Behind the House of Mirrors

House of Mirrors artists Christian Wagstaff and Keith Courtney reveal the inspiration behind their mirror maze at La Trobe Art Institute, before accompanying guests on an eerie late-night tour of the installation in Bendigo’s Rosalind Park.

Image: Christian Wagstaff with LAI guests in the House of Mirrors.

House of Mirrors artists Christian Wagstaff and Keith Courtney revealed the inspiration behind their mirror maze at La Trobe Art Institute on Tuesday, before accompanying guests on an eerie late-night tour of the installation in Bendigo’s Rosalind Park.

Courtney and Wagstaff shared the work’s evolution from idea to final design, including elements of their original pitch to the Dark Mofo / MONA team, where it was launched in 2016. The maze was inspired by childhood experience, a fascination with funfairs, historical mirror mazes, black and white films, occult imagery, and the beauty of mathematical equations.

The timber frame of the House of Mirrors references an ancient, now fallen tree on Wagstaff’s family farm that he remembers vividly from his youth.

“The tree creaks, and House of Mirrors creaks, with a resonance suggesting life to it,” Wagstaff said.

The installation also pays homage to the mirror mazes of history and film. Guests were treated to a viewing of the famous scene from 1947 film The Lady from Shanghai, which caught the imagination of the artists. A bewildering murder scene plays out in a mirror maze, as bullets repeatedly shatter each characters’ reflections before finding their mark.

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House of Mirrors is more than a static installation: it was designed with a visual and performative element at its heart. Artist Terry Taylor’s work, Angel in the House of Mirrors, is an amorphous woman imprisoned in a chamber at the centre of the maze. The image is haunting: a composite of Taylor’s mother Edna May Clover, born 1927, and Taylor as she imagines herself at her mother’s current age.

Performances by cellist Zoë Barry have also featured in the maze since its first showing at Dark Mofo in Hobart last year.

“She appears at random times, almost as an apparition herself,” Wagstaff said.

Finding the apparition at the heart of the House of Mirrors is no clue to getting out; nor is trying to navigate by the sky above. A roof was deliberately left off the maze so that it reflects the ambience of the place in which it is located at any given time. This chameleon-like quality is a reflection of the experience of being in the maze itself. Each twist and turn is disorienting, and the ever shifting corridors and reflections mean visitors can never be sure if they’re turning back in circles upon themselves as they seek the exit.

The artists are keeping a close eye on the photographs people post on social media as they interact with the maze. In a spooky twist, many of these pictures mirror the original images Wagstaff and Courtney chose early on to represent the ideas and states the maze would evoke: reflections and voids; quietly paranoid; confusing; thrilling; and beautiful.

With the success of House of Mirrors – and everyone emerging safe and sound thus far – the artists are considering how to evolve the installation further, perhaps by dimming the lights even more at night, or introducing new performance pieces, such as a séance.

House of Mirrors may yet become darker, bolder and more challenging.

This artist talk is one of a four-part series, Exhibiting Culture, engaging the public with the House of Mirrors in the context of art history, contemporary arts practice and design, social history, mathematics and science. Each lecture is followed by drinks, and exclusive access to the House of Mirrors.

Find out about upcoming talks here.

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