This is an extract of a review that I wrote for the Sydney Arts Guide. To read the entire review visit the Sydney Arts Guide. Four Exhibitions worth Visiting at UNSW Galleries. Original due to close tomorrow.
Jewellery Designer and contemporary artist, Kyoko Hashimoto
Designer Kyoko Hashimoto’s Bioregional Bodies challenges society’s use of plastic, concrete and coal by incorporating them in engaging jewellery design: wearable art – mostly. Wearable statements on what mainstream jewellery design values – you won’t see aggregate and coal brooches in Tiffanys. Hers are wearable statements about what society values – setting fossil fuels and concrete in fine metal as if they are so desired – as desired and indispensable to high living as diamonds – in another sense they are. Hashimoto incorporates rings and necklaces that are statements – not of wealth, power and haute couture, but on society – objets d’art. She pushes the idea of what is jewellery and what can it achieve.
Taking up the lion’s share of the ground floor is Capture, the first comprehensive survey of artist, Sam Smith. Smith questions image making conventions and presentation with his video installations that incorporate sculpture and performance while he uses these to explore relationships between geology, technology and environment.
UNSW Galleries – the exhibition was to run until July 30.
Ceramicist, Kirsten Coelho’s largest exhibition on Australian soil is currently gracing an upstairs gallery at the UNSW Galleries in Paddington. The space is atmospheric with dim lighting and strategically positioned spotlights to best show off her delicate, pre-dominantly white forms with a dramatic play of shadows. Their installations – groupings and solo objects – command the space with their presence. Their staging invites contemplation and reflection upon the artist’s theme and inspiration – The Return – Odysseus’ return to Ithaca – and the ruins of Pompeii.
Moving through the darkened room, lots of meanings come to mind. Where the names Ithaca and Shore are employed we are directed to think of a sea shore or ancient cityscape. As a metaphor of a city, the vessels are perfect with individuality in their shapes yet devoid of variety in their softly textured white surfaces – stating diversity exists without naming it. Each vessel houses untold stories – anonymous, untold lives. Let each observer reflect their own understanding.
However, with their cylindrical vertical emphasis – of varying heights and breadths- modern city buildings come to mind not ancient ones. We are directed by the artist to see in the bottles and cups ancient ruins, yet each piece is perfect.
And we are told about an ancient Odyssey – one that has been referenced over successive millennia as a metaphor for inner change and discovery, yet this hasn’t been addressed. Ironic when you think that Odysseus’ journey was told and retold on the surface of Ancient Greek ceramics. In fact, when you consider the variety of Ancient Greek ceramic forms and their specific uses, whose span encompasses the human journey from birth through initiation, socialisation and death – their absence becomes conspicuous. It’s about the shapes that are missing – not the illustrations. If we aren’t told to conjure Homer and Pompeii in our imagination I wouldn’t have expected to see the whitened shape of a krater, amphora or kylix.
Coelho’s works represent a personal statement on the human journey with the installation of beautiful domestic forms – drinking vessels. Across the foyer, Fernando Do Campo’s To Companion a Companion, presents domestic, urban works that succeed in being non-binary in reception. His work proposes the human as a companion species to birds.
The exhibits downstairs focus more on the environment and self-consciously, the reception of the works themselves.
This is an extract of a review that I wrote for the Sydney Arts Guide. To read the entire review visit the Sydney Arts Guide. Four Exhibitions worth Visitind at UNSW Galleries.
This Sydney Co-vid lockdown seems so much more frustrating than the first. Beyond the frustration of understanding the limits of freedom placed on us: the NSW Premier neglected the word “essential” in the first couple of weeks when referring to workers who could go to work if they couldn’t work from home, and the media heedlessly inserting it into their recounts muddying the waters; then when “essential” was inserted into her dialogue, she tarried in defining it; and of course the confusion of advice over who should get the AstraZeneca vaccine- and the media’s unabated scare-montering over it, in the face of a shortage of the Pfizer vaccine; beyond is the frustration of going back to normal -almost- and then having to revert to stay-at-home measures and being bombarded with conflicting emotional barrages from friends, family, the internet and the media.
