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Mirror-Cube-Landscape Long Description

More About Mirror-Cube-Landscape for ‘Human=Landscape’ 2009

Mirror-Cube-Landscape (MCL) is first and foremost an art installation matching the size of the state of Vermont. Two hundred and fifty five mirrored cubes will reflect back images of our landscape to residents and visitors who view some or all of the collection. The surfaces of the cubes invite a powerful and complex visual experience where a mirrored virtual reality inside the cube alternates with and informs a more robust physical reality outside the cube. This may lead the viewer to a new level of consciousness concerning the environment in the vicinity of a particular cube. 

MCL also has the potential of being the ‘hardware’ in a statewide system for gathering specific information about Vermont. This ‘Cube-Web’ could serve, with its constant flow of cinematic images, to awaken the viewer to fresh ideas about our landscape. Within the Cube-Web feedback system, these locally grown ideas could influence the impact of energy strategies on our visual topography and perhaps help shape the future physical and social environment of Vermont.

MCL would engage Vermonters, tourists and art pilgrims in a vast visual experience that would unfold in real time as the viewer travels across the state to visit the array of Cubes. Our landscape is also constantly changing in time, usually under the radar of our conscious visual perception, but sometimes with shocking drama. MCL will always be silently working to capture these changes, both subtle and dramatic, reminding us of the role of time in the ever-evolving landscape of Vermont.

MCL would place an eight foot mirrored cube in one specific location in each of Vermont’s 255 political units or ‘places’ for a total of 255 mirror-cubes. A Mirror-Cube would have six faces, each 8 feet x 8 feet. It would be supported above the ground plane by a minimum of 12 inches, suggesting that it is floating in position but not divorced from its surroundings which it is able to reflect in all of its faces. (See the accompanying diagram and specifications). The specific location of each of the Mirror-Cubes could be chosen to draw attention to either the most general or characteristic type of environment within its local political unit, or perhaps its most unique or special landscape feature.

In total, the 255 Mirror-Cubes would image a very complete picture of the geology, geography, climate, and settlements of Vermont. Since the cubes would steadfastly reflect their surroundings continually day and night, season after season and year after year, in a sense they will be recording all of the changes around them in these time periods. Over months or years they would without prejudice ‘observe’ a local and statewide physical evolution of the Vermont landscape and of our activities as they affect this landscape.

The installation itself offers no specific and immediate solutions to current energy challenges (such as our increasing constraints on use of carbon fuels) and does not suggest a unique or biased future picture of the landscape of Vermont. The project proposes a related group of site specific art objects that could: 1) playfully enhance our personal consciousness about our place in the environment, 2) change how we think about our surroundings and 3) serve as provocative symbols or icons for a local, statewide problem solving network.

1-The political units of Vermont

Vermont has 255 political units or “places”. These include 237 towns, 9 cities, 5 unincorporated areas and 4 gores. Each would receive an identical mirror-cube as part of this proposal.

The incorporated cities are municipalities and independent of any surrounding town or county. Ranked by 2000 census population, they are Burlington, Rutland, South Burlington, Barre, Montpelier, St Albans, Winooski, Newport and Vergennes.

Unincorporated towns have no government or charter due to lack of residents. They are Averill, Ferdinand, Glastenbury, Lewis and Somerset.

The gores generally result from errors made when the towns were originally surveyed. A gore is an area that lies between two (or more) towns but is not technically part of any town. They include Averys Gore, Buels Gore, Warners Grant and Warren Gore.

2-General criteria for choosing a MCL site

While VT is the 49th state in terms of population, it is the 45th state in terms of total area, including land and water, at 9,614 square miles. There are countless small squares of land and water where a Mirror-Cube could be placed. How, then, is a single site chosen and how are the individual locations for 255 Cubes justified?

A site chosen for a Mirror-Cube location would not necessarily be your typical, magazine variety and perhaps highly romanticized scene of Vermont – containing white church steeples, red barns and clean Holsteins in pristine meadows (although they certainly exist within the rich variety of Vermont’s landscape). The sites do not need to appeal to a conventional standard of beauty or be a candidate for a conventional tourist attraction.

