the exhibition opened

the exhibition opened

 

The exhibition Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human opened at La Cala on the 8th of April and will close on the 14th of August, coinciding with a garden party to celebrate Biblioteca La Cala.

The original artwork of any book is a work of its own. Though the book will have reproductions of the originals, these will keep on being an entirely separate collection of work. At least for me.

I love having exhibitions. It's a very different feeling to publishing a book. It's an invitation to look into the more intimate creative process behind the images. As I wrote in my previous post, the exhibition for Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human included two series of works: the original images made to accompany the text in their Japanese accordion book format, and a new series of images made from the negative silhouettes salvaged from each organ or organic system. This second series was begun simultaneously and finished after the publication of the book.

To display the first series of images, a beautiful glass case (of the museum and specimen kind) was especially made. The second series, which I wanted to have an x-ray effect, were framed and individually lit-up with leds.

The exhibition opened in early April, following a two day course on artist books that I gave at La Cala.

 

Preview of the exhibition with the participants of the course El libro de Artista, the day before the official opening

While planning for the show, I was fascinated by other exhibitions revolving around the body. Through my research I discovered the work of Romy Yedidia. Through her work she explores the representation of the female human body, the problems of indoctrination within propaganda and gender conflicts. I was especially moved by her performative piece 'Preserve x' 186 which she describes as the following: "The way contemporary media represents body image and its meaning quite often insinuates only overly sexualised portrayal of femininity. To deprive femininity from any contextual substance, and assign it only to a basic function of being a visual commodity for the other, is to reinsure perpetuation of one-sided, unequal, distorted constructs that do not offer any space nor potential for further growth. These circumstances situate women in malignant comparative position between what is imposed as a normalised image of feminine, and what they truly are. 'Preserve x 186' is my response to this perpetual brainwash. This performative sculpture series was executed by long casting sessions of my body parts. I was casted repeatedly in plaster in front of my every-day public surroundings. By materialising the pain of remaining still in an unnatural position, I protested the constant objectification of women and the expectation of them to remain silent."

 

Collections of cast body parts from ?Preserve x 186' by Romy Yedidia

 

Romy Yedudua performing 'Preserve  x 186'

I also looked to my constant sources of inspiration, such as Kiki Smith, whose work constantly questions the body in it's sexual, animal and mythological senses.

 

3 exhibitions by Kiki Smith exploring the body in mythology

 

Puppet and Siren sculptures by Kiki Smith

My exhibition, thanks to the meticulous curatorship by Grassa Toro and Ana Mareca, achieved a dramatic effect I could only have dreamed of, only part of which has been captured by the photographs below.

 

 

If you wish to see it in person, do join us at the celebration on the 14th of August at La Cala.

Song of the day

Max Richter - On Reflection...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8vVkAu7DRo


Months ago,

Months ago,

Months ago, I began a second series of images for Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human. A series of images that would not be included in the book, but would rather, serve as a playful appendix, to be viewed during exhibitions.

I love this idea of creating images for a book whose intention is to remain unpublished. This isn't to say that the images were an afterthought, on the contrary, they were conceived simultaneously to the actual images of the book. Let me explain. While making the images for the book, I cut out the silhouettes of each organ or organic system from a page of an old anthology about Latin literature. I cut each silhouette meticulously, in one each, and delicately preserved the ¨negative¨silhouettes of each, pasting them on a sheet of tracing paper.

 

Series of "negatice drawings" in process

 

Among the definitions for negative, are the following two which seem aligned with my concept.

ˈnɛɡətɪv/
adjective: negative
1.
consisting in or characterized by the absence rather than the presence of distinguishing features.
2.
a negative photographic image made on film or specially prepared glass, from which positive prints may be made.
"photographs and negatives should be supplied for enlargement purposes"

Months into the process, I decided to make these images the negatives or the x-ray drawings, in black and white. While the original drawings respect the formal attributes of the organs of the human body, this series of drawings plays which what is suggested by the negative form. The digestive system is filled in by the shape of a flamingo ingesting a shrimp, the uterus is the head of an elephant, the penis is a squid, the vagina an ancient celtic symbol of a goddess, and so on and so forth.

 

From left to right: the respiratory system, the endocrine system, the nervous system

 

From left to right, top row: vagina, uterus, penis frontal, penis profile

 

During my research process, I looked back at medieval iconography, rich in symbolism and magical beasts.

 

Inspirational images for the negative image of the vagina. From left to right: Psalter and Hours of Bonne of Luxembourg. Arme Christi / Side wound of Christ, or "The entrance to Christ's heart",  and two versions of A Man Enthroned within a Mandorla in a Tree, the first ca 1270, and the second, date unknown.

I found interest in the repetition and patterns of Tantric art.

 

Inspirational images for the negative image of the uterus. On the left: Pushpa Kumari "Mithila Painting", Untitled, 2004, Ink/paper, 30 x 22 in (76.2 x 55.9 cm) Courtoisy Cavin-Morris gallery. On the to right: Munan Tantra image.

 

I was fascinated by anatomical illustrations in both encyclopedic plate form as well as in illuminated manuscripts.

Inspirational images for the negative image of the penis. On the left: A cuttlefish: British Library Burney MS 97, f. 41v. On the to right: Mollusca. Octopus, squid, nautilus, and cuttlefish. The Animal Kingdom.

 

Birds, of course found themselves flying in and out of the series of drawings.

 

From left to right: the muscular system, the circulatory system

 

On the left: Illustrations for 'the bloody chamber' by Angela Carter by Katt Frank. On the right: bird-girl drawings, found on Pinterest, artist unkown.
From left to right: An onocentaur (half man, half ass) with a bow looks at a siren. These two are often illustrated together. J. Paul Getty Museum, MS. Ludwig XV 3, Folio 78r, Tamed monsters series by Lena Revenko, Manfishchicken from French medieval illuminated manuscript.
Left to right: Illuminated manuscript depicting Garuda. Prayer sheet to Lord Garuda.  Japanese mythological birdman.

 

Making this series of images was very different to the creative process that I engaged for the originals that were printed in the book. Both processes were games, though this one involved a more ludic type of play, one that made me laugh out loud at times.

Song of the day

Tim Buckley - Song to the Siren

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMTEtDBHGY4

 


stories to night and back.

stories to night and back.

