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ARCADIA, 2011
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A commission for the opening exhibition of the Turner Contemporary in Margate, U.K., located on the site of J.W. Turner’s house.
 
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From the outside, the viewer sees an old-fashioned aluminum fairground sign spelling out the word “ARCADIA” in six foot high lights leaning against a 15 ft. x 33 ft. plywood shack. The wall next to the shack is covered with a projection of waves breaking on an empty beach. The sound of the waves fills the room.

Entering the shack, the viewer finds himself inside a shabby room filled with ripped posters of J.W. Turner’s engravings and mirrors that have been hand-engraved in the same style. The 34 mirrors are mounted onto thin light boxes so that the engravings appear as lines of light floating on the mirrored surfaces and viewers see themselves inside an endlessly mirrored 360 degree drawing of contemporary Margate seen from the beach.

The interior of the shack is a ¾ scale replica of the gallery that Turner built to display his works in London and the dimensions and arrangement of the mirrors replicate those of the paintings that were in the gallery upon Turner’s death -- some hanging on the walls, some leaning casually on the floor. The font of the ARCADIA sign is based on the sign for Margate’s currently shuttered Dreamland amusement park, which was inspired by New York’s Coney Island's Dreamland (burnt down in 1911) where the video footage of the sea was filmed. .

The sign on the outside of the piece references not only Turner’s experience of Margate as an Arcadian site of escapist pleasure but also the amusement arcade aesthetic that came to dominate the seaside experience – paradoxically destroying the very natural beauty that initially attracted visitors. Similarly the endlessly mirroring mirrors inside reference the fun-house mirror experience – viewers finds their reflections inserted in to a drawing in light of a present distorted by the use of past aesthetics. The mirrored panorama reinserts present-day Margate into the aesthetics of its more picturesque past at the same time that it stakes a claim for the melancholy beauty of its somewhat degraded present.
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INDIVIDUAL MIRROR PANELS
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