September 23, 2013
This is an open letter to MIRROR, a 120-food-wide LED installation by artist Doug Aitken that wraps around the northwest corner of the entrance to the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), cater corner from our condominium building, 98 Union.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
I wanted to like you, I really, really wanted to like you.
For several months, I patiently endured the blasts of hammers and whining of saws while you were installed on the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) facade.
I looked on in wonder as the artist who created you and the technicians who made you possible tested your main LED panel and the flashing spikes that run vertically up the mullions on the north and west sides of SAM.
After many months of construction and testing, it was finally time for your grand unveiling in March. I stood on our tenth-floor balcony, which provided a bird’s-eye view of the crowds who gathered, members of the Seattle Symphony who serenaded your arrival, and even Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn who came to welcome you.
After a few tense moments when it seemed you might not light up correctly, your colorfully choreographed images finally started to move.
The crowd applauded. SAM big-wigs pontificated. The donor’s son waxed eloquent.
A few hours later the stage and podium had been dismantled, the crowds had disbursed, the musicians were on to their next gig.
But the residents of 98 Union Condominiums were still there, just beginning to realize your unbelievably negative impact on our lives.
From the very first moment, your giant screen overtook our condominiums like an incessant, unwelcome distraction.
The jagged, ever-changing spikes of flashing light invaded our living spaces so much so that many of us have been forced to shut our blinds to keep out obsessive light pollution.
And your hours are extraordinarily long–from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. seven days a week. Unless we want to “live” from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. when you are dark, we can’t get away from you, as hard as we try.
Your reviews were mediocre at best. CityArts reviewer Erin King said, “Looking at Mirror for eight hours a day beats a plain gray wall. Its sleek sparkle hearkens back to a cheerier 2007, the year it was commissioned and the pinnacle of big shiny Aughties art. But as its light spills over the First Avenue sidewalk, Mirror already feels like a reflection of the past.”
In a review entitled, “Image Grab,” The Seattle Weekly’s Brian Miller says, “The mountains, greenery, orange Port of Seattle Cranes, silhouettes of pedestrians—these source images are too benign. They don’t grab your attention like the signage in Times Square, and they don’t seem grabbed from our immediate, lived world. . . .But that’s also why MIRROR is so boring: It just reflects an anodyne, outsider’s view of the Northwest. It’s tourist Seattle, not our Seattle, and even the tourists aren’t buying it.”
Have you seen MIRROR? If so, what do you think about it?
If you come to look at Mirror, isn’t it better to simply turn around, walk to the dead end of Union Street by the Four Seasons Hotel, take a deep breath of sea air from Elliott Bay, and marvel at REAL-TIME views of the Seattle Great Wheel, ferry boats , and the Olympic Mountains beyond?