Have you ever imagined that an entire theatre could be hiding behind the cover of a little notebook? I certainly hadn't, until one day, after carrying my grandfather's story of his exile for years, I opened a small sketchbook and began to cut out shapes and forms. When I finished the book, which was meant to be sent to the Sketchbook Project in New York, some very dear friends convinced me to publish it. With their help, collaboration and support, we set up a crowd-funding campaign to publish as small edition of the book.

 

https://vimeo.com/142656150

Crowd-funding campaign launched on Verkami in Novermber 2015 to rais funds to publish a small edition of the book

 

Although at a first view, it may seem to be a decorative paper-theatre, there is a whole history behind To Night and Back · Mece la noche, a history that I am unable to grasp completely.
In 1947, during the war that lead to the Partition of what we now know to be India and Pakistan, a large part of the Hindu community from the region of Sind - including my family - was forced into exile. This turned us into a wandering tribe, a diaspora spread across the world.

 

Photos (by Pluviam) of the published book

 

I was born in Morocco, but have roots in India, Ghana, England and now in Spain. This has allowed me to live in and learn about very different cultural traditions. The few things I know about Sind come from the way our family has tried to preserve it’s traditions and values, from the stories told to me by the elders of the community and more recently through books. 

The stories told to me by my grandparents and elders of the community were very often brief. It seemed to me while growing up, and still now, that it must be very painful for them to remember what they had to leave behind, but at the same time they cling on to whatever they can in daily details such as cooking typical dishes, insisting on speaking Sindhi, celebrating Sindhi festivals.

Over the past 5 years, on various trips to India, I have discovered wonderful publications such as Nandita Bhavnani’s The Making of Exile: Sindhi Hindus and the Partition of India, Saaz Aggarwal’s Sindh - Stories from a Vanished Homeland and Sindh: Past Glory, Present Nostalgia. Though each book has a very distinct voice and style, each address the vital issue that until now it has been very difficult for Sindhi hindus to look back onto their exile and share their story.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iD8xqC8YuSc

Book trailer for Sindh - Stories from a Vanished Honeland which visually explains an overview of the history of Sind and the exile of the Hindu Sindhis.

 

Part of my bibliography while researching about my past Sindhi history. From top left (clockwise): Sindh: Stories of a Vanished Homeland by Saaz Aggarwal, The Making of an Exile by Nandita Bhavnani, Sindh: Past Glory, Present Nostalgia edited by Pratapaditya Pal and Marg magazine volume 60 dedicated to Sindhi arts.

 

I am grateful to all of these (and many other) sources who through the years have helped me put together bits and pieces of the puzzle and learn more about this “imaginary homeland”, as Salman Rushdie would say. In his essay of the same title (which can be read in it's entirety by clicking the link), he explains the notion of reconstructing imaginary identities after exile, what is lost, what is gained and how writing and memory permits humanity to reclaim its sense of loss. “It may be argued that the past is a country from which we have all emigrated, that its loss is part of our common humanity.” This project was born from this very wish to understand a bit better just what being a Sindhi means to me. It was a voyage and homage to the imagined land of my elders, to which I have not yet travelled physically if only through the stories they told me through my childhood.

The book is also the result of extensive research into the different narrative techniques - whether they be traditional, modern, occidental or oriental -, from all of these cultures that I have been lucky to be exposed to. These include formats such as: kalamkari, miniature painting, cut-outs and paper-theatres. Without really planning it, many different techniques I had been exposed to both as a child and as an adult seemed to find their ways into the book. For years prior to making the book, I had been fascinated with kalamkari, a hand-painted or block-printed cotton textile, produced in parts of India. Traditionally, this technique was used by storytellers, musicians and painters, called chitrakattis, who moved from village to village to tell the dwellers the great epic stories of Hindu mythology. They would illustrate while telling the stories on the spot, on large canvases using rudimentary natural materials available such as dyes extracted from plants.

The word kalamkari comes from the Persian words ghalam (pen) and kari (craftsmanship) and literally means drawing with a pen. I studied occidental textile and printing techniques at college in London, and though different, they also use the black line on paper. The drawing style used in the book is a result of this mix between occidental printing and the decorative patterns that Kalamkars use to create images.

 

Image of a craftsman hand-painting the black decorative line.

 

On the left: an image of goddess Durga Ma - the mother goddess. On the right: a decorative peacock fabric.
Three festive scenes of Lord Krishna - the god of love, the last of which shows him and all his adoring milk-maids on a swan boat. This swan boat, which is meant to symbolize the voyage through hardships towards love, is the very same seen on one of the final pages of To Night and Back · Mece la noche.

 

Another source of inspiration for the book, and for most of my work has been miniature paintings; from the ancient Persian tradition and from the Mogul period in India (between 1526 and 1648). Both visual languages share elements such as the careful composition of text and image on the page and lack of perspective. My entire book draws inspiration from the lack of perspective and plays with the superposition of cut-out layers of paper to create a sense of depth. At the end of the book there is a surprise poster that was designed using elements from miniature painting illuminated manuscripts.

 

A small selection of miniature paintings. On the top row from left the right: Indian painting of the bird god Garuda carrying Ram and Sita on his back. Indian princess from the Mogul period. Persian warriors. The bottom row consists of three Persian illuminated manuscripts.

 

A selection of Oriental Islamic miniature paintings from Diane de Sellier's edition of Le Cantique des Oiseaux by Farid pd-din 'Attâr.

 

When talking to me about Sindh, my grandfather always mentioned that before partition, the region was rich with a mix of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Persian and Sufi cultures and traditions. This is still reflected in the language, food as well as in rituals and music.

In our family home, like in the home of most Sindhi families I know, there is an image of the Sufi Saint Jhulelal. On Cheti Chand (Sindhi new year) a special offering is made to him with festive songs, lamps and flowers.This saint exists in many interwoven legends which bring together the Hindu and Islamic traditions of the region in popular folklore. 

One one hand the name refers to the community God of Sindhi people and an incarnation of Hindu God Varuna. On the other, the name also refers to Al-Khidr. In both case, the saint rides on a large Illish fish, called a Palla in Sindhi. He is said to ¨rescue and protect people in times of danger, saving the pure in heart from theft, drowning, snakes, and scorpions.¨ From an article by H. Talat Halman.

