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CHAPULTEPEC’S HOUSE OF MIRRORS

Text by Jazmina Barrera

jaz2.wwwIllustration by Ximena Pérez-Grovas

The latest makeover of Chapultepec Park resulted in the disappearance of an “attraction” many of us remembered as part of our childhood, the House of Mirrors. It seems as though this might’ve been the last of its kind in Mexico City (and I beg you to prove me wrong if it isn’t).

Deriving from the traditions of fairs and carnivals, the basic principle of a house of mirrors is a group of irregular mirrors that create a sort of visual labyrinth, where you find a deformed version of yourself on various occasions. Fat, thin, big-eyed or small-mouthed, the house of mirrors portrays someone that looks like you but doesn’t. If we take a minute to think about it, a mirror is a “fake” portrait, it always portrays us inverted from left to right. In these houses of mirrors, this goes a step further: it is our ultimate opportunity to turn into monsters. Something similar happens to Alice when she crosses the threshold of the mirror: the abolished or transformed laws modify our perception, which ultimately defines our reality. And now, the closest thing to a house of mirrors in this city is the House of Uncle Chueco (Crooked) at Six Flags. As you all know, everything works the other way around: water runs up, the laws of gravity do not apply, what’s big is small and what’s small is big, etc. But they both share the carnival like experience, like it originally occurred in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, inverting logic to create a world upside down, hyperbolic and deformed.

These entertainment venues maintain a relationship with the carnival like and the grotesque that, as Mikhail Bakhtin describes it in his book on Rabelais, imply a conception of laughter from the Renaissance:

“Laughter has a profound philosophical meaning, it is one of the essential forms of true about the world as a whole, about history and man; it is a peculiar point of view on the world”.

The house of mirrors allows us to, above all, laugh at ourselves, at our flaws and at our laughable human condition. Nowadays maybe this laughter is closely related to nervous laughter, that laughter that results of a body reaction to anxiety caused by the absurd, the ridiculous, the grotesque. Which is why house of mirrors appear in horror films these days, where the killer hides behind one of the many “selves” reflected in the mirrors.

What implications then, does the disappearance of the last house of mirrors have on one of the biggest cities in the world? The glass buildings also multiply and deform our reflection, but the idea of laughter is no longer there. If anything it might incite a feeling of solitude and crowds. The houses of mirrors were part of a learning process of self-criticism that might be fading. We should brink it back for the sake of laughter.

Jazmina Barrera studied English Literature at the UNAM. She currently teaches a course in that same degree. She has worked as a translator and has done editorial coordination, as well as writing articles, essays and narrative in various digital and print media. She currently interns at the Fundación para las Letras Mexicanas (Foundation for Mexican Literature).

 

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