diamond geezer

 Thursday, April 10, 2014

While exploring Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park at the weekend, I used the excellent Art Trail booklet to track down various fresh aesthetic treats. I found the whirly tunnel on the way to the hockey centre, tracked down the poem on the substation and spun the wooden pixel wall on the Podium. And then I hit the East Village.

Most of the East Village has been sealed off for the last year, indeed a substantial proportion still is. But three new greenspaces have opened up this month amongst the apartment blocks of the Athletes Village, part of the plan to make this estate more warmly welcoming than most. The Waterglades I've already mentioned, an extension of the wetlands in the corner of the 2012 Olympic Park, and a most attractive squidgy habitat. Mirabelle Gardens is an oblong-shaped 'square' between apartment blocks, nothing you'd travel out of your way to visit but not bad to have on your doorstep. And then there's Victory Park, a large triangular expanse of undulating lawn and the centrepiece of the East Village development.

The name sounds more like something out of Nineteen Eighty Four rather than Twenty Twelve, so I was relieved not to see pictures of Big Brother beaming down from the adjacent flats. In the northern corner is a playground, already being well used. Over eight hundred folk have moved into the East Village already, and judging by the number of removal vans and estate agents hereabouts at the weekend there'll soon be many more. But for now they're probably outnumbered by the hardhat workforce, labouring behind barriers even on a Saturday to fit out the remainder of the apartments and bring them up to scratch. Their presence means it's still not possible to walk direct down "Anthems Way" or "Victory Parade" to the Waterglades and the park proper. But there is now access, up against the fence, to the outdoor artwork I'd come to find.

It's called Mirror Labyrinth, and is the creation of Danish artist Jeppe Hein. He's the man who created Appearing Rooms, the quartered fountain that delights children outside the Royal Festival Hall most summers. Mirror Labyrinth isn't one of his watery pieces, but a reflective sculpture made from highly polished steel plates. The plates are of a variety of heights, and Jeppe has positioned them in concentric circles to create a kind of Hall of Mirrors meets Stonehenge. It's not entirely unique - there's a smaller version in Chiswick, and a semicircular variant in Copenhagen. But Stratford's is the biggest completest one, and all you have to do is step inside.

It being very early days, in a dead-end corner, I was hoping to have the entire site to myself. Alas a courting couple had taken up position beside the labyrinth and were leaning somewhat amorously on the adjacent information panel. I chose to ignore them as best I could, approaching from the opposite side, while they looked on suspiciously. The polished plates reflected the surrounding landscape - mostly grass but with slivers of path, trees, flats and snogging couple thrown in. Pretty, but nothing special. I stepped through the outer ring to see what changed, and nothing much did. It wasn't even much of a labyrinth, with no single path to follow or choice of dead-end routes. So I continued through three successive rings to the centre and looked again. And that's where I had my cathartic experience.

Further out I'd seen one-off bits of me on certain plates, but at the centre the laws of physics dictated that all my reflections bounced straight back. All of a sudden there were an awful lot of me, at full height, reflected back on all sides from the entire inner ring. I'm only really used to seeing my reflection from the front, in a fairly dimly lit bathroom mirror, but here I got a glimpse of me from slightly to the side, and further round, and further round still. Oh, I thought, do I really look like that? The unforgiving daylight highlighted lines and bulges more normally hidden, while my hair I'd long convinced myself was still dark had a definite and unmistakeable sheen of grey. I felt a sharp internal jolt as my body revealed itself as almost 50, rather than barely 40, in a circle of apocalyptic reflection.

You'll most likely have a very different reaction. You might end up grinning as you take a multitudinous selfie, or preening at your handsomeness multiplied, or wandering off wondering what all the fuss was about. But Mirror Labyrinth upgraded my chronological self-image by several years in only a few seconds, and I may never be able to step back outside the circle. Thanks Jeppe, thanks a million.

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