A catoptric box (also known as a catoptric theater) is a box lined with mirrors on the inside, used to enlarge, distort, or multiply the image of any object placed inside it.
The tradition of viewing machines dates to ancient Rome. The most elaborate catoptric boxes depicted vast libraries, forests, cities, lavishly adorned palaces, boundless colonnades, endless tables laden with delicacies, and vaults full of treasures. Another form of entertainment involved placing an animal, such as a cat, inside the box and observing its interactions with the mirrored look-alikes.
During the Renaissance period, during the time of the birth of modern optics and an understanding of the principles of perspective, catoptric boxes gained popularity throughout Europe. Owning one’s own optical theater was a sign of affluence; they were exhibited in private collections and cabinets of curiosities. Less sophisticated catoptric boxes served as a form of entertainment and a basis for folk performances. Like other popular optical amusements, such as crooked mirrors, viewing machines evoked both laughter and disquiet. During the Baroque era, illusionary boxes were often perceived as mystical objects associated with secret knowledge or even magic (esotericism).
Drawing from tradition and utilizing modern materials and photographic panels, Nicolas Grospierre creates his own catoptric boxes. Through these, the artist pursues two of the most significant projects in his creative work: exploring dreams (or nightmares) in relation to illusions of modernist ideals and architecture, and delving into the issue of the relationship between humans (along with their cultural baggage) and nature.
The presented works come from various periods of Nicolas Grospierre’s career. While some objects were part of larger exhibitions and others were created independently, they share common technological and thematic elements. At the implementation level, these works are united by photography: each object is based on a photograph taken by the artist and transformed by him through photomontage, as well as by the use of an optical device in which the photograph is placed.
At the conceptual level, the works are united by illusion. Each of them represents something that exists in imagination or transformation, and yet is disturbingly familiar and close. Three-dimensional installations allow one to see beyond a specific object and by so doing to enter fully into an idea: an infinite library, a point in space that contains all other points or the essence of natural stones. The presented works are an attempt to illustrate abstract and ephemeral concepts, which in Grospierre’s implementation become truly experiential.