In To Night and Back · Mece la noche, to make a reference to Jhulelal, grandmother Ama rides on a Palla fish upon a lotus flower. She carries with her all that she can from her homeland.

 

From top to bottom: images of Jhulelal, Khidr and Ama.The final two images were photographed by my dear friend, Kenza Benamour, whose vision and knowledge of Sufi spiritually has helped me understand a lot about Sindhi culture through the years.

 

To enter the universe of my elders, I allowed myself to play with the use of paper and the traditional book format. Inside a simple notebook I created a theatrical landscape that changes as you turn the pages.Although there are no shadow puppets in the book, the superposition of the pages create shadows and interesting contrasts. Before making the book, I had been researching all kinds of traditional and ancient forms of paper cutting to tell stories.There are wonderful sources online such as this book about Chinese shadows that can be found at the BNF.

 

 

The blog Theatre d'ombres et de Silhouette also compiles a rich source of templates, vintage puppets, artist references, theatre scripts and stories to download.

 

Antique books about shadow puppets.

 

 

 

I attended a course about shadow puppets taught by Alexandra Eseverri from Asombras at the Casa Asia in Madrid. Though the course was brief, it introduced me the the history of shadow puppets and their different manifestations throughout Asia and Europe. I also discovered the silhouette animation movies of Lotte Reineger. After the course, I watched every one of her films and was very much influenced by her magical way of using a pair of scissors and black paper to create forms with so much life in them.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myG5Xg0NaQ4

The Magic Horse, animation by Lotte Reiniger 1953

Without really noticing, around that time, paper cutting became something of an obsession. I applied it to my illustrations as well as to the workshops I was giving. Through my work on this project, I took particular interest to paper theatres. I used the campaign launch as an excuse to indulge into this interest and create three dimensional boxes using characters and settings from the book. The boxes were made by the cardboard artist Rachid L'Moudenne. At the launch party of the campaign of To Night and Back · Mece la noche, I exhibited 5 paper theatres inspired in the universe of the book.

Paper theatres are magic. With a pair of scissors and instructions, you can transform a few printed sheets of paper into a space where stories can be narrated. Over the past years, I have become increasingly fascinated with paper theatres and other formats for storytelling such as the Kamishibai.

 

A traditional Japanese Kamishibai, fully equipped with wheels and a sound system for efficient storytelling purposes.

 

I also researched lots of paper theatre formats. Although I haven’t visited it physically in over a decade, I made lots of virtual visits to Pollock toy museum. Pollock's was originally a shop and printers, dating back to the 1850’s. Benjamin Pollock hand printed, constructed and coloured much of the toy theatre material housed in the museum today. Another source of material was Lucia Contreras Flores’ fantastic book and website Teatritos.

 

Benjamin Pollok's Toy Museum and shop in London

 

After much research, I attended Lo mío es puro teatro, a course by Gustavo Puerta Leisse and Elena Odriozola. There I began to understand how to play with the format of a toy theatre. I was very inspired by the paper theatre Elena created for the illustrations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein published by Nordica Libros.

 

Elena Odriozola’s toy theatre being photographed for the book.

 

While working the book, La escuela de papel · L'école de papier began to take form. L'école de papier, is a nomadic, ephemeral school that provides a space for playing with paper, scissors and our hands. Both projects share the same fascination for cutting paper and experimenting with it. In the book format, the superimposed cut pages permit a game of depth and surprise. In the school, different types of paper toys and traditional paper techniques are explored to propose creative workshops for children and adults.

Some of the school’s workshops given at the French Institute in Madrid include: Playing with Light: The Tales of Charles Perrault at the shadow theatre, The Autumn Leaves: Learning to cut paper leaves (inspired by Emilie Vast and Katsumi Komagata), Paper Garlands (inspired by Nathalie Parain’s Ribambelles).

Through the process of working out the details of how to publish the book, it made perfect sense to marry these two projects, making To Night and Back · Mece la noche La Escuela de Papel’s first editorial venture! The book can be currently bought directly by writing to me, and will shortly be available on the L'École de Papier website, which I am thrilled to announce is under construction as we speak by the very talented Ana and Laura from La Particular.

Song of the day

Anoushka Shankar- Lola's Lullaby

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8e5cFDlfn4I

 

 


many stories,

many stories,

Many stories inhabit us. We carry them faithfully, sometimes silently. There are some we can't wait to share, or that spurt right out of us uncontrollably. Some are more difficult to tell. We let these grow inside of us until we are ready. Some of them we take to our graves.

Many stories have become universal. Folk tales, fairytales, nursery rhymes, epic poems are carried across cultures, told or sung from one generation to the next. As Angela Carter writes: “For most of human history, 'literature,' both fiction and poetry, has been narrated, not written — heard, not read. So fairy tales, folk tales, stories from the oral tradition, are all of them the most vital connection we have with the imaginations of the ordinary men and women whose labor created our world.” Adapted and readapted continuously.

 

"Little Red Riding Hood is perhaps one of the best known fairy tales. Like most European fairy tales, its origins lie within a sprawling folk tradition of oral storytelling. It was first published in the late 17th century by Charles Perrault – a French author who is considered to be the father of the fairy tale genre due to his work collecting these tales together for the first time in print. This later version, contained within a small, hand-coloured chapbook, dates from 1810 and was published in Moorfields, London. It is told in the form of a verse poem with alternating unrhymed and rhymed couplets. The clear text and simple language, coupled with the large colourful illustrations, suggests that this chapbook was aimed at young readers." Source: British Library

Many stories transform and transcend through the years, preserving their meaning while taking upon new forms and formats.

