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Mirrorman: A highly reflective artist glitters on Spiral Jetty

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ROZEL POINT, Box Elder County — Utah's most colossal work of art, the world-famous Spiral Jetty, has been attracting visiting artists from all over the world since 1970.

But when it comes to flash and glitter — and fractured reflections of the world around him — none can hold a candle to Mirrorman.

In his real-world identity, he's Austrian sculptor Gustav Troger. In his eye-popping artistic identity — which makes him look like a visitor from another planet, or a refugee from a science-fiction comic-book — he's performed as "Mirrorman" for nearly a decade.

"Mirrorman is a given name from the audience," Troger said on his third costumed visit to Spiral Jetty. "I call it 'The Sculpture as the Artist.'"

If it's bad luck to break a mirror, Troger is asking for trouble; his costume is a broken mirror. It's a symphony of shimmering light and nerve-wracking noise as he walks on Spiral Jetty with hundreds of reflective surfaces jangling all over his body. Facets of glass on his costume are constantly fragmenting the reality around him into something he mysteriously refers to as "the archaeology of the present."

"It's questioning reality, actually," Troger said, deepening the mystery even further.

On his visit to Spiral Jetty, Mirrorman expressed admiration for the legendary earthwork of Robert Smithson which juts into the bed of the Great Salt Lake and spirals into nowhere.

"It's a point of departure actually," Troger said, "because Robert Smithson was very influenced by science fiction."

Troger has an obvious commitment to his own art; being Mirrorman is not easy work. The suit of broken mirrors weighs 110 pounds. He and longtime companion Ingrid Vien have hauled his Mirrorman identity all over the world in two suitcases.

"Yes, we have actually been at the Great Wall of China," Vien said, taking a break from her duties as Mirrorman's official photographer.

As locomotive whistles blew, Mirrorman made a surprise visit to another famous location, Utah's Golden Spike National Historic Site. On a day when visiting school children were re-enacting the 1869 completion of the transcontinental railroad, Mirrorman suddenly walked across the tracks between two historic locomotives. Baffled kids looked on while Mirrorman performed a scene that hovered somewhere between history and the future, between reality and unreality.

The kids watched as Mirrorman shattered the sun into a thousand points of light.

"It looks like (the sun) is right next to the Mirrorman and it looks like it's shining," said Naomi Anderson, a youngster who lives at Hill Air Force Base.

"I thought he was sort of creepy," said Madeline Anderson, "and weird."

"Well, I thought that he looked cool," said another student, Jacob Orton of West Point. And one of the moms agrees.

"I thought it was awesome," said Becky Wardle of Eagle Mountain.

Throughout Mirrorman's day in Box Elder County, unanswered questions seemed to hang in the air: Why does Troger wear the suit? What is Mirrorman supposed to mean?

Troger's answers are complex and mystifying, but no matter; he believes everyone should interpret Mirrorman for themselves.

"I mean, everybody gets out of it what he wants," Troger said.

Vien elaborated on Troger's point. "There is an instant reaction that people are kind of surprised and don't know what to think about what they see, " Vien said. "They might find their own way of finding an answer. I don't think it's necessary you need art critics to tell you what you think, but you should find your own answers to what he's questioning."

Over the last few years, Troger has inspired numerous copycat Mirrormen who have tried to cash in commercially.

"They're popping up like, globally, everywhere," Troger said with obvious irritation.

He turns up his nose at commercialization. His performances are intended for lovers of art — the kind of people who visit art galleries and who might drop in to see gigantic abstract earthworks in out-of-the-way places.

"That's the way how it is," Vien said on Troger's behalf. "He's the only Mirrorman. The original."


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John Hollenhorst


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