Category | Stories

Everyone should go to church once in a while.

Tadao Ando’s Church of Light in Ibaraki, Japan.

I have had this experience twice before, when you walk into a place and have an overwhelming feeling of enlightenment. Once at the small temple located within Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia and once when I walked into the completely empty, decaying Athens Olympic stadium.

These are the moments in life you don’t expect to be great, however there are many you walk into with great expectations and these are the places, people, experiences which we are often disappointed by. I walked into Tadao Ando’s Church of Light in Ibaraki Japan with 9 years of architectural educational and practice worth of expectation and it did not disappoint.

Even my arrival was some sort of achievement; the church is located in a typical Japanese suburb, a cram of tradition and modernism on the outskirts of Osaka, that I had navigated the local train and bus to the point of suburban obscurity was the achievement. Then I had to hunt for the church. The siting and surrounds of the church is not a secret, it is described often in writings however I had chosen to ignore this and found myself surprised that the church wasn’t sitting alone on top a hill surrounded by beautifully manicured Japanese gardens.

The building is unassuming, it is not trying to be a great piece of modern architecture, it is just being a small church for a local congregation. That Ando was able to create the sense of escape this building has in its setting is testament to how Ando has resolved and refined the idea. The contrast between the haphazard suburban setting and the beautiful simplicity of the interior only heightens the experience of visiting this church.


I recently heard a talk by Kjetil Thorsen of Norwegian architectural firm Snohettta in which he discussed a principle of materiality where by you do not let more than three materials come into contact at one time, this building is an exemplar of this idea; Ando uses only concrete, glass and black painted timber. There is no symbolism or iconography so common to traditional churches, save the voided cross, this allows your own understanding of spirituality of the place to be the focus of attention.

As I sat and drew the light changed its position and intensity, there was no denying the outer world feeling this place has, regardless of religion, as the light streams in through the cross and onto the beautiful, yes beautiful, concrete.

When I am there it is late on a Saturday afternoon and predominantly the church is filled with architecture students taking photos and mucking around, as they leave I am left in this place on my own and I am struck by how quiet and sanctuary like the place is.


I visit the Sunday school built years later and imagine what it would be like filled with children- I can’t, it fells like these buildings were meant to be experienced in solitude, so that each of us can have whatever type of experience suits us, it doesn’t have to be spiritual- I can imagine it would be a great place to read a book or spend a day trying to capture sunlight on the concrete in a photograph. I can only guess as to how someone else would react, but I hope it does get added to the list of place to visit.

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Letter from Kenya (seven)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘So he is your husband?’ I ask. She nods yes.

‘How many years have you been married?’ I carefully choose my words; her English is quite limited (please note that my Swahili still only consists of pleasantries and my Kikuyu only happens by accident), and if I have learned nothing else from teaching English and living abroad for so long, I have definitely learned how to grade my language and construct sentences so that communication happens and less ???s occur.

’10 years’, she responds.

*Anne is a slight woman, and, to be honest, when I met her the day prior I thought she was an older grandson in the family. I had failed to notice that she was wearing a long skirt below her billowing boy-sweater. Given the short hair, and the fact that in this small village at a very high altitude everyone wears winter caps, a skirt can often be the only way of telling the sex of children … and very slight women.

Ten years seemed like a lot to me. I’ve realized that Kenyans can be very deceiving with their age (I mentioned this in my first post from Kenya). She also told me that she is 28, her oldest of two children is 9, and that she is from a small town very far away so she never sees her family. Ten years still seems like a long time to me.

The milk is at a rolling boil, and she adds the tea and stirs.

‘Yes, 10 years,’ she repeats and laughs. She seems to be a generally happy person, and around me almost everything that I do or say deserves a laugh. Sometimes even her own response deserves a laugh.

