It sounds like a contradiction in terms: Black + Mirror. How can a reflection be black? A mood can be black, a colour can be black (though, yes, I know they say black is not a colour), but how can you look into a ‘mirror’ and see your image in black? But I have just seen it in Paris, in an emotive design by Martin Szekely in his exhibition at the Centre Pompidou (“Ne plus dessiner”).
Design with a twist
There was a personal aspect to the powerful effect this circular black mirror (among dozens of pieces that spanned over 20 years of his output) had on me. First and most important was that I knew Martin Szekely in the early to mid-90s while I was living in Paris, when he was morphing into a successful product designer. Since then he’s shot into the stratospheres of top international design speerheaded by an innate sense of the three-dimensional and of spare form that is hard to fault. But it’s far from being a dull minimalism as, somehow, there is always an unexpected visual twist or oblique reference.
So, as I looked into the dark liquid pool of the Black Mirror, I found myself transported back to a time when I lived differently, with no responsibilities, open to the world and what it offered, but also to that age when every experience was laden with exaggerated significance. There was clarity in this reflection of silicon carbide and yet it was muted, shadowy, ambiguous. And that brings me to the second aspect of its strength. It reminded me of an Aztec hand mirror I once had the immense privilege to hold and look into in Mexico City. Made of obsidian, it embodied that same oily pool of nothingness, or was it of everything? My travel companion was so mesmerised that he had tried obsessively to buy the mirror from its owner, without success.
Figure from the past
Back at Beaubourg, staring deeply, narcissistically even, into the Black Mirror I had the impression that Martin was there too, an indistinct figure behind me, standing aside from the exhibition where visitors jostled to peer at furniture and captions. Some kind of ghost? A trick of time? A 21st c version of Velazquez in Las Meninas? My over-active imagination? Then I turned, and realised it WAS him, in the flesh.
He didn’t recognise me immediately, hardly surprising considering it was 15 years or so since we last met. After chatting about this and that, he insisted I see the film of the Black Mirror made by the Canadian, Mark Lewis, an add-on to the exhibition that otherwise focussed purely on Szekely’s designs. This short film showed that same mirror, mounted on a mobile stand, cruising and swivelling through the Dutch galleries at London’s National Gallery. This was a homage to the anamorphosic mirror devices used by 17th century Dutch painters, yet resembled some kind of futuristic extraterrestrial. Another visual trick of time and place?