 

Little Red Riding Hood by artist Warja Lavater, whose series of classic fairytales consists of accordion books that tell the stories through the use of symbols rather than words, with a small legend to guide the reader on the first pages. Published by: Maeght Editions
Details from Little Red Riding Hood by artist Warja Lavater

Many stories live in books, in works of art, on walls, in the theatre. These also inhabit us as we inhabit them. In the words of John Berger from Keeping a Rendezvous: “When we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the book are like a roof and four walls. What is to happen next will take place within the four walls of the story. And this is possible because the story's voice makes everything its own.” In A Way of Being Free, Ben Okri continues upon this train of thought: “Reading, therefore, is a co-production between writer and reader. The simplicity of this tool is astounding. So little, yet out of it whole worlds, eras, characters, continents, people never encountered before, people you wouldn’t care to sit next to in a train, people that don’t exist, places you’ve never visited, enigmatic fates, all come to life in the mind, painted into existence by the reader’s creative powers. In this way the creativity of the writer calls up the creativity of the reader. Reading is never passive.” By appropriating stories, one not only makes them their own, but enters the story more completely. This is demonstrated time and again, when working with children with classic tales.

Shadow puppet theatre of Little Red Riding Hood for one of my L'École de Papier workshops. Photos by Daniela Martagón
Acting out the story during the workshop at L'Institut Français Madrid . Photos by Éric Mangin

Bringing stories "to life" through enacting is one way of appropriating them. Shadow play, also known as shadow puppetry, is an ancient form of storytelling which uses flat articulated shadow puppets which are held between a source of light and a translucent screen. This idea of the shadow reflecting truth is  reflected in Plato's Allegory of the Cave: “On the walls of the cave, only the shadows are the truth”. Though shadow play originated from Central Asia in the 1st century BCE, it has been constantly revived and reinvented. Lotte Reiniger, a German artist from the 1950s translated this tradition onto the silver screen, making the first animation films of fairytales using elaborate silhouette figures cut out from black paper.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXQPZqOqe58

This documentary by the British Film Institute explains Lotte Reiniger's creative process, demonstrating how the flat figure is transformed to a motion picture.

 

The above images include original frames and puppets by Lotte Reiniger, as well as her tools. Source: Tübingen Universitätsstadt

Many stories follow traditional storytelling narratives and formats, or adapt them to create new forms.

This short documentary explores some of the storytelling traditions in India, retold by the authors of the Jaipur literature festival in 2011.

 

The above images explain the Bunraku tradition. Source: Fact & Details.

 

Modern adaptations of puppet play provide us with new forms of story telling, that mix ancient traditions with contemporary narratives. In The Table, the British production company Blind Summit, uses Bunraku puppetry to invent new styles of theatre.

 

Extract from a performance of The Table, by Blind Summit Theatre.

 

Many stories inhabit the spaces in which we move, from people or things who have lived in them before us. Walter Benjamin describes this idea in Berlin Childhood around 1900: “Not to find one's way around a city does not mean much. But to lose one's way in a city, as one loses one's way in a forest, requires some schooling. Street names must speak to the urban wanderer like the snapping of dry twigs, and little streets in the heart of the city must reflect the times of day, for him, as clearly as a mountain valley. This art I acquired rather late in life; it fulfilled a dream, of which the first traces were labyrinths on the blotting papers in my school notebooks.” Galia Levy-Grad pays homage to the city of Warsaw and tells her story as she describes: "which takes place in the Jewish diaspora" but doesn't have "a strong diaspora feeling". Indeed, her mix of the pop-up book, traditional music and shadow play creates a celebratory interpretation of a repeatedly heart-breaking story.

 

 

Many stories, in fact, recount the loss of homelands and the encounter of new ones. In the documentary The Missing Picture, Rithy Panh remembers his childhood in Cambodia when the country had been taken over by the Khmer Rouge. He recreates unbearably painful scenes using clay figures. A review on Film Comment describes that: "Rithy Panh, who is at the forefront of efforts to reckon with the legacy of the Khmer Rouge, employs an unusual mix of clay figurines with pensive voiceover and worn-out vintage propaganda footage to revisit his country’s traumatic past. Rather than adopting the accusatory tone of an investigation, The Missing Picture is marked by a certain stillness and emotional containment, like a hushed visit to a memorial.

Stills from The Missing Picture by Rithy Panh.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSU3AN4QMko

A brief extract of the documentary The Missing Picture.

In Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, Walter Benjamin develops this idea of stillness and containment: “Every morning brings us news of the globe, and yet we are poor in noteworthy stories. This is because no event comes to us without being already shot through with explanation. In other words, by now almost nothing that happens benefits storytelling; almost everything benefits information. Actually, it is half the art of storytelling to keep a story free from explanation as one reproduces it. . . . The most extraordinary things, marvelous things, are related with the greatest accuracy, but the psychological connection of the event is not forced on the reader. It is left up to him to interpret things the way he understands them, and thus the narrative achieves an amplitude that information lacks.”

This stillness can be found in many great stories. In his his self-reflective work, La grande boule de beige, Juan Carlos Bracho ponders upon the creative process, the act of telling a story slowly, a revindication of fast accesible information, and a personal inner-journey.

 

Many stories are constructed through the act of creating them. South African artist William Kentridge talks about the need for looking for meaning through his work. He talks about the process of "reverse engineering" where the desire and act of making something is the very construction of the story, that the story is born from the intention of making and not the other way around.  The "physical activities of cutting, tearing and collaging generate ideas and infuse his work with meaning. Rather than starting with an idea that is then executed, Kentridge relies on these freeform processes and the resulting juxtapositions to find connections and raise questions." Source: art21

 

Original work from the Kentridge retrospective at Museo Reina Sofía.

Many stories are told through poetry. Paul Éluard 's Liberté is a an ode to freedom written during the German occupation of France. He initially wrote it for the women he loved and realised that the only word really had in mind was liberty."Je pensais révéler pour conclure le nom de la femme que j’aimais, à qui ce poème était destiné. Mais je me suis vite aperçu que le seul mot que j’avais en tête était le mot Liberté. Ainsi, la femme que j’aimais incarnait un désir plus grand qu’elle. Je la confondais avec mon aspiration la plus sublime, et ce mot Liberté n’était lui-même dans tout mon poème que pour éterniser une très simple volonté, très quotidienne, très appliquée, celle de se libérer de l’Occupant."  The poem ends with these final verses:

"Sur l'absence sans désir
Sur la solitude nue
Sur les marches de la mort
J'écris ton nom

Sur la santé revenue
Sur le risque disparu
Sur l'espoir sans souvenir
J'écris ton nom

Et par le pouvoir d'un mot
Je recommence ma vie
Je suis né pour te connaître
Pour te nommer

Liberté"

 

An edition of the poem illustrated by Anouck Boisrobet & Louis Rigaud, published by Flammarion.

