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Optical illusions

“Everything seemed to multiply and transgress identity, body, gender and reality limitations.”

Jess Dobkin in her performance piece Mirror Ball at the Performance Mix Festival in New York City (2008-09) appeared on a high pedestal wearing a body suit covered in hundreds or thousands of small mirrors, reflecting each other and everything around. The artist was rotating herself in a circle to a pulsating, psychedelic disco beats, playing loudly, invoking the 1970s, when disco became the genre of the heterosexuals, gays and lesbians, blacks, Latino and other cultural and sexual groups beyond binary limitations. The mirrors, the music genre itself, the spinning around and the dance – everything seemed to multiply and transgress identity, body, gender and reality limitations. Dobkin literally turned herself into a human mirror ball – a glittering specular sphere reflecting light in multiple directions and displaying a distorted image of reality. She functioned as both the mirror and Narcissus, investigating corporeal and psychical vulnerabilities and boundaries. She offered a spectacle of ‘Looking-glass’ – reflecting, transforming and seeing all the possibilities. The glowing dots dancing around with Dobkin as a rotating mirror ball enchanted a reality somewhere between disco and baroque trompe l’oeil’s optical illusions.

Left: Jess Dobkin (photo by David Hawe), Mirror Ball, 2008-2009; performance piece, courtesy of artist. Right: Lynne Marsh, Ballroom, 2004; video still from video installation, courtesy of artist.

Lynne Marsh’s performance piece entitled Ballroom (2004), presented, even more literally, a living disco ball – the artist wearing a glamorous costume covered in sequins - suspended from a ceiling of the Rivoli ballroom in London. Marsh rotated with increasing speed, illuminating the space with myriad delicate beams of light. The reflections were whirling around, playing with the three-dimensionality and the spectators. The space was luminous and sparkling. Aesthetics of seduction and stylisation created a dazzling décor for the traditional realm. Was it real or was it a spectacle; a magician trick, a created illusion? It all seemed magical and ephemeral with soft music playing in the background and following the movement of the spinning body. Marsh bewitched an imaginary space, casting a spell on what is obvious.

Stimulus Respond - Binary  
Stimulus Respond - Binary  

The Binary issue of Stimulus Respond, November 2010.