A minimalist artist takes advantage of the contemplation-provoking power of mirrors

Berlin – With titles like Please Touch the Art and a deceptively minimalist approach combined with sly humour, the installations of Jeppe Hein challenge the traditionally passive role of the observer. Reflective surfaces – including mirrored glass and foil, two-way mirrors and highly polished stainless steel – often play a central part in drawing the audience into his worlds and melting the boundaries between viewer, work and context. Born in Copenhagen, Hein studied art at the Royal Danish Academy of Arts and in Frankfurt. He currently lives in Berlin.

When did you start using mirrors in your work, and why?
JEPPE HEIN: I created my first pieces with mirror surfaces, Small Mirror Ball and Big Mirror Ball, in 2002. I realized that a polished chrome surface is alluring and entices visitors to move closer to the object – to observe themselves and the surrounding space.

What appeals to you most about reflective materials?
Mirrors make us contemplate our own presence by addressing our physical and mental experience of an environment and our position within it. Mirrors make us aware of the act of looking: we are watching ourselves watching. That’s why my mirror installations always refer to the presence of the visitor, who in fact becomes essential to the work. My works ask the audience: why are you here? What are you doing here? How do you observe, and how are you observed?

Tell us about your latest installation, Path of Silence, in Norway.
It’s defined by an extensive mirror labyrinth that encloses three ‘spaces of silence’. There’s a contemplative space with Norwegian stones, where tall mirror steles prompt you to gaze up at the sky; a natural space, where a tree surrounded by a wooden bench within the sculpture links inside with outside; and an active space, where walls of water appear and disappear. Walking through these zones is like walking through the Norwegian landscape. Through three dimensions of silence – and moments of contemplation, concentration, seclusion and dialogue between oneself, others and nature – visitors can experience the site as a source of inner stillness. 

You prefer public spaces to galleries. Why?
One reason is the greater variety of people and behaviours in the audience. Another is because public spaces make it easier for them to lose their timidity and respect for art and to approach the piece. In museums, the relationship between viewer and art is already defined to a large degree. 

What do you hope to achieve with your mirror pieces?
Ideally, my works of art are intended to bring people together, providing them with an opportunity for mutual exchange. Whether you’re a child or an art critic, you’re encouraged to interact with the work, the environment and other people, which I hope strengthens your sense of community.

How would you like people to react to your works?
Rather than passive perception or theoretical reflection, the visitor’s direct physical experiences are important to me. Viewer participation is essential in my works. I want to invite people to take an active role. That’s why it’s always interesting to see people use them in unexpected ways. I don’t want to prescribe the concept of use.

Which artists have influenced you?
Dan Graham, Robert Morris, Robert Smithson, Larry Bell, Olafur Eliasson and Asger Jorn, because of how they work with communication and experience. Their works are always physically present and perceptible. People don’t just look at them; they also feel them.


This piece was originally featured in One Artist One Material. You can purchase a copy here.

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