Next to the NGV sits a strange crate complex. The cubic structure looks distressed, yellow-green mould splatters the outside. There are no windows to peer inside, so from the very first moment I lay eyes on it my imagination is running rampant. I’m itching to step inside.
This structure is the 1000 Doors installation, created by Christian Wagstaff and Keith Courtney as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Wagstaff and Courtney are the pair responsible for last years majestic House of Mirrors installation. This year’s installation was promised to be ‘a seemingly endless series of doors, screens, portals and gateways (which) give way to the many in-between spaces humanity has invented to fill the void.’
When I arrive at 1000 Doors, I am not handed a ticket, as is the usual routine with art exhibitions. Instead, I am given a small, ornate golden key and I revel in the whimsy of the whole thing. It feels very much like the scene in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when Harry, Ron and Hermione are inundated with winged keys. So I’m disappointed when I have to place my key in a bucket to enter the art installation.
From the moment I opened the first door my brain is awestruck. I’m in a hallway. The lower half of which is painted a mint green, the upper half painted white. I feel as though the space is giving the illusion of being larger than it is and I suspect there is a mirror right in front of me creating this effect. I tentatively walk forward, convinced I’m about to bump into a mirror at any moment. However, it turns out there is no mirror – this is just a cleverly crafted long hallway, lit by fluorescent lights. The first of many mind tricks played on me throughout the installation.
As I make my way through various doors, I’m struck by the exceptional detail of every room. A sense of dilapidation runs through the entire exhibit. Tiny details such as mould around lights, peeling wallpaper, and creaking doors add to this decrepit, run-down feel of the space. It feels as though a family suddenly up and left their home. Black and white photos are scattered throughout the rooms and eerie music plays at differing volumes. It can be heard creeping into each space; the sound of old-timey radios, classical music, and faint talking, all creating the sense that you are not alone.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the installation is that every room is similar to the next. I had expected each room to have its own distinct feel, for each room to be an encapsulated universe. Instead, however, each room feels like an extension of each other. My favourite rooms are those that feel unique – the red room, the room with a staircase leading to nowhere, and the room wallpapered with golden keys.
Whilst each room is inherently alike to the others, this created an illusion I wasn’t expecting. I felt disorientated. I don’t know which door I had entered, and which door I had not. It feels like Stranger Things mixed with the Twilight Zone – a strange abandoned house playing tricks on you. And I like it.
I’m not the only one who was spooked by the whole thing. In the red room, I was standing behind a door silently writing notes when a girl enters the room. She shrieks when she sees me. We laugh about it – but I am struck by how effective Wagstaff and Courtney have been at creating a tense, eerie atmosphere. Everyone walking through the rooms is on edge. None of us knows what lies behind the next door, and that sense of suspense is maintained throughout the whole installation.
The downfall of the installation is that it is not designed for many people to be in it at once. We are all instructed before entering 1000 Doors to close each door behind us so that everyone can have the same experience. Problems arise when there are many people in the space, opening and closing doors simultaneously breaking the illusion of endless doors. The flow also becomes stunted as people pose for photos in the space. In one room, I found myself hiding behind a partition to avoid being in a couple’s photo. Whilst we were all encouraged to take photos in the space, there is not enough room for people to move through the rooms and for people to pose for photos too.
Reflecting on my experience in 1000 Doors, I am in awe of what Wagstaff and Courtney have achieved. They made a small space feel endless and created a spooky atmosphere in the heart of Melbourne CBD – quite a feat. This installation is a testament to the brilliance of the Melbourne International Arts Festival and was truly a highlight. I cannot wait to see what Wagstaff and Courtney dream up next – if 1000 Doors is anything to go by, it will be magnificent.
1000 Doors ran from 2-21st October 2018 as part of 2018’s Melbourne International Arts Festival.