She pulls the pot off the fire using only bits of cardboard as oven mitts to protect her not-so-delicate fingers. She sets the pot on the mud floor and places a new pot on the fire and fills it with fresh water that she had fetched from the well in the morning. The family is lucky to have the well on their homestead. I’ve seen many women and girls carrying large 10 gallon jugs (at least I think it is 10 gallons) of water using a strap that is placed around their forehead, thus carrying the jug on their backs. Despite what, in my Western eyes, may be considered poor conditions, the family seems to do quite well for themselves.

She grabs a teapot and strainer from the free-standing cupboard with mismatched doors and pours the chai, in a not-so-careful manner, from the pot through the strainer into the teapot. As she calls telling the others to come because the afternoon chai is ready, she tosses the dirty silverware and some small dishes from lunch into the soon-to-be dishwater warming on the fire.

*Name changed for privacy

Nicole Rademacher is a currently in Kenya until the beginning of May doing research and documentation for her current project investigating domestic ritual (made possible by the North Carolina Arts Council, USA and many private donars/patrons).
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Letter from Kenya (six)

It seems that every school child knows how to say “How are you?” It is a chant they do. A mzungu (white person, literally translated to “wanderer”) is on the street and all the school children immediately begin the chant “ouryou?” and repeat.

Yes, endearing at first, and perhaps I even responded, fine and you? when I first arrived. But now, I dismiss them, knowing that it is a rote response. But there are those children that actually engage – or attempt to – in conversation; the ones that smile coily, that are actually curious and looking for some type of interaction. I smile back at them, wave, sometimes shake their hands.

Often the school children follow you, especially in less populated areas. Are they protecting you? Probably just interested in the wanderers. Makes me wonder how I must appear to them. The westerner I am, “diversity” is something that I don’t really notice until it isn’t there. Furthermore, I was always taught “not to stare” or to ignore those that were significantly “different”. Here they stare, call out to you (yes, “OBAMA” has even been shouted to me, though I don’t think it was because they suspected that I was American).

The most charming account of this that I can share was on the bus. As I was sitting in the aisle near the middle of the bus, I made a point to check out all of my fellow passengers going by. Almost immediately after a mother with a baby wrapped in a kanga and another daughter by hand passed by, I felt a tug at the back of my head. I looked behind me, but all I saw were backs. The ride was uneventful, but at Kenyatta

Hospital (near the end of my trip and a very busy stop), I again watched the other passengers as they left. The mother passed by and at the same time I felt a tug. Promptly I turned to see the culprit: the oldest of the woman’s two daughters, no more than 7 or 8. I smiled at her. She bashfully looked away, and scrambled to catch up with her mother and younger sister.

Nicole Rademacher is a currently in Kenya until the beginning of May doing research and documentation for her current project investigating domestic ritual (made possible by the North Carolina Arts Council, USA and many private donars/patrons).

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Letter from Kenya (four)

*Esther washes all the clothes on Saturdays. “I don’t have help come in, so Saturday is the only day that I can wash everything.” Almost immediately she retracks the “everything” and explains that the heavy clothes are washed on Saturdays, but the other clothes, the “light clothing”, is washed during the week – “a bit every day”.

Assuming that she does not have a washing machine (I have yet to see a machine in even the middle-class homes), I try to calculate in my mind how long it must take her to wash the clothes and bedding for a family of three, by hand.

Everything is scrubbed with brushes, and many of the women who come in as housekeepers scrub too hard and ruin the clothes; this is why she prefers to wash everything herself. Esther has a 23 year-old daughter and shows me a photo of her on her smart phone. She tells me that she is finishing her studies, but she requires her to wash her own clothes. The loads are getting lighter, but I am still having a hard time calculating the hours it must take.

When I arrive at her house for the first time, it is a Sunday evening – after church. We enter the metal main door of the building and make our way up the dimly lit concrete stairs. Turning left at the first landing, I am greeted with, at least, one woman per doorway scrubbing and dunking, scrubbing and dunking, scrubbing and dunking. Clothes are hung on thin rope strung between walkways. A lulling chatter fills the hallway, accompanying the scrub-dunk rhythm kept by the same busy ladies.

The socialization built into the lives of Nairobians keeps me bewildered. I have been conditioned to segregate, categorize, and compartmentalize, making time for everything through strategic decision.

