13 reflections on the House of Mirrors

For Viviana Hinojosa

1. There is no point trying to look beyond the surface. The surface is all.

2. The House of Mirrors appears to contain a dizzying multitude of rooms, but in reality there is only one: your bedroom.

3. Visitors to the House of Mirrors are asked to leave their dogs, shoes and heads at the door.

4. The House of Mirrors has several residents, including Eve, the Bird King and a gang of feral children.

5. I left a poem in the House of Mirrors. When I went back for it, the words had multiplied. Stanza breaks were pregnant pauses.

6. Meals and sleep are not permitted in the House of Mirrors; the dreams there depend on your hunger and insomnia.

7. In the House of Mirrors, the concepts of reality and unreality are irrelevant.

8. Many enter the House of Mirrors, expecting to find themselves there. Instead, they are presented with voodoo dolls of themselves.

9. The House of Mirrors is more prison than playground.

10. All roads lead to the House of Mirrors.

11. The House of Mirrors smells of lavender, cinnamon and burning plastic.

12. The House of Mirrors is more theatre than domicile.

13. Windows are mirrors, in which you see a reflection of yourself.

—–

House of Mirrors is an ongoing collaboration with Viviana Hinojosa. You can see some of it here.

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Lost in the House of Mirrors



Bent double like an old beggar under my stack of mismatched matchstick houses, knock-kneed, coughing like mad from too many fags, I cursed through the House of Mirrors where reflections pranced and jigged, turning my back on haunted faces, knackered, desperate for a rest that didn’t seem forthcoming, marching asleep, my boots killing me and filling with blood, drunk with fatigue, deaf to the derisive hoots of the owls nesting in the upper circle (“What a gas!”), so tired even the mannequins’ caresses didn’t interest me, their ecstasy of fumbling making me recoil so violently my mask slipped and I found myself shouting, stumbling, fumbling to put it back on but unable, incapable of maintaining my role, burning with shame in the limelight, dimly aware of the others on stage, floundering as I tried to remember what came next or whose line it was, thinking of the sea, trying to see the sea before me, the words in waves, the rhythms in blues and greens, the sea of dreams or dream of seas, and the Bird King drowning in it, the white eyes writhing in his face, his hanged man’s face, like a broken Mr Punch, a broken clock, a broken bird cage, a broken mirror, a broken self portrait, a broken forest, a broken smartphone, a broken ribcage, a broken record, a broken egg, coughing up blood, coughing like mad from too many fags, an old beggar asleep or dead outside the House of Smashed Mirrors. 



My left half mirrors my right half imperfectly. Creases become cracks, an eye becomes a stab wound. My mouth twists up on one side, down on the other. 

I play with the crows, most mornings. At lunchtime I turn my back on them and climb trees with my imaginary friends. 

Do you think me childish?

We all fear falling. When I’m at the top of a tree I don’t dare look down. 

My right hand is white. My left hand is black. I’ve a chequered past. I think you’d guessed that. 



I found it in a cupboard in A Block. Couldn’t tell what it was. It didn’t come quietly, so I had to ask the Mirrors to extract it. 

It shrieked and thrashed all the way back to the Quiet Room. I closed the door and left the men in white to work their magic. 

A few hours later, I went back to the Quiet Room to have a proper look at it; I had forms to fill in. The Mirrors had gone and it had calmed down considerably. It brought to mind a plucked turkey. I sat down next to the cage and started on the paperwork. Had to leave several boxes blank: sex, age, etc. I didn’t even try to gauge diet, political orientation or dream life because there was no talking to it; it kept its eyes closed and its hands over its ears. 

As I was leaving it whispered something that sounded like, “I’m the king.” I asked it to repeat itself but it made a rasping sound and defecated. 

I don’t know what it was, but it had spirit. I’ll give it that.

—–

House of Mirrors is an ongoing collaboration with Viviana Hinojosa. You can see more here.