Kate Tempest uses poetry and performs it in spoken work. Her work draws upon the themes of storytelling, mythology and ancestry. In her poem Brand New Ancients she writes:

"We are still mythical;
we are still
permanently trapped
somewhere between the heroic and the pitiful"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdE0BkP95Ng

Kate Tempest's reading of Brand New Ancients at Letters Live.

In my theatre-book To Night and Back · Mece la noche, I drew upon the mythology that was transmitted to me as a child to tell the story of our community's exile from Sind during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. I found great reconciliation in being able to tell this story that was so hard for "my elders" to share with me.

Photo of  To Night and Back · Mece la noche theatre book.

The project began as a small sketchbook, grew into a crowd funding campaign, which resulted in a small self-published edition of the book, paper-toy rewards and artist boxes. I was surprised to see it's evolution, and  will write more about it in my next post.

 

https://vimeo.com/143784163

 

https://vimeo.com/144474415

 

https://vimeo.com/147348500

Three animations made inspired by the theatre-book To Night and Back. The animations were designed by myself, Raquel Martinez Uña and Pluviam.
Song of the day

Nitin Sawhney - Homelands

 

texto


to tell stories,

to tell stories,

To tell stories we delve into our memories, our past experiences, into other stories, from other times. We turn to our imaginations, we learn from the imaginations of others. We remember the stories we were told as children, that our perhaps were told to our elders when they were children, and to their elders when they were children.

In The Mystery Feast: Thoughts on Storytelling, Ben Okri writes: 

No civilization ever became great on knowledge alone. Indeed it is the imaginative dimension of civilizations which gives them distinction. What would ancient Greece be without its tragedians, its Parthenon, its Homeric epics? What would ancient Egypt be without its pyramids, its temples? Imagination dreams what that which knowledge makes real. It could be said that imagination is the porto-reality. A people can only create what they can imagine. If in some mysterious way we fall short of the ancients, it may be because we have long ceased to cultivate, to the highest degree, the fruits of the imagination, of the spirit. That despairing cry from the Bible should always haunt us. “For lack of vision my people perish.” . . .  How do we awaken imagination? How do we awaken vision? One of the ways, passed down to us with cunning simplicity by our ancestors, is storytelling.” 

To tell stories, we speak, we write poetry and prose, we make images, films and animations, we compose songs and lullabies. 

Cover image from Lire le monde, Michèle Petit. Ed. Belin

Emphasizing this very need for storytelling in Lire le monde, Michèle Petit  writes in the first person as if speaking directly to a child: 

"I give you songs and  stories so that you can repeat them to yourself through the night, so that you will not be too afraid of the dark and the shadows. So that slowly you will not need me, will think of yourself as your own distinct little subject, will elaborate the multiple separations you will need to face. I give you snippets of knowledge and fictions so that you can equally symbolize absence and affront - as best you can-  the big human questions, the mysteries of life and death, the difference between the sexes, the fear of abandonment, the unknown, love, rivalry. So that you can write your own stories between the lines you have read."

This was translated to english by me, to the best of my capacities. I am quite certain it doesn't do justice to the beauty of the original text, which I have included here below for those of you who do read in French: 

"Je te donne des chansons et des récits pour que tu te les redises pour traverser la nuit, pour que tu n’aies pas trop peur du noir et des ombres. Pour que tu puisses peu à peu te passer de moi, te penser comme un petit sujet distinct, puis élaborer les multiples séparations qu’il te faudra affronter. Je te livre des bribes de savoir et des fictions pour que tu sois à même de symboliser l’absence et d’affronter, autant que faire se peut, les grandes questions humaines, les mystères de la vie et de la mort, de la différence des sexe ; la peur de l’abandon, de l’inconnu, l’amour, la rivalité. Pour que tu écrives ta propre histoire entre les lignes lues."

To tell stories, we make things with our hands.

We paint, we draw, we stitch and embroider, we sculpt, we create objets, we make books. We make artist books.

An ‘artist book’ refers to a publication that is created as artwork in its own right. It can said that the very first books in human history were artist books, though the content may have been created by one artist, the text manuscripted by another and the images illuminated by a third. This the case for ancient illuminated manuscripts, scrolls (also called phads in India), concertinas, books of hours, religious scriptures, among other formats.

 

This illuminated manuscript, "The opening of the Sixth Seal," is from the Morgan Beatus, 10th Century.  Maintained by the Morgan Library and Museum, New York. Source: Awesome Stories.
Ancient Indian scroll or phad titled Sky Battle of Kurukshetra

 

A Gujarati religious text on palm leaves between acacia wood covers; probably from the 1700's. Source: Columbia University

 

The book is a medium that allows an artist's work to be more accessible. The reproduction of the work - whether in limited edition prints, etchings, printmaking or even through photocopying - gives it a potential to reach a larger and more varied audience. In this way, the artist book can be an incredibly powerful storytelling object.

While artists’ books can take many forms, there are a few elements that they share in common. They reflect on the properties of the book form itself. The book is not merely valued for it’s content, if not for its form as well. The artists’ book invites us to hold it and turn through its pages. Whether the contents are visual or linguistic (or both), physically moving through an artwork implicates notions of sequence, repetition, juxtaposition, and duration. The dialogue created between the text and images, the printing process and the design of the book, allows for many exciting possibilities within narrative, media, and meaning that are specific to the artists’ book alone.

In preparation for a workshop dedicated to the artist book that I will be giving in April, I have amplified my collection of research on the subject.

In this post, I would like to share some of the book artists that have caught my attention, some all time favorites, and some new discoveries.

Katsumi Komagata is a Japanese graphic designer, turned book-maker and publisher. In several lectures I have heard him talk about how his initial fascination for making books began when his first child was born. He says that he tried to imagine his child’s curiosity for how the world works, and wanted to create simple objects that she could interact and play with. This resulted in a collection of beautiful, geometric object-books (livres-objets), some of which can be enjoyed below.

