Elizabeth Corkery grad gave the public an opportunity to delve into the world of King Louis XIV’s glitz and decadence through a filter of accessible modernity with her fascinating exhibition, Absolute Monarchy, last week. Running from March 26 to March 30 in Tjaden Gallery and ending with a reception on Friday evening, her room installation was modeled after the Hall of Mirrors from the Palace of Versailles in France. The floor-to-ceiling screen print paneling covered all four walls of the exhibition room. The wide space boasted warm colors and an intricate array of materials and designs, evoking a sense of glamour while maintaining a modern simplicity.
This exhibit was a product of this semester, taking Corkery two months to create and one week to install. Though Corkery is experienced in room installations, this exhibit marked her first undertaking based on an existing space. She thus created the 49’ x 19’ screen print, her biggest screen print to date, with all of the room’s dimensions in mind.
The whole piece had a feminine daintiness, with colors like yellow, maroon, pink and white dominating the piece. The colors used to create the images of marble were based on the original Hall’s colors, but she deviated from her template, choosing most colors from memory while still switching a few things up. For example, yellow replaced gold in the entire screen print, a playful intent to “expose limitations” — as she referred to it — since yellow is typically substituted for gold when gold is unavailable.
Corkery created the marble replicas and attached pieces by screen-printing them on painted Masonite board, using adhesive vinyl to create the mirror representations. A faint, nearly opaque reflection stared back anyone looking into it.
One of the smaller walls served as the focal point of the installation, providing possibly the only clear indication that the entire work is based on the Hall of Mirrors. The backdrop covering the wall was a coral-colored digital print of the actual Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, adding depth and an illusion of infinity to any viewer who faces it in the room.
I asked Corkery about her reasons for basing her project off of the Palace of Versailles and expected her to discuss a memorable visit to the site or fond memories about her time spent in France. Her answer was quite surprising as she quickly admitted to have never visited the Palace. In fact, this is what she especially liked about the place: Having never seen the monumental estate, her “relationship with it was through images.”
In a similar fashion to her two-dimensional familiarity with the Hall, Corkery designed her screen print by neglecting any illusion of depth. She thus indirectly portrayed the different elements of the Hall of Mirrors on the basis of images, through modified versions of the different elements. For example, she used pictures of columns and mirrors throughout the screen print as opposed to the objects themselves.
“It’s seeing if a space can still be immense while it owns its own inauthenticity,” Corkery said of her approach.
She decided to simulate the Hall of Mirrors in her work because of its frequent recurrence in art history and tourist popularity, reflecting her wish to create something “that had been overly produced and overly reconstructed.” She, however, did not choose a typical interpretation of the hall and instead decided to toy with the common perception of the historic room by offering her own take on its most signature elements, like the columns and mirrors.
After reading Italian philosopher and semiotician Umberto Eco’s book Travels in Hyperreality, Corkery developed this interest in illusions and false perceptions, particularly in connection with the familiar facets of life. The book focused, among many other things, on the idea of the real and authentic in a world where it is so common to interact with the fake. When envisioning her plans for this exhibition, Corkery was especially interested in one of the points brought up in the book — why do we need the real anymore?
Corkery, indeed, admirably conveyed the faint line between reality and misconception in Absolute Monarchy. With her daring incorporation of her own distinct vision of the Hall of Mirrors and a skillful method of drawing bits and pieces from the original, she created an equally aesthetic and dynamic interactive room setting.