*Name changed for privacy.

 

Nicole Rademacher is a currently in Nairobi, Kenya until the beginning of May doing research and documentation for her current project investigating domestic ritual (made possible by the North Carolina Arts Council, USA and many private donars/patrons).

official website • Nicole’ blogfollow her project on Facebook

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Letter from Kenya (three)

In Nairobi, you can make time stand still. I’m contemplating the stationary second hand on the watch of the woman next to me. She quietly stares at the people who are not frozen; the men with wide gaits moving swiftly, and the women passing us less hurriedly in pairs or groups of three unassumingly chatting in their dress suits and heels. They will all most certainly get to their homes before we do, but our existence has been suspended on the #40 Citi Hoppa bus to Ngumo.

I am surprised that I don’t hear Hot 105 pumping through the speakers promoting “1 second can win you 1,000 bob” (Kenyan slang for Kenyan schilling). Instead my attention is shaken from the motionless second hand by the jangle of coins in the conductor’s hand. I look up and he tells me, “40 bob” in little more than a whisper. Despite the cosmopolitan hustle and bustle, the capital city can be quite taciturn using gesture to communicate. He collects our fares and passes me 2 tickets separated by a perforation.

As I hand her her ticket, I steal a glance at my neighbor’s watch, but the second hand is stubborn; the bus driver turns off the engine and activates the parking break. The woman across the aisle sighs as she turns the page in her book about the habits of being efficient. The man in front of her relaxes further into his seat as a breeze cuts through the bus bringing with it the exhaust from the other cars and buses in the parking lot that is sometimes Valley Road.

I close my eyes so as to attune my ears to the murmur of a conversation behind me, hoping to glean a detail or two about their lives.

 

Nicole Rademacher is a currently in Nairobi, Kenya until the beginning of May doing research and documentation for her current project investigating domestic ritual (made possible by the North Carolina Arts Council, USA and many private donars/patrons).

official website • Nicole’ blog • follow her project on Facebook

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Letter from Kenya (two)

*Wanjiru doesn’t like to cook, but she has been cooking her whole life, she tells me bluntly as she picks through the red mung bean (a bean that I will become very accustomed to during my time here as it appears at many meals). I am surprised that she doesn’t like cooking, only because cooking to me is a joy; it’s a hobby of mine. I ask about her hobbies. She doesn’t have any. After finishing sorting the usable from the not-usable, she proceeds to the kitchen to wash and strain them.

While her English is perfect, the dialect here takes some getting used to for me. When asked her favorite meat, Wanjiru promptly responds “leaver“. I give her a confused look and wonder if she told me in Swahili, certain food is commonly known in its Swahili name rather than in English.

She proceeds to spell it, L-I-V-

– Ahhhh, I say before she can finish, Liver! I repeat, as if correcting her. Am I correcting her?

I’m immediately ashamed for having said it in that fashion, but try to disguise it by asking her, Beef or pork?

With a scornful look she says, Beef! Not pork, and she gives me a disdainful grimace while shaking her head.

After washing and straining she lets the beans soak overnight, but says that she will have to get up at 6 am in order to cook them – she doesn’t normally cook on Sundays, it’s sabbath. Curiously I ask her about her plan for Sunday.

Usually, I go to church from 10:30 am to 1pm, she explains.

It’s not that Wanjiru isn’t forthcoming with information, but she simply doesn’t tell me much unless I explicitly ask her. So, I pry further: Do you come home after church?

No, she tells me that afterwards she either goes and visits with her mother or visits a friend, who owns a salon in Kibera.

That’s enough, she says almost already exhausted, That’s enough.

*Name changed for privacy.

