Mirrors in the Cloud

Again a long pause, very unfortunately. Too much work, too frequent trips, too little meaning in this whole exercise. As often happens, the first postings after the breaks are rusty, they develop slowly, and as a rule are not so ‘insightful’ (wtm).  But anyway, it’s worth to start somewhere.

A small sigh above is a marker of the category ‘reunion’, or rendezvous, that I have introduced last year (some ‘reunions’ occurred earlier, but the category was proposed after my trip to Dortmund where I met the triptych by Derick Baegert. I later wrote two large postings, about multiple reunions at Prado Museum and  Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza), and was going to add few more. Alas, see above about too long a pause 😦

The curvy buildings such as those shown in this picture can be spotted in almost any city these days, and many urban surfaces are easily available to help: it could be a car glass, your own glasses, and almost any metal can would do. This time the ‘can’ was the famous mirror sculpture by Anish Kapoor that I finally ‘met’ in Chicago, and my story today will be about this work of him. The photograph above is not mine, I found it in the wikipedia; myself, I managed to get only a telelens and was not able to take an overview of the sculpture (though I have taken pictures of many small details, if not of this egg-like structure itself then of people around it). Why was this a reunion? I wrote about Kapoor and his mirrors already few times, very recently, in fact – see Mirror sculptures by Anish Kapoor and then Kapoor and other mirrors. But these postings were in fact the follow-ups of a much earlier posting about this artist, Anish Mirror Kapoor, that happened to start with a picture of exactly this sculpture, whose official name is the Cloud Gate (though I was told that the locals tend to call it differently, the Bean). Could are indeed reflected in the surface of a giant drop of metal on street surface, but I think the major source of its outlandish beauty is a forest of skyscrapers standing all around. Their glass facades reflect each other, and then again reflect their own reflection, ad infinitum. Even on the Google Map view we see the Bean doing its job, reflecting everything around it. Despite all the beauty, reflecting the surrounding buildings is not the main duty of this installation; reflecting the people seemingly is. We came to the Millennium Park in Chicago where the Cloud Gate stands already quite late in the evening, yet the square was quite crowdy. I guess it should be completely packed with people in top season. It seemed that the major job of all these people was to take pictures – of themselves and their significant (and not so significant) others with the mirror bean on a background!

People tend to take their pictures near any noticeable object in the cities, but Kapoor’s  Bean is ahead of many competitors in terms of its attractiveness for picture-taking. It is not only one giant mirror, but also a fun-house one. It distorts the surrounding objects in its curved surfaces just slightly, but enough to act as a giant magnet for all selfie-lovers.

