Two way mirror

Carme Mariscal

(Palo Alto, CA, México, 1968 - )



His vision of the world is constructed on, and especially, for travel.

Joaquim Noguero[1]


The White Queen considered it an advantage that her memory worked in two ways, because to work in only one would be to have “a poor sort of memory”. It is not a question of keeping within the boundaries of these ways but to cross them, be it a mirror or a wall that blocks the way - the inversions of a life constructed on and for travel, which is why in her project Two-Way Mirror Carmen Mariscal lets herself be guided throughout by intuition, without following a rational process. The references and encounters that are generated always come from subsequent analysis of the works.


Joaquim Noguero’s reading of Carroll can be approached from any angle; from the book Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There to Carmen’s exhibition, because, starting from the remembrance of what she had read in her childhood, she sets out on an intuitive journey, without omitting any re-readings, either visual, written or musical. All the Alices; from Pat Andrea’s and Abelardo Morell’s to Walt Disney’s in 1951 and William Sterling’s in 1972, make up a long list ending in the latest version by Tim Burton. Two-way mirror is not illustration for a book but a number of different elements that branch out from the poems of Borges to the book On Reflection by Jonathan Miller, via certain passages of Rapunzel.


What connects Carroll’s book with Mariscal’s work? The pure, innocent and dreamlike effect flowing through the various elements; the textures that we simultaneously sink into and emerge from; and some of the characters, like the protagonist of the book and the reader who becomes the centre of an evolution, always emitting strength in fragility and subverting in her flight the codes of conventional stability. A companion, Liliana Marín, commented to me that “everything overlaps or is unfolded delicately, as if the plot was a thin membrane that could be torn at any moment.”


The mirror distorts depending on how we interpret the image of what we see and how we face up to the fear of recognising our self in the other. Carroll and Mariscal both use the mirror as a catalyst for change and transformation, exploring beyond the continual translation of their own roots, the gender relationship of a woman and human being. Each of us acts as a mirror: Through the Looking Glass is an excuse to immerse oneself in an idea of art as apprenticeship, as a process of knowledge that fuses the other with oneself, the other who dwells within us and can be anyone. Alice and Carmen are united by unanswered questions, by appearances that are disappearances, by behaviour that marks the line between apparent correctness and its absurdity when reversed, by coincidences and encounters that exhibit the coexistence of synchronous situations and times. Looking at her now in the mirror of the book, having taken the path of her own emotions, she can be recognized as another voice in a chain of voices that explore the subversion of direction, another person in a palimpsest of overlapping voices, reversing and multiplying.


How does unconscious memory work?

—Memory, in this case, is triggered by the discovery of a book. It starts by being a memory; a voice from childhood, images from a book which then take a different turn. The video through the mirror I made for this exhibition is the work which engendered the other works in the first part. I made it with the memory in my mind of Lewis Carroll’s book, “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There,” which I read as a girl and, without re-reading it, I made the video because I wanted to work with this memory, the memory of the feeling the book left me with and also the idea of the mirror, the split, which I have working with for years.


Someone stops to know where they are... Faced by the absence of then, our current presence is a transposition of the knowledge of childhood, a shift in two directions; a faraway look at roots that are transposed into others... What mystery do we find in an object left in the distance?

—Much of my work uses found objects, not in the manner of Duchamp but as symbols of memories, of things that happened and left their auras in physical objects. Often they are used objects such as my great-grandmother’s wedding dress, her refrigerator, a book of my mother’s that her mother gave her (the one in this exhibition), a copy of “Through the Looking Glass” from my English mother-in-law, rose petals that a friend gave me, veils I found in front of my studio in Barcelona, some old bottles I found in Barcelona...


An open book refers us to absence, the mystery of having been there and being the protagonist projected into two different times... Readings, the fragmented texts are just the base to where you move those other fragments from to your own imprint; the common thread born of a suggestion, an allusion to an absence.

In the book other images are fused together that refer to memory, the mirror, transposition and the inversion or reversal of things, all recurring elements that link various stages of your career. Along a life, the starting point does not remain the same but changes over time, always on the road, in construction, sometimes bringing together the twist and turns of fate... From where?

