Room No.2 (The Mirrored Room) by Lucas Samaras

Lucas Samaras

Room No.2 (The Mirrored Room), 1966, Mirror on wood, 243.84 x 243.84 x 304.8 cm, Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1966, K1966:15, © Lucas Samaras, courtesy of Pace Gallery; © Lucas Samaras, courtesy of Pace Gallery; Photo: Albright-Knox Art Gallery / Art Resource, NY

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Seeing Again

Commentary by

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.

 

References

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]


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