Frustration with the media causing frustration with an already edgy community compels me to ask, who is holding the media to account for their failings to serve the people?
Try maintaining your culture in a country thousands of kilometres away from where it is lived and breathed, and continues to evolve comfortable that its growth can never splinter away from its ethnicity, its identity. It’s almost impossible to do without maintaining its language. Culture needs language to survive.
Language is more powerful when understood beyond the surface of daily greetings and simple commercial exchanges. Language provides the subtext of our beliefs. Let me explain.
The simpler a word or phrase is, the more often it is used gives away how ingrained it is in a person’s culture. If you take that word or phrase out of context of the culture in which it is used and try and use it within the context of another language/culture it might not work. For the culture in which it developed organically its meaning is clear and heartfelt, for the culture into which it is translated it can be a tricky negotiation for a mere temporal understanding.
For example, A Greek man in love may call the object of his ardour <<matia mou>> literally translated, “My eyes.” In English if you are called someone’s eyes, then the inference is that what you see you will report back to the person calling you their eyes. It would be a phrase more suited to a detective novel.
To translate the underlying meaning of <<matia mou>> as “my love,” doesn’t really cut it. If the eyes are the window to the soul, then, ”my eyes” has a deeper meaning than the hackneyed, “my love”- more like your eyes are the window to my soul, as we are one.
Context plays a role.
In English the word ‘privacy’ has a lot of subtle inferences with its meaning. Finding a single word in Greek to span those subtleties is difficult. Is it because privacy as a concept is more highly valued by cultures circumscribed by the English language? If you don’t mind going down a rabbit hole (if you are a native English speaker) or getting lost in a labyrinth (if you’re Greek) look at the ancient roots of the word ‘idiot’ and its connection to being a ‘private person’ you may find a culture that didn’t value privacy – or understand it.
By the presence or absence of a single word for a concept, belief or feeling within a language, it’s easy to infer that the society using that language have not recognised that the concept exists within their midst e.g., In Shakespeare’s day racism as a recognised entity may not have been discussed but its effects were definitely described by him. What we can infer is that racism as an idea, behaviour or entity, wasn’t given the weight it is today. Once there was a word coined for racism, it could then be discussed and tackled as a “thing”.
Language broadens our ability to think – to understand difficult concepts and enlarge upon them. Without a sophisticated language, philosophies cannot be built and argued, hypotheses and theories cannot be developed and our minds and collective consciousness would wither in entropy.
The more language and languages you know, the broader is your understanding not only of the communities around you, but life, philosophy and physics.
And the moral of this story is – learn another language or get a deeper understanding of your own.
Karagiozis and the Golden Fleetingpremiered last Sunday on Youtube and if you’ve had a chance to watch it, I think you’ll agree that it looks absolutely gorgeous! Were you thoroughly charmed and impressed with the dexterity of Anastasios Kouzis’ delivery of each figure, as I was? There is something else that is impressive with the production and that is the way in which it has been filmed – there are close up shots of the intricately designed figures “treading the boards” as well as panoramas of the perde, the shadow screen. The magic wouldn’t be possible without the skills of the members of the Ergastirio_Skiwn Kouzaros, Elisavet Nesseri and Vagelis Kouzis.
Making up the Ergastirio_Skiwn_Kouzaros with Anastasios Kouzis are his children, Elisavet Nesseri and Vagelis Kouzis, who are third generation Karagiozis Puppeteers.
Thank you for allowing me to interview you.
We also thank you very much for the trust and the opportunity to showcase the craft of Karagiozis beyond the borders of Greece.
1.What is your role in the Ergastirio?
The Ergastirio_Skiwn_Kouzaros began for us like a parallel project with the aim of reviving and continuing the work of our grandfather and our father and the skills of the Shadow Theatre. Originally our role was the releasing of a great coiled knot of information and work we carried within. Now, however, in the midst of our consuming involvement, our concern for the history of the actual craft grew, with the result that slowly, slowly we became engaged with greater effort in its development.