—The reading of the video can be done without knowing about my unconscious discoveries - but there were so many coincidences when I made it... My grandmother, who on my first trip to England took me to Oxford to visit Carroll’s house, had also given me a book of “Alice in Wonderland” which belonged to my mother as a child. My grandmother died one month after my daughter - who we named after her - was born. One of my aunts, while arranging my grandmother’s affairs in Mexico, found a copy of Carroll’s second book and sent it to me in Paris. In my studio I had my own newer copy, which I had read in my youth, and one of the photographs of girls taken by Carroll himself.


Since that first meeting in the garden... How do you explain this trail of coincidences separated by long periods of time?

—In the video, a girl reads a 1950’s edition of a book... the title is “Through the Looking Glass” and she is in a garden. It is autumn and she is seven and a half, the same age as Carroll’s Alice (Alice Liddell) in his second book; it was her birthday in spring and the first book, “Alice in Wonderland”, is set at this time of year, just when the girl had turned seven, while in the second book it’s autumn and she is six months older. Although there are similarities between my life and this work, the exhibition should be read as a child growing up and becoming an adult. The image of the girl takes us back to my parents’ garden and the one of the adult woman to the sitting room of my grandmother’s house where my aunt found the book she then sent to me. Apart from the coincidences between different times, there are meaningful links between the objects, such as the nightgown Alice wore when she was older, purchased in Els Encants flea-market in Barcelona when I was a student. In this case there is a connection with my grandmother, of Catalan origin, who lived as a child in the city.


Although there are similarities between your life and this work, the exhibition should be read as a child growing up and becoming an adult. The magic component is the visual look that captures Carroll’s story, but the starting point has to be looked for in the mirror where real and dream images are mixed up, desire with a dream-like component, to offer a critical weft of ideas, the paradox that confounds us daily, in which we are all implicated. Alice, like Carmen, allows us to identify with situations created in our world, and dreams become no more than excuses for unmasking appearances...

—... the adult Alice is not pure Alice. It is a person who remembers reading the book but at the same time has tresses like Rapunzel. These are the tresses used to pull her through the mirror, since being in contact with her own image, her image draws her to the other side of the mirror and from then on the two cannot be separated, they are fused into just one. This could be part of what is known in psychology as dissociation.


The mirror as absorption that reverses our gaze onto things and allows an unfolding of the folds of meaning, the obsession with the reversed image of the mirror...

—I have always been interested in the notion of the split, the double in each person and also seeing the world the other way around. They say that Carroll may have written the book as he did because he was left-handed. As a girl I had difficulty writing the right way around because I was dyslexic, I could see the world simultaneously the right way and the wrong way around. This seeing things both ways made me question, from an early age, what was the right way.


The concept of place, the same one to which you return over time, but the narration becomes a transposition and memory fuses the two women, the girl and the adult, although Alice behaves like an adult and offers us, at the outset, the same sense of “inversion” that your present in your work. Adults are those who, despite an apparent correctness of form and language, cause uncertainty; they are those who want to direct us along a path littered with clichés and spent energies, leaving no opportunity for questions.

—Which is why I also find it interesting that Carroll’s story is also a story about a game of chess where the pieces are moved by someone other than us, by something strange and superior that can manipulate the course of our lives.


Unmasking paradoxes and deconstructing situations as in the strategic lines of a chess game... The image of Through the Looking-Glass is a structure that allows multiple interpretations of things in the world, especially if we start from the idea of that forest where nothing has a name and begin to ask ourselves questions... From where? To where? Why do things have names? Who are we?

—That is a passage I love. Since the first book, Alice is always asked who she is, where she is going... and many characters forget her name. I read that this sometimes happened to Carroll, because in one world he was Lewis Carroll and in the other his real name was Charles L. Dodgson, but it happens to all of us - or most human beings! The video I did in 2006 entitled Espejo (Mirror) refers to these problems which go deeper because, even when we look at ourselves in the mirror or we touch our faces, we often do not know who we are... Who am I, the person or the reflection? I touch on this last topic in the video in the exhibition when the woman is pulled by her own reflection through the mirror; the reflection and the real are tied together. Which one is real? Which one is it? Eventually they fuse into the one who it is.


