Reka Komoli is a photographic artist based in London, a city whose artistic community and spectre-haunted Victorian streets drew her from her birth country of Hungary. Her recent work examines the nature of personal and cultural identity from different perspectives.
Mirror of Identities
The notion that the face serves as a portal into the soul was already in circulation in ancient civilisations. In more modern times, the leading German philosopher Schopenhauer wove an intricate worldview in which all aspects of the manifest world are reflections of their inner spirit, and that includes the human face. Thus:
“That the outside reflects the inner man, and that the face expresses his whole character, is an obvious supposition and accordingly a safe one, demonstrated as it is in the desire people have to see on all occasions a man who has distinguished himself by something good or evil, or produced some exceptional work; or if this is denied them, at any rate to hear from others what he looks like. … Meanwhile, as has been explained above, wicked thoughts and worthless endeavours gradually leave their traces on the face, and especially the eyes.” (Arthur Schopenhauer, Physiognomy, 1851)
This idea was adopted by Oscar Wilde in his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). In this well-known story, a handsome young man has a portrait painted of himself in his prime. He then leads a life of debauchery and wickedness: his own face remains young and handsome while the portrait magically depicts his moral corruption.
We all change over time. Sometimes we look back at our earlier self, and wonder if we are really the same person. Sometimes we do something really regrettable and, years later, we wonder, “What was I thinking?” It is as if the Self becomes an Other through the long passage of time. In art theory, the Self and the Other are absolutely different, but in time we find the Self eliding imperceptibly into the Other. The younger self imagines the older self looking back at him through the years, yet the older self’s gaze cannot be returned. And vice versa. Each is haunted by the other. Jacques Derrida termed this the ‘spectral’ other. The young self is the spectre watching the older; and the older self is the spectre watching the younger.
“This spectral someone other looks at us, we feel ourselves being looked at by it, outside of any synchrony, even before and beyond any look on our part, according to an absolute anteriority (which may be on the order of generation, of more than one generation) and asymmetry, according to an absolutely unmasterable disproportion. … To feel ourselves seen by a look which it will always be impossible to cross, that is the visor effect.” (Jacques Derrida, Spectres of Marx, 1994, p. 7)
When you look in the mirror you see yourself. But you are also being watched by the spectral self in another time. It is as if time forms a visor of encrustation upon the spectre of the past or future self.
“Every time when I look in the mirror
All these lines on my face getting clearer
The past is gone
It went by, like dusk to dawn
Isn’t that the way
Everybody’s got the dues in life to pay.” (Aerosmith, Dream On, 1973)
In this series of photographs, I interrogate this asymmetry by wondering: what if, per impossible, the older self and the younger self could catch a glimpse of each other? What if the spectral gaze could be returned?
The Derridean reading of the gothic imagination is a popular move in critical theory, and I have exploited that here by picturing the younger and older self as mutual others in a ruined castle, who finally meet each other’s uncanny gaze through a mirror.