Back in 1996, in a lake in the Isle of Tyree in Scotland, sat a beautiful, one-of-a-kind house that reflected the vast scenery around it. It had no doors, no windows, no furniture, just mirrors on all sides. It was called the ‘Mirror House’, a temporary installation by artist and sculptor Ekkehard Altenburger. We interviewed Altenburger to find out more about this timeless installation. [Read our original post about the Mirror House here]
Why did you build the Mirror House and where did you get the inspiration for it?
Mirror House happened at a very specific point in my career. I left Germany for Scotland (to continue my sculpture studies at EdiburghCollege of Art) and found myself, for the first time, living abroad.
I grew up in central Europe, very close to Zurich, in what one could describe as a land locked situation. Architecture always was the driving force in my sculptural work; I always looked towards architecture as a source of inspiration, not only from an aesthetical, but probably more from a sociological point of view.
Before building Mirror House, I carved a copy of the house I was living in, in an Irish limestone, as to clarify my own personal position and circumstance. I was invited to participate in this sculpture project on the Isle of Tyree, I pre-constructed Mirror house at the College (here with great help from the sculpture department as well as the Glass department) on the basis of information I was given before arrival on the Island.
Tyree is one of the southern most exposed Islands of the Hebrides, flat and windswept, and it seemed the perfect response to that particular environment.
I wouldn’t say it was an lucky accident, I was a mature student of almost 30 years, with years of working experience working on a Gothic Cathedral as well as 4 years of sculpture studies at the Art Academy in Bremen, it was the first proper sculptural statement I sent out and it paved the way for many other works I produced in subsequent years.
You built the Mirror House back in 1996. If you were to re-build it now, would you incorporate more modern elements to it, change the design, or just leave it as it is?
Certain works just can’t get better, that is why I always shied away to recreate this work, it was perfect as it was, and it could not be bettered.
I am well aware that I could have made an entire career (and perhaps a more successful career) out of repeating this work, but that is not the reason why I am making art. I have produced architectural works and mirror works in the past, Mirror house was almost forgotten about, until someone stuck it on Pinterest.
The work only exists because it found its way into social media (without any involvement from myself) and it has developed a life on its own, it is a bit like a child that has left home.
You created the structure when you were just a student. How does it feel to have had your work praised and seen by so many people while you were still a student?
Again, this was in 1996, I recall that I sent my first email in 1997, the work was on a remote island for only three months. l gave a talk to students at Edinburgh college of Art and later on my return to the Art Academy in Bremen, but not many people have seen this work until it developed its own life on the web more recently.
I am one of those artists who do not care too much about other peoples’ opinions, and I certainly do not need the constant tap on my shoulder to motivate me. I guess, the work helped me along my career path in some form or another, but I have subsequently produced a number of works I am proud of, but that is a very personal thing and have nothing to do with other opinions about me.
Just curious, has anyone asked you to design a house for them that’s inspired by the Mirror House?
I would love to design a proper work of architecture, but so far, no, it has not happened. Making these kinds of works is difficult, as it depends always on the location, but more importantly, on finances.
I have plans for a mirrored work in a forest, but I would need some serious financiers, and currently, those are very hard to get. But I will produce it eventually, and it will be equally great.