The Kaleidoscope and the Infinity Room: Mirror Illusions
There are so many great parts about the Museum of Illusions NYC. You can ask any one of our staff members what their favorite illusion is, and they will say something completely different. We love watching our guests wander through the galleries, take a seat in the Beuchet Chair, and experience firsthand everything we have to offer. But if you took a poll of all of our guests and asked them what their favorite part of the museum was, we think the overwhelming majority would say The Kaleidoscope and the Infinity Room. Our guests love our mirror illusions.
There is more to say about the history of mirrors and illusions than can fit in just one blog post. Maybe we’ll circle back around to go more in-depth in the future. But for now, we are going to try our best to sum up everything that you need to know about the history of mirrors and optical illusions. Ready to “reflect” on some of your favorite illusions?
A Brief History of Mirrors
We don’t know what it was like when man first discovered their own reflection. Some picture it happening naturally- a person coming across themselves in a pool of water. Some picture it happening purposefully- one early human determined to show their friend what they looked like.
We also don’t know why the first mirrors were invented. Just that some of the earliest ones date back to Turkey 8,000 years ago. Those early mirrors were crafted out of obsidian and placed inside tombs. We don’t know whether they were meant for the dead to be able to admire themselves, or for the living to communicate with them.
Since then, different cultures have all simultaneously and separately created similar traditions around the reflective surfaces that hang above our bathroom sinks today. These are traditions of predicting the future, communicating with the dead, and, of course, the more mainstream tradition of vanity.
Somewhere in between the polished obsidian mirrors of 8,000 years ago, and the floor-length mirrors that we take selfies in today, a new tradition was created. One of trickery, entertainment, and illusion.
For a moment let’s set aside vanity and the human obsession with perceiving ourselves. There is a whole world of mirrors that has nothing to do with the way we look. Between circuses, funhouses, and “magicians,” illusions and mirrors are basically best friends.
The history of mirror illusions is incredibly dense. Two-way mirrors, Pepper’s Ghost, Kokichi Sugihara’s illusions, and our very own Head on the Plate are just a few examples of how mirrors and illusions work perfectly together.
You can look through modern history in any direction and see a magician, sideshow act, or funhouse that used mirrors to entertain the masses. You’d think that people would have gotten smart to the “smoke and mirrors,” but illusionists still use them in their tricks to this day.
Whether we just like suspending our disbelief and enjoying the magic or mirrors actually continue to trick us… they are a key part of illusions. Plus, they’re a lot of fun.
The Infinity Room
Stepping into an infinity room is a feeling that is nearly indescribable. Part claustrophobia and part confusion, those feelings quickly subside and are replaced by amazement. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to stare into “forever?” We think that the infinity room is as close as you will ever get. Every way you look you see yourself, and the room, go on, and on, and on…
If you haven’t visited the Museum of Illusions NYC yet, then you might be familiar with the infinity mirror concept in the works of contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama. Kusama is famous for her use of polka dots, mirrors, and lights. She creates immersive installations that feel like you’re walking through space, the abyss, or a world of infinite spots (depending on how you see it).
The infinity room at the MOI NYC is certainly a favorite among our visitors, and for good reason. No matter how many times you’ve stepped into the completely mirrored room, there is always something new to see when you’re staring into infinity.
When you think of kaleidoscopes, you likely think of the party favors of your youth. A swirl of shapes and colors, a traditional kaleidoscope is enough to keep any kid entertained for a while. But, since you’re grown up now, we thought the kaleidoscope should grow up a little with you. Our kaleidoscope is human-sized, and it makes for one of the best photo opps that you will ever have.
When you think about it, it’s amazing how deeply an object as simple as the mirror has permeated our culture. Human beings would be completely different without the reflective surfaces that we’ve come to rely on. Maybe we would think less about the way that we look, or maybe we would just do our makeup in the reflection of a puddle. There’s no real way of knowing how we would have changed and evolved differently, but what we do know is that the world of illusions would be entirely different. To see just a fraction of the way that mirrors have influenced the world of optical illusions, come visit the Museum of Illusions NYC in person.