The Wilderness of Mirrors

August 20 - November 12, 2022
Reid Gallery

The Wilderness of Mirrors

Keith Langergraber


Monument 83 is the name given to a peak located along the international border of Canada and the United States. Situated in a subalpine clearing of E.C. Manning Park in southwestern British Columbia, Monument 83 is notable for its location as a fire lookout site. The US Forest Service built a cupola-style log cabin lookout in 1930, but an international border survey during the 1960s determined that the structure was actually located on the Canadian side of the border, so it became the southernmost fire outlook in Canada. Today there are two fire towers, the old lookout on the Canadian side and the more recent fire tower on the American side.  Taking the Monument 83 fire tower as a starting point, The Wilderness of Mirrors explores architecture in relationship to personal utopias. The work extends notions of geographies that are tied to places of isolation, conjuring up periods of creativity as well as loneliness, alienation, and moral disintegration. Through sculptural installation, large scale drawings, and a short film, Keith Langergraber weaves these concepts against a larger backdrop of shifting ecology driven by climate change and borders both real and imagined.

In the Reid Gallery, a series of structures surrounded by line drawings occupy the space. The structures consist of kit bashed and 3D printed models with other assembled materials joined together – sometimes stacked, sometimes overlapping. Collectively, a complex geological landscape forms as it furls out and around a wooden shaped platform, moving towards a quarter-scale recreation of the cupola cabin lookout. The whole installation is dotted with sculpted tree forms, quartz crystals, and old log cabins. The work somewhat resembles a natural history model – asymmetrical and baroque in its level of obsessive detail. In the drawings, notions of fire are represented by gestural shapes and small hits of red that personify its living movement. Within the flowing, somber landscapes, the destructive and rejuvenating properties of fire serve as a reminder that this medium recognizes few physical borders. Towers are abstracted with ladders and stairs are amalgamated into architectural impossibilities, mirroring the more subdued shapes of the mountain ranges worked into the pages with ink washes.

In the West Gallery, a film picks up the narrative. The main character, Chris, is an eccentric firewatcher whose isolation begins to catch up with him as the empirical world of common sense begins to dissolve. As Chris obsesses over small glacial lake shifts, he becomes convinced that they are moving from day to day. After his chance meeting with an American hiker, he struggles to come back to the hard truths of life, and his obsession with the elusive mountain lake pushes him further from the confines of reality. The story is partly told through Chris’s conversations over a ham radio, which he uses to report back to dispatch. Over time, his communication becomes more erratic as his obsession with the mountain lake grows.At the climax, Chris finally finds the lake high in the alpine meadows. Here the protagonist is catapulted into an indecipherable reality, oscillating between hope, fear, and despair. The Wilderness of Mirrors is played out through a labyrinthine structure of memories, dreams, and echoes representing the mental anxieties that will only be magnified as the devastation wrought from climate change becomes more manifest.

Adapted from Langergraber, K. (2022). A Wilderness of Smoke and Mirrors: Exploring Interstitial Spaces in the Anthropocene. Ecocene: Cappadocia Journal of Environmental Humanities, 3(1), 107–114.