Little Tree, a book that shows the life cycle of a tree, through the seasons. Source: One Stroke

 

Details from Little Tree, by Katsumi Komagata

 

Yellow to Red. Tokyo : One Stroke ; 1997 ; 2003 ; 2005 / Du jaune au rouge. Édition bilingue français-japonais. Tokyo : One Stroke ; Paris : Les Trois Ourses, 2014

 

Details from Mountains (left image) and Blue (right image), by Katsumi Komagata.

 

 

I recently came across the work of book artist Mar Goman. The images below come from her website, which I recomend visiting. I have not included captions because no additional information about the pieces can be found on the site. I am including a small selection of the images that most intrigued me.

 

Selected works by Mar Gorman

 

 

Tara Books, an independent publisher from Chennai, India describes its mission as "pushing the boundaries of the book form in an age that is busy writing its obituary". As well as featuring traditional artists and artisans whose narrative traditions are in danger of extinction, they make a series of handmade books using block printing, exquisite hand-made khaki (cotton fibre) papers, and even cloth.

 

 

The Cloth of the Mother Goddess by Jagdish Chitara

 

The Cloth of the Mother Goddess follows the tradition of painting a cloth as an offering to the goddess Durga. The book is block-printed on fabric and designed as a foldable shrine, which a similar format to the Kaavad, a portable story-telling temple from Rajasthan. Though it can be argued whether a kaavad qualifies as an artist book, because it is made of wood and resembles a piece of furniture more than a book, it's principle purpose is to be manipulated by the kavaad-bad (storyteller) to turn the doors (which serve as pages) and unveil the story.

 

 

A kavaad I made inspired by the text The Elephant's Child by Rudyard Kipling. More information here

There, of course, is more. A lot more. So much, that this post will be continued in several posts over the next weeks. These weeks, in which I will be reading, writing about and celebrating telling stories and making books to tell them in.

Song of the day

Tracy Chapman - Telling Stories

 


we make artist books

we make artist books

Making an artist book is one way of telling a story.

In April, I will be giving a two day course at La Cala titled El libro de artista (The Artist Book)

 

A Little Story about How I Like to Tell Stories. A small handmade edition I made to explain my creative process, 2014.

 

During the course we will explore the art of creating books by looking, touching and making. We will begin by studying different formats of artist books, tracing their origin from illuminated manuscripts, books of hours, scrolls, concertinas (accordion books) to more contemporary formats. We will think about the the materiality of the book as an object, searching for coherence between content and format, use and aesthetic, narrative and material. We will debate over the principle of the Bauhaus which states: "Form follows function”.

 

An artist book I made inspired by Kipling's The Jungle Book. The transparency of the paper allowed me to create a sense of depth in the jungle, 2013.

 

Following a theoretical introduction, we will begin making and creating. Using a predetermined concertina format, we will each create our own artist book. The course will conclude with a small exhibition and critique of the work.

 

Original artwork from Este cuerpo es humano, 2017.

 

This course is open to photographers, musicians, designers, writers, artists, lawyers, illustrators, fishermen, firemen, cooks...the list is endless. Better said: it is not required to have previous experience, just curiosity and a desire to make something with your hands.

 

The Life of an Anchovy, work in progress.

 

The course will be held in La CALA on the 6 y 7 of April, 2018. From: 11h. to 14h. and from 17h. to 21h. Inscription fees: 200 € including 14 hours of the course and two nights in an individual room in a rural guest house nearby. For more information and to enroll, click here

Convocatoria en español:

En El libro de artista exploraremos, a través de la vista, el tacto y el hacer, el arte de crear libros singulares y hechos a mano. Arrancaremos el curso estudiando distintos formatos de libros, haciendo un recorrido desde los manuscritos iluminados, los libros de las horas, pergaminos, concertinas hasta formatos más contemporáneos. Pensaremos en la materialidad del libro-objeto, buscando la coherencia entre el contenido y el formato, el uso y la estética, la narración y la materia. Debatiremos sobre el principio de la Bauhaus: "La forma sigue a la función”.

Tras un inicio teórico, pasaremos a la creación. Usando un formato de libro acordeón preestablecido, cada uno crearemos un libro de artista propio. El curso se cerrará con una pequeña exposición y critica de las obras.

Dirección: Karishma Chugani Nankani. Máster en Edición. Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. MFA Design Futures. Goldsmiths College. BA Fashion Design with Printing. Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. Foundation Course in Art & Design. Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design.

Público: La convocatoria se abre a fotógrafos, músicos, diseñadores, escritores, artistas, abogados, ilustradores, pescadores, bomberos, cocineros...la lista sigue. Así dicho: no es necesario tener experiencia previa, sino solamente curiosidad y ganas de crear algo con las manos. Modalidad: presencial, en la sede de La CALA. Duración: 6 y 7 de abril de 2018. Horario: de 11h. a 14h. y de 17h. a 21h. Inscripción: 200 €. Incluye 14 horas de curso y dos noches de alojamiento en habitación individual en Casa Rural. A través de https://lacala.es/cursos-talleres/#inscripcion

Song of the day

Joanna Newsom - The Sprout & The Bean

 


With these hands

With these hands

Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human, written by Grassa Toro and translated to English by Claudio Cambon, concludes with a chapter about hands:

“This book ends here, at the very moment when we remember that the hands that wrote it, drew it, printed it, transported it, gave it, held it up as they read, turned from one page to the next, and closed it after just a few seconds look like, very much like, the hands of the animal who, for the first time in the history of evolution, put a fish in a pot of boiling water and ate it. That’s when this whole mess got started.

Hands dislike having nothing to do. The End.”

While thinking about the kind of image I wanted to make to accompany the text, I realised I wanted it to be an ode to hands, celebrating “the sixteen bones and several dozen muscles and tendons that hang down from our arms” which make us human.

 

 

I wanted to spend a moment making an image that reflected the capacity our hands permit us to make things, to create, to be artisans, whether is be cutting an onion or embroidering an image of the human hand. I have always been fascinated by everything hand-made, I marvel at how with practice one can acquire new hand made skills. I am saddened by the fact that while digital and industrial tools have evolved impressively, so many hand-made traditions are slowly dying out.

 

On the left a photograph of artist Louise Bourgeois. On the right her drawing of tools.

