Reflecting on Genius
This is a still from a 2008 video called "Repose (on the Plinthe)", by Vancouver artist Adad Hannah. I saw it in "Quotation", a group show at the Confederation Center of the Arts in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. (Disclosure: my wife, Lucy Hogg, is also in the exhibition.) The piece records two men holding a mirror as still as they can on a plinth in the Prado, in front of Velazquez's great "Las Meninas". (Click on my image to see a clip from the video.) The Velazquez is all about art as mirroring: the king and queen being painted by Velazquez are also the viewers of the scene, visible in the mirror in the center of his canvas – but that means they also stand in for us, as we stand gawking in the Prado. Hannah's piece likewise replaces us, as onlookers, with someone else's face, even as we realize that the green-jacketed young man isn't seeing himself, but a view of us looking at him as we try to take in the great painting beyond. The mise en abyme of "Las Meninas" is dug a bit deeper thanks to Hannah, as he gets in the way of Velazquez. Two fun factoids. First, the Hannah is 4'33" – the same length as John Cage's famous meditation on silence. (Hannah says that happened by accident). Second, the plinth the two men are on usually holds a statue of a sleeping hermaphrodite, commissioned by Velazquez himself for the same palace that once held his masterwork – a fact that injects a subtle note of gender instability into both the Hannah and the Velazquez.
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