David Ness
Mind / Matter

Studio Evening: Through the Looking Glass

By David Ness
Wednesday, January 16, 2002

From the Host (Dick Ranck)

I had forgotten what an interesting character Carroll had created in Alice.  She is a lone if not lonely child. She has a terrific imagination and I gather from her opening dialogue that she is constantly criticized for chattering away around adults. She is constantly admonishing kitty in a way that I can only assume she has learned from experiencing it herself. In any event, the looking glass appears to be both refuge and egress to adventure.

Such is art. Such, for that matter, is the process of thinking to resolve.

For our upcoming meeting, lets make our discussion about reality, what tools we use to describe it, and what excuses we make to avoid it.

I have mentioned 'cogito ergo sum' as one fulcrum.  I am including an excerpt from Through the Looking Glass as another.

I am also including the first page from my Google.com search for through the looking glass.  I found the variety of uses for the title fascinating.

The excerpt from Through the Looking Glass

`Now, if you'll only attend, Kitty, and not talk so much, I'll tell you all my ideas about Looking-glass House. First, there's the room you can see through the glass -- that's just the same as our drawing room, only the things go the other way. I can see all of it when I get upon a chair -- all but the bit behind the fireplace. Oh! I do so wish I could see THAT bit! I want so much to know whether they've a fire in the winter: you never CAN tell, you know, unless our fire smokes, and then smoke comes up in that room too -- but that may be only pretence, just to make it look as if they had a fire. Well then, the books are something like our books, only the words go the wrong way; I know that, because I've held up one of our books to the glass, and then they hold up one in the other room.

`How would you like to live in Looking-glass House, Kitty? I wonder if they'd give you milk in there? Perhaps Looking-glass milk isn't good to drink -- But oh, Kitty! now we come to the passage. You can just see a little PEEP of the passage in Looking-glass House, if you leave the door of our drawing-room wide open: and it's very like our passage as far as you can see, only you know it may be quite different on beyond. Oh, Kitty! how nice it would be if we could only get through into Looking- glass House! I'm sure it's got, oh! such beautiful things in it!
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! It'll be easy enough to get through -- ' She was up on the chimney-piece while she said this, though she hardly knew how she had got there. And certainly the glass WAS beginning to melt away, just like a bright silvery mist.

In another moment Alice was through the glass, and had jumped lightly down into the Looking-glass room. The very first thing she did was to look whether there was a fire in the fireplace, and she was quite pleased to find that there was a real one, blazing away as brightly as the one she had left behind. `So I shall be as warm here as I was in the old room,' thought Alice: `warmer, in fact, because there'll be no one here to scold me away from the fire. Oh, what fun it'll be, when they see me through the glass in here, and can't get at me!'

Then she began looking about, and noticed that what could be seen from the old room was quite common and uninteresting, but that all the rest was a different as possible. For instance, the pictures on the wall next the fire seemed to be all alive, and the very clock on the chimney-piece (you know you can only see the back of it in the Looking-glass) had got the face of a little old man, and grinned at her.

`They don't keep this room so tidy as the other,' Alice thought to herself, as she noticed several of the chessmen down in the hearth among the cinders: but in another moment, with a little `Oh!' of surprise, she was down on her hands and knees watching them. The chessmen were walking about, two and two!

`Here are the Red King and the Red Queen,' Alice said (in a whisper, for fear of frightening them), `and there are the White King and the White Queen sitting on the edge of the shovel -- and here are two castles walking arm in arm -- I don't think they can hear me,' she went on, as she put her head closer down, `and I'm nearly sure they can't see me. I feel somehow as if I were invisible -- '

Here something began squeaking on the table behind Alice, and made her turn her head just in time to see one of the White Pawns roll over and begin kicking: she watched it with great curiosity to see what would happen next.

`It is the voice of my child!' the White Queen cried out as she rushed past the King, so violently that she knocked him over among the cinders. `My precious Lily! My imperial kitten!' and she began scrambling wildly up the side of the fender.

The Google Page

[Note from DN: I have trimmed the results of the Google search here, as anyone with access to this document can regenerate it.]

My `Looking Glass'

The dictionary is pretty unequivocal about the fact that since 1562, `looking glass' has been a synonym for `mirror' or `a : something that gives a true representation b : an exemplary model'. But for me, the `looking glass' is more likely a computer screen, if you will, the glass through which I (increasingly) look at the world.

And as such, the Looking Glass is at the core of a whole jumble of thoughts, observations, feelings, provocations.

