All Is Vanity (2009)

6min 36sec

In All Is Vanity (Mirrorless Version) Adad Hannah stages a historical drawing as a video. The artist asks a pair of identical twins to perform a tableau vivant in order to render a mirror where there is none, creating an illusion within an illusion.

The source of inspiration for Hannah’s installation is an image made in 1892 by an eighteen-year-old illustrator named Charles Allan Gilbert (1873–1929). Gilbert’s drawing, All Is Vanity, remains one of the world’s most famous optical illusions. It depicts a young woman surrounded by perfume and make-up, gazing at her reflection in the oval mirror of a wooden vanity. However, the drawing can also be read as a large human skull, the objects carefully arranged so that the vanity’s mirror forms the dome of the skull, the woman’s head and reflection its eye sockets, her toiletry bottles doubling as the skull’s jagged teeth, and the table cloth delineating the jaw line.

In All Is Vanity, Hannah has reconstructed Gilbert’s nineteenth-century optical illusion in high-definition video using a custom-built set. In this version there is no mirror – the oval of the vanity is an empty wooden frame – and Hannah casts twins to perform the woman and her reflection a way of creating the appearance of a mirror where there is only an empty opening.

The video is a 6-minute 36-second continuous shot: Hannah posed the twins across from each other and asked them to remain as still as possible for the duration of the piece. The blinking and breathing of the twins becomes evidence of time passing, which breaks the static nature of Gilbert’s original drawing and reminds viewers of their own existence within the flux of space and time. The mise-en-scène is recreated within the exhibition space, with all elements of the set – furniture, carpet, curtains, lights, video camera – preserved and displayed in the room.

Hannah's work was on view at UVP Montgomery Street and at the former UVP Monroe site from February - March 2010.
It appeared as part of a block of programming curated by video artists Cooper Battersby and Emily Vey Duke.

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