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Rukenfigur Microcosms of
Collective Memory

mitchell herron



Rückenfigur is an artwork that explores how we often see the world through someone else’s eyes. The interplay between the two mediums of paint and digital media records a range of people’s thoughts and experiences in response to connecting to nature. 

The viewer, unable to see the figure’s face, is invited to peer into what the figure is gazing. This self-portrait is an appropriation of the oil painting Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich, recontextualising the natural beauty of the Blue Mountains to engage the audience. 

The work juxtaposes the traditional art-making practice of oil on linen and a gallery experience, with a multisensory, virtual reality, interactive non-gallery experience. This allows each viewer to experience the landscape in their own way and recognises that the conventions and traditions of the physical gallery experience have evolved to cater for a global audience.

I have intentionally selected to work in traditional oil on linen, framed in a romantic style with an engraved metal plaque. In my painting, the landscape of the Blue Mountains is seen through the eyes of Casper David Fredrick as indicated by the style and colour of trees in the foreground, echoing a European influence on our thinking and ways of seeing the landscape. 

This Body of Work started by looking at the Blue Mountains landscape as a metaphor for rebirth and complete reinvention, thinking about the future, post-Covid lockdown.
For me, this painting has become a personal symbol of 2021’s isolation, and the virtual reality component is a reflection of people’s collective thoughts on nature’s power and the ability to see it from someone else’s perspective. The act of audience participation and interaction aims to increase the meaning of the work for each viewer.

Appropriating artists such as teamLab and Sean Landers, and the thoughts of individuals via the use of text, builds a collective, personal response. I believe everything and everyone is connected in the world. The building up of text layers eventually becomes a crescendo of collective thoughts and experiences. The artwork acts as a conduit for reflection on past and present, making us question what our romantic visions are today. 

Intentionally involving audience interaction, reiterating the notion of time and change via the camera’s movement, this virtual reality experience shows the viewer that they are indeed responsible for physically engaging with and determining their own experience of the world, and how they choose to participate in it.

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