Richard Sennett, author of The Craftsman writes very eloquently about this in Labours of Love, an article he wrote for The Guardian:

“All craftsmanship is founded on skill developed to a high degree. By one commonly used measure, about 10,000 hours of experience are required to produce a master carpenter or musician. As skill progresses, it becomes more problem-attuned, such as the lab technician worrying about procedure - whereas people with primitive levels of skill struggle just to get things to work. At its higher reaches, technique is no longer a mechanical activity; people can feel fully and think deeply about what they are doing, once they do it well.

Two centuries ago, Immanuel Kant casually remarked: "The hand is the window on to the mind." Modern science has sought to make good on this observation. Of all our limbs, the hands make the most varied movements, movements that can be controlled at will. Science has sought to show how these motions, plus the hand's different ways of gripping and the sense of touch, affect the ways we think.”

 

Hand drawings and hand-stitched panels by Louise Bourgeois

 

Hand-embroidered panels by Louise Bourgeois

As the book ends with a chapter about hands, this will also be the last in this series of posts about my creative process for the images of this book. I will write more about hand-made techniques in future posts. For now, I wanted to write about my website, which was made public just a few days ago. It may seem contradictory to write about digital formats in a post dedicated to all things artisanal. On the contrary though, the site includes an online portfolio which displays a range of my hand-made work. As well as announcing the launch on social media, here in this blog-post, and via email, I made a series of limited-edition hand-cut and hand-written cards which were sent off in the post on Friday. I love the idea of keeping up the tradition of sending cards and letters in the post, of writing them by hand and posting them off physically.

 

http://decoupe-laser-papier.com/images/cestauprogramme.mp4

In this small documentary, MH-Edtions (laser-cutting printers) with whom I collaborate frequently, talk about the tradition of sending new years greetings. My laser-cut Christmas garlands can be seen in the background of their studio.

 

 

 

If you do receive one of these hand-made wishes, know that they are the negative silhouettes of hands, hearts, craniums and brains, all of which were cut to be glued into copies of the book as personalised dedications. Myself and Grassa Toro will be signing the book at the upcoming presentation of Biblioteca La CALA at Panta Rhei, Madrid on Thursday the 25th of February. Hope to see you there!

 

Song of the day

Sus Maos - Caetano Veloso


and my heart went BOUM!

and my heart went BOUM!

When asked to make the images of Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human, I didn’t do anything.
I didn’t make a single sketch or image. I waited. It turns out waiting is also a way of working, who knew?

While waiting, I thought a lot about the human body in general, then I thought about my body.
I read the texts of the book over and over again.
Then I began to I read other books.
My reading included books such as: Dictionnaire fou du corps by Katy Couprie, L’Origine du monde by Liv Strömquist, Así me veo by Josune Urrutia Asua, On the Nature of Things by Lucretius, and many others.

Extracts from Katy Couprie’s Dictionnaire fou du corps. The entries include a range of playful and serious definitions.
In Liv’s Strömquist’s comic, she provides anecdotes, historical references and myths about the female sex. I will write about it in more detail in the next post (entirely dedicated to the sexual organs).

 

Josune Urrutia’s book Así me veo (This is how I see myself) is a manual for learning how to look and draw at oneself. It accompanied me throughout my creative process.

 

Unfortunately, I did not read On the Nature of Things in such an antique edition. This image is from a bookseller’s blog you can visit here.

 

I looked all kinds of images of the body: anatomical drawings, old medical plates from encyclopedias. I found plates from medieval and oriental manuscripts that include all kinds of curiosities, myths and ailments.

I looked at miniature paintings and medical illustrations from Iran, China, Japan, Pakistan and India.

 


Here are two of six anatomical drawings that are included at the end of a volume containing Tibb al-Akbar (Akbar’s Medicine) by Muhammad Akbar, (d. 1722/ 1134) in an undated copy probably made in the 18th century India. The drawings are of individual organs in inks and watercolour.
In the left hand image [upper left] the liver with gall bladder, [center] the stomach with intestines, [lower left] the testicles, [lower right] a detail of the stomach, and something unidentified in [upper right].
In the right hand image: [on top] a composite rendering of the tongue, larynx, heart, trachea, stomach, and liver; [left] a composite drawing of the ureters, urethra, kidneys, testicles, and penis; [right] the external female genitalia; and [at bottom] a composite rendering of the internal female genitalia with a gravid uterus.
Source of images and information: Islamic Medical Manuscripts.

 

 

These anatomical illustrations (artist/date unknown) are based on those found in Pinax Microcosmographicus, a book by German anatomist Johann Remmelin (1583-1632) who entered Japan via the Dutch trading post at Nagasaki. Source: Pink Tentacle.

 

I found these Chinese public health posters from the early 1900s.
On the left: Human body is like a factory, 1933.
On the right: Skin, urinary system, and kidney, 1933.
Source: US National Library of Medicine

 

 

 

 

I researched contemporary artists I admire who have worked with the human body such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith, Marcel Dzama, José Antonio Suárez Londoño and Bill Viola. I rediscovered the collages of Hannah Hoch (some images are currently on display at the Musée de l’Orangerie).


Prints and stamps by José Anonio Suárez Londoño. On the left: Untitled. No. 276. Source: Bernal Espacio. In the middle, Litografía número 3 Source: Milpedras. On the right: Untitled No. 129. Source: Colección de arte del banco de la republica.

 

 

Man Searching for Immortality/Woman Searching for Eternity by Bill Viola, is a diptych of high-definition colour videos projected onto large vertical black granite slabs. Shown at his exhibition Electronic Renaissance, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence.

 

 

Hannah Höch, Dada puppen (Dada Dolls), 1916/1918. Textiles, cardboard and beads. Source: The Red List

 

Untitled by Hannah Höch, from her series From an Ethnographic Museum (1930)

 

I discovered artists I had never heard of.

Celine Guichard´s ludic and disturbing bodies intrigued me. These are from her book “Feutres”, Editions Marguerite Waknine, 2017.

 

Sun in your eyes, by Izziyana Suhaimi

 

On the left: Red Rivers, embroidered book page. On the right, Mixed media image both by Lynn Skordal.

 

In the works of Izziyana Suhaimi & Lynn Skordal, I found embroidery skills that made me green with envy, in a pleasurable way.

