Through a glass darkly via Hackney Wicked



Deep in the concrete labyrinth of Oslo House, I climb impersonal stairways and trace my way through bland corridors, past uniform white doors. All at once I am confronted by an open door and a monochromatic peep show – monumental noir expanses, compellingly smooth, linear, inviolate. These are Matthew Booth’s frustrated (and fruitful) foray into the world of the Black Mirror.

An enigmatic trope which has recurred throughout artistic practice, it was elevated from a minor tool of the Renaissance masters to a defining accessory of the eighteenth century Picturesque, but has since fallen into obscurity.

Variously aligned with religious practices and the Occult, the optical device has been adopted by as diverse a cast as the AztecsWilkie Collins‘ favoured astrologer, a German science fiction writer, Matisse; even French Canadian band The Arcade Fire.

Also known as a fortune-telling ‘speculum,’ the highly polished black convex lens was used primarily to reflect and clarify images for composition, particularly landscapes. It has been called at turns deceptive, reductive, hypnotic; not to mention demonic and melancholic (see critic Arnaud Maillet).

Booth has inadvertently found himself inheriting this eccentric play on perception, reinventing it for our age of visual hyper-stimulus……


We went there to say hi to Jo and Matthew, we will be seeing them again in September.


And I was reminded of my and my niece’s Welsh ancestry, the dark, glorious side of dragons.  It is good that the traditions are well!

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