The use of reflection and the reflective surface in recent art making

Feedback from a colleague about how light and reflection were working together in my recent work Pond-life, has provoked further thought on this aspect and how it is functioning in the work. She said she felt there was a contemplative feel to the work and she liked the way light was operating with both the reflective surfaces and with the natural light. She also commented that the painted wall surface caused her to question what was the “real” natural light and what was illusion? This was helpful feedback as it was something I had been contemplating. During the process of building the work, I saw how reflective surfaces and mirror surfaces could create illusion and a shift of perception. This was something I had been aiming for in the photographic work prior to this installation.

One of my intentions for the photographic work was to try to unsettle, confuse, or shift the viewer’s perspective, by creating a background that was ambiguous – to create difficulty to discern what was either flat, curved or mirrored. I did this as a strategy in order to provide initial interest and to try to provoke a desire in the viewer to linger with the work.  Another strategy I was employing was in the use of ‘cut-outs’. The intention was to shift the content, to what I hoped would be, a step away from the real – to become less direct in presentation, yet still be able to carry content. Along with that, I wanted to embody loss, diminishment and the counterfeit, but in a more subtle way. In my photographic work, I was investigating the notion of the real and the counterfeit, to facilitate a questioning of romantic love as defined by culture.

Artists have used reflective surfaces and mirrored surfaces for many different reasons and purposes. Two examples, in contradistinction to each other, are the conjuring of infinity in the work of Ivan Navarro (currently installed as part of the Light Show in Auckland Art Gallery), and the morbid pool of introspective reflection in the work of Tom Burr.


Ivan Navarro ”Reality Show” (Black), 2010 LED light, aluminum, wood, mirror, one-way mirror, and electric energy 92 x 45 x 45 inches 233.7 x 114.3 x 114.3 cm

Anders Ruhwald spoke about the use of reflective surface in his practice during a lecture at Whitecliffe MFA summer seminar 2015. In the work, You in Between, he explained that he wanted the audience to experience seeing themselves in relation to the objects in the space, and therefore lined the space with a reflective surface.


Anders Ruhwald You in Between, Installation view, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, UK, 2009

Jeff Koon’s is another artist who uses reflective surfaces as part of the work. In the balloon dog series, the use of high chromium stainless steel, creates highly reflective surfaces. The content in this work comprising of expensively made, yet kitsch objects, point to consumer culture and mass production. The reflective surface enables the viewers to see themselves and therefore reflect on themselves in relation to this issue in society.   The work is open-ended, non-directive, yet the content is clearly there, inviting deeper reflection.


Balloon Dog

high chromium stainless steel with transparent color coating

121 x 143 x 45 inches

307.3 x 363.2 x 114.3 cm

© Jeff Koon’s

5 unique versions (Blue, Magenta, Yellow, Orange, Red)


The viewers’ awareness of themselves in relation to a space or place is also present in the work of Tom Burr. Burr presents dramas that are open-ended, hinting at a more fluid conception of time and motion. While habitually referring to his sculptures as ‘moments’, Burr seems to be under no illusion to their true longevity.


Tom Burr Endlessly repeated gesture, 2009 Wood, metal brackets and bolts, carpeting, mirrored tile 66.5 x 96 x 96 in/ 168.9 x 243.8 x 243.8 cm


Tom Burr Golden Age, 2009 Wood, steel hinges, mirrored Plexiglas 47 3/4 x 96 in / 121.3 x 243.8 cm

Burr uses reflective surfaces and colour as cues to the content of his work. As an example, in his sculpture Chicks (2008), he uses a circle of highly reflective black Plexiglas under one leg of a type of psychiatrist’s couch. The Plexiglas becomes like a pool of morbid reflection for the latter-day Narcissus of Park Avenue. The black Chanel dress of Chicks evokes elegance and sophistication, while other sculptures deploy cues to the flip side of privilege. The sculpture Chick goes beyond the nightmares of the analyst’s couch to the starkness and sterility of the asylum. White vinyl stretched out under a stainless steel ash-tray, and Burr’s trademark plywood planks, are here painted white and folded into the shape of a hospital gurney/sun chair. A straight jacket is draped over the top, much like a jacket on a chair.  A steel drafting light, much like a surgical lamp, perches over the hybrid structure, casting a harsh glare.

Surface, shape, color and light combine and respond to conjure up the idea of a pre-1960’s asylum. It also evokes the troubling psychiatric practices (electroshock therapy, heavy medication, total body restraints) of this era.



Tom Burr Chicks (2008)


Tom Burr Addict love (2008)

In my work Pond life, the initial intention for the work was to use what I had in the studio (photographic backgrounds and props) to open out the photographic into the installation space, as a means of deconstructing the image. The process of making the work this way, has opened new possibilities for me in terms of how to mediate and represent my ideas and interests. Consideration of colour and reflection were present through the use of what I had available in the studio; not necessarily considered in relation to content. Colour choices of objects that I didn’t already have in the studio, (for example the feather pile), were for aesthetic reasons rather than as content. Clearly, in the work of Tom Burr, these aspects are key to the content of the work and will be important for future work for me as I develop it.

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