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Josiah McElheny: The Past Was A Mirage I’d Left Far Behind, Whitechapel Gallery, London

The mirror is often used as a literary metaphor. Its powers of reflection, refraction and subtraction just prove too tempting a device to leave on the wall. It is also an object with a number of practical functions. Brunelleschi reportedly used a mirror to develop his theory of linear perspective, and the great painters relied on them for the production of self portraits.

At the Whitechapel Gallery, mirrors placed at angles to each other neatly divide abstract films into simple topographical parts. Here the mirror is a literary device: it changes the narrative of the film, a further level of abstraction. It is also practical device for slicing and rearranging the coloured light of the projection.

But where is the reflection of the artist? He doesn’t appear to be in the rather tidy carpentry that provides the structure for the work; the mirrors themselves are placed in such simple positions that they appear to have arranged themselves. The films are the works of others that have been selected by someone else. It’s not until I come across the last exhibit that I find a potential answer. Opposing infinity mirrors have been affected by the natural curvature of the glass, giving the appearance of the repeated space between them arcing in a circle out of view. Perhaps Josiah is on the other side of the circle?

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