Jeppe Hein: The Smoking Bench

iheartmyart:  Jeppe Hein, Smoking Bench, 2003, technic, smoke machine, iron box, pillow

“(Lewis) Carroll’s upside-down perception of the world was echoed by his interest in mirror reflections and backwards handwriting…In Through the Looking-Glass, Alice talks to her cat about the world on the other side of the mirror: “Let’s pretend there’s a way of getting through into it, somehow, Kitty. Let’s pretend the glass has got all soft like gauze, so that we can get through. Why, it’s turning into a sort of mist now, I declare!’…And certainly the glass was beginning to melt away, just like a bright silvery mist.”

Just as Alice experiences the melting of the boundary between the space and its reflection, in Jeppe Hein’s The Smoking Bench (2003), viewers who seat themselves on a bench in front of a large mirror prompt a cloud of smoke to appear from underneath, dissolving their reflection. The mirror appears repeatedly in psychedelic experience as a doorway to altered perception and spiritual transcendence. In Tibetian Buddhism, it is a metaphor for consciousness. Micheal Collingshead, who assisted Timothy Leary at the Harvard Psilocybin Project in 1963 before both moved on to establish a centre for psychedelic activity in a mansion in Millbrook, New York, described an LSD session at Millbrook in which, staring at their reflections in hand-held mirrors:

“We saw [the reflections] as mandalas, as screens of energy. By suspending analysis we were able to pass through the screens. We noticed that in the centre of all these images is a black hole, the vrtex of mystical works. By focusing on this swirling, sucking void we moved through its entrance to the other kingdom. The blind spot in the centre of each mandala is recognised by Tibetan monks as a device to reach transcendence. It comes to life and triggers off archetypal images. We learned to move through the mandala to Nirvana, the state of absolute bliss.”

In Hein’s installation, the smoke’s obliteration of the viewer’s reflection evokes this void. Instead of entering into the screen, as Alice stepped through the looking glass, the viewer experiences a temporary oblivion. The smoke obscures the reflection of both the viewer and the surrounding space, diffusing it into an uncertain depth, like the surface of Capote’s black mirror.”

Iles, C (2005) Double Vision. In Mark, L (ed.) Ecstasy: In and About Altered States. Los Angeles. MIT Press

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