Toronto’s annual Luminato Festival has brought another cool exhibit to town.
The immersive art installation “House of Mirrors,” will make its North American debut at the festival from June 7-23. Creators Christian Wagstaff and Keith Courtney designed the 12-foot-tall mirror maze in the hopes that they’d bring a bit of joy to a few hometown cities in Australia, but quickly realized that they’d tapped into something that a much larger audience was craving.
“We’ve only just realized that it’s three years to the day that we launched in Tasmania,” says Courtney. “We could have never imagined we’d be here in three years.”
Since the launch, the duo has taken all 55+ tonnes of mirror magic through Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Asia, and now North America. One of the many striking aspects to greet audiences as they arrive is the open-air concept the duo has constructed, leaving the skies open as you make your way through the dizzying labyrinth. But if you think being able to spot Toronto’s landmarks will give you any kind of edge, clever engineering and elegant geometrical schemes are ready to test, intimidate, and exhilarate.
“Having no roof was a real master stroke,” says Courtney. “Every city looks different. The light’s different in Toronto than it is in Singapore. And we’ve never been on a site where there’s been so many buildings in the reflection, so it’s unique to be seeing the CN Tower reflected behind you, in front of you, to your left.”
The distinct relationship with each space that this traveling feat of art and engineering has is at the heart of what House of Mirrors aims to achieve: a collapse of the boundary between spectator and spectacle. Audience members and the cities in which they dwell become as much a part of the experience as any piece of glass or timber.
“The theatre of this is the connection between the person and the experience,” says Wagstaff. “People will interact with it in different ways. Some people will try to ‘beat’ the maze and will come out quickly in triumph, others will get frustrated when they can’t. Then you’ll get the people who are wafting through for an hour, or those that find the exit by chance and are disappointed. All of these emotions are part of it; everyone brings their personalities to the show.”
Emotional connections with performance, art, and amusement are what set this maze in motion when the duo left the world of corporate commissions and collaborations behind, and it’s what drives their desire to continue bringing House of Mirrors to hundreds of thousands of audience members around the world.
“Nostalgia is a driving concept,” says Wagstaff. “This is an old-world model that we’ve brought into the now. We’ve got a beautiful amusement park in our hometown that holds childhood memories for us, and we wanted to bring aspects of the past that have always worked to what we are creating today.”
“It’s a bit like writing music or cooking a beautiful dish,” adds Courtney. “To create something that people—whether 5 or 85 years old—are having so much fun with? There’s a real joy in that.”