Ancient Mirrors: Sara VanDerBeek in Ostia

In an earlier Minus Plato post I created a brief photo-essay on Sara VanDerBeek’s Roman Woman series as it appeared in the pages of The Thing Quarterly project The Thing – The Book , which I discovered while browsing in the Tate Modern bookshop. In the conversation with Roxana Marcoci from the recent book Sara VanDerBeek, edited by Gloria Sutton (who I met very briefly during her Nov. 9th (yes, that fateful day!) visit to the Wexner Center, published this year by Hatje Cantz, VanDerBeek discusses her first solo exhibition at Metro Pictures back in 2013 (her 2nd exhibition for Metro just closed this past October). She describes the Roman Woman series in terms of the impact of her experiencing ancient sculptures first hand and ‘being struck by the remaining elements of paint on their faces and bodies’.

svanderbeek21Sara VanDerBeek
Roman Women III, 2013
Digital c-print
152.4 x 116.84 cm
60 x 46 in

In addition to this attention to colour and the physical remains of ancient sculpture, I was also struck by VanDerBeek’s description of her eight mirrored works in the series Metal Mirror (Magia Naturalis).

svb-install_view_030

Sara VanDerBeek Installation view, 2013. Metro Pictures, New York.

VanDerBeek writes:

The arrangement of the mirrored works, surrounding a central line of four modular concrete cast columns, referred to the historic palazzos in which I had photographed the figures and, more importantly, to a very specific moment I have experienced during my time in Rome. In their physicality, and shifting spectrum of light and dark, the Meta Mirror (Magia Naturalis) were installed to convey the weight of a setting sky against a group of ancient columns I had encountered at Ostia Antica. It was an experience in which the site, its texture, the forms against it, the light and time of day, in one succinct and powerful space.

VanDerBeek concludes:

This installation was perhaps the closest I got to creating and staging a take on the “afterlife of antiquity”

This description of these works and their initial inspiration deeply resonates with me as someone who has led groups of students to Rome as well as Ostia in particular. After days amid the intense networks of sites and contemporary life in the bustling city of Rome, the impact of the open space of sprawling ancient site of the Roman port town is one that both myself and my students left. I completely empathize with VanDerBeek locating her creation and staging of the afterlife of antiquity in works grounded in this experience, as more than the Roman Sculpture series and the process of seeing ancient statues in museums in Rome (and even Ostia itself), it is only in the archaeological site, away from the city, that we can be susceptible and open to a site – in both its interplay of texture and form, as well as how it reflects ancient Roman daily life in all of its complexity.

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