Still, we continue our efforts to make our work known to the greatest possible public.
2.What do you like best about the Karagiozis Puppet Theatre?
Karagiozis and the Shadow Puppet Theatre is ultimately a contemporary craft which over the years has developed and changed. However, its basic essence has remained the same.
It is a craft that has the ability to entertain and educate, teach values and anything else, and when a person like Karagiozis who isn’t especially well-endowed and whose only defense at his disposal is his good name, he shows us how we can comport ourselves in difficult situations with a smile and optimism.
This is one feature which makes us especially love Karagiozis, because he gives us strength.
3.How many characters to you play in a single performance? Do you ever get them confused?
At the moment we have decided to only perform on YouTube although it doesn’t compose our major work it is a beautiful brushstroke in our endeavours.
The performances we play we divide into scenes and we each take care to choose a particular role and apply ourselves to have a complete result.
4.What has been your most memorable experience with the Ergastirio?
The comedic bloopers that occur in the situations where we come together to film the performance!
5.What role will you be playing in the production of Karagiozis and the Golden Fleecing?
We play a little part in all of the roles. Our favourite moment is the appearance of the goats on the screen!
I’d like to thank Anastasios, Elisavet and Vagelis for their wonderful work bringing my story to the shadow screen. The charming result has been a great effort on their part. They translated my text into Greek, took up the slack in providing each figure their characteristic nuances in speech and exchanges with Karagiozis and had to fit the English text into the confines of the subtitle format. This is not to mention the new figures they have made, the rehearsals, the filming, editing and every thing else that goes into making such a performance possible. Thank you very much. – Stella
Morfonios has the ancient lyre that will tame the serpent in the field where the Golden Fleeced Goats graze – his mother gave it him so he can claim the hand of the Vizieropoula. If he doesn’t faint from fear first!
Morfonios Zacharias is the vainest character in the Karagiozis repertoire. The creation of Antonios Mollas, he has a large nose which he speaks through and a head to match his ego – in some instances it can take up to more than half of his body.
Dressed in short pants and a tiny hat he is immature – a daydreamer not in touch with reality. He is an over educated, mummy’s boy.
Karagiozis enjoys playing with his ego. When he feels overly threatened by Karagiozis he faints.
Veligekas, the Vizier’s guard will chop off the hands of the thief who has taken the Vizier’s Golden Fleeced Goats & anyone getting too close to the Vizier’s daughter, the Vizieropoula.
Meet the Cast – Veligekas
With the Ergastirio_Skiwn_Kouzaros hard at work filming scenes for the upcoming YouTube productionof Karagiozis and the Golden Fleecing, it’s time to meet the cast.
Veligekas is the Vizier’s formidable, intimidating, ruffian of an Albanian guard. He strikes fear into the hearts of all comers except Barba-Yiorgo – who is the only character who can best him. Even Karagiozis fears him.
In the repertoire he seems to be a hanger-on from the days when Karagiozis was played in the Ottoman Empire.
As Tasos Kouzis and his Ergasitirio_Skiwn_Kouzaros have begun filming the scenes for the YouTube performance of Karagiozis and the Golden Fleecing I thought I’d introduce you to the wonderful cast of characters that will bring the story to life.
The Vizier is a hanger-on from the days of the Ottoman Empire. He is the supreme authority figure in the world of the play with wealth, privilege, status and power.
He lives in the Saray, a kind of palace that is the counterpoint to Karagiozis hovel. His Saray generally appears on the right of the screen and is represented as opulent, solid and forbidding.
His daughter is Fatme, the Vizieropoula and his personal guard is Veligekas.
Karagiozis’ hijinx are in defiance of his authority and the social order he presided over.
Today, when Karagiozis is performed the authority that the Vizier represents had been replaced with other forms of authority figures – e.g., an employer, a government body etc. Ultimately Karagiozis likes to take people for a ride – a hilarious one by bucking the social order, law or expected norms.
