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Olafur Eliasson

So I have been happily obsessed with kaleidoscopes now for the past year, and what started as a minor curiosity with an old childhood toy, has become something to dig and explore into over and over again, in different mediums, and with different ideas on accuracy, perfection, and reflection.

For kaleidoscopes, a simple set of 3 or 6 mirrors, taking in light and throwing them back to us in new refracted ways, can show us a new perspective; but it’s also brought me back to the book Pieces of Light by Charles Ferryhough, and his findings on memory.

Psychologist, Ferryhough has discovered that each time a memory is remembered, it is recreated.”Every act of remembering is an act of creation, a confabulation stitched together from an array of different cues.” Sometimes with the same level of accuracy, but more often than not,  coloured by emotion, or nostalgia, or simply small pieces and details misplaced or forgotten. “Each act of remembering, and especially each act of retelling, subtly changes the memory itself. What we end up with is a smudgy copy of a copy of a copy[…]”*


Olafur Eliasson

Memory remembered, and re-remembered , mirrored to create what we define as our truth,  not based on facts at all by the 10th or 12th remembering, watered down like homeopathic remedies, the memory of a herb replacing the herb itself. And yet these memories we call our truths and they can haunt us, colour our perceptions of the world and how we see our place in it.

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I wanted to make kaleidoscopes that interpret this,  where the mirrors are slightly off, the reflections betray each other, the imperfections in the endless repeated images peeling off and creating their own reality.

It’s been making me think of Angela Carter’s amazing book, The Desire Machines of Dr Hoffman, where holographic images take over the city and the populous can’t tell what is reality and which isn’t. Fake memories, or fake news occupy the same space, and we certainly have enough unreality to go around with this administration.

The idea of something as trustworthy as mirrors, which rarely lie, unless bent or distorted, creating a warped idea of reality.

Anyway, all this has led to an exploration of kaleidoscopes in art in general, which I then realized, is a path that has already quite well tread.

Yayoi Kusana, a favourite artist of mine, started using mirrors to create her first mirror installation, Phalli’s Field, as she was sick of sewing phallic tubers, and thought mirrors would be a more efficient way of creating an endless landscape of them. Her mirror landscapes now form quite a hefty part of her cannon and are incredibly beautiful and also mesmerizing, in that the audience stands within them, seeing themselves reflected an infinite amount of times, losing count very quickly of how many of us are in the room.

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Olafur Elison is another artist working with the kaleidoscope format. I had visited Harpa, in Iceland, 2 years ago, as so knew him as an architect, but when looking up installations in Vienna, where I thought I was going to visit this Summer, I saw images of his kaleidoscopic art works that were installed in the The Winter Palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy palace between 2015-2016 in an installation called Baroque Baroque.

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The exhibition itself seemed to have spanned a large section of the palace, and fused the old with the new, the new sucking in the old and reflecting it in back a new light- literally.

He has said his artwork is more about seeing-oneself-seeing or sensing-oneself-sensing that creating objects, ” about trying to introduce relationships between having an experience and simultaneously evaluating and being aware that you are having this experience. It’s not about experience versus interpretation but about the experience inside the interpretive act, about the experience itself being interpretive.”** In that way, he is interested in museums co-producing spaces with the audience, co-creating within an installation**,  a concept I find very intriguing, and also very important as an audience member to feel fully engaged in an art form. The idea of a active participant is one that resonates with me- it’s why I started creating installative/ immersive theatre***, and why I wrote my B.A thesis on film that calls for an active viewer.

It’s also probably why I admire his work so much, it creates a world to co-habit, and each individuals response will be different, but everything I have seen has become reflective, both literally and figuratively.  He “employ[s] shifting frames of reference that are shared with science, psychology and architecture” so that “experience and perception, rather than a supposedly unmediated thing-in-itself, have become [his] elusive subject. “**

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Monir Farmanfarmaian is another artist primarily working with mirrors and reflections. I first saw her work in the V & A in London, over 10 years ago.  She is an Iranian artist, who grew up around traditional mosaics, but only after living out of Iran grew to appreciate the skill of the glass cutters and the work that goes into creating them. She has  inverted this tradition, creating something new, out of something ancient,  creating mirror balls and geometric designs that are more modernly minimalistic.

Although she has stated there is no deeper meaning or concept behind her work, especially in the larger, wall size pieces, there is a certain amount of reflection that goes along with seeing oneself fragmented into tiny pieces.

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For more on Olafur Eliasson see

here – the artist interviewing himself



*** for more on immersive theatre see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Site-specific_theatre

**** pictures taken from http://www.thethirdline.com/artists/monir-shahroudy-farmanfarmaian/selected-work/

***** pictures taken from http://toosfoundation.com/monir-shahroudy-farmanfarmaian/


For more on Yayoi Kusama see




For more on Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian






About CT

Claire Townsend is a freelance costume designer/maker and theatre practitioner.
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