My first provocation is to wonder why (in the sixteenth century yet) a mirror got to be known as a `looking glass' as opposed to a `seeing glass'. Naively it would be easy to convince me that it was more natural to regard what we would see in the mirror rather than to emphasize the fact that we could look at it. Of course this may be for some reason I haven't thought of, but I think there may be something to discuss in why we, as humans, may place a higher priority on looking than on seeing.

It also strikes me that this may comment both directly and indirectly on art. I think my instinct as one relatively uneducated in the arts, is to look at art rather than to see things in it. It sounds like a habit that I should perhaps work on breaking.

Second, I turned, as did Dick, to the Internet. My looking glass.

Through the Looking lass from the ridiculous to the pretentious. Starting with a couple of notes on the Internet which illustrate, to me at least, new categories of art: technological absurdity (in the first case) and curious pretense (the second case). Other examples abound, but would, I think, contribute little but further repetition.

Then, let's take direct quotes (including typos in some cases, I fear) from some sites:

Knight/Smith et al "Road Apple Test" (1998) 

"Road Apple Test" Is a collaborative installation/website based on the 1967 artist's book, Royal Road Test, but Edward Ruscha, et al. As Ruscha and company threw a Royal Typewriter out the window of a speeding car, we threw a Macintosh SE off the back of a pickup truck. We labeled and documented the debris, calculated distance, weighed and meaxsured the pieces, and classified them according to type. Less than a decade old, this computer was turned into trash by its obsolescence, destroyed by the chuck out of the truck, and given meaning again by an obsessive cataloguing.


Brooke A. Knight is an artist, teacher, and critic based in Maine. His recent work includes investigations into the making of meaning out information, and the body/machine complex. He recently delivered a paper at the 2000 CAA conference on personal webcams, considering them vis-a-vis their historical precedents in performance, self-portraiture, and documentary production. He received an MFA in photography form CalArts in 1995, and also studied at UMBC and Davidson College. Owen Smith is an artist, writer and teacher who has long been interested in ideas and forms of expression that are related to what he describes as alternative art forms, most specifically the Fluxus group. His work as a historian on Fluxus Was recently published in his book Fluxus: the history of an Attitude (San Diego State University Press, 1998). http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/dept/press/newtitles.html As an artist he has exhibited widely in both traditional venues and online sites and he recently completed the development of an online documentation site for a year long project, titled Proof of Existence. He is currently a faculty member in Art History and New Media at the University of Maine.

Brad Brace "GreenScreens" (1998)

Eroticized Japanese/Malaysian Snack Foods: Kozakana Mix, Kasugai Peanut, Kokuto Peanut, Tokyo Mix, Osaka Mix, Mazemaze Ichiban... Fast-loading Imagery for Your Screen! A green monochromatic light source for testing the flatness of polished optical surfaces.

(Curator's note) A series of takes on various scanned items translated into very small monochromatic images expanded to fill the browser. It is seductive from the minimalist perspective, both from technical and aesthetic standpoints.

Artist's Statement

The paradigmatic-shift of the so-called, Second Renaissance, is sentient. The era of the orthodox career-artist is quickly drawing to a close, as closeted, behemoth cultural institutions appear increasingly implausible and incestuous. For many creative people, the art-object has become an ingredient or inceptive aspect of a larger, open, often mediated, concern. No longer the exclusive privileged domain of the traditional alliance of dealer-academic-museum (the curatorial class), art now regularly escapes these constraints. The archaic practice of art-object-making serves personal philosophical and nascent purposes; for myself, it`s an intriguing balance of obsession, critical reflection, precision and impulsiveness. The physicality of some of my art is a gratifying counterpoint to my media-oriented and technological projects -- stirring of electrons. Predictably, the critical, avant-garde dialogue that informed my early creative work has become fractured and depreciated. Insightful intelligence is now less likely to be dependent on hierarchical scholasticism. This dethronement of learning can be understood as the most exciting intellectual frontier we are now crossing. The relevant artist today is multi-dimensional-- an intradisciplinary generalist, with an expansive set of skills.


What can we say about such art? Well, my only interest here is in how uninteresting this is. Here we have what is by all accounts a rather staggering new technology that we can put to the task of making new art for us, and this is what we come up with? I hear Peggy Lee: Is that all there is? If that's all there is, my friends, to see through my looking glass, I think I'll go have lunch at the Musee d'Orsay. The Van Gogh appetizer is particularly tasty...



David Ness' summary of work can be found at http://mywebpages.comcast.net/dness

This Studio Evening is hosted by Richard Scott Ranck. Some of his work can be seen at


and at