mirror | writing is a film poem, in which I explore the acts of looking, reading and writing, through a series of still and moving monochrome pictures. It started as a visual gag: I pictured a large hammer next to a mirror, with the caption, “In emergency, break glass.” What’s on the other side of the looking-glass? A chessboard, a red queen, Alice’s journey of self-discovery. A world where the rules are reversed. I decided to make a film poem featuring the red queen and me (represented by a black knight – geddit?), in which the viewer is taken to the other side of the mirror.
I used a compositional technique that often drives my writing, selecting a limited set of images (in this case, a mirror, a hammer, a book, a chessboard and the two chess pieces) and combining them in various ways, experimenting with juxtapositions and different ways of presenting the objects. Ever since I set fire to a tree in my grandad’s garden when I was ten, I have been fascinated by fire, and an image that has repeatedly imposed itself on my mind’s eye lately has been that of one of my own books, in flames. So I knew early on that I would include footage of a burning copy of the mannequins are more real than you. In the end, I burned just one page (a poem called “The mannequins are only playing dead”), and in the film poem this shot appears more than once, playing at different speeds and, in its first iteration, in reverse, so that the written page is created by the flames. But I didn’t want the destruction of my own work to end there. Inspired perhaps by @gadgetgreen (who a year or so ago tore up, mangled and generally wrecked a copy of my book Mono and tweeted the pictures), I filmed a stop-motion sequence, in which rips appear in pages of my book and the shredded remains crawl away, out of shot. Like the burning page, we see this more than once: forwards and backwards. Creation mirrors destruction.
At several points in the film, the viewer is presented with brief close-ups of bits of text, including random fragments visible on torn, scrunched-up pages. Looking becomes reading, or perhaps writing: the shots are so fleeting that the viewer is forced to select words and phrases to read, and in that act of selection, the viewer/reader writes the film’s meaning. When I write or make pictures, I never set out to determine meaning; that is for the reader to decide, through a creative act of interpretation. In making mirror | writing, my sole intention was to play with some objects that fascinated me, toying with reflections and echoes. I had no final destination in mind. The viewer looks in the mirror. The viewer writes.
The film was made using a smartphone and a tablet, commonplace possessions. We are all photographers, writers, artists, film makers now. As Isidore Ducasse said, “Poetry should be made by all.”
His house is mostly submerged. Moonlight makes a white reflection on the water, pretty as a skull. He paddles to the loft window and gets in that way.
The loft is a mess. Mum and Dad sit on a pile of poetry books in a corner. They can’t read, but they like the sensation of lofty words against their bums. Most of the floor space is covered with parts of dismantled mannequins. A little bird nests in a cavity in the wall. Life isn’t so bad.
There is a camp bed. He lies on it. He needs to sleep. Mum and Dad are muttering to each other, but he’s used to that. He closes his eyes.
At three a.m. the singing starts again, smashing through the window like a brick. Mum and Dad become agitated, start howling. He turns over and tries to stay asleep.
His house is mostly submerged. In the early morning light, the bit of it that isn’t in the water resembles a grey wasp. The mannequins amble around on the roof, building their laboratory from debris that floats by, catching at it with cracked hands: branches of trees, plastic bags, dead dogs. They haven’t been fed properly since the flooding began. They rely on human blood to keep them going. He provides it. Not his own, of course; he goes out on his makeshift raft, scouting for the injured, the diseased, the weak, the dead. It’s arduous work, but well worth it: the mannequins are always very grateful.
You fit into this story, though you’ve probably forgotten it. Pay attention.
His house is mostly submerged. It wasn’t always like this, of course. There was a time, months or years ago, when the house stood proud and dry on top of a hill. Mum and Dad would scamper out in the morning, rolling gleefully down the green slopes and then running to the local town, where they robbed, looted and murdered until their laughter paralysed them. Mr Vogel usually brought them home, in the back of his hearse. It could take hours to rouse them from their jovial stupor.
His house is mostly submerged. It suits the mannequins. They sit on the roof, fishing for dreams. Some of the filth they find would make your hair curl. They laugh silently, giving nothing away. Their favourite titbit is the dream you had on Christmas Eve. Yes, that dream. You should be ashamed of yourself, you dirty bastard. Mind you, we all had a look. Some of us went back for seconds. We were a bit starved. The mannequins tolerated our grunting and giggling, but we could tell we weren’t welcome.
Dreams are water-borne diseases, like typhoid and cholera. If you want to stay healthy, avoid thinking about rain and dry your mouth before you go to bed. Above all, incinerate your brain and ensure there is no water in the room. Even a small glass on your bedside cabinet could be a carrier.
His house is mostly submerged. There are eels in the walls. They bulge and thrash when he touches them. The wallpaper is their skin, glistening malignly. Mum and Dad don’t seem to have noticed them, but sometimes one of them will make a comment like, “Funny old walls!” or “The wallpaper’s all lumpy, look.” The eels in the walls feed on the memories seeping slowly from Mum and Dad’s hands and feet, as they drain away a week every day. No wonder they’re so fat!
The eels in the walls are most active at night. During the day, they coil into knots, doing algebra in their sleep. Theirs is the mathematics of amnesia.
His house is mostly submerged. You probably already knew that. What else is there to say? You lead an uneventful life, curled in the belly of the loft, awaiting birth. The umbilical cord is an eel. The placenta is an octopus, a giant sack of blood and slushy meat.
He owns nothing except the skin on his back. His bones show through. But there’s no reasoning with him; if you try to give him money or a meal, he laughs and swims away.
It’s the same time it was before. Mum and Dad are still howling. You should go back to sleep. Try reading some poetry.