Tooling the Mirror of Future

This will be a difficult posting. It certainly was for me when preparing and writing it, though many of the things became plain-obvious after. But even if it will understandable, I am not sure it will be interesting for any outside readers, as methodological issues are rarely very entertaining.

Many of its topics are coming from the manifesto of some sort I wrote in relation to this projects about mirrors in art. Called Future of Mirrors, Mirror of Future, this manifesto claimed that the project won’t be about the ‘past’ (at least not only about the past), but most importantly about the future, and specifically about the way we think about the future(s). It even promised to create a set of tools to deal with these futures, and the better ones that are in use today. Big promise, if you ask me.

The claim was made, but then – and for years –  the blog was dealing with these ‘future issues’ at all, or at least didn’t deal with them in any explicit way, instead predominantly focusing on these ‘past stories’. Even when I wrote a couple of recent posting that technically speaking were about the ‘future mirrors’ (see The mirrors of the near future, for example), they were not about these ‘future tools’ per se.

I think the time has come to address these tooling issue directly. Tough task, as before, but also a half-made task already in some way, as in reality I was trying and testing many of these ‘tools’ in various stories already. A possible approach would to be go through nearly 200 posts in this blog and track the ‘lessons learned’ in each of them, those ‘mind transformations’ that happened, at least with me. The exact definition of this ‘transformation’ is not easy to give, it’s more than ‘ I didn’t know that fact, and know I do’, and deals more with a more interesting Before & After, and with deeper impact.

And then I would comb the ‘tools’, the how-it-was-made of these transformations, the summary of which would be then the future toolkit I am after, and the step the ultimate Mirror-of-Future type of manual. The use of this toolkit would be much wider than this blog only, and could even overlap with my own professional work (technically speaking, an ‘innovation practitioner’, whatever that means).

Sounds like a good plan. With a small problem, though, of ‘going through the 200+ posts’ which sounds like yet another ‘let’s collect the underpants!” exercise. I therefore decided to make a shortcut, and simply asked some of the readers of this blog about the most ‘transformative’ stories they could recall.

{Before reading any further, and if you consider yourself belonging to the category of ‘regular readers’ of the Art Mirrors Art blog, you can also through your own examples, let’s say, the most memorable stories – 7±2 would be sufficient for a start, thank you.}

Under the cut there are the ‘most transformative’ stories brought so far.

1. (Non) Mirror of Arnolfini

This is, of course, not one posting (and not two), but a whole series, the theme that has been unfolding in a dozen or so different stories over few years.  But in essence it could be distilled to a short statement, that the things we call ‘mirrors’ in many of the Renaissance paintings and panels (including the most famous case of Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait) is not in fact mirror, but certain religious artifacts, a sort of icons. We forgot their true meaning with time, and at certain point an icon became a mirror.

The story is particular striking as the solution of the puzzle is strikingly present, often right into your face, like in the case with Arnolfini, and yet continues to be ignored (gorilla in a room kind of phenomenon).

2. Mirrors in the Bible 

The above picture refers to one specific story (Susanna and the Elders), but in general people refer to a series of the postings that deal with the mirrors employed to illustrate various biblical stories (another example would be the story of Bathsheba Bathing).

On a more superficial level it was interesting for contemporary today to re-discover all these stories (the Bible is much less known today then in the past). But what was also interesting, I think, was to track the changes of the meaning (including the meaning of the mirrors) over time – all these stories inevitable unfold into long time-flows of paintings and other art works, illustrating these modifications of the meaning.

3. Rinaldo and Armida

In way, this is a version of the previous case – with one striking exception that the story only resembles the biblical one, and in reality is completely invented. It is one of the purest cases of myth-making out of nothing (ok, may be not literally, but still with a great deal of the author’s own fantasy). But again, what was interesting to track is how the meaning of the ‘mirror’ in the story was evolving over time.

4. The Witch/Virgin Mirror

The story (again, manifested not in one, but in a few works) somehow overlaps with the very first case, but the emphasis here is on a very rapid change of meaning, from unquestionably positive to untouchably negative, during very short period of time, during 15-16 centuries. In some cases these polar meanings even coexisted, paradoxically, in the works of one master(and Memling is a good example here).

