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Reflections on Mirrors at Kloster Ettal - The first symposium of the IDP Mimesis

In mid-July 2014, the picturesque and quaint Klosterhotel Ludwig der Bayer in Ettal was home to the two-day international symposium Mimetic Surfaces: Reflections on Mirrors in the Arts. It was the first symposium organized by the doctoral students of the International Doctoral Program (IDP) MIMESIS. The conference aimed at investigating the different facets of the mirror as a trope, a structural principle or an object from an art historical interdisciplinary and cross-cultural perspective. The focus of this topic is inspired by the historical connection between mirroring and mimesis. Earlier this year, the students had been developing the topic and planning the conference on an internal workshop at Schloss Fürstenried.

[Bildunterschrift / Subline]: The IDP’s Director Prof. Dr. Christopher Balme

After a welcome address by the IDP’s director Christopher Balme and by two of the doctoral students (Antonio Chemotti and Judith Rottenburg), a total of nine speakers, local as well as international, presented their papers on mirrors and mimesis at Kloster Ettal. The speakers, representing various disciplines from film studies, to French, English and German literature and Modern and Islamic art history, were grouped together in sections according to their respective topics. Beside the local speakers (Inka Mülder-Bach and Tobias Döring, two members of the IDP Mimesis, Manuel Mühlbacher, Gawan Fagard and Bavand Behpoor, three doctoral candidates), four ‘mirror-specialists’ were invited as guest speakers: Malte Hagener (Philipps University of Marburg), Warren Motte (University of Colorado Boulder, U.S.A.), Sussan Babaie (Courtauld Institute of Art, U.K.) and Lauren Weingarden (Florida State University, U.S.A.).

[Bildunterschrift / Subline]: The Participants of the Symposium Mimetic Surfaces

In the sessions of the symposium, various case studies were presented ranging from catoptric rhetorics in Shaftesbury and Diderot, to the relationship of mimesis and exile in the work of Siegfried Kracauer, from reflections on Baudelairean modernity to the roles of the mirror in the films of the Marx Brothers, Woody Allen or Andrei Tarkovsky. While Warren Motte discussed the experience of collecting about 10,000 mirror scenes from roughly 1,500 books in 25 years, there were other speakers who brought in examples of the use of mirror in Islamic arts as an instance of a non-European visual culture. Through the analysis of the works of artists ranging from E. T. A. Hoffmann to Bahman Mohasses, the symposium demonstrated how the mimetic function of art is often theorized in terms of mirror tropes while trying to answer questions such as the extent to which the mirror can resist the traditional preconceptions of mimesis as mere reproduction, how mirror scenes, for example, function as a mise en abyme that represents the relationship between reader and text, or the recipient’s role in a ‘mirror model’ of art.

By Bavand Behpoor