The business of taking photos, especially the photos of your self, is very viral. Even if you didn’t have any particular plans when approaching the Bean, it’s difficult to resist and not to start copying some of the tricks people around use to grab their pictures by cameras.
In a sense, this place can be see as one giant social laboratory, where the Bean is its major social technology, a Happiness Generator of some sort (or at least a Mediator). If I would not promised myself not to write about Bakhtin’s theory of carnivalesque all the time, I would of course refer to the Bean as one huge (Rabelaisian!) fun mirror, an apparat to make grotesque out of the surrounding reality.
Few more facts & factoids. The concept of this mirror was submitted to the competition for the art objects to be installed in the Millennium Park. The park itself is a fairly recent development for Chicago, its
construction began only in 1997, with the idea to complete it by 2000 (thus, the name).
It is believed that Kapoor was inspired the drop of mercury which then gradually evolved into a kind of overarched bean. Below are a few sketches from his website showing the evolution:
And the next diagram is a more or less final version of this structure, also showing the navel,  an inner cavity that one can only see from beneath.
The 3D model gives some idea about the technical side of this sculpture, the skeleton of the Bean:
I guess that something like the picture below could have been submitted as a proposal for the competition committee to judge: 
The image above is the first one that allows to estimate the scale of the sculpture; it’s 13 m x 20 m in size, and 10 m tall. The height of the gate is about 4 m, but the central point of the navel raises almost to 8 m.
To make this sculpture, Kapoor suggested to use separate sheets of stainless steel, but bound them seamlessly, so that the entire construction looked likes one indivisible piece. Aesthetics aside, the pragmatic issues of feasibility – and further maintainability of this construction, reportedly caused quite a stir in the commission. The final round of contest was between the Bean and the sculpture of a giant children’s slide proposed by
Jeff Koons. His concept was even bigger, and would also use mirrors, but was much more simple to construct.
Eventually Kapoor won and was awarded the contract to make this sculpture, but apparently the technical side happened to be much more complex than he thought initially. Consultation and try-outs lasted few years, and the very construction began only in 2003.  The initial construction had to undergo significant changes, as engineers demanded to install various additional elements to secure stability and safety of this giant sculpture.  For example, its weight was initially estimated at 60 tons, and at the end exceeded 100 tons!
In total the surface is assembles from 168 sheets of steel, each about 1 cm thick but of various shapes, and this ranging from 450 to 950 kg. The wikipedia article provides much more detailed description of the technical details.
The picture below shows the moment of construction:
The sculpture was officially opened only in July 2004, but soon wrapped up, literally:
The Bean stood under this shelter nearly a year and a half, while its surface had been polished to a full gloss.
The real opening was held in 2006, and ever since this huge fan mirror entertains the public. I guess next year Chicago will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the operation, and perhaps will undertake an uplift of some sort, because by now the surface already shows the sign of decay (the spots on the picture below are not of the camera, or the pavement, but of the Bean itself):
Chicago is not the most climate-friendly place for an outdoor mirrors. I found the picture showing the situation during a snow winter.  Sure, such moments are a treasure for the lucky photographers, but they make life for the sculpture itself very tough.
The inner side is less damaged, as it’s less exposed to the external factors. It is the second most popular place to take picture, because its curves produce the funniest pictures of this fun mirror:
The picture above is mine, and the one below is not, but I would like to show it to also illustrate that people are endlessly creative and invent new and more exotic ways to self-portray themselves (my guess is that the pictures like that are made using camera (or lens) rotation during the exposure).
Speaking about ‘endless creativity’, people of course keep pushing the limits and create even more complex and beautiful, hybrid structures. Here, for instance, is one of the recent works by art collective Luftwerk, called Luminous Fields. I will show only a couple of pictures of their work, and you can find many more on their website:
But you can find even more, and more marvellous photos of this creation online.  According to some estimates, the number of photos taken near the Bean, has long ago exceeded one billion, and the number only grows, of course. I think that all camera manufacturers have to install a totem of appreciation of some sort near this “mirror”.
Here is perhaps the place and a moment for a piece or two of those ‘insightful thoughts’ – but see the very beginning of the posting and the concept of ‘mental rust’.
The wikipedia article says that “the sculpture builds upon many of Kapoor’s artistic themes”, and it is true (and I wrote about some of these ‘artistic themes’ in my earlier postings about Kapoor). But it also worth to keep in mind that Kapoor was far from the first who start exploring these issues, of “immersive mirror spaces”. The genealogy can be traced back to Leonardo da Vinci and his Mirror Room (see Da Vinci, and Translucencies).
Many contemporary artists used mirrors in their works too (Pistoletto, for example, or Dan Graham). The giant mirrors by late Louise Bourgeois were quite comparable by scale to the Bean by Kapoor, and the  mirror rooms by Yayoi Kusama play even more sophisticated tricks with our perception. But all in all, these examples are clearly not so entertaining and spectacular as the mirror experiments by Kapoor. And these are not merely experiments with visual perception, it is also a social laboratory of some sort. The world ‘laboratory’ is not the best here, since these experiments are not done in vitro but unfolds in a real social settings, transforming a social ecosystem into social mirror-system.
The meaning of the ‘mirror-system’ implies not only the physical ecosystem around this sculpture (including, for instance, all these glass skyscrapers, reflected in this mirror blob, and reflecting it in return, but also multiple cultural reflections, too.  The public mirror of such magnitude inevitably creates large impact in the cultural surrounding, expressed, for instance, in the growing number of photos, but also in various homages, re-appropriations, interpretations and so on.
I may come back later to this subject, of Kapoor and his mirrors; below Kapoor himself, with his Bean:

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