In Karagiozis and the Golden Fleecing the Vizier loses his golden fleeced goats and offers a reward for their retrieval- 100 gold coins and the hand of his daughter in marriage. Of course, he promises to cut the hands off the thief when he is caught as well.
In coming up with the Karagiozis and the Golden Fleecing project I set myself quite a task. I wanted to teach school children the magic of shadow puppetry by immersing them in a world that was beyond the lifetime of even their great-grandparents. I wanted them to experience life removed from the 21st century as a participant (with the help of empathy and imagination) and an observer and critic of a world view that they could create, observe and satirise.
Complicating my task was the fact that the Shadow Puppet tradition I chose is not Western and had no English play text that I could use. I had to write my own, which, truth be told, was one of the greatest attractions of the project. The other attraction was marrying my love of craft, drama and history.
I wanted to provide drama classes with lots of opportunities to be creative in designing and making the puppets and the shadow screen (the perde), rehearsing simple musical arrangements with live instruments, and moving and voicing the roles of the puppets.
Having watched many performances on YouTube, CD- ROM and listening to CDs I became acquainted with the stock characters and their mores. Each one was a caricature of a human foible or a stereotype based on their geographic area of origin within the 19th Century CE Greek world. A big part of the realisation of the characters were their accents and dialects. How could I convey these to a multicultural student population that wouldn’t recognise the inherent humour of the mimicry?
Then there was the issue of translation of slang and colloquialisms that just don’t work as direct translations. In these instances I tried to be true to the spirit of the comedic shadow puppet theatre.
As I was addressing these concerns other considerations of reception had to be tackled, especially since I was aiming to present the form to school children; namely, depictions of violence for humourous effect; the objectification of women as prizes and secondary support characters; and name-calling and swearing to raise laughs. Were these the most imposing obstacles to a 21st Century performance?
I had to make allowances for the perceived reception and backlash from parents, teachers and the students themselves. I minimised the slapstick and tried to write into the skeleton of the relationship between Nionio and the Vizier’s daughter a hint of romance and the idea that Nionio’s attraction goes a little beyond her wealth and position.
As a lover of romance, I couldn’t stick to the prescription 100%.
Whitewashing – yes. Straying too far from the original oeuvre? You be the judge.
Karagiozis’ comedies showcased the dexterity of the puppeteer’s voice, hands and nimble brain as he, in the guise of Karagiozis, commented on current affairs with his witty sidecracks and outwitted all others with his tongue. During my initial research for this project, internet sites ignored or downplayed the potentially violent usage of that arm. Sites said that as he was such a glib talker, he had to have a hand that kept up with his mouth – gesturing to get his point across. I wanted to make as much varied use of that arm as I possibly could. The filmed performances that I had seen had sanitised the arm. I leaned on Abbott and Costello, the Marx Bros, the Three Stooges and Jerry Lewis movies to guide me.
Is it too Western?
Karagiozis’ poverty and concern for those around him is never forgotten. As each story unfolds he embroils himself in different situations and bends others, including authority figures to his will. However, he never rises above his poverty. Regardless that he may have turned the Seray upside down, he always returns to his hovel. For the rest of the cast of characters, their lot in life never changes either. They return to enter the perde on the next performance from exactly where they started in the previous one.
How would today’s western audiences react to that?
Back in the 19th century and before, story tellers in Northern and Western Europe were telling tales with definite endings – happy endings and dire warnings – think of Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. Like Karagiozis their stories were oral tales but they were not performed by puppets.
The puppets themselves were nuanced and easily recognisable as types. In trying to bring to the fore the spirit of the plays I was carried away in translating the look of Aglaia, Karagiozis’ wife. The couple have three sons, the Kolitiria, and they perpetually live in poverty – in a house with a leaky roof that is barely a shelter. The Western term, barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen kept coming to mind.
There I know I took it too far.
Luckily, that’s not the Aglaia that you will see when the Ergastirio_Skiwn_Kouzaros present my text, Karagiozis and the Golden Fleecing. Their’s is a sympathetic lady in Karagiozi-green and patched fabric. She and all of their figures are technicoloured and gorgeous with bold black contouring and defining expressions.
