the obvious to converge upon the sublime.
As Susan Metrican, the Kniznick Gallery’s curator and director of the arts, noted, “I think rather than mimicking aspects of the current political and environmental crisis visually, the show draws upon a more subtle human response through its curation. I hope it might be a place for viewers to pause, and literally reflect.”