We look at our world from the inside, as our eyes are unable to penetrate the microscopic depths of the countless cosmic variables without the help of technology. Our perception of the world is the consequence of our incapacity to embrace all its details. We are unable to see the world as a whole, so what we learn about it is based on how we relate to its separate fragments.

At first, navigators used the horizon line to calculate their position at sea. Over time, they have developed tools that use a hypothetical perspective of the horizon, that of an imaginary observer. Before the artificial horizon was invented to create the illusion of balance, the stable horizon was largely a projection. The early instruments grew in importance during the colonial expansion and the development of the global capitalist market, providing new means of relating to space and creating forms of knowledge that underlie the optical paradigms of modernity. The most significant of these paradigms is the linear perspective, which is based on abstraction, namely the viewpoint of a single eye on which all vanishing points converge – an unreal, motionless observer on supposedly stable ground. As art critic John Berger says, such an observer, unlike God, can only be in one place at a time.

This form of artificial visualization is imposed as a rule that is supposed to be natural, scientific and objective, changing the meanings of concepts like theme, time and space in the collective mentality. Although it empowers the observer, the latter is reflected in the vanishing point, therefore conceived by it, thus undermining the viewers’ individuality and subjecting them to allegedly objective laws of representation. The linear perspective is one of the instruments that helped spread the so-called humanist vision of the world that triggered the emergence of modern science, legitimised colonialism and generated the Western notion of progress.

For each of us, the world coincides with the circle of our own projections about it, which implies both the difficulty of locating the other’s viewpoint precisely and, quite often, the illusion that our vision of the world is impartial. So how can we lift the relational barriers we face not only during our daily interactions with the others, but also in the process of imagining a future free of the social, political, economic or cultural problems that define our present? The 30 artists participating in the Landscape in a Convex Mirror exhibition curated by Mihnea Mican for the 2021 Art Encounters Biennial have tried to give an answer to such kind of questions. The exhibition aims at responding to a collective need, that of new perspectives from which to consider the notions of presence, isolation, conflict, space or territory, visible or invisible, private or public, starting with the common drawbacks we are trying to overcome in these uncertain times. The artists’ concern for the importance and social and political utility of the current visual paradigms and their production of forms of countervisuality invite us to recognise contemporaneity. As Giorgio Agamben put it, to be contemporary means to be “on time for an appointment that one cannot but miss.”

A reference to Parmigianino’s famous 1524 painting Landscape in a Convex Mirror, which was done on a convex panel especially prepared to reproduce the curve of a mirror that reflected the painter’s distorted portrait, the project of the exhibition raises questions about the consequences of developing new perspectives, technologies and orientation techniques which, like the linear perspective or the VR technologies, involve an observer at the centre of the action, an observer whose body is missing from the scene. To understand the present, we rely on representations of the present, an action that generates an anachronism – we cannot recognise the true time of our age. How can we become aware of the political and social reality of the present if we understand the present through its representations, in other words, if we are immersed in the landscape?