I continued to research and think. Once in a while, a little voice in the back of my mind began to remind me that I had to start making the images soon. I tried my best to ignore it, and continued my research.
After six weeks, I finally felt like making an image. I opened a new Japanese sketchbook, made of rice paper in an accordion format that I had been saving for a special project. I cut the silhouette of a heart from the pages of an old anthology of Latin Literature.

I thought about the heart and all the things it does.
The heart beats. It pumps blood, it pulses, it trembles, sometimes it tremors.
When the heart tremors, we take it to the doctor. It palpates. It tick tocks, tick tocks, tick tocks, like a clock.
It breaks. But does it really break? It stops. And sometimes, with or without help, it starts again.

In the graphic novel Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi, Nasser Ali Khan wakes up one day and decides to die of his broken heart.

 

While cutting, painting and stitching frantically, I realised I wanted the image to pulsate, to palpate, to say BOUM. The entire process of make the images for this book was moving, different, potent.
Through it I learned a lot about the body and worked with the idea of pleasure for survival.

“Love is not born in our hearts. It is an empty muscle that fills with blood and empties it, fills with blood and empties it, fills with blood and empties it, and which lacks the raw materials to fabricate love. Nor can hatred be fabricated in our hearts. To see where love and hate are born, just as one searches for the source of a river amidst a thick, green forest, we have to look higher up.” (text from chapter The Heart by Grassa Toro, translated to English by Claudio Cambon). Image in progress.

 

“If our lymphatic system were not our own, we would think it loves us like crazy, because it is always ready to defend us against unwanted elements, bacteria, and cancerous cells. But our lymphatic system, with its incredibly sensitive ganglia, is us. So, we can say, if we were to say anything, that we love ourselves a lot.” (text from chapter The Circulatory System and the Lymphatic System by Grassa Toro, translated to English by Claudio Cambon). Image on the left in progress, image on the right, finished work, photo by Maria Pascual & Miki Hernández.

 

“We know everything that we know because we have a nervous system, and we have a nervous system to seek pleasure, and we need pleasure to be alive, which is the only thing we need to do while we are alive.”( text from chapter The Nervous System by Grassa Toro, translated to English by Claudio Cambon). Image of finished work, photo by Maria Pascual & Miki Hernández.

 

The next few posts will be dedicated to various body parts. In each I will share a little bit about my process and a lot about my sources of inspiration. The book, Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human is currently available on the crowd-funding campaign Bibilioteca La Cala.

Song of the day:

Charles Trenet – BOUM


when I discovered (that) This Body Is Human

When I discovered (that) This Body Is Human

Making the images for the book Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human was a wonderful surprise. It is a poetic atlas of scientific anatomy for both children and adults. When I first read the text written by (Carlos) Grassa Toro I fell in love with it, because of its joy and joked about wanting to do the images if ever the book was published again. A few months later, Carlos invited me to make the images of the book and explained the launch of Biblioteca La Cala.

Working on the images of the book at La Cala

This book is very different from others I have illustrated. It has nothing to do with my family, my cultural heritage. It does not talk about my personal story. It talks about the human body, its functions, its organs, its strengths and weaknesses.

Details of hands and the nervous system · photos by Maria Pascual & Miki Hernandez Pluviam.

While making the images I tried to imagine the kind of body book I would have loved to have as a little girl; one that did not transmit shame of private parts, one that explained things with a sense of humor. I learned tons making this book and I am very excited to share it with you after so many months of silent work.

In this video I explain a bit about my creative process while making the images for the book.

The crowd-funding campaign for the Biblioteca La Cala is still open so you can preorder your copy of the book.

Song of the day:

Nina Simone - Ain’t Got No, I Got Life


about what’s keeping me up at night

There are many exciting things going on at the moment that are keeping me up at night.
They also wake me up at the wee hours of the morning to stitch, embroider, paint, and write about.

The first on of these things, is the launch of Biblioteca La Cala, a collection of publications born in a space dedicated to artistic creation.

La Cala, over the two years since I first discovered it, has become one of my many homes. Since, I have participated in 2 collective exhibitions: Retablo, retablo, kaavad, arból and Reino animal, one open artist residence, and made the images for the book Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human. You can read more about my activity in La Cala here.

Kaavad illustrating Rudyard Kipling’s story The Elephant’s Child from Just So Stories illustrated and designed by me.Photo credit: Rubén Vicente

The actual kaavad, which is a portable storytelling temple originating from the village of Bassi in Rajasthan, India was made by the carpenter Ana Perez in Madrid.

Telling the story of The Elephant’s Child at the the private view of the exhibition on the 1 November, 2015. Photo credit: Rubén Vicente
Working on a mind-map constellation of the project Las visitas de Nani during my artist residence in February 2016 at La Cala.
Drawing the miniature vignettes of Las visitas de Nani during residence.
Video documentary produced by La Cala following my residence.

La Cala is a space dedicated to artistic creation and research. A space, (in the words of it’s director Grassa Toro), “where for twelve years there has been uninterrupted activity including thought, contemplation, creation, research. Art, writing, film, theatre, illustration, reading, music, graphic design, thinking.”

It has been constant surprise discovering this space and collaborating in projects there. It has been escpecially exciting working on the launch of the ediotial collection, Bibilioteca La Cala, for which a crowfunding campaign has been launched exactly one week ago.

The collection begins with two titles. The first is El París, a novel by Grassa Toro. The second is Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human, with texts by Grassa Toro, images by me. It is a bilingual spanish-english edition that has been translated by Claudio Cambon.

To celebrate the launch of the campaign, La Cala’s 12th anniversary, the inauguration of the exhibition Reino Animal, Grassa Toro hosted a beautiful afternoon feast, which I was very happy to be able to attend.

Details of my piece at the exhibition Reino Animal
Grassa Toro, Diego Fermin, Helena Santolaya, Isidro Ferrer, Pep Carrio, Laura Bustillo, Ana Mareca, Aitana Carrasco Inglés, Alicia Ferrer, Karishma Chugani, Gonzalo Ferreró Marco. Director and collaborators of La CALA at the launch party on the 1st of November 2017.

By participating in the crowdfunding campaign, you will be supporting La Cala and you will be able to pre-order your own copy of the books.

Song of the day:

Stromae - sommeil