Nicole Rademacher is a currently in Nairobi, Kenya until the beginning of May doing research and documentation for her current project investigating domestic ritual (made possible by the North Carolina Arts Council, USA and many private donars/patrons).

official website • Nicole’ blog • follow her project on Facebook

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Looking forward to nostalgia

I like nostalgia.  I really do.
I like it so much I get nostalgic for nostalgia.  I long for the good old days in the 90s, that I spent reminiscing about the good old days in the 80s.  I spend precious moments imagining my future self, looking fondly back on the moment I’m currently experiencing.  Such is my love for dreaming about the past, that I often make important life decisions based not on logic or aspiration, but rather on the opportunity for future nostalgia.  I went backpacking for a year in Asia, not simply because I wanted to go backpacking for a year in Asia, but because I wanted to have gone backpacking for a year in Asia.  I couldn’t wait to come home and reflect nostalgically on my year abroad.

And then there are the eras I’ve never even lived through!  The roaring 20s.  The swinging 60s.  You name it, I’ve probably highly idealized it.
In a recent fit of 80s nostalgia (a decade that finished when I was merely eight, but no matter, I remember it like it was yesterday), I watched The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink.  Within five minutes I was longing to live in the 80s again, but this time as a teenager, and ideally, as Molly Ringwald herself.   Then I did what anyone in my present day position would have done: I googled her to see where she had ended up.

What did I really expect?   That she would still be driving around in a pink car, sewing her own prom dresses, and applying lipstick from her cleavage?
(Yes, I did).

To my profound disappointment, I found that she was now…in 2012.  Or rather, she was no longer living in the 80s.   We were living in the same time, at the same time.  She looked normal.  She seemed to have thoroughly adapted to the new millennium.  There was not a visible trace of 80s nostalgia in her.

It made me stop and wonder: where was all my nostalgia really coming from, and why?  Was it a problem I needed to fix, or just a natural and healthy way of cherishing the past?

When I looked a little deeper, I found that up until a few centuries ago, nostalgia – that warm, bittersweet feeling we all know so well – was actually considered a form of melancholy.  It was considered a precursor to suicide, and a diagnosis for soldiers that deserted their posts.
The word “nostalgia,” based on the greek words nóstos (“homecoming”) and álgos (“ache”), was originally coined in 1688, by Johannes Hofer, a Swiss doctor working with mercenaries longing for their homeland.  At that time nostalgia was a medical condition, linked to illness, and even death.[1]

But (thankfully) more recent studies have found nostalgia to actually have psychological benefits.  Nostalgia expert Dr Krystine Bacho says that nostalgia can improve mood, increase self-esteem, and infuse our lives with a sense of meaning.
“Nostalgic reminiscence helps a person maintain a sense of continuity despite the constant flow of change over time,” she says.  It can also help us cope with loneliness, and strengthen our sense of social connectedness.[2]

So, perhaps my highly idealized view of the past is not such a concern after all.  Perhaps it actually displays how sickeningly well adjusted I am.  But can that explain my intense nostalgia for eras I’ve never even experienced?

Dr Batcho distinguishes this as a different form of nostalgia; what she calls “historical or social nostalgia.”  She says that  “individuals who feel nostalgia for a past era are more likely to feel dissatisfied with the present and/or perceive a past time period as better than the present.”  (Which, I would infer, is bad.)

Bugger.  It is true that I spent the days following my 80s movie marathon strangely longing for shoulder pads, and resenting the presence of smart phones and non- synthesised music in my life.

If I had lived back in the days when nostalgia was a medical condition, doctors might have prescribed me a variety of remedies, including purging (no thanks), leeches (no thanks) or opium (hmm..).  In 1733, a nostalgic Russian soldier was allegedly buried alive by his army officer [3] (I think I’ll stick with the nostalgia, if you don’t mind).

These days it’s a little trickier.  How do you cure something that’s no longer considered a medical ailment?  Svetlana Boym, author of The Future of Nostalgia, calls modern day nostalgia “the incurable modern condition.”
“The twentieth century began with a futuristic utopia,” Boym writes, “and ended with nostalgia.”  She hypothesizes that globalization and the accelerated pace of modern life have deepened nostalgic longings.
“Nostalgia tries to slow down time,” she says. [4]

Hmm.   Could my nostalgia be in some way connected to the recurrent impulses I feel to hurl cellphones, computers, photocopiers, and other technological paraphernalia off of tall buildings?  Could my longing for the 80s be not simply due to the outrageously fabulous fashion, music, and dance montage scenes; but also due to the fact they were so gloriously free of technology?
Pac Man was the pinnacle of computerised fun.  Cellphones were so outlandishly huge nobody could fit them in their handbags.  Life was simpler.