Other realities present themselves. A site might be chosen for the very reason that it inherently or overtly represents on-going problems for a future sustainable landscape or ecology. Also, a very large percentage of Vermont’s landscape is not necessarily beautiful in the manner of the postcard aesthetic. Much of it is messy and in need of repair or restoration. Many small farms and towns are struggling and suffer from economic neglect. The transitions between seasons can at best be visually challenging. Much of our weather and its accompanying light create a very drab or even hostile picture.

Vermont is naturally all of these things as well as the magazine cover scenes. But, what could be considered messy today or drab in an isolated November might be seen as beautiful or at least significant, as part of the larger picture that makes Vermont very real and complete. (In the awkward, transitional seasons, scenery is more minimal and therefore more can be seen and appreciated with careful looking.) Finally, what we see as perfectly romantic today may not necessarily lead us to more beauty or sustainability in the future.

So, the goal of MCL would be to give as complete a record of Vermont as possible by choosing 255 sites that together give a very good overall picture of the characteristics of our landforms, waterways and settlement patterns. Furthermore, the reflected image in whole or in part is only that of a fleeting moment. The world surrounding a Cube is always changing, day to night and through 4 or 5 seasons. As well as the effects of light and weather, these changes include landscape shifts due to development patterns, active land use strategies and the application of state and local zoning laws.

The sites would include very small and modest out-of-the-way places and very grand and iconic places. Some sites would be easily accessible by car or on foot, some might require a short or even a more adventurous walk through meadows or forest. The total sum of the flickering reflections from all of the Cubes, all 1,530 separate faces, would be a holistic view of an evolving Vermont.

3-The 17 specific sites chosen to represent this project

Following are 17 MCL sites. These can be located on the accompanying MCL map of Vermont. The existing site photographs were taken between February 21 and May 22, 2009, a span of three months. The seasons represented range from late winter through mud season to late spring. The sites range across the state from North Hero, near the Canadian border to Halifax on the Massachusetts border, from Lake Champlain on the west to the Connecticut River on the east. These 17 sites represent a good cross section of Vermont’s natural landscapes and human settlements, of geology, wild and cultivated landforms and waterways all within four months of climate change. North Ferrisburgh is represented as a site in a three dimensional model. If the work of this proposal were to be fully realized, 237 more MCL sites would be included as well and would represent all of the seasonal changes over a yearly cycle.


