How little is necessary to create an illusion? For his contribution to Phantom Limb: Art Beyond Escher in Leeuwarden’s Fries Museum, Michiel Kluiters used seemingly minimal visual elements in order to suggest a complete system of rooms. With the photographs Zaal (English: ‘Room’) I, II, and III, and the photo installation Toren (‘Tower’), he manipulates the museum’s architecture. The illusion is achieved because these trompe-l'œils span the entire wall, seamlessly adjoining the actual architecture. On account of their scale, the images in the photos are incredibly convincing, and look like repeated elements of actual museum galleries. This makes them more than suggestive: they disrupt your orientation within the building, and form one whole sculpture together with the museum’s actual architecture. Kluiters: ‘I create openings that aren’t there, and make walls run on where they usually come to an end. I deconstruct the surrounding architecture.’
Toren, located around the lift shaft, is a contemporary reference to Escher’s famous towers. The lift shaft is located as a standalone architectonic element in the museum’s open, glass entrance area. It is connected to the rest of the building only by means of the stairs and galleries. Museum visitors are surprised as soon as they approach the lift via the entrance hall – the lift doors are surrounded by a light, ochre-coloured space that looks as if you could step right into it. On each floor, you get the impression that you might be able to disappear into the ochre-coloured space – Kluiters turned the lift shaft inside out, allowing you to experience not the safe exterior, but the very inside of the tower.
Evidently, you do not need much to create an illusion – the suggestion of misleadingly-simple architecture is enough. In fact, you might walk past without noticing these photographic images, if it were not for the fact that three of the four are located at entrances/exits, meaning you need to walk through them. This is the case, for example, on the third floor, where Zaal I is located, continuing the interplay of illusory rooms. Behind the entrance doors to Phantom Limb, you see a hallway that leads to museum galleries on the left and right. There is no one in these galleries. The peacefulness, the white and grey colours, the lighting: everything is perfectly reminiscent of other, actual galleries in the museum. But on opening the doors, the world is not as it seems.
Zaal II and Zaal III, located in the exhibition’s central museum gallery, also serve to disorientate visitors. The first ‘disruption’ that you encounter is the suggestion of a wall just behind the actual wall, which looks as if it has been pulled over the actual wall. The effect created is that you are not looking into the room, as such, but immediately become part of it, because the wall in the image imposes itself on you. The last photographic piece can be found as you head towards the exit. Just as when you enter the museum, you are presented with a corridor that leads to museum galleries located behind the door. This too mirrors actual elements of rooms in the museum – yet, as a whole, it offers no way for you to orientate yourself. Where is it? What does it mean? And is it a photo, or a painting?
Using scale models in order to create architectural illusions is a recurring element in Kluiters’ work. Here, the models he builds and photographs from within are used to portray architecture in its most archaic form: portions of walls with openings. Nothing looks finished. The unrefined appearance has an unexpected effect – despite it, or perhaps precisely because of it, the illusion is particularly strong. The picturesque quality of the models, which have been photographed and greatly enlarged, makes the surfaces and every imperfection tangible. Scale and texture contribute to the entire suggestiveness of the illusions, as do the archaic shapes, the unseen sophisticated array of camera angles, framing, lighting, and the corridor effect. These are classic visual elements that our brains have been programmed to. The photography is thereby so recognisable and natural in appearance that it is almost entirely unremarkable. This is the dualistic nature of this piece: the viewer either does not see it, or does see it and it sucks them in. The viewer is thereby pulled into a game of recognition and expectation.
(Photo's Michiel Kluiters and Ruben van Vliet)