He sat in the dark room

He sat in the dark room and his fountain pen scratched black signs that looked like claw marks on the pages of a notebook found in the basement of his grandfather’s house thirty years ago when he was a little boy and his grandfather was a bony creature with a beak-like nose sitting shrivelled in the dusty patina of the most ill-lit part of the living room never moving always there as if glued to his seat or terrified of leaving his throne and every word every phrase every sentence every paragraph every page was an attempt to describe to put into words to delimit and contain the dreams that occupied his mind all night every night and crept or flitted around the periphery of his consciousness by day sometimes revealing themselves to him removing their masks to the detriment of everything else his job his home his friends his ability to do and see and feel and think a constant unease or inability to settle into anything a bad feeling tight balls watchfulness dry mouth occasionally nausea and the fear that he would vomit or pass out or do something else stupid in front of other people so he had to write it wasn’t a matter of choice it was the only way to stay in control though it didn’t always feel like that and he wondered if in writing his dreams he was inadvertently giving them more life not fixing them to pages clipping their wings straitjacketing them but feeding them nurturing them letting the awful wasted bird-like figure of his grandfather live on in the dark room.

—-

This text is part of House of Mirrors, my ongoing collaboration with Viviana Hinojosa.

Eve in the House of Mirrors: 13 fragments

1. On the morning of her eighteenth birthday, Eve woke to find herself transformed into a gigantic chess piece made of zeros and ones.

2. Eve gazed so long at her smartphone that she found herself falling into it.

3. She fell for a time that may have been short or long or infinite. During her descent she became conscious of her nakedness.

4. Finally, when all the numbers had run out, she landed in a pool of herself. Her lungs filled with the words that made her story.

5. The words rearranged themselves and became other stories. Eve’s head popped off, revealing another, smaller, younger Eve inside the shell of her body.

6. The younger Eve was a child. She kept a secret: her twin sister was coiled up in her head, like a snake.

7. Eve (a child pretending to be a woman or a woman pretending to be a child) stood in the House of Mirrors. Even when standing still she could feel herself falling.

8. The mirrors gave back her image, augmented, altered. Her eyes were magnified. Her mouth was a red contraption that exterminated wolves.

9. Something like a plucked turkey followed her. It wore a broken crown. Whenever she turned to look, the shadows shielded it from her gaze.

10. All of the voices in the House of Mirrors belonged to Eve, though she didn’t recognise them. Most were in a language she had forgotten.

11. Many of the objects and creatures Eve encountered in the House of Mirrors had no names. They blurred and warped in her gaze.

12. Deep underground, hidden from Eve in a room with no door, a man and a woman were exchanging gifts. The space around them vibrated.

13. In Room 13 Eve found the architect’s plans. The House of Mirrors seemed to have been modelled on a bird cage or a construction site.

This piece is dedicated to my collaborator on the House of Mirrors project, Viviana Hinojosa.

New rooms in the House of Mirrors

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She showed me her ID. It didn’t look like her. I took it from her and told her to stand in the corner while I checked it.

I went to the computer and typed in the number on her ID. “Not found.”

I went back to her and told her she wasn’t who she said she was. She didn’t reply. Just looked at the floor. She might have been smiling. I told her again that she wasn’t who she said she was and that her ID was invalid.

One of the Mirrors came in, grinning. He pointed at her and asked what was up. I told him that she wasn’t who she said she was, then showed him her fake ID. He grinned even more and pointed at the photo on the ID.

It took me a few seconds to see it was me, wearing a wig and makeup. I looked like a woman.

The Mirror left the room, laughing.

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They played peek-a-boo in the ruins of the mannequin factory, scampering around the hulks of the machines, frightening the cats.

They played hide-and-seek at the bottom of the sea, oblivious to their own drowning.

They played “What’s the time, Mr Wolf?” in the heart of the iron forest.

They played “It” on the rings of Saturn.

They played chess in someone else’s headspace, until they were evicted.

They played solitaire in a circle of Hell hidden from Dante but revealed to all users of social media.

They played with themselves under the table while your mother served them soup.

They played the parts written for them by the Bird King.

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The birds in Eve’s ribcage panicked and shrieked.

Wolfish eyes watched from behind the curtains as we acted out the seasons of someone else’s life.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. No one had warned us we would be reduced to marionettes. No one had told us our badly written dialogue would be drowned out by Eve’s birds.

At the end of the first half, during the blackout, I lost my bearings and fell off the stage. It was thirteen years before I hit the floor. During that time I changed into something else: my skin flew off in flakes and my hair thickened into a crown of snakes.

