By Spandana Gopal
We made contact with Arvind from Aranmula, Kerala who had quit university mid-degree to come back and help his father make mirrors in their home.
Sometimes taking days to make a single one, Aranmula mirrors are no ordinary constructions of mercury and glass. These mirrors are made from casting a secret alloy of copper into flat pieces, which are then polished by hand until they become reflective. With there being no refraction and light bouncing off directly from its surface, the image produced is flawless.
Aranmula mirrors are so scientifically precise that it makes them auspicious in India. Historically they are said to have the purest reflections, and were used by kings and queens. Arvind’s family has been making them since the 15th century.
Arvind explained how the casting process becomes much harder as the size of the mirrors increases. With the metal manually poured into a home-made clay mould with low-tech equipment, it is almost impossible to make mirrors larger than 10 cms in diameter. Our research led us to the largest mirror Aranmula had ever made as we came across press archives of the largest one being held by the British Museum.
Soon enough we contacted Arvind and said, “We want to make the largest Aranmula mirror in the world.”
After three months and five attempts of making moulds and recasting, we almost lost hope. All Arvind’s men were trying to make a single mirror, and emotions were fragile – from this emerged Mirror 6, named after the number of attempts to reach a diameter of 55cm, making it the largest mirror from Aranmula in the world.
We then needed to frame Mirror 6. Arvind and his family, and the rest of the community, had been using ornate brass frames which concealed the cast metal edges of the mirrors. We suggested these edges be exposed and uncut.
Arvind was reluctant to allow a mirror of this size to be framed unconventionally. He wasn’t convinced that the design would be able to support the piece, which now weighed close to 25 kilograms.
Using a simple construction of a hardwood frame, a copper ring and a cork backing we creating a mounting system that exposed the edge of the mirror.
Back in London, we were invited to show the Mirror at Sir John Soane’s Museum for an exhibition called ‘Space and Light‘ during London Design Festival, 2014. We couldn’t think of a space more perfect than the home of Sir John Soane.
A month later, Arvind called us to say he had been continuing to make larger mirrors – not as large as mirror 6, but significantly bigger than the handheld mirrors he was used to making. We talked about creating a collection of mirrors based around the ‘framing’ or rather unframing, of Mirror 6. We talked about using solid brass, and wood.
For Milan Design Week 2015, Vivienne Westwood invited us to show this new collection of cast metal mirrors, as well as Mirror 6, at the Westwood flagship store in Milan. Titled ‘Alchemy : Material Obsessions‘, the show told the story of the transformation of metal to mirror – alchemy in the hands of the maker, Arvind and his family from Aranmula.
Mirror 6, photographed in Aranmula.