The mirror between us
Mikael Lundberg and his art work “A mirror among us” falls into current discussions about nowadays voyeuristic and exhibitionistic aspirations. Desires, that are present in our culture in a variety of levels, are mostly evident in media, where it becomes clear that a viewer and an exhibitionist live in an intimate symbiosis. Without viewers, comfortably watching TV on their sofas, there wouldn’t be reality shows and vice versa.
Both voyeurism and exhibitionism are scholarly defined terms describing sexual disorders, where a pervert enjoys watching others or demonstrating his/her nudity. This brings sexual satisfaction to such people. Perverts do not need any sexual contact with the ones he/she is watching or who look at him/her. The medical description gives a certain shade to those terms, which is like tickling that sticks to those words when we use them. When these terms are used in a broader or metaphorical context, the erotic connotation still exists. It signalizes that we still talk about a desire if not a sexual disorder. It is important to remember the scholarly term as it shows the limits between the normal and perverted observations. But how do we know which side we are on?

The way such reality shows as “Big Brother” or “Paradise Hotel” are presented on TV and supervised by the evening press, proves that they provide people with a promise to see sex and this attracts people. There are other shows like reality based chat shows or movies about the work of police or hospitals, where the biggest attention is paid to people’ issues and pains. However, the voyeuristic viewer is not searching for sex, but rather feelings that he/she can observe. The same as people do not feel any erotic arousal when telling their marital problems on TV or unsuccessful relationships with children. There must be some satisfaction, otherwise people wouldn’t do that.

It may look that voyeurism appeared only in our times, but this is not true. A myth about a “Peeping Tom” is an old one, the same as “Susanna in the Bathroom” with a naked women and two old men watching her is a classical art motive. Documentary movie is a good genre, without any stigmas yet. But where does voyeurism start? Can we call exhibitionist those who agree to perform in movies? A media researcher Clay Calvert in a journal “Voyeur Nation” (2000) published an interesting fact- already in the eighth decade American TV showed reality series “An American Family”. For seven moths the viewers could follow the life of one family. It looks like that voyeurism really is a secretive core of the film. Between the years 1900- 1995 Hollywood produces 1200 movies, where one of the main characters was related to voyeurism (p.44).

Hitchkock’s “Rear window” is a classical voyeuristic movie, where James Steward temporary sitting in a wheelchair spends his days watching a house down the street with a binocular glass. In such a way he and his colleague Grace Kelly are made tools of a murder and are involved in the story. In Hitchkock’s movie the binocular glass and metropolitan anonymity create perfect conditions for voyeuristic actions- a theme that later appears in many Hollywood movies. If we thought deeper, we could remember more movies, and not only Hitchkock’s, where somebody watches somebody’s house in the dark. So, as Calvert notes, the novelty is not the voyeurism itself, but the fact that today’s phenomenon is “closer, more ambitious and more sensational” (p.43). The main qualification of today’s voyeurism is that exhibitionism, for which people stand in lines and fight for a chance to participate in reality or chat shows. The most important is not talking about life but participating in it and showing oneself. A story of this type about one’s life is one of the aspects of today’s’ voyeurism and exhibitionism, which was studied by Mikael Lundberg in his arts. In several of his works, he devoted himself to the study of existence, not as his personal story, but rather as a revealed life.

In the work “Lifetimer”, there is a digital clock, which fuses seconds, hours and days with its red angry and fast numbers. In this piece of art Lundberg walked 506 days with a GPS recipient on his shoulder, which literally fixed every movement. The result of this is a video, where black lines mark the movement of Lundberg in Stockholm, at his summer house in Gotland, at Chalmers School in Geteborg and other places. Out of these black lines, one could notice the schemes that are surprisingly regular. When there is a lot of motion in one place, the lines are so dense that everything becomes black. The densest lines are in familiar squares: to and from a kindergarten, to and from a studio, grocery store and his son’s football games. This is how life is written. A human being literally moves in circles.

It looks like that in both of his works Mikael Lundberg asks himself what life is. The answers can be found in the same time as that of a “Liftimer” or in the schemes that our life creates during time as “Lifeline”. Lundberg’s work is far away from a confession rhetoric that is typical characteristic of Rici Lake shows and other similar programs. And still, they participate in that exhibitionistic dramaturgy, because in the center of “Lifetimer” an artist uncovers his own life. The fast changing numbers of the “Lifetimer” can tell a lot about the life of Lundberg, but this work also reminds the painful fact, that there is less and less of time left. Such small details of his own fate turn into a general meaning. What can we see when a person reveals the most intimate parts of his life? Only what the most common is in that life.