5. Change of Design – and Meaning – during the Dutch Golden Century 

This is another case of changes, in one sense of design of the mirrors, and their position in interior (it can be observed not through one particular author, of course, but over time and space of the entire Dutch Golden Age). But on a deeper level we can see also the changes of the use, including different practices and rituals related to mirrors (which I am still researching, in fact, this story is far from complete.)

6. The Life and the Mirrors (of Degas) 

The cycle of postings about Degas and his ‘mirrors’ was the very first (and still perhaps the best) examples of biographic analysis of the mirror-meanings. Here we again talk about changes of the meaning, but in this case they are related to the personal trajectory (which is of course depended on bigger social changes, but the personal factors keeps playing major role). As a rule, these investigations end up being very ‘psychoanalytical’ and often require digging in someone’s underwear.

7. Mirror Vignettes  

In case of Degas we talk about Biography with Big B, but Breitner and his tragic ‘mirror in kimono’ story is almost opposite a case, of small human story, personal vignettes. The story about Small (but unimportant) Things, and how mirrors can play role in them.

8. Personal Sub-Cultures of Mirrors 

The case of Beckmann is an interesting intersection of Big and Small; it is also a life-long story, similar to the Degas’ one, but during his life he created his own, very close and intimate, world of meanings, including the meanings related to mirrors. But his personal meaning are all filled with multiple cultural memes and myths, and generic is always intertwined with particular. It is as of Nabokov would be a painter, and we would now struggle to interpret the meaning of his words and sentences, only expressed visually.

9. Mirrors and the Po-Mo Games

In a narrow sense it could be the story of Las Meninas, but not the painting of Velasquez per se but its numerous remakes and reinterpretations by different artists, but also the theme also include many other stories (e.g.,Belle Gabrielle).  Interestingly, this project has originally started with such explorations and similar cases of re-appropriations of the famous works were always an important part of it.  For me these stories were important, ‘natural’ bridges linking the ‘past’ and the ‘present’ (and of course the ‘future’, in a sense).

10. Mirrors Here and Now

Perhaps the Mirror Clound by Anish Kapoor was recalled simply because it was one of the recent postings – but may be also because it is indeed a very contemporary case, where the meaning-making is happening right now, and right here-and-there. Kapoor becomes the only living author in this short list (not considering, perhaps, the numerous authors of remakes and reinterpretations mentioned in № 9), and I guess this also plays a role in making this story ‘important’. With him, and similar contemporary artist one could start real conversation about the meaning of their ‘mirrors’ – thus changing these meaning too, to some extent.


I personally like all the above stories – though I like all others too, of course, and therefore I have to thank my readers for making this pre-selection, and helping me to make a short-cut with looking for the ‘tools’. At the end I managed to identify also ten tools, but not in a manner of ‘one story – one tool’. Surely, some tools play more prominent role in certain stories, but in reality it’s always an assemblage of multiple tricks, not necessarily well-planned in advance. And some of the tools I was creating in response to the difficulties presented by the stories themselves, and only later was able to understand how it was done.

Here is an empty ‘frame’ that I will fill with different ‘tools’, at the end making the first version of the Future Mirror’s toolkit I was talking so long about.

Despite all the differences between all these different ‘tools’, I also see one general thread going through many (all?) of them, the foundation of some sort they are based on. This foundation can be very broadly defined as the Context.  Or rather contexts, as the more contexts one can grasp, the better. In fact, all these various techniques could be described through the contexts they most strongly rely upon and use. The hope is, therefore, to select the right context to explore for every story; in some cases it’s fairly obvious, but often it’s not really clear in the beginning. Hence, the motto could be phrased as “In the hope for the right context!”, and following the suite I also made the visual in Hope.

