Layne Meacham: “The Fauna of Mirrors”


Mirror people2

The Revenge of the Mirror People is either a conclusive essay to a series of essays written by Julian Pefanis 1991, a social critique of difference and post-Modernism, “Heterology and Post-Modernism” which, to the contemporary reader resounds as being familiar like the nursery rhyme to the grade-schooler, or an excellent read by a leading critic in critical theory that is undeniably weighty in semiotics that offering an ideal concept and unique literary ancient context for some of the very best abstract art seen since Layne Meacham’s last series of work premiered at Finch Lane, this series, ostensibly to premier in January at an undisclosed gallery location, and will impress as much if not more than did his last series.


Albeit the Modernist, post-Modern rhetoric may be stuff familiar, but the context is relevant and introduces myth to criticize Modernist/post-Modern theory of its own being and volition, of realities of contemporary relevance first and fore mostly heterology, or the study of differences among people and dynamics of the same, identity, or the disenfranchisement thereof, aggression, narcissism, power, ego, aesthetics, and modes of allegory to that which is the central idea to the body of work in question.


An 18th century study by Jesuit Father Fonteccio was focused on the ancient Cantonese myth “The Fauna of Mirrors” and of “the superstitions and misfortunes of the common people of Canton…” spoke Father Fonteccio…


“ …In those days the world of mirrors and the world of men were not, as they are now, cut off from each other. They were besides, quite different, neither beings nor colours nor shapes were the same. Both kingdoms, the specular and the human, lived in harmony; you could come and go through mirrors. One night the mirror people invaded the earth. Their power was great, but at the end of bloody warfare the magic arts of the Yellow Emperor prevailed. He repulsed the invaders, imprisoned them in their mirrors, and forced on them the task of repeating, as though in a kind of dream, all the actions of men. He stripped them of their power and of their forms and reduced them to mere slavish reflections. Nevertheless, a day will come when the magic spell will be shaken off,” thus reads “The Fauna of Mirrors” or what is being academically referred to here in this text as “Revenge of the Mirror People.”


This short narrative is no meager thing as Pefanis’ first five essay are critiques, with the concluding myth being the orientation of the subordinating critical postulations towards it.  The culminating chapter where in the myth can be read (above) describes three allegorical methodologies to a fuller understanding towards a greater semiotic reading of this tale so charged with philosophically ripe ancient humanist content.


The first is psychoanalytic and here it is understandable that Pefanis leans to Freud as well as Lecan. The second allegory is power and here Foucault becomes relevant as does Adorno and Lyotard. The third and final is the allegory of aesthetic dimensions or what may be referred to as existential aesthetics. Here once again Freud becomes invaluable and conclusively important is Kant and his exegesis of the same found in the Critique of Judgment is paramount.


The works by Meacham are a direct reference to these critiques, the content contained within each of these allegories making the narrative of the mirror people one psychologically and aesthetically loaded and Meacham’s gradate school training in Psychology and to this day social advocacy, which, with great enthusiasm for Meacham and what he is currently accomplishing, can be read seamlessly as a fourth allegory.


But of the initial three allegories according to Pefanis and according to Meacham this venue is primal territory to test the waters as this show is of great importance to Meacham and to his advocacy for which his ambition and strength of voice is inspiring and impressive and driven with a torque equivalent in potential energy to Meacham’s unquestionable integrity, his undoubted noble motivations, and purpose of heart that can create an art such as this, with such freedom and liberty is so convincing is it of the mirror people with an amorphousness without form they are enslaved to, utterly uninhibited in execution, without any kind of manipulation or coercion but naturally flowing structure inspired by one artist only, the great French Modernist Jean Dubuffet.


The first semiotic allegory is psychoanalysis and the criticism of this allegory and those to follow are of complete original, fresh content by this author and not the critiques of Pefanis.  It is fair to say that an expert leading critic of 1991 would prove severely confining in any allegorical reading of Meacham’s work to serve its greatest purpose and resolve ultimate utility as it is deemed contemporary relevant given a variable ideological context considering a 2013 critic of the same who is current on the most up to date epistemological approaches to aesthetics and current philosophical thinking on the most essential existentialism given the multi-cultural post-technologically-revolutionized world era, post-structuralism and semiology of the same, post-Modernism of the same, realism the same, relativism the same, and the great Classical Tradition grounded in the fundamental discourse of Humanism based on the same, i.e. qualified for the task.


Given the impetus of Freud this allegory becomes something not outdated as psychoanalysis may be to contemporary treatments of neurological disorders but of itself recognizes the full fundamental neurological scope of defects in the Freudian sense as being universal to all of humanity to some extent or another and the idea of repression being the source of a childhood where a neurosis develops, such as narcissism. This becomes implicit to the mirror people who have long lost all sense of ego, that which balances the naïve gluttony of the id and the invariable morality of the super-ego, thus a state of rationalism devoid of individualism in a state of repression manifests.