It is a very logical step to move from an exhibitionistic to a voyeuristic art. In an erotic situation the viewer and exhibitionist rarely meet, however in our mass media society this in an important condition. Studying the voyeuristic position, a need to observe and watch others, means to further analyze the question of what life is. The new Landberg’s work “A mirror among us” helps him to change roles. Now he becomes a secretive observer. This position requires darkness and is much more shameful and wicked. Nudity is a personal issue of every person, but to observe others when they do not know that is a totally different thing. This piece of art is interrelated with the darkest parts of both, our desires and the legal system.

The photos of “A mirror among us” were taken in the city at night with a telephoto. The idea is that we look through the windows of others but at the same time we are not known to the others. They don’t see us. Mikael Lundberg invites us to share his place in the dark with others by the binocular glass. Yes, exactly because he is a voyeur. Whenever we hear a word “voyeur”, the first vision we get is a man secretly watching a women. But behind this simple cliché lies an obsession of our culture, which teaches that looks are related to activity, the same culture, which teaches us that activity means masculinity and passivity means femininity. In one of the earliest feministic Hollywood movies “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1973) Laura Mulvey described a movie as a voyeuristic place, where are a woman is made an observation object while the man becomes the carrier of the look. “In the world missing a balance between two genders, indulgence in observing was divided into active/masculine and passive/feminine. The ruling masculine look projects the fantasies into a woman’s body, which is formed according to that view” (p. 19).

Voyeuristic photos, as the ones of Mikael Lundberg, take a position, which strangely is active and passive at the same time. On one hand it is secret, sneaky and invisible; the camera is waiting for some action in the dark to happen on the other side of the street. On the other hand, a camera objective finds those people who are not aware they are being observed. It follows, clips and uses them with its look when they don’t have any idea that somebody is watching them. This work has a dose of aggressiveness. It makes the art different from the rest of Lundberg art pieces and it makes this work spicy. Taking the image of a person who does not even know that can be called aggression, but this is justifiable. The aggression becomes more interesting when this picture makes the artist partly responsible for the voyeuristic act. It is impossible to watch the art work and stay innocent.

“A mirror among us” as well as “Lifetimer” and “Lifeline” suddenly bounces back to us caught in the middle of a voyeuristic act. It is not the people in the pictures that are interesting, nor what they are doing. Humans in these vague and poetical pictures live their anonymous lives, caught in specific situations that say very little to us as we don’t know the whole context. There is nothing to reveal, there are no secrets. Looking, observing, spying and peeking are the most important things.

“Mirror among us” makes us think about what viewing is, what is inside or outside. This in many ways reminds a symbolist writer Maurice Materlinks (1862- 1949) and his play “Interior”. A play is about two homeless people, who are watching an idyllic family life, which seems to be far away from them, through a window of some house. Suddenly they see some people approaching the house and hear the horrible truth. A daughter from this family had drowned because she was not married yet and was expecting a baby. The news reaches the homeless people first than the family, whose idyll will be gone forever.

The whole drama is based on the speculations of the homeless about the family inside. At first they observe it with curiosity and slowly come to understand that they know more than the family. They do that with sadness and voyeuristically. How will the family react when they get to know what happened? They do not go inside and do not tell anything, but rather stay outside and observe what is going on.

The play “Interior” talks about the hypocrisy of bourgeoisie. Today we can see that this play also brings up questions about the voyeuristic conditions of our days. The mass media today is based on the exchange of voyeuristic desires. As in Materlink’s play, questions of power and control arise. In the book observation is clearly related with control and the follow up of it is power. The homeless people have power because they have a tragic message for a family. They will never be participants of this drama, but observing the scene they became viewers who seek satisfaction, observers who use the tragedy of a family.

Similarities can be found among the Mikael Lundberg’s “A mirror among us”, Hitchkock’s “Rear Window” and Materlink’s play “Interior”. All three of them have in common a voyeuristic action that is in the midst of activity and passivity. Mikeal Lundberg with his work wants us identify the voyeuristic desires of our own culture. The voyeur position brings up very relevant questions like identity, power and control. Looks like when we thought we are innocent, passive users, we learn that our looks make as active participants of the process, which may be different without us. In a picture of an old man looking in the dark through a window, activity and passivity confront in one space: without knowing that he is being observed, he is observing the darkness- he is observing us!? We are active- we watch others, but at the same time we are passive objects of somebody’s observation. The choreography of watching is a vicious cycle.

Claudia Lindén, Ph.D
A professor at Sodertorn University



© Mikael Lundberg