Melanie Crean, Shaun Leonardo, Sable Elyse Smith: Mirror/Echo/Tilt
June 18 – October 6 2019
Mirror/Echo/Tilt (2019) was a performance and pedagogical project created by artists Melanie Crean, Shaun Leonardo, and Sable Elyse Smith which examined language and gestures used to describe experiences of arrest and incarceration. In 2019, the New Museum premiered a multichannel video installation, culminating the four-year collaboration between the artists, that depicted the performances they developed with participants in intensive workshops and filmed largely in decommissioned prisons, empty courthouses, and other psychically charged architectural spaces in New York City. The multichannel video installation on the Fifth Floor at the New Museum included flat screen monitors located in the small elevator and Fifth Floor bathrooms, allowing the imagery to spill into interstitial zones of the Museum.
Drawing on principles from speculative fiction, somatic movement, cognitive psychology, and radical theater, the artists and participants used visual storytelling to reframe their experiences and open up new possibilities for resisting systems of control. Fragmented, doubled, and slowed movements de-familiarized mainstream narratives about carcerality. The project’s title, Mirror/Echo/Tilt, was inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’s famous novel Don Quixote (1605–15), which was written from prison. Much like Cervantes’s novel, Mirror/Echo/Tilt complicated the boundary between fiction and reality, and explored how radically shifting the way we tell stories can challenge dominant power structures.
Mirror/Echo/Tilt combined magical realism with an attunement to embodied forms of communication. By shifting narratives of the carceral state, Crean, Leonardo, and Smith opened up a space to counter assertions that criminalization is necessary to a functioning society. The project also took the form of a living curriculum practiced with court-involved youth, formerly incarcerated adults, and individuals otherwise vulnerable to the justice system. The curriculum focused on undoing the language around culturally embedded conceptions of criminality with the hope that it would serve as an open resource that lives beyond the artists and the exhibition.
“Mirror/Echo/Tilt” was the New Museum’s fourth annual Summer Art and Social Justice residency and exhibition. It featured private workshops for community partners, public forums and readings, and a resource room with visions for justice contributed by visitors and facilitated by the New Museum Teen Apprentice Program, a summer youth employment program. This exhibition was curated by Emily Mello, Associate Director of Education, and Sara O’Keeffe, Associate Curator. The exhibition was accompanied by a broadsheet with essays by Mello, O'Keefe, and Tobi Haslett, translated in English and Spanish. An experimental catalogue and curriculum was also produced in conjunction with the exhibition, which included images from several stages of the Mirror/Echo/Tilt project and essays discussing the prison industrial complex as it relates to movement, gesture, voice, and space.