1. Social anthropology of mirrors 

This may sound very generic, but it is exactly the thing I was using – or at least trying to use. According to the definition, “social anthropology is the study of all peoples everywhere – what they make, what they do, what they think and how they organise their social relationships and societies”. “What do they make” is often the best starting question, which may lead to many discoveries, and also require to address other important W-s.

2. Biblical Studies

We are talking about full-scale Biblical Studies, of course, but yes, many of these explorations do require much better knowledge of the Bible, and the history of Christianity in general. The text itself is important to know, but also its multiple interpretations over time, too. And it’s crucial not only for Europe, Christianity has massively impacted the world culture as well. Of course, and almost immediately after, one would need to study other religions and their codexes too (both pre-Christian and next-to-Christian ones), including contemporary debates. But the basic knowledge of the Book of the Doctrine is a must.

(This also partly explains why I am so hesitant to venture into the explorations of ‘other’, non-European mirrors, such as Indian or Chinese ones. I feel that I don’t have sufficient knowledge of their founding Books, and without such knowledge these exercises may be too superficial.)

3. New mythes

In one way the story of Rinaldo and Almira reaffirms ‘the tool’ proposed in the previous section (Know the Canon), but in true sense it suggests almost opposite, that one should also be aware of various new mythologies that appear all the time, and especially those that skilfully mimic the Canon.

To mention one recent example, we all witness now the raise of the Game of Thrones, that with time can compete by the impact if not with the Bible but with other powerful narratives, such as the LotR or WoW. If one doesn’t know the exact references from the GoT, soon they can be easily confused with the ‘real’ historic events.

4. Beware conspiracies! 

Again, this tool may look similar to the №1, just go and figure material (and cultural) contexts of certain developments. But the warning sign here is how quickly things may change, and that even if you reveal certain context with high accuracy, nothing stops then from radical changes of their meaning, and in a very short period of time. One can’t step twice in the same river; one can’t look at the same mirror.

The most difficult part here is that these changes rarely replace one meaning with another, more often then create strange juxtapositions, and require the skill of simultaneously holding two – or more – meaning systems in mind (the situation strikingly different from the prevailing rationalistic/scientific paradigm of today, when only one theory can be true, and all the rest should be discarded).

5. Materials in history 

To put it simply, one needs to know the materiel; and materials, too, including history of technology, design, and material cultures in a broader sense. I realize that to say that after the Annales and the raise of Material Cultures as a discipline it may look like breaking into an opened door, but I also know how easily this tangible factor can be forgotten and how easily all theoretical construction become ungrounded and, well, theoretical.

6. Role of personality in history 

Again, it may sound banal, but way too often we forget to consider the very human, personal details. This may start from simplistic omission (when we are unaware if the work made by 18-old youth or 90-old patriarch) to more generic detachment of analysis from the details of personal biographies.

7. Life and its anecdotes 

Basically, the previous section but with a much higher granularity, when one single day of life can deserve a book-long description. From social anthropology to a psychoanalytical session (‘psychoanalysis’ should be understood very broadly here, of course.

8. How to stop worrying and learn to understand Nobokovs and Joyces 

Or Pynchons. Or any other author who created his own world of meaning, when personal is intertwined with historical and all-human. The recipe is perhaps very similar, go and figure these personal meanings, all these shadows of meaning on the Swann’s ways.

9. The mountains of underpants, now in multimedia 

Hail to the King of Po-Mo! (or should it be the Queer Queen?) In the times of freakonomics the analysis of the depth is substituted by the surfing on the surfaces of multiple simulacrums. I tend to use the following quote by John Rajchman, from his Deleuze Connections  – “We must always make connections, ever more connections, since they are not already given.” And I still don’t know any better way.

10. Now in cloud!

The above one, but on the steroids of here-and-now and real-time. Cocacolaboration, you write a posting in the morning, and get a summon to the court in the evening, and together with the artist you make a performance out of the trial.

_ _ _

The next step is to write/design a manual on how to use this toolkit – and then apply it a real-life case (and not necessarily related to any mirrors)…

… but then the results will not be reported in this blog, I guess. Unless one of many popping start-ups will really decided to make a mirror of the future (and I mean, literally).


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