Lucas Samaras’s Room No.2 (1966), more often referred to as the Mirrored Room, built upon the earlier interactive art of Marcel Duchamp (Hopkins 2014). Samaras’s installation measures eight feet by ten feet; the entire space mirrored with panels, inside and out. One corner functions as a concealed door to admit ambulant viewers. Those who enter occupy a dizzying space. Reflections proliferate in an endless series, populating all six planes of the room.
This is art reconceived. No longer something to be seen, or venerated, from a distance, this is art that can literally be stepped into. Viewer becomes participant, a subject of infinite reflections. As the viewer moves, so do the reflected images, thereby challenging the notion of art as a static object. This is art overtly conscious of its ‘otherness’. It is a space set aside; an other-worldly insertion into the ordinary and the everyday. As when it was first exhibited, Room No.2 still challenges assumptions, not only about the nature of art, but about our own.
It is this sense of difference and separateness that especially connects Samaras’s installation with the experience of seers and prophets. Habakkuk’s hearing of God’s words sets him apart but so, too, does his anguished seeing (Habakkuk 1:3; 3:1–15). Habakkuk becomes a ‘place’ of acute spiritual engagement. The brutality Habakkuk witnesses is disorienting and disordering (1:14–15). Violent images multiply, shaping a future of despair. Such violence has effectively sterilized his world (3:17).
In what some may find its claustrophobic sterility, Samaras’s glass Room speaks to Habakkuk’s distress. The mirrored table and chair that are sometimes installed within Room No.2 are ambivalent presences. Their ordinary forms are rendered dysfunctional by their mirrored glass surfaces. The usual activities around a table—eating and working—need some undisturbed time. The frenetic environmental stimulus of Samaras’s room is a constant disturbance. As Habakkuk finds in the midst of his own situation of chaos, it is a struggle to hear or see beyond a current turmoil.
Hopkins, David. 2014. ‘Duchamp, Childhood, Work and Play: The Vernissage for First Papers of Surrealism, New York, 1942’, Tate Papers, 22, available at https://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/22/duchamp-childhood-work-and-play-the-vernissage-for-first-papers-of-surrealism-new-york-1942 [accessed 24 September 2020]
3 A prayer of Habakʹkuk the prophet, according to Shigionʹoth.
2O Lord, I have heard the report of thee,
and thy work, O Lord, do I fear.
In the midst of the years renew it;
in the midst of the years make it known;
in wrath remember mercy.
3God came from Teman,
and the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His glory covered the heavens,
and the earth was full of his praise. Selah
4His brightness was like the light,
rays flashed from his hand;
and there he veiled his power.
5Before him went pestilence,
and plague followed close behind.
6He stood and measured the earth;
he looked and shook the nations;
then the eternal mountains were scattered,
the everlasting hills sank low.
His ways were as of old.
7I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction;
the curtains of the land of Midʹian did tremble.
8Was thy wrath against the rivers, O Lord?
Was thy anger against the rivers,
or thy indignation against the sea,
when thou didst ride upon thy horses,
upon thy chariot of victory?
9Thou didst strip the sheath from thy bow,
and put the arrows to the string. Selah
Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers.
10The mountains saw thee, and writhed;
the raging waters swept on;
the deep gave forth its voice,
it lifted its hands on high.
11The sun and moon stood still in their habitation
at the light of thine arrows as they sped,
at the flash of thy glittering spear.
12Thou didst bestride the earth in fury,
thou didst trample the nations in anger.
13Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people,
for the salvation of thy anointed.
Thou didst crush the head of the wicked,
laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah
14Thou didst pierce with thy shafts the head of his warriors,
who came like a whirlwind to scatter me,
rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.
15Thou didst trample the sea with thy horses,
the surging of mighty waters.
16I hear, and my body trembles,
my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones,
my steps totter beneath me.
I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
to come upon people who invade us.
17Though the fig tree do not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
19God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like hinds’ feet,
he makes me tread upon my high places.
To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.