LIFE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

I used to feel like I was missing something when it came to art, like maybe I’d skipped the most important lesson at school or something. I would go to galleries and exhibitions and pretend to ‘get it’ but, truthfully, I didn’t have a clue what I was looking at or what I was supposed see.

Now I realise that art’s not so much about what you see as what you feel. That might sounds incredibly pretentious but I do believe that’s what separates art from, well, stuff. It’s what it does that matters. Sure, you can appreciate the artistry of something but if it doesn’t spark any emotion then, really, what’s the point?

The subjectiveness of what we deem to be creative or dull, moving or unaffecting, artistic or inelegant is surely what makes us human. Paintings, stories, movies, songs, sculptures or whatever – at their very best they are all about eliciting a visceral response.

Having realised this quite late in life, I went into art overdrive when I bought the house I live in now. At the time my mind was in an ugly place, which I think is perhaps what drew me towards beauty. I started seeing things differently. I needed to surround myself with things that looked the opposite of how I felt. And it’s appreciation rather than smugness that allows me to say that it’s bloody lovely here now. The environment I’ve been able to create not only makes me feel more at home in my own house, but also has the ability to mentally transport me to other places.

Most of the things that hang on my walls are full of life. I’m not sure exactly why but birds feature quite heavily. Maybe I subconsciously connect with the idea of their inherent freedom and ability to escape; perhaps I just like the way they look (you can overthink anything if you try hard enough).

Lately, though, I’ve found myself drawn to a photographer whose work is almost entirely focused on decay. Based in London, Gina Soden, travels to derelict structures and locations throughout Europe and explores the boundaries of beauty, nostalgia and neglect. Her photography speaks of slow and painful transformation caused by abandonment. And I wasn’t quite sure why I loved it so much until she introduced a new piece from her collection on Instagram the other week.

‘Villa on foxed mirror’ takes the viewer through the looking glass and into a different world. A beautiful reclaimed mirror is opened up through her imagery of a striking abandoned building, which is hand printed on the glass. As the viewer, you reflect in the neglect; you see yourself in the decay. Perhaps, for those who have suffered any sense of anguish or adversity, it’s reassuring to notice that there’s still beauty in the ruin. That it’s possible to glimpse into a past world that hurt and then feel grateful to be back in the relative comfort and safety of the one you inhabit now.

Some days I look in the mirror and can’t believe quite how much I’ve aged. But I’m gradually learning to take a moment to close my eyes and think deeply about how I feel each day instead of letting my shallow reflection make all the decisions. This way I can learn to appreciate the positive feelings and work on the things that aren’t making me feel quite so good.

I suppose as a notion it’s not entirely dissimilar to art. You could look amazing but if you don’t feel anything, then what’s the point?