Great art can be disorienting. Normally, when we say this, we're referring to that slightly dizzy sensation in your head or the pit in your stomach, both spurred by jarring visuals and the looming truths they inspire. Sometimes, though, art physically traps you in a maze of mirrors and you just don't know how to get out.
New York's Lehmann Maupin Gallery has transformed into a reflective, sci-fi wonderland, located somewhere between your utopian dreams and futuristic nightmares. Korean contemporary artist Lee Bul's installation "Via Negativa II" is an architectural puzzle that explores the limits of perception and the boundaries of consciousness, creating a physical space that somehow manages to transcend its physical limits.
You enter the installation through a labyrinth adorned with reflective fragments. Multiplied visions of yourself, the other gallery-goers, and the installation itself reflect and reverberate off the narrow corridor walls. You may, and should, feel disoriented, afraid, and even not quite human. The hall then feeds feeds into a visual echo chamber covered in illuminated infinity mirrors, and that's where you lose yourself. The physical space gives way to a spiritual realm with no clear limits or boundaries. Where you are, and even who you are, can no longer be defined.
"You are obscured by the array of light bulbs running all around you, so that you seem to be only a memory of a human being," explained Aaron Betsky in Architect Magazine. "You lose yourself in the artist’s construction and find yourself dazzled by your own disappearance. Reality does not disappear: If you look down, you see the gallery floor, and always the limits of the construction are visible. For a moment you are in a threshold space where the world as you know it and the one the artist has imagined hover around you, making you wonder about where and what you are in that context."
Whether you find the space enchanting or terrifying, you'll be made painfully aware that there exists things beyond our bodies and our understandings -- whether divine, technological, or whatever else. As Bul herself told ARTINFO of the previous work, "Via Negativa": "It’s not possible to ask what is the meaning of this piece, it erases that process completely. It’s a different way than the classical way (of thinking about art)."
Bul's chamber of mirrors has, not surprisingly, already been compared to Yayoi Kusama's mirrored "Infinity Room" that brought massive lines to David Zwirner last summer. Indeed both artworks are mirror-filled infinite spaces -- and highly Instagram-able. See more shots of "Via Negativa II," and the remainder of the futuristic exhibition, below.
Lee Bul's exhibition runs until June 21, 2014 at Lehmann Maupin in New York.