In ancient tradition, mirrors made us see things "in a glass, darkly" (1 Corinthians 13:12). We might transfer this to modern times in such a way that, although modern mirrors reflect brightly, we are still left in the dark somehow, because a true work of art will always keep a little and final secret: it can never be fathomed out completely, much in contrast to, say, an advertising poster or a sales mannequin, although these also have some aesthetic properties, for without those, they just would not have the desired effect, if any.
Beva Sewell uses smaller and medium-sized, mostly irregularly shaped, pieces of mirrors in his sculptures and installations. Thus he opens the door to the possibilities of experiencing a harmonious contradiction between the hard and unchanging characteristics of the mirror glass and the malleable qualities of the clay. The reflecting/non-reflecting opposition of the materials, and the soft to hard history of the materials also come to the scene, complementing its aesthetic build-up, its visual and emotional properties.
Aesthetics do have a lot to do with emotions, as aesthetic structures and elements have no meaning, no semantic dimensions. Words and sentences in a text usually do have such extensions, the guarantee of the possibility of communication. Their aesthetics are important to put things in perspective and assure their uniqueness, but the same rhyme and rhythm, for instance, can be used for even contradictory contents and therefore do not possess any meaning. Aesthetic elements are formed very much the same way as words and sentences and texts, starting small and basic and building larger units by combining elements, but we do not see any meaning. We find emotional qualities instead, often, especially in colors, linked to biological issues.
So the contrast of yellow and black (or, as it were, red and black or also very bright and shiny colors) constitute a warning sign in nature, pointing to the fact that the animal in question tastes bad or is dangerous. Or ragged, sharp shapes make us cautious and alert, placing us on the watchtower because in nature such things can hurt; whereas smooth, curvy forms evoke a certain trust and calm (with the exception of snake-like forms, because we have an innate fear of snakes). And also it takes the eye longer to follow a zigzaggy contour, thus enhancing the intake of visual information – such forms do not lend themselves to be passed over easily. They are more impressive and conspicuous, and the artist makes deliberate use of this.
When we see such contrasts in a work of art, we experience emotional qualities, and in this aesthetic experience, like always, a silent conflict between biological and cultural norms is going on: People differ in their sensibilities and in their individual history of experience with colors and shapes.
The associations connected to mirrors – from Narcissus to the Creator who allegedly used clay to form the first human being – also enrich the impact of the works. It is very important that the mirrors Beva uses are small, irregular and many. The use of bigger mirrors (also fragments) has been propagated by artists Like Anselm Reyle or Michelangelo Pistoletto to name just two. Reyle uses them to create a dynamic aesthetic discrepancy between art ideals and practical decoration, whereas Pistoletto strives to blur the difference between imagery and beholder, the latter becoming part of the former. In some of Beva's installations, however, the same effect is achieved in a different way. In al all-over-structure of a large number of mirrors the beholder also melts into the environment, but yet there is an important difference: This environment is a multi-faceted and interlaced space, changing with every step we take and every move we make, creating a special kind of multi-dimensionality. This broadens vision and understanding of the pre-conditions of perception and aesthetics likewise. We move in more than one space: Firstly in the physical, built space, and secondly in the consecution of visual, virtual spaces provided (if only partly) by the mirrors, fractional spaces which we complete inside our minds.
The works of Beva Sewell are quite different. Usually a sculptural shape (often in a kind of relief with a mostly wall-parallel surface) is complementing architecture in a contrasting manner, as the straight lines and angles of a building or a room find a counterweight in the demanding conspicuous spiky shapes the artist uses. These shapes themselves have an inbuilt counterbalance to opaqueness – the pieces of reflecting mirrors. They also open up the sculptural body, pointing at the hidden dimensions behind the sculpted volumes. Physicists know that the shapes of the extra dimensions of space can be detected by deciphering their influence on cosmic energy released by the violent birth of the universe. In a similar way the mirrors embedded in Siakantaris' works make us aware that there is more in the works than meets the eye, and, even more, that we, in reflecting the artwork, also reflect our experiences with art, specific shapes and locations. The mirrors somehow add a cosmic dimension to the works without being degraded to serve as educational examples for modern physics. They do in many different ways reflect the world, but also that parallel world created and occupied by art, which is a world we need practically just as much as the universe we are living in. It transcends reality in order to make it palatable, to give sense, meaning and importance to life, so that we can rightly think of ourselves as more than an amoeba or an aardvark.