Given these factors as the mirror people have been reduced, only to be a reflection of another being beyond their prison, some other who is free whom that mirror person is slave to, aren’t those others, all humans, like the mirror people, and slaves to those conditions set at birth, which condemn for life?  That which represses having a never-ending effect on ego, consciousness thus necessitating the further imbalance of the functions of the mind? The human is as much victim to their environment as the mirror person is a slave to theirs, the only difference being humanity’s freedom of choice in ideal conditions.


Second to an accepted Freudian psychoanalysis is the allegory of power. The exemplifiers of this are Adorno and Foucault and again the ideas generated compositionally and idealistically are original here. For Foucault and the  broad reality of post-structuralism one might apply deconstruction, a very broad base, to question existentially the being of the mirror people and their absolute lack of power when compared to the “Superman” of Nietzsche’s making who’s power is his only trajectory.  The mirror person is quite literally bound in every respect to the external world from which they are powerless to overcome by any means save the diffusion of the very power of the Yellow Emperor and the ultimate revolt. This power of the Yellow Emperor is nothing absolute but binds the mirror people only temporally and they will eventually will find a “Revenge of the Mirror People,” this grounded on the eventual freedom that is elemental to all of humanity- the repressed can only do as they might, but the mirror people know that the power of the Yellow Emperor is finite and fading, there is nothing of this in Nietzsche.


Of this revolt, writes Adorno and the liberation of humanity from Monarchy to a state of post-history commencing with Modernity, the human element of Modernism and its effect on everyman and ultimate post-Modernism, and the advent of a concerted formalism won over to art for its own sake. For the mirror people, as mentioned, their revolt is something absolute to them and not a question of “if” but a question of “when.” The only contingency is the state of this revolt. Will it be like the early historical uprising and be bloody and ugly or can the mirror people embrace and respond, not with aggression, but with tolerance and acceptance to difference and heterology when introduced to the outside world, the world they know so well, the world they know to be so imperfect, and not make the same mistakes?


A thought: Given the current reality of post-Modernity of the essentially existential-multi-cultural post-technological-revolutionized world era, these conditions are something polarizing to the millennia old conditions of ancient Cantonese China and its confining and debilitating ways that would ring true with the bondage they had suffered that is the genesis of this tale. However, the plurality that is descriptive of these post-Modern conditions, just may present the mirror people with possibilities for reality unlike they could have foreseen and they embrace heterogeneity of person and place and thus a veritable utopia?


The third and final allegory is of existential aesthetics, and to this shall be applied Kant and seminal content from his Critique of Judgment.   This aesthetic reading, as any aesthetic should, combines the content thus far. There must be consideration given to the dynamics of power as each the mirror person is locked literally in a state of binding powerlessness and subordination with only time as their friend while humanity is in perpetual bondage to itself with no ally to have as its guarantor. Humanity in a state of absurdity fated to itself in relative terms has more of a limitation of humanism than the mirror people have in their ever-encroaching anticipation of revolt.


The aesthetics come as how does humanity see itself in the mirror and how does the mirror person see the human? Is it an obvious case of looking at the self as free and spirited while the mirror person sees the other and feels perpetual confinement or does humanity see themselves and recognize their own existentiality, their limitations, their finite access to understanding and knowledge of truth made absolute, while knowing it has one guarantor and one alone, death, and does the mirror person look at that human… caught in a web of relativism given to a social consciousness where the ego is forever engaged in battle of greatest folly never possibly reconciled no matter the attempt… with a sense of pity?


This reversal of existential aesthetics questions humanity by questioning the mirror person and questioning their responsiveness to the human subject who registers this or that sensibility to elicit the given response… be it envy, be it pity, who is to say when dealing with existentials and semiotics?


Thus read the three allegories given one critic’s interpretation grounded on some very sturdy tried and very true 20th century open-ended ideologies for a topical question that is asking of the Modern and the post-Modern “of its own being and volition, of its realities of contemporary relevance first and foremost heterology, or the study of differences among people and dynamics of the same, thereof, identity, or the disenfranchisement thereof, aggression, narcissism, power, ego, aesthetics” and of each of these abstract Dubuffet inspired paintings that themselves are not only representational of mirror people but describe in methodology their amorphous, non-identity, their essential heterology, “stripped (them) of their power and of their forms and reduced (them) to mere slavish reflections.” To this end Meacham’s work is revelation in semiotic abstraction and further articulation of form will only dilute the heterology and any further “making” of them or “rendering” them anything but what they are would be to alter the semiotic structure of the holistic paradigm, which has one major predicate before it reaches full fruition and this predicate, more telling of the artist and his expansive potential as a human being, his humanism, than the accumulation of the three allegories could possibly present in form, grounded in the same semiotic structures, the final part to complete the whole with a gestalt.           


One thought on “Layne Meacham: “The Fauna of Mirrors”

  1. Whoa Daddy! We need Keroauc, Burrows, Ginsberg and Rosalind Krauss (all former Columbia U Students and Rosalind head of Art History Dept) to help in amplifying or to further explicate the above, I your doctoral level writing will be hard for most of us to totally comprehend, but it sure as hell is interesting more than anything else I have ever read coming out of the U or our other Art History Departments at any Utah universities!

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