es devlin's

mirror maze

Es Devlin explores the powerful experience of scent in Mirror Maze, an interactive video sculpture created in support of the new immersive installation she has created in Peckham, South London.

Es Devlin creates sets for the biggest pop stars on the planet.

You may not know her name, but you’ve seen her work. Miley sliding onto stage down her own tongue? That was Es. Adele at Brits as she belted out “When We Were Young” in front of an ethereal, glittering starscape of twinkling lights? Es again. Or perhaps you caught Beyonce high kicking through a pool of water onstage as she performed 'Formation' at the last BET awards, or the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics, or Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet at the Barbican, or basically every Kanye performance over the last 8 years? It is Es who conjures these magical worlds for your favourite superstars to play in.

I began to think about scent as a means of finding my way.

Es creates what she calls “kinetic sculptures meshed with light” for opera, dance, film, theatre, runway shows and concerts. And now, The Fifth Sense has commissioned Es to create her very first artistic installation. We asked the designer to talk about her installation and the film she is created for the piece. 

At the end of last year, I was in the middle of designing a giant revolving LED monolith to embody Beyoncé on her Formation tour, and ideas about expressive sculptural spaces began slowly to filter through between storyboarding her scenes in my studio. By early 2016 during tea breaks in final rehearsals with Adele in an arena in Belfast, the concept for this installation began to take shape. 

I had been spending much of my time navigating the space backstage and beneath the stage and within the stage machinery and throughout the grey concrete arena corridors. It’s a complex maze: intriguing, fascinating, sometimes endlessly repetitive and easy to lose yourself in. 

I began to think about scent as a means of finding my way and measuring myself – not in space but through time. I thought about the smells that take me back - burning street tar, Vicks inhaler, Christmas tree resin, freshly cleaned school corridors, printer ink, chlorine, sunscreen, baby milk, mosquito coils, Indian jasmine mixed with street cooking, diesel – and I began to see them as landmarks for who I was when I first and last smelled it.

Scent itself is so personal to individual history - what is transporting for some would be meaningless for others.

I wanted the installation to approximate this sense of navigation. I had an idea for a film about a mirror that gets crafted into a maze, a film with a hole you can climb through into a maze-like backstage architecture of self that you can get lost in. But I was stuck on how to evoke that feeling of a scent that transports you through time. Scent itself is so personal to individual history – what is transporting for some would be meaningless for others.

I opened the cupboard door in my hotel room in Belfast one evening, and fell straight through thirty-five years into my 9 year old self in an attic room in Cross Keys, South Wales: the smell of Cedar wood fused with linen and naphthalene mothballs plummeted me through time back to a former self. This is what I wanted to make people feel - falling.

Gravity in the one thing that's common to all human experience...We fall asleep, we fall into a dream.

Gravity is the one thing that’s common to all human experience, and falling, so universally understood that it’s become part of the lexicon of submission in countless languages: we fall in love, we fall apart, we fall asleep, we fall into a dream. We all spent much of our childhood falling over; do we really need to be reminded how that feels? Perhaps. 

Falling has become more and more complicated: relinquishing control becomes harder the more we become used to taking control, and the more rigid our architecture of self becomes, the harder it is to fall through it. So I set out to make a large-scale installation piece that invites people to experience an aspect of the backstage mirror maze worlds I frequent and will evoke the sensation of falling through memory and time.

Episode 1

All of my work over the past 15 years has been created from my studio in Peckham, London SE15. Like many who live and work in Peckham, I am somewhat evangelical about this area and especially the creative scene that is flourishing around Copeland Park and Bussey Building. Unit 8 is 11000 square feet and has the industrial grandeur of scale I was after for this piece.

During research for this project I met with Olivier Polge, the nose at CHANEL who creates each new fragrance, and based on our conversation he has created a scent that will exist only within Mirror Maze for the 5 day duration of the show.

Once the installation is over that scent will exist only in the memories of those that came to visit.