jwms

3

Ellen Harvey
Arcade/Arcadia
2011-12
mixed media installation, engraved mirrored plexi light boxes

installation at Locks Gallery, Philadelphia 

From the outside, the viewer sees an old-fashioned aluminum fairground sign spelling out the word “ARCADIA” in six foot high lights leaning against an open framework wood shack. The inside of the structure is filled with the artist’s characteristic hand-engraved mirrors mounted on light boxes, offering a 360-degree view of a derelict seaside resort. The engravings appear as lines of light floating on the mirrored surfaces and viewers see themselves inside an endlessly mirrored drawing in light.

The town portrayed is Margate, a once famous English seaside destination, now fallen into disrepair, where the 18th Century painter J. M. W. Turner, famous for his dramatic light-filled canvases, lived with his lover Mrs. Booth for many years. The painter was maintaining a gallery in London dedicated solely to exhibiting his work, on which Harvey based the dimensions for the structure of Arcade/Arcadia. The size and arrangement of the mirrors recreate those of the paintings shown in George Jones’ two paintings of Turner laid out in his gallery after his death. The typeface of the sign is based on that of Margate’s currently shuttered Dreamland Amusement Park. Similarly, the endlessly mirroring mirrors inside reference the fun-house mirror in which reality is bent. The mirrored panorama reinserts present-day Margate into the aesthetics of its iconic picturesque past, at the same time it stakes a claim for the melancholy beauty of Margate’s degraded present.