FRIDAY MAY 21, 2021
10:00 AM (EDT) 

Soko Phay

Professor, Université Paris 8 and Université Paris Lumières

Specular Reversal. When the Spectator Becomes the Work (in French)

Since the sixties, the mirror medium has been very present in contemporary art, less as a faithful reflection of appearances, than as a critique of our society dominated by the tyranny of the visible, “presentism” (François Hartog), and “transparency” (Byung-Chul Han). In making the spectator a part of the work—thus blurring the boundaries between reality and fiction—, the artist deconstructs the traditional metaphor of the mirror as a mere container of the real. Through a play of reflections, the mirror transforms the viewer into an artistic subject in sight of everyone. In occupying a position of viewer-viewed, he or she is no longer passive but becomes, unwittingly, active and takes part in the unfolding of the work. Michelangelo Pistoletto, Luciano Fabro, Jeppe Hein, Camilo Matiz or Olivier Sidet create sculptures or installations that invert the gaze and deconstruct our sensorial habits. Their mirrors, far from being devoted to contemplation, incite us to abandon our certainties, by way of distorted, empty or spectral reflections. It is about studying various forms of specular reversals that partake in a deconditioning of sight, all the while making us rethink our coexistence with the Other.

Soko Phay is a professor in history and theory of contemporary art at Université Paris 8 and Nouveau collège d’Études politiques de l’Université Paris Lumières. She is the research director of the Laboratory “Arts des images en art contemporain.” She has dedicated several books and articles to the aesthetics of the mirror, among which Miroirs, appareils et autres dispositifs (ed., 2008), Les vertiges du miroir dans l’art contemporain (2016). She has also carried out research on art in the face of the extremes, in its relations to memory and history. In this regard, she co-edited anthologies, such as Cambodge cartographie de la mémoire (2017), Archives au présent (2017), and Les génocides oubliés ? (2020).

Costantini, M. (2017). Miroir Miroir. Lausanne, Suisse: MUDAC.
Déotte, J.-L. (2004). L’époque des appareils. Paris: Lignes-Léo Scheer.
Han, B.-C. (2017). La société de transparence. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.
Harcourt, E. B. (2020). La société d’exposition : Désir et désobéissance à l’ère numérique. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.
Hartog, F. (2003). Régimes d’historicité : Présentisme et expériences du temps. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.
Phay, S. (2016). Les vertiges du miroir dans l’art contemporain. Dijon: Les Presses du réel.