The discovery is the meeting of images where one fuses with its otherness. You review your relational experience with the world, the ability for transgression that involves thinking, feeling, to set out that which is behind existence... Tresses as a symbolic element, present in Yo, nosotras, yo, (2006), unfold and link different times together, before and now, as a confluence of sensations and emotions... A before and after where images from your past are mixed up with those from a present lived through your daughter.

The extension of video to the real object, it is like bringing a memory into the present... the transposing of the text that runs through the body like a tattoo, the tresses that unfold in bodily image...

—When I finished this work I re-read a book by Bruno Bettelheim The Uses of Enchantment in which he talks about the use and importance of so-called fairy tales. He does not say much about Rapunzel but this caught my attention; “The fantastic element is that which provides the final consolation: the power of the body is imaginatively exaggerated by the long tresses, on which one can climb up a tower…. But what more reliable source of recovery do we have than our own body?” It is Rapunzel’s body, with her long braids, which saves her and brings her freedom despite also being the way in which the witch climbed the tower.


While in Transposiciones you used walls in the streets of Barcelona, of houses in the country near Igualada and Santa Margarita de Montbui to integrate fragments of the body of your extensive family from Catalonia; in Paris they were fragments of your own body, thus linking the idea of the passing of time to your own life, the poetic scar of a subtle movement between appearance and disappearance.

—One of the rooms of this exhibition contains many photographs like these. The protagonists are the same as the first part about the mirror; my three children and myself. In these images we are “transpositioned” onto the walls of the houses and streets that surround us and shelter us in France, where we now live. It is the physical part, as opposed to the reflection, since being - for me - is comprised of the two. In the part where children are projected onto the copies of Through the Looking Glass, they appear on two books; the Spanish language version, which belonged to my mother and which my grandmother had in her possession, and the one owned by my mother-inlaw, my husband’s stepmother - now the English grandmother of my children. María has a twin brother, Julián, and sometimes I put them together in the photos thinking of Tweedledum and Tweedlede; always thinking about the idea of the double and the reflection in the mirror. I had not realised, until I reread another version of Rapunzel by the Brothers Grimm, that as a result of one of the prince’s visits to the tower she gets pregnant and gives birth to twins, a boy and a girl. The younger girl in my photos, my daughter Charlotte, appears reflected in a mirror and then projected onto the chapter The Garden of Live Flowers. Sometimes I think of her as Lilly, the white pawn who, according to the queen, is too young to play...


...But the reference to each child representing a character came later. Alice, Carroll, Rapunzel , Carmen... a life that can be split and seen double but always remains a single unit, as if it were the single profile on a two-sided coin[2]. The limits we set ourselves and their inversion open up, prefigure, other possibilities from where mystery and questioning emerge.

—Yes, and also the idea of the world back to front, how to really know what is the right way around and what is not. A passage that I really like is when Alice holds hands with the Red Queen and they run like crazy. The Queen asks her to go faster and then Alice realises that they are making no progress, as so often happens in our lives, but they are not moving because the world on the other side of the mirror is reversed.


The textures that are created not only with the splitting of the image but also by the confrontation between the writing or illustration of the story when it fuses with the body... The mirror speaks from without and from within, in the same way that we transform ourselves by reading, we cross over on feeling ourselves as just another part of the story being told; in the same way that reading a book can cause a linking of hands, feelings, interpretations...

—... yes, in the same way that the walls of cities recount through their scars the history of time passing on them. This is why I included in the exhibition Two-Way Mirror the series Muros (Walls)...

... walls and mirrors, textures that write because —as Marguerite Duras might have said— everything is written in the silence of intuition, everything becomes a tattoo erased over and over again by the invisible ink of time.



Glòria Bosch


Note: Dialogue with Carmen Mariscal constructed on the road between Torroella de Montgrí, Paris and Mexico.


[1] Joaquim Noguero, “Els miralls de Carroll” in Els miralls de Carroll. Centenari de la mort de Lewis Carroll. 1832-1898, Manresa, Fundació Caixa Manresa, 1998.

[2] The allusion is a tribute to Paco Monge, who, in 1976, in the pages of the magazine Quimera and in the article “Lewis Carroll.

Extravagante agrimensor del sentido”, lucidly expounded on the two sides of the coin in Carroll.