1-Halifax, meadow, 2.21.09, 5:00 PM

local patterns of old meadows bordered by stone walls, late light, mid-winter


2-Fair Haven, town green, 2.22.09, 11:30 AM

the formal town green, snow fall


3-Glover, Shadow Lake, 3.14.09, 3:56 PM

the ice fishing culture on the many ponds of the state


4-Vergennes, Otter Creek dam, 3.17.09, 2:25 PM

hydro electric station on a major river, early spring run off


5-Bridport, farm fields, 3.17.09, 3:25 PM

the very large farms of the Lake Champlain watershed


6-Waterbury, Interstate 89, 3.20.09, 11:52 AM

major high speed traffic corridor and the landforms it has created


7-Moretown, Cox Brook, 3.20.09, 5:26 PM

back country waterways


8-Norwich, Connecticut River, 3.21.09, 12:16 PM

Vermont’s border to the east that we share with New Hampshire


9-Buels Gore, Appalachian Gap, 3.22.09, 11:21 AM

one of 44 gaps in Vermont, late winter snow storm


10-Westford, Route 15 barn, 3.24.09, 10:24 AM

two lane blacktop and the ubiquitous leaning barn


11-Fairfax, baseball diamond, 3.24.09, 11:18 AM

small town country ball diamond


12-North Hero, general store, 3.24.09, 12:02 PM

center of village life


13-South Burlington, big box store, 3.24.09, 2:00 PM

commercial growth in a high population area


14-Burlington, waterfront breakwater, 3.25.09, 9:37 AM

Lake Champlain that Vermont shares with New York


15-South Burlington, housing developments, 4.22.09, 11:45 AM

challenges to farm land in a high population area


16-Brookfield, mountain farm, 4.22.09, 4:15 PM

back country farm at winter’s end and roadside cemetery


17-North Ferrisburgh, meadow, 4.9.09, 4:47 PM

a former farm, just outside Chittenden County’s expanding suburbia


4-MCL as a very large art installation

MCL would be an art installation creating a luminous net over the entire state. For Vermonters, art lovers and tourists alike, MCL would be an attraction to be discovered one Cube at a time. The complete experience of the work would, of course, require seeing all 255 Cubes. While the Cubes are all identical, each site is different. Seeing something identical in varying settings intensifies the differences in the settings. The interaction between viewer and art piece would lead secondarily to a new understanding of the identity of Vermont, its geology, history, demographics, flora and fauna, etc. Viewing the entirety of MCL could then be a profound educational experience since the art installation continually imitates and echoes what transpires on the sites and between the sites over a various periods of time. Metaphorically, Vermont, itself, becomes the art object. The logistical necessity of traveling across the state to view the entire piece would obviously have a positive effect on the state wide and local economies.

So, MCL is also a journey. The real time required to ‘see’ the work could be done in one continuous visit following any of a very large number of possible paths across the state, or over a longer period of time sampling different seasons and perhaps several years of cycles. MCL would be a similar experience to that already promoted by the ‘251 club’ whose members must visit all 251 cities and towns (less the gores).

Regarding vandalism or damage to the Cubes, note that they reflect everything that happens around them including the activities of Vermonters and visitors and nature. Vandalism is one activity within the range of human character and therefore, from a certain point of view, that is also information to be reflected and documented by the Cubes. There is a rather simple system of replacing any of the 54 mirror panels on any Cube (see Mirror-Cube Specifications).

5-The Mirror-Cubes, our local experts, the Energy Clerks, and the Cube-Web

As art objects, the Mirror-Cubes are also icons which both embody a particular place and are juxtaposed against it. The Cubes are also intended to be a system of symbols, a network structure for gathering information about local landscapes and projected futures. Any local person (or any non-local visitor) could be inspired by a Cube and what it reflects, the inspiration forming an idea regarding landscape, future, energy, etc. A very important part of MCL is the premise that creative ideas great and small, innovations, intuitions and unique solutions to a given local problem can and will come from the local population, so-called average people without the title of expert.

A local idea is like a quantum bit of energy that stimulates movement and communication within a larger, more complex entity. It is highly probable that somewhere in Vermont, right now, some person of any one particular age and background carries the seed of an idea that would revolutionize the future landscape of Vermont. Among other things, MCL would exist to focus a viewer’s thoughts about a particular place and also to encourage the collection those thoughts.

One could imagine that each town (or other political entity) that has a Mirror-Cube would also have an ‘Energy Clerk’, perhaps the same person as the local town clerk. This clerk could maintain and look after the local Cube and its security. But, more importantly, the clerk would be a point person charged with receiving input and ideas from the local population or visitors who are inspired by the local Cube. The feedback might come in the form of conversations, phone calls, letters, drawings, emails, etc. The energy clerk would, in turn, document and catalogue these various inputs and share them with the rest of the 255 clerks in Vermont. A large and constantly growing database would emerge from all over the state. All of the feedback would be available streaming live from a web of energy clerks, continually accessible to all of Vermont.

Finally, the 255 Mirror-Cubes would form a physical and cyber ‘Cube-Web’, channeling concepts from the people who interact with the Mirror-Cubes and their sites. The totality of reflections and the ideas they inspire would give a real time picture of all of the various landscapes, waterscapes and built environments in Vermont as they change and influence each other. The Cube-Web would, of course, become a part of the worldwide web. The potential flow of information is massive; solutions to problems big and small would undoubtedly emerge, however randomly, from this network. MCL could be an on-going action project for ‘Human = Landscape’.