But hey, you can’t fight progress.  So I guess I’ll just cash in my nostalgic psychological benefits and console myself with the fact that in twenty years, I’ll look back on this decade as the prime of my life.   These will be the good old days.

Ahh, future nostalgia.  There’s so much to look forward to.

 



[1] Nostalgia (2012).  Retrieved February 9, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nostalgia

[2] ‘Tis the Season for Nostalgia: Holiday Reminiscing Can Have Psychological Benefits (2011). Retrieved February 9, 2012, from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2011/12/nostalgia.aspx

[3] Nostalgia (2012).  Retrieved February 9, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nostalgia

[4] The Future of Nostalgia (2002, Basic Books), as cited by Lambert, Craig; Hypochondria of the Heart (2001).  Retrieved February 9, 2012, from http://harvardmagazine.com/2001/09/hypochondria-of-the-hear.html

 

 

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Letter from Kenya (one)

From the house where I am staying *George, my guide for the day and now-coworker, and I took the #40 bus to the center and then took a Matatu. I’m a bit leery to take the Matatu, mainly because I don’t know if I will feel ready to take one on my own next time. A Matatu is a van (seats about 15) that is a mode of public transportation. All public transportation in Nairobi has fluctuating prices but the day before Morrison, my other guide/co-worker, told me that because I am white they may decide to charge me more. Maybe when I can defend myself in Swahili I will feel more confident with the idea of taking a Matatu by myself.

We take the #46 to Mathare Valley. Once we get our feet on the ground George announces it, “Mathare Valley Slum”. We walk a bit further down the road to a building. He wants to show me a view of the entire slum. I find it unsettling that he continually uses that word. Perhaps it is because I am used to it being used in a derogatory manner, when really it is simply used to described sub-standard living, to describe the place. We walk behind the building and on the steps there are three children. The older sister is putting cornrows in the younger girl’s hair. The little boy looks up at me, Hello, he says in English. Hi, I respond. Fine thank you, he replies. I’m a bit confused why he said that. Later I find out that what I have been taught as “hi/hello” in Swahili (habari) functions as a greeting and also asks “how are you?”. George thinks that behind the building will be a good spot for a comprehensive view of Mathare Valley, but then quickly realizes that where we were before was much better. We climb back up the steps and the little boy runs after us. I vaguely hear him say something, but I can’t make it out. George points and says, This is all Mathare Valley. Over there too? I ask – even though I know the answer, but it is obvious that George is proud of his home and that it is immense. Kenyans all seem to deceive their age, but it is clear that George is quite young, perhaps the same age as the other youth in the program. He is proud and happy to share his home with me. I feel very welcomed, and want to demonstrate my appreciation of his time and openess.

We return to one of the entrances to the slum, close to where we de-boarded the Matatu. George opens and goes through a wooden doorway; I follow. It opens up to an open grassy area. About ten feet after the door is a shack made with scrap metal corrugated sheeting. Inside are about seven young people – well, at this point they are all young men -two in a pair, a group of three talking quitely in Swahili, and two are sitting on their own texting. I go around to greet them. I am a bit unsure about my barely existent Swahili. I say “hi” to the first young gentleman, in English. Then tells me his name, and we shake hands. In my self-conscious state I forget to return the greeting not telling him my name but simply moving on to the next person. Though I correct my mistake with the second young man and say, I’m Nicole. By the third student, I’ve gathered my confidence and greet him with “Habari” and follow up with “I’m Nicole”.

