The Hall of Mirrors by Bruce Quek

reality is distorted like ‘clockwork orgy’

The Hall of Mirrors by Bruce Quek

The Hall of Mirrors is an installation that resembles an echo-chamber. Exploring the relationship between infrastructure and information flow, The Hall of Mirrors explores how conveyed information is often devoid of meaning and personal relevance. Situated in the gap between information and meaning, The Hall of Mirrors constantly changes and highlights the inexorable nature of time and the unpredictability of the environment. The installation uses publicly available and socially relevant statistics. The occurrence and reoccurrence of these statistics, measured in seconds and in minutes, are synchronised to clocks that constantly alert the viewers of their frequency and reality” (exhibition text).

Reality is distorted in the Hall of Mirrors. Time stops, like a scene in Alice in Wonderland, where the clocks stop telling time. As I entered the gallery, the artist/gallery sitter handed me a receipt with a barcode number. The gallery is filled with clocks, each clock-hand turning and signifying the accumulation of crimes, pollution, human action with each full rotation. Instead of an expected ‘tick, tick, tick’, I seem to be able to hear a continuous ‘fizz, fizz, fizz’, a pause, registering a heart beat paused and a breath held, before the fizzing, low hum buzz continues. Part sublime and part Ikea-like tacky, the cacophony of fizzing clock faces could be quite intimidating. Perhaps because time slipping by, represented by any turning of clock-hands, means I am getting restless, tired and older. ‘Expiring’. Just before I left, my barcode was scanned, and a second receipt indicating my time spent viewing the exhibition was smartly presented to me.

Statistics gone viral, and an orgy of ticking clockworks, the installation created by artist Bruce Quek is straightforward, thoughtful and restrained. He has highlighted a moral dilemma when we deal with publicly available statistics. Raw statistics are pure empirical facts and figures and are non-biased. What implicates statistics, is how we interpret, value and compare them. The interpretation of raw statistics are like measurement lines drawn by ‘experts’ that qualifies and quantifies society. Who are we to question what the ‘experts’ tell us?

The Hall of Mirrors possibly points our attention to two things: firstly, like distortion mirrors in fun fairs, we twist and warp facts to necessarily suit arguments (See Darren Huff, How to Lie with Statistics (2nd ed.), Penguin, 1991.) Secondly, we remain as bystanders to alien injustice, nonchalant to the alarming statistics of human violations highlighted in the work.

Despite some truth behind these statistics, they are ‘too far’ away to tug my emotional heartstrings. The project was perhaps too ambitious, ambivalent when it included disjointed, unrelated numbers. Some trivial localized empirical statistics, anything relevant to the viewers, may mean more, compared with something that is happening inconsequentially on the other side of the world. Some amount of site specificity, or meaningful context would have made a stronger impact. For example, the number of people made bankrupt from stock market speculations, would have had an entirely different impact.

While the technical aspect of the installation worked well on this scale, a deeper science is missing. Finding, using related statistics, according to some scientific, quasi-scientific, if not anti-scientific concept may better relate to the artist’s intent, highlighting”the relationship between infrastructure and information flow”. There could be some underlying theory, social science or physics which could be used to make sense of this statistics. For example some scientific material could be found in Philip Ball’s (2005) Critical Mass: How One Thing leads to Another, where the author applies physics theories to explain human interaction.

But not all statistics on foreign soil is distant. Statistics on carbon emissions, featured in this exhibition, warrant a thoughtful pause. Surely this provokes some action? On the topic of climate change, Lord Martin Rees in his lecture titled What challenges does the future hold for the relationship between science and policy?, admits that the issue for government isn’t as simply as taking environmental scientists recommendations and making policies out of them. Government and politics is far more complex then that. Implementing the policies, without resolution on ‘equity’, ‘way of life’ on this diverse planet is a real issue. The onus, Lord Rees feels, is for scientists make information available to governments and engaging with the public/voters early. As environmental scientists implore governments to take global action, we cannot simply take sides. A call for global action begins with the local and taking small leads with our individual lives. And perhaps, artists (or their professional counterparts) are also responsible to engage with the public/voters, to explain and show how art fits in the grand scheme of things.

7.0 of 10 stars

Substation Gallery, 9 – 30 Sep 2011

Further reading:
Substation’s reminder: “Click here listen to the audio accompaniment to an experimental essay written for the catalogue of Hall of Mirrors.”


This text was edited and posted much later than intended. The author apologizes for the lateness.

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