By the time I landed the theatre had been turned into luxury flats. An elevator took me to the top floor, where sluttish mannequins danced motionlessly in bone cages.

—–

House of Mirrors is an ongoing collaboration with artist Viviana Hinojosa. You can see more of it here and here.

House of Mirrors

In May I published part of my work-in-progress collaboration with Viviana Hinojosa. Entitled House of Mirrors, the project is a dialogue between Viviana’s arrestingly strange, beautiful drawings and my writing. What follows is some more recent material we have created.

To see the first part of the project and find out more about it, click here.

James Knight, July 2014.

—–

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Everything is a game to her, even her incarceration. She waits behind the iron door, ready to leap out at anyone who opens it.

She whiles away the time by playing solitaire or chess. The latter is tricky; she has to think first as herself (white) and then as her mirror image (black), then back again, and so on and on until she gets confused or bored or angry with the pointless game.

Her favourite chess piece is the White Queen. She imagines her elegant hands, hesitating on the rusty bolts on the other side of the iron door. Why doesn’t she just unlock it? Well, she’s a queen. Queens don’t do anything much, except the Black Queen, who seeps from shadow to shadow, on a murderous diagonal.

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Before the curtains opened: a hand, a door.

More precisely: a piece of scenery, a moveable wooden frame, inside which was a closed door. The observer stood on one side of it, looking initially at his shoes, until he was aware of a foreign object, something that didn’t belong in the general backstage clutter, which made him look at it: a hand on the door.

More precisely: a small hand, maybe a child’s, on the lower left part of the doorframe, fingertips touching the door itself. The observer assumed that the owner of the hand was standing on the other side of the door. He noticed that the fingers weren’t moving. The whole hand was still.

More precisely: a memory of Alice in Wonderland, working backstage, waiting around doing little most nights, often bored, missing her, sometimes allowing himself little erotic daydreams, seeing gigantic tables and playing cards being taken on and brought off again, laughing when a bit of the “EAT ME” sign got rubbed off by accident and read “FAT ME”, sitting sometimes but more often that not standing in the darkness and heat, doing what he was told, lumbering quietly, and one night, one night of many, looking at a small hand on a piece of set and assuming at first it belonged to a child but then not being sure, not knowing if it was real or not.

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Events played out as expected. Queens were beheaded, palaces bulldozed. Most of us hid behind the riot police and laughed. My dad tried to climb a rope ladder to the moon, but a seagull pecked it in two and he fell to his death. The funeral was a scream: everyone wore fancy dress. I’ve always had a flair for theatricality, don’t you think? You should see me when I fling aside the shower curtain and strut into the searchlights. The crowd adores me. They shriek my name in raptures as they tear down my house of cards.

Don’t you dare call me a queen!

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Do you like my wig? It was made from the pubic hair of my enemies. You should have heard them pleading not to be shaved; they sounded like pigs being slaughtered. Very undignified. As you can see, all my makeup is scarlet. It’s a nod to conventional menstrual symbolism. My dress (fabulous, isn’t it!) was designed by Vivienne Westwood. Its most exciting feature is the tiny bomb attached to the whalebone corset; if I try to remove it, I’ll be blown to smithereens! Vivienne always had such a wicked sense of humour. A pity she had to die for it. See that streak of red at the back of my wig? That’s a clump of hers. The shoes? There are no shoes, my dear. I have cloven feet. They’re best left unshod.

Don’t go yet. I’ve so much more to show you, to tell you. It’s lonely here in this trompe l’oeil landscape where everything smells of plasticine and piss. If you’ll pardon my French. And besides, I don’t know how to get back to my palace. That may be it, burning on the hill. Impossible to be sure in this light.

Don’t go. Not just yet. Have I shown you my necklace? The pendant is dear to my heart. Look at it. Go on, I won’t bite! It’s a little glass prison. The wall at the back is a mirror. That girl crawling around inside is called Eve. She did something very bad (I forget what) and will have to stay there forever. She amuses herself by pulling faces at her own reflection.

Don’t go.

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It was the eyes he found most unnerving. They were expressionless and yet somehow malevolent.