Some of the handshakes are long, I just smile and continue shaking until they let go. George steps out for a moment and the students become more animated. Several ask my name again and where I am from – which is confusing to explain. Because I mention that I live in Chile last – after stating that I am American – they stick with Chile, maybe this is because there aren’t usually volunteers from Latin America. One young man knows Chile well – a big soccer fan – in fact he knows about Chile because he loves the Argentinean team. Later on, in confidence, he tells me that he really doesn’t like Messi, the Argentinean soccer player, but in spite of that he’s a big fan. They ask about the weather in Chile; “It’s in the south. Is it summer there?” one young man asks. I tell them that when I left it was 35 degrees Celsius – they all nod their heads, agreeing that yes indeed it is summer in Chile.

More students start trickling in, and each one greets me first, since I am strategically placed right next to the door – total accident, but it served me well. They then make their way around to all of their peers. Some receive more exciting and/or complex handshakes than others. After they have greeted everyone, they take their seats and chat with their friends in Swahili. I try to make out words, but on day 2, this is difficult. One girl sits alone, not because she doesn’t have friends, but because she is waiting for someone, a boy in particular. I realize this later – once the session is over – when everyone leaves the meeting room to socialize outside. I really want to talk to her because during the debate (more on that in a moment), she tried to participate several times, but the boys tended to drown her out. After the session, when I saw her intensely engaged in conversation with said boy, coyly digging her shoe into the ground, it became clear why she had been waiting on that bench before we started. There will be time to get to know her. I didn’t interrupt that conversation, only observed quietly from nearby.

The debate, activity for the day’s session, was lively. George asked them to think of a topic. A few sex-war topics were thrown out, then a girl said “traditional lifestyle is better than modern”. The students count off 1-2-1-2 to make the teams of pro v. con.

I was well impressed with the young adults – their knowledge of current affairs, history, the environment … There was no preparation – they separated into groups and then started with points and counter points. They discussed pollution, transportation, life expectancy, medical advances, politics … obviously there was no fact checker, but that made it that much more impressive. Additionally it was all in English – I know that Swahili is more comfortable for them: there was one lapse into Swahili.

After the session quite a few of the students came up and introduced themselves to me. So bright and expressive. I have recently been told that they have a lot of footage – documentary of the program – that they want to edit into finished videos, but no one knows how to edit.

Let’s see if I can help change that.

Currently, I am Artist-in-Residence at Maji Mazuri and also volunteering in their Youth Media Program in Mathare Valley, the second largest slum in East Africa. The goal of the program is to help the youth improve the quality of their lives by working with each other, and with counselors, to acquire skills. The program is also designed to provide a conducive environment within which youths can grow and develop into responsible adults. Within this program a “media” program is in current development, where the students (aged 16 – 27) can gain soft and hard skills related to media (i.e. blogging, website design, video production…). February 6, 2012 – my second day in Kenya – was my first visit to a program that I will be closely working with for the next few months.

Maji Mazuri was founded by Dr. Wanjuki Kironyo in1984. She still currently serves as its director. I met her on Monday, after this first visit, and shared these thoughts with her. She said, Thank you. And it was at that moment that it truly became clear to me that it is because of her and her work – additionally, everyone here on the ground, donors, past and future volunteers …, but it was her vision that started this – that I can say this about these young men and women. I feel very honored to be a part of this. I can only hope that I will be able to contribute at least as much as I will gain from this experience.

*I’ve changed all names except my own for their privacy.

Nicole Rademacher is a currently in Nairobi, Kenya until the beginning of May doing research and documentation for her current project investigating domestic ritual (made possible by the North Carolina Arts Council, USA and many private donars/patrons).

official website • Nicole’ blog • follow her project on Facebook

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Turkish Mockbusters from the 80’s!

I was first introduced to the genre of Turkish blockbuster spin-off movies by a French friend – a mustachioed punk rocker who worked as a blacksmith in Southern France.  He also displayed a penchant for good humor and bad taste. To be precise, doom-metal and sludge-core which he deemed to be the heaviest and slowest music around; his aunt’s extreme chilli sauce which he treated like a dangerous explosive weapon (“just one drop will do, and no more”); and of course C-grade and exploitation movies from the the Philippines, Turkey and everywhere in-between.  This guy was not a man of half measures, and his passions were many.  On one of our occasional swap-meets of strange music and stranger films he gave me a copy of Turkish Star Wars and warned: “It’s so bad it’s good!”  He is also a man that does not lie.

