From the outside, the viewer sees an old-fashioned aluminum fairground sign spelling out “ARCADIA” leaning against a skeletal shack. Upon entering, the viewer finds himself inside a mirrored panorama of a down-at-heels seaside resort. 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.
The shack is a ¾ scale replica of the gallery that J. M. W. Turner built to display his works and the dimensions and arrangement of the mirrors replicate those of the paintings that were in the gallery upon Turner’s death. The font of the ARCADIA sign is based on the sign for Margate’s Dreamland amusement park, shuttered at the time of creation. The style of the engravings references Turner’s engravings
The sign on the outside of the piece references not only Turner’s experience of Margate as an Arcadian site of escapist pleasure (where he lived happily in sin with his landlady and enthused about the town’s light and natural beauty) but also the amusement arcade aesthetic that came to dominate the seaside experience – paradoxically destroying the very natural beauty that initially attracted visitors. 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 present.
A reinstallation of Arcadia, originally commissioned for the opening of the Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate, U.K. To see the original installation, click here.
Arcade / Arcadia (front outside view), Ellen Harvey, 2011-2. Thirty-four hand-engraved Plexiglas mirrors over Lumisheets, wood frame, aluminum letters, light bulbs, overall: 9 x 15 x 33′ (2.74 x 4.57 x 10.06 m). Two framed hand-painted framed prints on printed on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Bright, each 13″ x 11″, framed 13.5 x 15.25″. Photography: Locks Gallery, Clay Center for the Arts.