A mirror may be stationary, but it is never static. I’m considering this paradoxical notion in the company of the Brooklyn-based artist, Eric Oglander. When I bring this point up, that to depict a mirror is also to depict what it is capturing as well, he is quick to observe that this is a dynamic his work often seeks to place in the foreground. “I’ve often felt like the mirror is acting like a camera. Mechanical cameras do, after all, have mirrors in them.” Oglander is the person behind the Craigslist Mirrors project, an online chronicle of his odyssey through the vast trove of adverts across the various geographically dispersed Craigslist sites —an online community-generated set of e-markets for various goods and personal connections —in search of mysteriously evocative and evocatively mysterious reflective surfaces.
I first met him in New York City last summer, chatting in a bar in Bushwick while he showed me his latest editions to this extensive, ongoing photography and curatorial project. Mirrors with blurred faces, mirrors with fragments of sky trapped in gilded frames, mirrors with strangely melancholic furniture, like an outtake from an Ozu film. I found the images poignant and affecting glimpses into the lives of the people who posted the listings. They were not art per se, but there seemed to be no other word for the totality of the project, a visual landscape—sometimes literal—of the nexus of economic precarity, aesthetic logic and self-presentation. Since those weeks, I’ve watched as a seemingly endless parade of second-hand mirrors popped up in my Instagram timeline each with a different, incomplete story to tell, eventually catching up with Oglander again as Berlin Gallery Weekend sputters to a close.
Oglander is—more or less—fresh from a two-person exhibition in London at the with the artist Aglaé Bassens and even fresher from the opening of a show at Deli Gallery in New York. The former show brought together paintings by Bassens and images from Oglander’s online odyssey into the uncanny world of freelance trading documented on his numerous social media platforms including craigslistmirrors.com. As the insane crush of Gallery Weekend spins out around us —no doubt fixing our reflections in the background of a thousand selfies —I’m particularly interested in talking about the ways in which a project born, bred and hashtagged online transitioned to the material/materialist world of the English capital’s gallery scene.
Notably, the New York show at Deli focusses more on Eric’s sculptural practice, a delicate, rigorously compositional vein of his work, and he seems excited about the prospects the exhibition holds for the material discourses his work explores, but he’s also happy to chat with me for more than an hour about the various beings (and objects) in the mirrors he has collected and curated over the course of the last two years, having touched on the idea of context and its discontents; the mirror as a kind of ‘support’ for the visual content they house.
Oglander is more than a little ambivalent about the ways in which the Craigslist Mirrors project changed as it moved offline. It’s an ambivalence that is understandable, the commercial gallery dynamics that exert pressures online can behave like funhouse mirrors (except without the fun) with an artist’s fundamental intentions. “I like each photo for a different reason”, says Oglander illustrating the elusive lustre of collecting images such as these. “Sometimes the mirror isn’t reflecting anything of interest. It’s simply holding a presence in the room. It’s a given that humans have an innate interest in mirrors and reflections. Outside of being photographed, the image they’re holding is constantly changing.”
Other articles on Craigslist Mirrors explore the idea of neutrality in your project: no mirror is neutral in terms of the image it reflects —except perhaps a defective mirror. This intrinsic lack of neutrality is particularly relevant in the supposedly highly-efficient and market-based dynamic of craigslist (and the internet more generally). I wonder if you could talk a bit about the ways in which this anti-neutrality impacts your own selection process.
Eric Oglander: Mirrors are not neutral because they’re constantly changing, reflecting, bouncing light, morphing space, whatever. On occasion, somebody happens to snap a photo when the mirror is capturing or reacting to space in a way that intrigues me. Because they’re not neutral —and such a challenge to photograph —people bring them outside in order not to reflect the inside of their home or they black out or mask the reflection with photo-editing software. They try to use a flash to highlight the frame but the mirror just blasts the light back at them, or redirects it onto an adjacent wall. Mirrors are tricky to photograph and that forces the photographer to react, often in ways that benefit my project.
Given that the mirror is also, itself, used as a kind of literal framing device in the history of art (Parmagianino, Rossa, Magritte, Porter etc). Was this art historical discourse at all involved in your conception of the project?
EO: Not in the slightest. I’ve never studied art history. It has much more to do with my personal history of art-making and photography. I’ve been taking photos since I was 16 and making ‘art’ for as long as I can remember, and have developed a personal sense of what’s aesthetically pleasing or intriguing. I search for the same content when I’m browsing Craigslist for mirrors.
In terms of the ‘found’ aspect of the project, obviously the images themselves are found but was there something special about craigslist itself in terms of openness or aesthetics relative to the other community sites you visited when you began the project that appealed to you (CL is of course very conscious of retaining a lo-fi aesthetic at odds with its economic power)?
EO: I already spent a ridiculous amount of time on craigslist so that’s where I saw most of the imagery. I appreciate its simple, archaic format. It’s less daunting for people to sell stuff there, so you find more variety.
The biography of the project is kind of interesting in and of itself, as it began, as you say, as an outgrowth of your trying to find things on CL to post for resale on eBay. So an artistic project derived from an essentially commercial venture and now is being explored in a gallery context which turns the works into images for sale. There’s an interesting ‘reflection’, you might say, of the kind of infinite regress one sees in mirrors reflecting other mirrors, and images in this socio-economic dynamic.
Is this something you’ve thought about in the project, and if so, or if not, are you finding that dynamic interesting to explore as the project increases in scale and visibility?
EO: I’m getting less interested in showing the mirror images in a physical space. I feel like they exist best on a screen and in mass (distribution). I strive for simplistic success in most of my work, and this project is the finest example that I’ve come up with.
So you feel the materialisation of the project didn’t serve its deeper aims as well as it might have?
EO: I’m not saying that I’ll never explore showing them in a space again, but I hope to figure out a more successful way of doing so. Just hanging the photos on a wall feels a bit underwhelming. It’s like, ‘here’s the same thing as my online project but on a wall instead’. It’s just kind of boring and also super fucking hard to sell.
Anyone can go print these photos off of my website and put them on their wall. The only difference is that the ones in the gallery are ‘mine’ and that doesn’t feel important enough. It’s cool that I had a show in London, as I’ve never been there before, and I liked the photos paired with work by another artist, but I kind of regret having them for sale. It cheapened the project. Perhaps I can collaborate with another artist and pair my photos with something they do and sell them as a set. I don’t know yet.
How has (or has) the project changed now that it has been seen in material spaces?
EO: How has it changed for me, or for other people?
Well, more for you, really.
EO: I hope it hasn’t changed for other people. It’s changed for me in that I appreciate it more within the internet.**