Guy Sherwin’s Man With A Mirror is a unique hybrid of film and performance art, a cross-genre experimental piece which defies categorizations. The artwork consists of a filmed part of a man with a mirror in a park, and a live-action part of the same man (Guy Sherwin himself) with a similar mirror. The images of the two interact, reflect, and blur together to create an ambivalent picture of past and present, film and performance, image and object. The superficially simple premise of the artwork looks visually perplexing and thematically complex—it is a meditation on film image, time, and identity.
While Hollis Frampton examined film temporality in (nostalgia) and Critical Mass, and Chris Marker explored the illusion of movement and time in La Jetee, Man With a Mirror delves into time through the interplay between on-screen and off-screen space. The movie also depicts the duality of the cinema screen, which is both the object where films take place and a physical object in space.
Guy Sherwin’s Man With A Mirror: Self-Reference
Michael Haneke’s Funny Games expresses self-reference mainly through acting or dialogue—the actor’s look into the camera or the reference to the movie through dialogue. Hollis Frampton’s Poetic Justice self-reference is subtler and more object-based. The self-reference in Man With A Mirror is even more subtler. It is maybe even more of a self-awareness, an obvious pointing out of the screen’s physical presence in space, which is depicted by the repeated replacement of the “original” screen with the back of the mirror the live character holds. This approach also calls attention to the secondary order of the film images, which get obstructed, overridden, and entwined with the live action images.
Temporality In Man With A Mirror: The Past & The Present
Man With A Mirror has two timelines and their entanglement and interplay creates the work’s complex tension.
The film timeline is in the past, largely due to the inherent nature of photographic and film images which capture the past tense of the subject. The photographic past is one of Roland Barthes’ key concepts in his book Camera Lucida: Reflections On Photography (public library), which filmslie.com will soon cover. In Man With A Mirror, the obvious younger age of the projected film character also marks the filmed sequence as “before” in relation to the live performance.
The live performance timeline is the present, and thus the visual interaction between the live performance and the filmed sequence become an ineffable reflection of past and present and an observation of the elusive nature of time, memory, and identity.
Guy Sherwin’s Man With A Mirror: The Changing Meaning
The digital media age changed cinematic meaning through its DVD chapters, pausing buttons, and digital streaming. The fluidly changing Man With A Mirror, on the other hand, is more similar to a theatrical piece which is inevitably slightly different every time it’s performed. The difference comes not as much from staging or directing, but rather just from the passage of time. While the live performing Guy Sherwin appears in an ever-changing flux of the present tense, the filmed Guy Sherwin remains trapped in the perpetual past of cinematic image. The screen of the past gets reflected in the mirror of the present, and vice versa, until the boundaries between the two disappear.