Mountain Mirage

Doug Aitken’s mirrored home reaches its Swiss peak

« The viewer can come back to the piece as the seasons are changing, in fall, in a storm or in the summer when it’s a green pasture. As our lives change the artwork is shifting with us. »

Doug Aitken

Nestled on a plateau above the pristine alpine village of Schönried is a chalet, barely visible, yet it’s irrefutable presence glints on the horizon. It is Doug Aitken’s Mirage Gstaad, a house built of mirrors and installed early last year for Frequencies, the latest iteration of Elevation 1049 taking place in and around the area.

The not-for-profit art event, supported by the Luma Foundation is curated by Neville Wakefield and Olympia Scarry for this latest edition and aims to revive the dialogue between the creative community and the region. Past participating artists include John Armleder, Claudia Comte, Ugo Rondinone, Sylvie Fleury, Pipilotti Rist, Urs Fischer and Christian Marclay. During its return opening last year, live performances featured numerous international visual artists, amongst them Nina Beier, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and American electronic music pioneer Suzanne Ciani.  

Doug Aitken Mirage Gstaad Winter View. Photo © Alexia Green 2020

Mirage Gstaad is one of many notable architectural interventions by Los Angeles-based Aitken whose body of work ranges from photography, print and sculpture to narrative films, sound, video works and live performance in diverse locations across the globe. The ranch-style structure was first seen in 2017 in the Californian desert during the Desert X contemporary art project (Wakefield is the appointed Artistic Director of the site-specific, biennial show near Palm Springs).  It was subsequently set up in Detroit before being relocated to the Swiss mountains. 

I was really interested in the idea of the landscape and the environment becoming an artwork, how can it have a living situation? I think in a lot of ways, when we think of much art, we think of works which are made in a studio, they never change, they are made to never change. I think with Mirage the work itself completely embraces change” explains Aitken, interviewed during the project’s opening week.

Doug Aitken Mirage Gstaad Winter View. Photo © Alexia Green 2020

The installation is indeed a living canvas, using the frequency of light to reflect and interact with time and presence. It bears witness to the evolving environment over the course of the seasons, by turn assuming the pink hues of a sunrise, the ice-blue of the snow or the night’s dark veil. The open land beyond the village station is dominated by a looming mountain range.  From a distance, Aitken’s structure is swallowed by the majesty of it all. Get up close though and it’s the art that does the swallowing. 

I wanted to create a liquid experience where the inside and the outside become one, everything is kind of merging. I wanted to make an artwork which was continuously changing and transforming and I think one of the things about this outdoor location, you have a work which will be here for several years which will move through the spring, the fall, the winter, the summer and continuously evolve and I was very interested in that idea that the viewer becomes one with the work, the viewer merges with the work, but the landscape does also”.

Currently gleaming white against the mid-winter backdrop, frost clings to the building, tracing the lines of its mirror-clad exterior. Mirage Gstaad is not just a visual experience; it asserts an intimate connection with its environment where nature itself encroaches upon the architectural fabric. Likewise, it channels the acoustic dimension of the landscape (in the warmer months, the sound of cowbells reverberates throughout the house as the local bovine community takes up residence in the meadow). 

Doug Aitken Mirage Gstaad Interior View. Photo © Alexia Green 2020

The exterior panoramic reflections recall the extended scale of Monet’s glorious water landscapes. By comparison, the interior is a riot of fractured geometry where cubist lines and angles are interspersed with a mountain peak, the green of the pasture, a wooden chalet or flat sky blue (think Braque’s trees at l’Estaque or a ‘Big Outdoors’ version of Picasso’s Analytical broken compositions).  Deconstructed viewpoints simultaneously appear within the same space like one vast architectural kaleidoscope, their infinite possibilities evolving and playing with the eye of the visitor as they wander through the interconnected spaces. Aitken’s concept  really does take picture windows to another elevation!

The fact that the construction sits squarely in the middle of a pastoral habitat has not been without its detractors.  Nonetheless it is here to stay until January 2021. As art world players seek ever-remarkable settings in which to present works, away from museum and gallery walls, this location is pretty much top of the hill.

Doug Aitken Mirage Gstaad Winter View. Photo © Alexia Green 2020
Doug Aitken Mirage Gstaad Winter View. Photo © Alexia Green 2020
Doug Aitken Mirage Gstaad Winter View. Photo © Alexia Green 2020
Doug Aitken Mirage Gstaad Autumn View. Photo © Alexia Green 2020
Doug Aitken Mirage Gstaad Autumn View. Photo © Alexia Green 2020

Doug Aitken Mirage Gstaad until 5 January 2021
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Artist quotes credit: Judith Benhamou-Huet

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© 2020