He moved on to the next exhibit, which was some sort of machine. It towered over him, its many levers, pulleys, pistons, valves and gears making its purpose impossible to infer. When he looked more closely he noticed that parts of the machine were pink and fleshy, vaguely porcine. One particularly meaty appendage had been branded with what he took to be the name of the contraption: EV3.

—–

Images copyright Viviana Hinojosa. Text copyright James Knight. All rights reserved.

House of Mirrors

What follows is a work-in-progress, my collaboration with artist Viviana Hinojosa. It works in much the same way as echovirus12; Viviana started the process by creating a picture, which I then interpreted freely in the form of a prose poem. My piece then became the springboard for Viviana’s next picture, and so on. Who knows where this will end?

We are calling the project House of Mirrors, to suggest the distorted reflections of text and image and the viewer-reader’s disorientating journey through an imaginary space in which she may, from time to time, recognise herself.

House of Mirrors

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Time is enjoyed exclusively by those with money or celebrity. Kept in an ornamental cage, it tweets and chirps, flashing its feathers. Most of those who strut past the cage are only there to be seen and express no interest in the noisy, nimble creature.

They say time flies, but no one dares open the cage to find out if the idiom has any basis in reality. What would we do if time disappeared into the blue?

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The night’s machinery is operated by dreaming children. Little hands pull levers, press buttons. Clouds click into place. Stars flicker as the dynamos turn.

The moon is a mechanical bride. Once a month the veil that conceals her face is lifted by a system of pulleys and her phantom bridegroom appears. On that night, the children feel the tug of adulthood and weep in their sleep.

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In the basement of the abandoned mannequin factory is a door no one has ever opened. Behind it is a cube-shaped room containing a box, wrapped in silver paper. The Bird King wrote the gift tag. What does it say? I’m not telling. But if you were to unwrap the box and lift its lid, you’d find inside a Wellington boot.

At first, amused by the idea of wearing just one boot, you’re tempted to put it on. But then, as you’re removing your shoe, you see in your mind’s eye a devil leaping at you from the darkness of the boot. So you decide against it.

Meanwhile, upstairs, the Bird King plays chess with the blind factory owner. White to mate black in thirteen moves. It’s time for you to leave.

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If you insist on wandering around in the dark, you’re asking for trouble. You could be mugged, raped, beaten to a pulp, murdered. The city’s a fucking shithole. The housing estates are the worst: thousands of boxes, stacked into impossible towers, tottering and swaying in the brown night. The people who live in the cardboard coffins suffer a variety of ailments, physical and psychological: scoliosis, eczema, blindness, paranoia, megalomania, narcolepsy.

To sleep, perchance to dream.

I’m sorry; where was I? I think I blacked out. If you insist on wandering around in the dark. If you insist on wondering. If you wonder at my insistence.

I’ll start again. Let me try to shed some light on the matter. Let me tell you what happened to me. In the dusk, something purred as it slipped by. Was it a car or a cat I saw?

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Little wheels creek and squeak. Open your eyes and look: there’s nothing there.

Last night you dreamt that you carried the weight of the world on your shoulders. You wanted to cry, but your paralysed body wouldn’t permit a display of emotion. When you woke up you realised you had no responsibilities, nowhere to be, nothing to do. Your tears blurred the bedroom.

Little wheels again, again. The routine of looking. As before, nothing there.

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On Monday she saw a burning ship, a galleon like the ones you find in illustrated storybooks about pirates and dangerous adventures. Its sails were flames.

On Tuesday she found herself floundering in a sea of red wine. The shore was nowhere to be seen. She was tempted to dive under, mouth open, and inhale the ocean.

On Wednesday the ring finger on her left hand turned into a little scroll. Pulling it from the socket, she unfurled it and read a poem that made her laugh until she couldn’t breathe.

On Thursday her home became filled with an enormous cat. She lost herself in the musky heat of its fur.

On Friday she played poker with the devil. The stakes were low: her soul, his sense of humour. They soon became bored and abandoned the game.

On Saturday she looked into the mirror and saw a girl made of pine cones.

Sunday was a day of rest. She fell asleep over a book. The girl in the story swapped places with her, but no one noticed.

—–

All pictures copyright Viviana Hinojosa. All texts copyright James Knight. All rights reserved.