“Less than nothing is in German: Wenigerals Nichts. I wish you can understand it, but words are only one way to realize less than nothing. I wrote also on a mirror: nothing is the surface of the mirror = 0. The reality is + (plus) and what you see in the mirror is – (minus), what means weniger. This is mathematics.” – Peter Skubic
If it all comes down to the intellectual inquiry of reality by numbers, Peter Skubic challenges my perceptions of the tangible and the intangible in countless ways. In the basement of the Museum of Estonian Architecture, fifteen “spatial objects” lean against the red brick arches or rest on the matte, black, tile floor – poised and waiting for me to cross their path. Pulsating strobe lights bring coated steel planes of reflective color (mirrors) erratically into and out of view, greatly limiting my accessibility to the reflections contained within their overlapping and severe angles, forcing me to squint between the staccato of flashes. I am immediately disoriented, not knowing where to step or which way to turn, and I bump into others as I look for a place of respite to gather myself and my bearings. In the moment, I felt completely dysfunctional, empty, searching for familiarity, for something – unaware that this is exactly what Skubic was after. Of his work he notes: “I try to find the point, where are the borders of nothing more than nothing. But it’s impossible to find less than nothing in my work. As the inspiration is the big bang – starting point where is nothing. But after that point everything has developed into what we see and what we know now in our universe.” With such explosive initial contact, I am looking for everything (anything) I believe I have seen or recognize just begin to orient myself in this space, in this place, in this reality. And it isn’t a universe I know.
By supposing that my understanding of reality through explicit constructed images of my own reflective creation is illusionary through the use of the mirror as an object isn’t unfamiliar; however, by focusing his interest on the manipulation and layering of the source and its manifested result: the reflection – Skubic creates opportunities for more refined questions. In an introduction to the exhibition, curator Tanel Veenre writes: “The mirror has been an important and very central leitmotif in Skubic’s works for thirty-five years. The master himself sees more to mirrors than a simple visual category: they signify the negation of reality. As a backwards simulator of reality, the mirror opens a Pandora’s box of endless interpretations.” I obviously begin with myself: are the reflections I see what is actual or merely only what I remember? Or is it that what I think I see is what I want to see rather than what truly may be? Or are they, as Skubic suggests, totally imaginary? What I see in a mirror isn’t real in one sense, I cannot touch it; but does that mean that it is without value or existence? Is it nothing? Can something ever truly be nothing?
This work brings to mind the early writings of Plato and specifically his notions of art, the artist, and mimesis. He questioned the true designation of the artist, who is third in descent from nature (the source), as a creator of only appearances, an imitator of what others make; much like someone who twirled round and round with a mirror creating untrue objects, questioning what is real and what is the reflection. The real artist, he contends, knowing what he was imitating and interested in the realities and not imitations, is the one who possesses knowledge (though he argued that they never rise beyond imitator, a notion I do not share). I believe Skubic’s work seeks to find and understand the source: the original, the idea, the starting point. Through the potency and shortcomings of my own reflections in his creations, he highlights our collective existence and awakens us to venture out, question everything, and dare to come to a genuine place of new understanding.
But I think Skubic goes further, emboldened by the physical context of the space of the architectural museum. Extending beyond the putative personal connotations of the mirror (as only a means of indulgent reflection of oneself and appearance), the strategic placements in and around the iconic structure, echoed by the throbbing lights, disrupt not only our perceptions of space and our sense of place; but also how we occupy and relate to it. While I will consider that my sense of reality is based on the very specific personal images and perceptions that Skubic seeks to abolish; I find it far more difficult to dismantle architecture (actual space) as an illusion. In viewing the larger works in particular, I cannot disregard the physicality of the structure that I stand in to view the works; and so I am conflicted. Are the perimeters I have defined for myself to define space (and secondly place) not “real” but instead, illusions to generate notions of comfort, familiarity, and safety? Or are the walls just walls? Does my ability to question reality end at the border of my body? Perhaps so, but Skubic dares me to push through the familiar, think less in totality, and sink into unimagined territory to see what it is that I continue to believe is real. My openness to this is a bit of a surprise, it is the one reflection that was totally unexpected.
Images (from top to bottom): Installation views of Peter Skubic: Mirrors are Invisible, photographed opening night.
Exhibition Details: Conception: Kadri Mälk; Curator: Tanel Veenre; Exhibition design: Nils Hint; Print editors: Kadri Mälk, Tanel Veenre; Graphic design: Aadam Kaarma, Sandra Kossorotova; Translation: Adam Cullen; Supporters: Embassy of Austria in Tallinn, Cultural Endowment of Estonia, Estonian Academy of Arts; Thanks to: Mart Kalm, Anne Laur, Timmo Lember, Villu Plink, Helen Saluveer, Mati Sirkel, Hannes Tõnuri, Art Museum of Estonia