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“Looking-at-Love/Looking-at-me”

By Sydney Tyber

This piece, entitled “Looking-at-Lovel/Looking-at-me” is a conceptual art piece, through which text and image are integrated against a reflective background to illustrate the complexities of shifting a playtext to an illustrated, serialized novel. As William Makepeace Thackeray’s Lovel the Widower was originally intended to be performed (as The Wolves and the Lamb), my work here is meant to expose and problematize the role of the mirror in illustration, opposed to as a set piece – when on stage, the spectator would see herself in the mirror, placing her on the stage and creating an ontological presence, whereas a drawing of the mirror on the page allows the spectator an anonymity, or absence, through which we are unimplicated in our acts of looking. Placing the mirror behind the illustration creates a three dimensional effect and as such, mimics the three dimensional nature of performance. Furthermore, viewing the piece from different angles exposes different images (making some clearer and others less so), the same way one’s vantage point in a theatre changes their perception of the mise-en-scène. Specifically, the image here is entitled “Bessy’s Reflections”, and I found it especially useful for exploring mimesis because of both the double entendre in the title, and the large mirror used as a backdrop to the action of the scene. The text chosen for the piece is meant to conflate mirror-objects and portraits, and begs the question of whether the self we see when looking at the piece is a reflection, or a framed portrait (and I would argue its both). Although the frame around this piece itself is technically useful, as it holds the glass away from the mirror to produce a certain effect, it is also what renders the spectator’s own face as a portrait through its direct, physical framing. The lay out of the text is meant to direct the viewer’s eye to the mirror in the image, through which we see ourselves in a frame within a frame, aiding in illustrating Elin Diamond’s notion of “looking-at-being-looked-at-ness” – we are looking at ourselves in the mirror, while the image in the mirror looks back at us, creating an unending feedback loop of a gaze that creates an inescapable presence. This inescapability is highlighted by the chosen text, which states that the “eyes of [a] portrait follow you about”, gesturing to the idea that in this piece, it is our own eyes following us – we are both the “gazer” and the “gazed at”.  This illustrates the notion of a reflective surveillance, in which the self is both the watched and the watcher. Ultimately, my piece comments on this notion of Victorian double consciousness, where the duality of the domestic sphere as public and private produces a self-conscious criticism which cannot be escaped.