This was my awakening to the world of Turkish films and sequels bent on riding the wave of popular 80’s Hollywood films. Turkish Star Wars (otherwise known as The Man Who Saves the World) crudely moves between original scenes of the Millennium Falcon and the Death Star, before cutting to low budget shots of desert monsters in cardboard suits and tin foil alien-bots fighting what can only be assumed as Turkish-styled Jedi.   To accompany the blatant use of the Indiana Jones soundtrack is a ridiculous plot that confuses the ‘hard-to-understand’ with ‘makes-no-sense-whatsoever’.

Turkish Superman’s low budget and god-awful special effects transform the hero in to a pervy strongman who prefers to go it on foot more than fly (to cut costs of course).  The fight scenes render him more like a stone cold Terminator than an agile superhero.  The film’s plot ends up featuring more kidnappings, henchmen, and suspense than you would otherwise expect.  It’s a story where the villain makes that painful mistake of setting up a trap for the hero, revealing his plans, and then not sticking around to make sure he is successfully exterminated.  With this in mind it would only make good sense to use that spy vs spy tune off the James Bond soundtrack.

Years later I am still making my way through the psychedelic world of these foreign fakes and movie mash ups.  The range is extensive.  The content hilarious.  Recommended for summer mooching. These films are a friendly reminder that the world is not so boring and that strange and colorful things can emerge out of every circumstance.

If you don’t know where to start, I’ve made some recommendations for you to begin your journey.

 

Turkish Star Wars (The Man Who Saves the World)
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7069307816427160377

 

Turkish Superman

 

Turkish Rambo
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMnSX4lmbdk

 

Turkish Star Trek

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7185067049150068960

 

Turkish Exorcist

 

 

 

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Children, theatre, death and climate change

I recently went to see The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer, an award-winning one-man children’s show that blends puppetry, multimedia, animation, technology, projection, and live and recorded music.

Alvin Sputnik tells the tale of one man’s journey to save a post-apocalyptic world in which rising sea levels have killed billions of people, Those who are left live in a sort of uber-Venice, where farms perch precariously on top of skyscrapers and their inhabitants sit on their verandas and fish the seas all day long. Scientists have tried everything to ‘save’ the earth: floating islands (sank), space-probing the universe for inhabitable planets (we are alone), giant sponges (rotting), chemically altering sea salt (epic fail). In a last effort they believe there may be a ‘second earth’ inside the earth’s core, an idea reminiscent of Jules Verne’s 1864 novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth. The scientists recruit crusaders to journey into the sea and activate a volcanic eruption that they believe will force the second earth to the surface.

“Many of you will die,” the brave crusaders are told by their Commander; “In fact, you will all probably die, but that is a risk I am willing to take.”

Alvin signs up as a crusader, so that he may swim in search of the soul of his dead wife, which, represented by a bobbing light globe, has slipped into the sea and down into its depths, away from Alvin’s life.

Alvin Sputnik is cute and funny – a little foam ball atop of the puppeteer’s hand, with fingers for limbs. He can swim, walk, dance, hug, and even do the moonwalk – he is the perfect hero for a children’s show.

And yet, despite the charm of the central character, the issues this show is dealing with are profound, particularly given its status as a children’s show: climate change and the extinction of much of the world’s population, the death of a loved one, the continued living presence of a soul, the self-sacrifice of an individual, and lack of acceptance of death of a loved one.

One of the interesting things about attending artistic shows with children (and live theatre certainly has more resonance here than a pre-recorded film) is that they have not developed a ‘theatre-etiquette’ of behavioural rules while watching a show. As such, they often vocalise feelings and questions which most adult-going audience members internalise. Normally, I find vocalisation from audiences frustrating and distracting (self-entitling and self-righteous members of artistic institutions, complaining or doddering elderly, or too-cute children) but in this instance I was fascinated to see how much of the youthful audience (about one third of which was under the age of ten) responded to these themes.

