A MATERIAL project

Built by D/L


MARIE: My project for this exhibition at the Brand Library is to present photographs of a book (Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll) that is in a state of decay. As you go through the book the damage done is getting bigger and more visible. I am interested in time, in the phenomenon and also in the ‘fictional’ time that is recreated in books, novels, like time travels tales or novels like The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. There is something similar in the way one reads a book (one page, then another, then another) and when we look at slides or a series of photographs. And then there is the ‘natural time’, so if you speed up the slides to 24 images per second then it is a film, and it approximate how we experience time, the human speed. I am interested in these continuous and disruptive scenarios, which involve a certain experience of time.

For this exhibition, I wanted to be site-specific and select a work that would deal with the nature and history of the exhibition space, because the show happens in a library.

The building is the public library of the city of Glendale, a city North of downtown Los Angeles. It was originally built in 1904 as the home of developer Leslie C. Brand. He is known as “The Father of Glendale” but he never had children. He modeled his home after the East Indian Pavilion of the Columbian World Exposition (1893). The architecture, with arches, domes and minarets is considered “Saracenic,” a combination of Spanish, Moorish, and Indian styles. It is a pretty surrealist sight in Glendale… But then again Los Angeles’ history is filled with all these displacements. I am really interested in these instances of an architecture disconnected from the surrounding geography, landscape or cultural environment. The book I photographed is contemporary of Leslie Brand and his fantastic Mansion, it shares a similar sensibility, the same imagination and poetic humor. The specific book that I photographed is a French edition of Through the Looking Glass (La Traversee du Miroir) from 1930. I found this book in the library of Jean Painleve, the French surrealist filmmaker, in whose archives I grew up, and where I still stay when I go to Paris. I knew him in the later years of his life, when I was a kid, maybe the age of Alice Lidell, and we had a great friendship.

The book itself is not that old, but was badly stored. It was partially destroyed by paper eating insects, creating these interesting patterns, almost like a 3D illustration of the tunnel in which Alice fell through in the previous book (Alice in Wonderland). So this adds another dimension to the book, something more sculptural like an inverted popup book. These tiny insects feed on paper, preferably printed matter, and can eat entire rows of book and are a real threat to libraries. The photographs are maybe a cautionary tale for the Glendale library.

The first photograph shows the cover of the book, with a very minimal hole punched, then as we go further in the story, the tunnels and punctures become more and more creative, and in the final page and back cover, the whole bottom of the book has vanished. I was interested in the text mixed with this very savage and natural development.

SHANA: Have you seen this image of Lewis Carroll’s, one of many staged portraits of young girls that he was “friends” with?

MARIE: Beautiful. I did not know this one. But there is a famous picture Lewis Carroll took of Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired him to write Through the Looking-Glass. It shows her posing as a street beggar. Of course she was from a privileged background, so it is a playful fiction. But this fiction of Alice as a child beggar reminds me of the Brand Library building, this miniature Taj Mahal in Glendale, I think the two exist in the same fictional world… SHANA: Do you know the expression about "falling into a wormhole"? Like a bad trip, in a psychedelic drug sense, or like Alice in Wonderland? There is also a real phenomenon in physics, a solution to Einstein’s theory of relativity, that is called a wormhole.

A wormhole is something like a tunnel connecting two points in spacetime. The theories about wormholes started shortly after Einstein published his general theory of relativity in 1915. But the term “wormhole” was not used until later, after Lewis Carroll’s Alice. The wormholes are often used as proof that time travel could actually be possible. That brings us back to where we started, traversing time, in fiction.

MARIE: I did not know the term. It is an interesting point. Some people already told me about psychedelic references for a previous work of mine, The Purple Cloud, a piece in which I adapted a Victorian science fiction novel by MP Shiel from 1901. I think a lot of literature of that time period (for example Conan Doyle with Sherlock Holmes) have some link or reference to drugs or altered states like trance. When you are asleep or when you read you experience an ‘artificial’ time, maybe the time of the hero or a passage of time in your dream disconnected to the time of daily life. This is pushed a little bit to the extreme in the two Alice books. In Through the Looking-Glass there are many moments when time and space are disconnected, instances of teleportation, or episodes when time flows in reversed form with the effect arriving before the cause… Did you see the lovely statue next to the library?!

SHANA: Yes, I was really interested in that statue, the lady on the cross.

MARIE: The cross is a green, concrete square cross, for the Green Cross organization. Then there is a woman in the middle of the cross, a bas-relief, with open arms and no legs. Below this woman there is a pile of logs, cut down trees. And below a concrete pedestal with the inscription “Help us save our trees.”

SHANA: The way she comes out of the cross is rather awkward, as if she has no legs. She’s one of your book-eating worms, or maybe she coming appearing out of some kind of wormhole connected to that cross? There is definitely something very wrong with that statue. And not more than three yards from the statue is a brown sign that says “Mulch” with an arrow pointing behind the Library. The Lady of the Cross’s pleas seem to be in discord with her surroundings – her proximity to a mulching station and a building of books seem to indicate her sanctioning the processing of trees for all kinds of things.

MARIE: She is a kind of Jesus Christ of the forest! Protesting in front of the library! and like trees, no legs, unable to move around… she could definitely be a character in a Lewis Carroll story.

Marie Jager
La Traversee du Miroir (Lewis Carroll, Denoel et Steele, 1930), 2010