18 August 2009


I haven't felt much urge to knit all summer, but, as you know, I did start working on the pegboard lace tunic. It almost knit itself! I just did ten rounds a day, and before I knew it, the body was done:

Now I just have to knit up the i-cords, so I can finish it up. It's a very clever idea. And knitting i-cords seems like an ideal knitnight activity.

On Sunday, we went to see an exhibition at the Barbican. I didn't know what was on, but I like the outdoor space there, and it's so close to where I live, that I thought it was worth just taking a walk.

So, quite accidentally, we stumbled upon an exhibition that uses anthropology as a jumping off point. The artist, Clemens von Wedemeyer, creates a dynamic between the idea of "first contact" and the theatrical idea of the fourth wall (an imaginary screen that separates actor from spectator, though sharing the same space) and explores the repercussions of the ideas on real life; in this case, he looks at the case of the Tasaday.

The implication of course is that "first contact" is the breakdown of one imaginary screen and the creation of another: in other words, unsurprisingly the story or narrative of "first contact" is one of many stories Westerners tell themselves (maybe other people tell this story too; I don't know - but it's a well-known Western trope). The narrative changes to fit the needs of the storyteller. The reason the story of the Tasaday is interesting is because the narrative changed so many times in such a short period of time. Sometimes the narrative was quite innocent and idealistic (the anthropologist Nance, who wanted to see the alleged stone-age tribe as what humankind could be: a group of kind humans, who care for and support each other and their environment), while other times it was self-serving and political (Manuel Elizalde, Jr., the playboy Filipino official, who "discovered" the Tasaday, and convinced them to play the part of stone-age people, so he could use them as the poster people for his foundation - he raised millions of dollars for the Tasaday and then - surprise, surprise - disappeared to costa rica with the dosh). But, the story always told more about the storyteller than it did about the main characters.

As long as the narrative makes sense, there's no need to question it. I think this is Wedemeyer's point: we're all busy creating stories to make sense of the world behind our screens, and as long as nothing juts out and trips us up or rips the fourth wall, we can presume that others are thinking the same thing. But as soon as we make contact with the people beyond that wall, we have to question everything. And we should be constantly ripping through these walls and telling new stories.

I liked how von Wedemeyer explored old narratives, both those presented as fact and those presented as fiction, and then layered these stories with stories of his own. After wandering through the first floor of the exhibit, there was a small staircase that led up to a little room with a movie, which was a nine-minute loop. Here again fact and fiction meld, as the anthropologist character in the loop is played by the man who had directed a movie (fictional) based very very loosely on the Tasaday (in his movie they're cannibals, unlike in any other version of "real" life). The film is shot in one of the flats that surrounds the Barbican. Von Wedemeyer plies layer upon layer of narrative into this thick experiential mat into which the spectator is invited to immerse her / himself. And then, ask yourself: what narrative will you add?

I know that, as an anthropologist, it's the kind of exhibit I'm bound to like as I maintain that storytelling in whatever form, however formal or informal, lasting or ephemeral, short or long, is what makes life meaningful. But, I felt like this was the first solid piece of art that I've seen in a long time. I've seen a lot of people desperately trying to be cool, or continuing to make the same stuff they've been making for years, or just being facile, obvious, and dull.


At Home Mommy Knits said...

Love the stitch on that tunic! Can't wait to see it all finished.

Anonymous said...

I love your tunic Jasmine!!

...regarding the rest of the post: i have tried to understand the most for my bad english... :-)


Miss Mildred said...

Sounds like a great show!