In fact their beautiful and authentic designs are available to purchase in their E-Shop together with a range of other Karagiozis memoriblia.
A 19th Century audience would recognize the figures but would they get the humour of a 21st Century script written by a woman in Australia?
Besides the plot of your story how many other considerations guide your fingers’ flight over the keyboard?
A developing character arc?
An uplifting ending?
A moral to tell?
A journey that makes your reader reconsider the world?
An inspiring a call to action?
Fully rounded characters?
Sexual innuendo and lewdness?
Avoiding derogatory representations and stereotypes particularly of cultural minorities?
Presenting women in strong feminist affirming depictions?
Breaking away from traditional roles ascribed to the sexes?
Do you consider all of these and more?
Throw it all out the window!
You’re wasting your time!
LOL! (Evil laugh with a pass, or two, of fingers sliding over fingers.)
Of course, that’s only if you hope to write a 19th century script for a traditional performance in the Karagiozis Puppet Theatre for a 19th century audience.
Breaking the Rules (as in 21st Century Rules)
Storylines were well known. Not only was the ending predictable but every stage of the action was, as the puppeteer used known stories that he seasoned with current political or social satire in the form of snarky asides, banter and innuendo. In fact, the puppeteer memorized an entire repertoire of storylines that he would recall at will, and was able to perform each character with his or her distinctive voice and role.
Throughout theatre history the use of stereotyping has been imperative to storytelling. Think of the Commedia Dell’arte with its stock characters or the English Pantomime. Not only did having characters with set traits help the puppeteer to keep the oeuvre of the Karagiozis world intact, it helped keep the storylines in memory with their predictable mores. Puppets’ behaviour was predictable, clearly defined and exaggerated – caricatures that were recognizable and so, funny. Offensive today, you bet.
Its stereotyping had a strong racial flavour when Karagiozis was performed in the young Modern Greek nation of the 19th Century. There was the Turkish Vizier; Velighekas the Albanian Guard, Solomon the Jewish moneylender etc. As Greeks poured into urban centres and the new nation left behind the Ottoman yoke, that focus on cultural differences and recognizable traits turned inward e.g., Barba-Yiorgo the quintessential honourable Greek Shepherd from Roumeli; Sior Dionysios, the fallen aristocrat with his Italianate manners from Zakynthos; Stavrakas, the urban cowboy from the port of Pireaus.
Karagiozis, the trickster, uses their foibles and rigidity to manipulate them for his own gain. Their rigid characteristics are essential to the comedy. The lone puppeteer voicing all of these characters is aided in their performance and getting those laughs by the mimicry of their accents.
Objectification of Women
There are few female characters in the traditional repertoire, probable because the puppeteers were male and the form flourished in the patriarchies of Turkey and Greece. The most recognizable female in the repertoire was the Vizier’s daughter, the Vizieropoula. Sometimes she is called Fatima or Fatme, however, often she is referred to by her title. Fatme or Fatima aren’t as funny as Vizieropoula. Vizieropoula is a pun as well as a title – it means the big breasted woman.
As both meanings of her name suggest, she was a prize symbolic of wealth, status and sexual gratification. As the form developed other female characters have taken to the fore e.g., Karagiozis long-suffering wife, Aglaia.
Punning and Cliché
19th Century humour relies a lot on word play and punning and cliché’s. These tools of laughter are characteristic of a theatre form aimed at the masses that is beloved by all.
Lewd, Crude & Vulgar jokes and Biff
Shadow Puppetry was aimed at adults who would appreciate its humour in all of its manifestations. This included sexual innuendo and slapstick – or in Karagiozis case, slap-arm. Think of the humour of the Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers and Punch and Judy.
To write Karagiozis and the Golden Fleecing I had to break 21st Century conventions and then pull it all back to be suitable for children’s theatre. I had to translate a Greek theatre form that relied heavily on punnng and sterotypical voice characterizations into English for 21st century school students who would not be aware of the satire just in the use of voice. It was quite a challenge.