An immersive labyrinth of mirrors opens in Melbourne

If everything is not what it seems, then what can we truly know for certain?

That’s something Christian Wagstaff and Keith Courtney – the minds behind immersive installation House of Mirrors – will have you contemplating when over 40 tonnes of steel, 15 tonnes of mirrored glass and a healthy dash of reality-bending magic come together for this year’s Melbourne Festival. And while the installation has found acclaim across multiple areas of Australia, its voyage to Victoria can be considered somewhat of a homecoming.
“We’re both from Melbourne,” says Courtney. “We were commissioned by MONA originally, and went to Brisbane and the Sydney Festival. Then we went to the Adelaide Festival and the Bendigo Art Gallery, so to finally end up in Melbourne is great. Then we’re taking it overseas.
“To be on the Arts Centre forecourt too; to be in such a prominent location is a home run.”
While the original design will stay the same, Wagstaff and Courtney have upped the ante in a few distinct ways for their hometown.
“We’ve actually put in a few more mirrors,” says Courtney. “So it’s actually going to be a little bit harder to navigate your way through.”
Essentially, House of Mirrors takes the concept of the warped mirrors you’d associate with carnivals the world over and transforms it into a fully immersive wonderland of reflections. No doorway, corridor or wall can be trusted as a labyrinth of mirrors surrounds the viewer to warm and play with reality.
It’s a house-sized kaleidoscope in which your own reflection becomes increasingly fragmented as you venture further deeper inside it. It’s interactive art in the truest sense of the word; dependent on visitors and their movements to come alive.
“Visitors are half of the artwork,” says Courtney. “The way people respond to it and what they bring to it is what makes House of Mirrors. I remember the first night in Hobart, we were elated because about 700 people walked through. Then word of mouth exploded, because the next night about 2,000 came through.
“I think when people first walk though, they’re very intimidated because they can’t quite figure it out –the optics are quite potent. But then they start to play with it.”
It’s no secret humans can be considered narcissistic people. We live in the golden age of the selfie, after all. We carefully display our lives to the world through the most immersive mirror of all: social media. But what’s exciting about House of Mirrors is the way it breaks down the carefully honed visual representations of us; and it does it in such a playful way. It begs the question: if what I see before me can be so easily fragmented, then who am I really?
“We live in such a ‘look at me’ kind of world, and a very technology-driven world,” says Courtney. “This is geometry, steel, glass and timber — that’s it. There’s no technology. I think people really resonate with that.
“Our egos come to the House of Mirrors as well. People have to question their identity a little. It’s an, ‘Is that really me I’m seeing in the mirror?’ type of scenario. They’re seeing themselves in a new light.”

House of Mirrors comes to the Arts Centre Forecourt from Thursday October 5 until Sunday October 22 as part of Melbourne Festival. Tickets are available from the venue.