6-Thoughts on energy and the interaction between a viewer and a Mirror-Cube

Creatively managing energy is a challenge embedded in the themes of ‘Human = Landscape’. MCL considers it from a specific point of view. Energy can be defined by its relationship to movement. Potential energy transmutes to kinetic energy. Energy is absorbed and transferred through movement. MCL would be a system of objects that record movement – changes in light, in seasons, in erosion, in land use and so on. At the largest time scales, MCL records the evolution of energy as the relentless and inevitable movement to greater entropy, the transformation of order to disorder. A meadow is cleared and planted for hay; years later, untended, it returns to forest. Hill farms and wood roads disappear. Sub-divisions erode. A sane and sustainable future landscape in Vermont will depend upon our management of the relationship of subtle and not so subtle initial conditions - what we see around us today - with the order and/or chaos that will emerge from these conditions. MCL as a system of potential energy contained in mirrored cubes would transmute to kinetic energy in the form of ideas and concepts that in turn leads to action on initial conditions.

The Mirror-Cubes do their work of reflecting the world outside them silently and continuously. They reflect the constantly changing real world within the 360 degrees of spherical space around them including the sky above. This sphere can extend to infinity and is only constrained by the position and angle of the ground plane and objects in front of the horizon and between the Cubes and the hemisphere of the sky. One interrupting object will be the viewer.

The Mirror-Cubes are icons supporting a large idea but also a kind of metaphor for the visible world and our place in it. The reflected world in the sides of the Cube, a virtual world, may or may not have the person viewing the Cube within it. It is interesting to question whether a viewer is looking at the actual, physical eight foot Cube, constructed partly with mirrored glass, or is looking at the visible light of a virtual world. The viewer is able to simultaneously see the virtual world and the ‘real’ outside world at the same time. We might consider that the Cube may be producing that virtual world whether or not a viewer is there to see it. The Cubes may not need an observer and we might be well advised to show great humility in our roles as observers as well as actors.

The Cubes are a recording device and a reminder. They are, in a sense, ‘Memory-Cubes’. Looking into a mirror, the viewer sees in three dimensions and in comparable depth a version of the world inhabited outside the Cube. Perhaps a Cube contains, in the particular dimensions of its interior, information on everything in its sphere of influence from the moment of its placement on the site. It may be true in the abstract that the Cube absorbs everything that it reflects. It takes the surroundings into itself, almost like a time capsule. Every moment outside and over the lifetime of a Cube is taken inside and remains there in its volume.

For a contrasting, yet somehow similar phenomenon, one is reminded of a cosmic black hole, a place in space of infinite gravitational attraction that captures everything that passes within what is called its ‘event horizon’, but with absolutely no reflection back. It is argued that even within a black hole all information is not lost. Could it be the same for a perfectly reflective cube?

Seeing a Cube in the landscape brings our attention to that landscape in a new way. We see in one direction the world that we inhabit, touch, smell and hear. We see in the opposite direction, potentially at the same time, a similar world but in another dimension. The other dimension is the reflected world which is strange on at least one level, it is opposite handed. We understand intellectually what is reflected, but it is of a parallel universe, not quite the same as the one outside the Cube. However, at that moment the two worlds exist simultaneously for us and we have a new appreciation of the world outside of the Cube. Seeing a twin (even if dissimilar in spatial dimensions) gives a new and greater appreciation and insight about the other twin.

At the fine edge between two parallel universes, in our case between the virtual and the real local landscape, is where the viewer of a Cube gains insight. The Cubes may help us to become more aware of our own place in that local universe outside the Cube - one of the 255 places in Vermont. We perceive ourselves appearing virtually in the Cube and we become more aware of two things: 1) who we are and what we look like in that moment of time and 2) the place in which we are standing and the world we actually inhabit, the world we influence and the world that influences us. The Cube reminds us of our responsibility to that world and the power we have to change it for good or for bad.

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