I was particularly moved by a small boy sitting behind me – let’s call him Tom, for the sake of ease.

At one point Alvin rows from house to house, trying to find the scientist’s headquarters. Tom asks, “where is that”, to which his mother replies, “that is earth”. “What is earth?” “That’s where we live.” “Why is there so much water Mummy?” “It’s just pretend, honey.”

Although really, with the ever-present and increasingly-accepted reality of climate change, island states preparing for their eventual submersion, and the creation of new human rights laws to deal with environmental refugees, how much of this story really will be just pretend by the time these audience members have grown up?

Further questions arose from Tom as to why Alvin is crying, what the bobbing light is and how it relates to Alvin’s wife. The mother explains that the light is the soul of Alvin’s wife, but that although the soul continues to live, Alvin’s wife herself is really dead. “It’s just pretend,” the mother repeats.

Tom’s response perfectly captures way art can blur the boundaries between what is real, what is ‘pretend’, what is a depiction of what is real, and how to tell the difference between these, or indeed whether there even is a clearly defined difference.

How confusing would it be, at eight-odd years of age, to discriminate between an alive person, a dead person, and an alive soul; an earth where we live that is simultaneously a pretend version of where we live; and why you would accept to go on a mission in which you will probably die.

Probably, at eight years of age, many of these concepts are beyond one’s immediate comprehension. While I am no psychologist, I would hope that recollections from this performance would perhaps be stowed away for future grappling, or as reference points for the inevitable dawning realisation of the meaning and impacts of death.

There have been many studies and documentation about the role of entertainment to educate children about death, and in particular the reaction children have toward death in Disney movies. Certainly in my own experience I have vivid memories of crying profusely during Bambi at the point in which Bambi’s mother dies, and of the relevance it had for me in coming to understand that my own mother would one day die too. I remember that it was not the way that Bambi’s mother dies (spoiler: she is shot) that particularly got to me, but rather the very extended amount of time it takes Bambi to realise that his mother has been shot. He thinks his mother is also escaping with him, running just behind him, and is elated upon reaching a hiding place. When he turns around to share his excitement with his mother it seems an age before he finally comes to realise that his mother is dead.

While I was doing some research for this blog I re-watched this scene in Bambi, and his dawning realisation only lasts for a couple of minutes. Nonetheless, to me as a child the points of realisation appeared to take forever: the mix of excitement at reaching safety, of the expectation of sharing a feeling of happiness with your mother, the confusion at the absence of your mother, the excruciatingly slowly dawning awareness of what has happened, and that he must come to his own realisation without the guidance of another loved one. It was that slow and detailed process of Bambi’s realisation which really hit home on the reality of death and what kind of an impact losing your mother could have. In fact, from the research that I did it, Bambi and The Lion King are costantly referenced as the two hardest-hitting Disney shows for young audiences, and which seem to have most resonance for those in their twenties. All of which is to say, that entertainment and performance has a crucial role to play in educating children about the reality and inevitability of death.

While much of this post is a review of Alvin Sputnik, I particularly wanted to explore the importance of performances such as this for children: not only to understand the reality of death, but also its educative and preparatory value in exposing children to the reality of climate change, the changes that may happen to the planet, the ceasing of the earth as we know it, and the deaths which are likely to occur as a result of this change.

It seems to me that in a world in which the extent of climate change is still much debated, and in which at a political level the establishment of measures to mitigate climate change is glacially slow (pardon the pun), it is really in the arts and in performances such as this, particularly those which reach a young audience, in which education about and preparation for the reality of climate change is able to happen. This will hopefully make some difference to the way humanity develops response measures during this coming generation’s life-time.

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer is created and performed by Tim Watts. It is a Weeping Spoon Production, currently produced by the Perth Theatre Company.

http://www.weepingspoon.com/AlvinSputnik/Welcome.html

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