Thursday, October 20, 2011

Travels with Kapuściński

Back in 2007 when I had just moved to Glasgow, I bought two books - Description of the World by Herodotus and Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuściński. I really just wanted to buy Herodotus' classic, but it so happened that Kapuściński's book was on a Buy One, Get One HALF PRICE offer. Four years later and I finally managed to read both books starting of course with Description of the World. Herodotus' book made for a heavy and at times uninteresting read loaded as it is with details of puzzling family lineages and bloody royal skirmishes. But Herodotus, the father of history, is at his best when he abandons all the technical pecularities and delves into describing foreign (ie non-Greek) cultures. He does this with a kind of childlike amazement which might not be immediately evident when describing cultures closer to his home but verges onto fantasy when writing about far-away tribes and civilizations. Werewolves, flying snakes and a whole nation of dwarves? They were all there somewhere in Herodotus' world. 

These chapters I thought were the highlights of the book. There's something mind-expanding and even comforting about the fact that cultures have always been in constant flux and motion ever since the dawn of mankind. Cultures mutate, call themselves different things over time, devour eachother up, give birth to new ones and a (at least) 2500 year-old pattern can only mean that this is how it will always be. I find it comforting in this sense, even if I know that in a few years only a tiny fraction of our 6000 languages will still be in use. 

Kapuściński's Travels With Herodotus dwells on such matters. He basically made Herodotus' classic much more interesting to me. Kapuściński, the great Polish journalist and traveller, extracted these bits and expanded on them by inquiring and trying to imagine himself as a journalist in Herodotus' time or vice versa. He treated Herodotus as a buddy and by sharing their travels together came up with some amazing observations. The stuff that Kapuściński wrote down in this book is stuff which I think about most of the time, and simply seeing these thoughts alive and put into words developed in me some kind of camaraderie with the man, perhaps in ways similar to Kapuściński himself and Herodotus. 

Here are some extracts which I felt I related the most to. I like to think that lines like these feed into my illustrations somehow.

"Herodotus was therefore a Greek Carian, an ethnic half-breed. Such people who grow up amid different cultures, as a blend of different bloodlines, have their worldview determined by such concepts as border, distance, difference, diversity. We encounter the widest array of human types among them, from fanatical, fierce sectarians, to passive, apathetic provincials, to open, receptive wanderers - citizens of the world." 

"Yes, Herodotus is never shocked at difference, never condemns it; rather, he tries to learn about it, to understand and describe it. Difference? It serves by some paradox only to emphasize a greater oneness, speaking to its vitality and richness." 

"Traveling and encountering various tribes and peoples, Herodotus observes and records that each of them has its own history, which unfolds independently from yet parallel to other histories - in other words, that far from being one story, human history in its aggregate resembles a great cauldron whose perpetually simmering surface sees incessant collisions of innumerable particles, each moving in their own orbits, along trajectories that intersect at an infinite number of points."

"Herodotus learns about his worlds with the rapturous enthusiasm of a child. His most important discovery? That there are many worlds. And that each is different. 
Each is important.
And that one must learn about them, because these other worlds, these other cultures, are mirrors in which we can see ourselves, thanks to which we understand ourselves better - for we cannot define our own identity until having confronted that of others, as comparison."


Monday, October 10, 2011

Invisible Cities Pt 2

I spent the last post describing the intentions behind this piece I did for the minor project during my illustration degree's final year. I guess the last post was pretty vague as to what the piece actually looked like, but these next few images should settle that. 

I have no idea of what to call the thing I created - sculpture? installation? 3d illustration? monument? Whatever it turned out to be, I started work on it by sketching out a few ideas based on the images which I posted previously. I knew that I wanted it to have some kind of holy aura, to contain a secluded interior using curtains and to have this relic-like quality without it looking like a tourist souvenir. So I created this model out of cardboard and then proceeded to have a chat with my pap who suggested ideas of how best to build the structure without having it collapse during the project's hand-in. My father is one of those men who can build anything from anything and can single-handedly repair a house and while I'm not half as resourceful, I do owe much to him. 

During all of this time I had been hoarding bits of wood from the streets - scrap planks, abandoned bits of furniture in skips, knobs and balusters and banisters and anything that looked remotely like a dome or a tower, and much more. Earlier on I had made the decision to build this thing out of scrap wood, mostly out of pure necessity since I barely had any cash to pay the bills let alone buy wood to build a timeless relic. At the end I think that this worked in favour of the piece's final visual feel since I felt that the various different wooden elements accentuated the idea of drawing from different cultures to create a unified whole. The only money spent was on the varnishes, a couple of couch covers from a charity shop that my friend Lisa turned into curtains, a cheap TK Maxx candle holder and aluminium salad bowl for the dome and some other technical bits and pieces. Most of the construction took place at my uni's 3D workshop and later at home. 


After construction came the decoration bit of the project. This involved varnishing, hand painting a quotation from Invisible Cities onto the structure, applying patterns to the floating city base and of course decorating all of the city's buildings. I based the quotation's typeface on what I thought might look like late-19th century British imperial lettering which I'd seen whilst working in museums in Malta (especially the Maritime Museum). The inverted star-shaped podium on which I built my floating city drew inspiration once again vaguely from the Middle East. The buildings of the city itself are representations of various global and imagined architectural styles - from Central European churches to Arabic minarets and so on. I tried as much as possible to maintain the geographical sequence of the Silk Route within the planning of my tiny city. The interior contains a sprinkling of exotic spices to evoke the smell of a market along the Silk Route and is illuminated by a light which I like to think of as being moonlight. 

This project was almost unlike anything I'd done before. It was a highly passion-driven venture of which I doubt I'd have the opportunity to repeat. I've recently had some ideas for it and I'll post any related plans on this blog (hopefully) in the future. Finally, here are some images of the final piece to finish off this post. Thanks for reading!