The scale of the works is also important, as scale (call it size) is an aesthetic principle. Biologically, we are programmed to feel superior to all things much smaller than us, equal to everything the same size, and inferior to all that is bigger. So a larger than life statue of a general on horseback put on a pedestal is, on its elevated level, also meant to elevate the person and so impress the beholder – and it certainly does. Just as Herman Melville said: You cannot write something sublime on the flea. He chose the White Whale instead ("No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it." Moby Dick, Chapter CIV).
So whenever Beva Sewell creates a large-scale work he is on a journey through the troubled seas of our biological past, exploring the impact of nature's heritage inside us on our individual and present perception. Out of the tensions between the two a source of insight and understanding springs, into completeness, if we are lucky.
But there is more to it than the necessity to be lucky. It may help, but will not suffice; it is not a necessary condition, although it may be seen as a sufficient one. It doesn't take much to take the path leading us to a rich appreciation of art. All we need is a vivacious alertness of the senses, a certain curiosity, and a maybe even skeptical willingness to find out new facts, even though they may not, at first, seem to serve any practical purpose.
The practical purpose of art is not to have one, but to furnish possible worlds of innocence and experience in its stead, completing our view of the world, and arriving at a much more thorough insight into the human condition. And that may very well be the most important purpose under heaven.
Mirrors And The Mind
Notes on the Art of Beva Sewell
Written by Art Historian Dr. Gerhard Charles Rump
Dr. Gerhard Charles Rump
Gerhard Charles Rump (born 1947 in Bochum, Germany) is an author on art history and the theory of contemporary art, emeritus art history teacher at the Technical University of Berlin, curator, gallerist and photo artist.
Biography and career
Born in Bochum on February 24, 1947, he finished the Graf-Engelbert-Schule (Gymnasium) in 1967 and studied Art History, English Language and Literature, Philosophy, Pedagogics and Psychology at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum from 1968 to 1972; later also Anthropology at the Rheinische-Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Bonn. He received his PhD with a book on the British 18th Century portrait painter George Romney in 1972. He became a curator at the University of Bochum’s University Library, in 1974 he went to Bonn University as Assistant Professor for Art History. In 1983 he left the University to become a freelance journalist for the national newspapers “Die Welt” and “Rheinischer Merkur” as well as a number of regional journals like “Kölnische Rundschau” and “Bonner Rundschau”. Concurrently he worked as an asset consultant for “Deutsche Vermögensberatung”. In 1986/7 he was curator of monuments for the city of Wesel (Germany), but joined the computer printer manufacturer Mannesmann Tally (now TallyGenicom) in 1987 as corporate communications manager to become the company’s marketing director a few years later. In 1987 he had his Habilitation at the University of Duisburg. In 1994 he returned to journalism as art market editor for “Die Welt” while he pursued researching on art and art history and gained some renown as media theorist, particularly on art communication and semiotics. He also pursued his career as artist photographer. In 2009 he contributed to Konstantin Akinsha's article on Russian avant garde which won the Association for Women in Communications' "Clarion Award". In 2010 he finally left “Die Welt” in order to forcus on his activities as university teacher and essayist, as art journalist and curator. In 2011 Catrin Rothe, Bernhard Ailinger and Gerhard Charles Rump founded the now only virtual art project and producers’ "RAR Gallery" — Berlin, New York (NY) and Palo Alto (CA).