Installed over two floors in the Duplex gallery of MoMA PS1 in Queens is a M.C. Escher meets American Horror Story Asylum installation designed by artist Samara Golden for her first solo exhibition at a museum. The name of the show transforms a banal object into one of psychological contemplation by highlighting not its intended function but rather its ability to serve as a distorted mirror. This rings true of the installation as a whole, through Golden’s literal use of mirrors, and her strategic placement of the commonplace figures and objects around them.
At the base of the exhibit (the lower level) is a floor entirely made of reflective glass panes. Upon first glance it appears that you are looking down into a third lower level that displays a stark white, 1980’s minimalistic living room. The only trace of color is the garish “carpet” which is more like cardboard, and a movie screen rolling looped footage of waves crashing into rocks. Then there is the eerily placed glass on a side table that has been tipped over with red wine spilled out of it. It creates a sense of discomfort as you imagine who may have been in this imaginary space, what happened to them, and how long have they been absent. The churning waves on the screen underscore both the tranquilly static nature of the scene and the underlying drama.
This is completely flipped upon realization that what appears to be a third floor is actually the ceiling reflected in the glass. The objects, including the video screen, are in reality upside down and attached to the ceiling. The suspension and reflection combined provide a tension (and a bit of vertigo) which only permeates as you experience each separate part of the exhibit. From the lower level is a section modeled after a hospital room, with a blue bed hooked up to wires and machines and a glaring light cast on it. Golden uses this room to represent what she feels is the world between reality and the imagination. The floor below (really the ceiling) represents the imagination as we think we are viewing an actual space but it is merely a reflection of one that we cannot inhabit. The surgical room also relates to her near-death experience a decade prior.
And upon moving to the top floor, off the main entrance to the museum, you can see the representation of reality. A warm, pink bed, with a white plastic-covered bed directly above it also suspended from the ceiling. This white bed is invisible on the lower level as it is blocked by the surgical space, yet is clearly reflected in the imagined living room space in the mirrors below it. Even in reality there is element that bypasses into the imagined. In this light, it’s not surprising that the section meant to represent reality is the smallest and is more informed by the other realms of mind.
And let’s not forget the staircases and array of other objects positioned around each section that individually toy with our sense of perspective. The stairwells both lead to various parts, yet are reflected to create the illusion of leading. Each of the stairs have wheelchairs assembled on them, some that are only seen through reflection, others visible as upside down in reality and right side up in the reflection. This is also true of guitars places around the space. As you focus on one of these, you are then forced to locate its mirror in the space, and then conclude which is the true object and which is its reflection (again, vertigo ensues).
It’s a sensory, contemplative, and uncanny exhibition. Viewing each layer, on both floors, doesn’t give more clarity to the space altogether but rather blurs the visual experience by playing with reality and perception.
On view until August 31st. For more information: Samara Golden at MoMA PS1
WORDS BY Sabeena Khosla