Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Pania goes 3D


A selection of Pania Press titles 2007-09

Despite the four month hiatus in Pania Press posts, exciting developments are afoot, so I want to offer you a preview of a range of projects that are underway in preparation for our next cluster of publications.

But first a little back story:

The Christmas before last I decided to make Jack a special book so I set about making an ambitious pop-up book adaptation of his very strange and dark werewolf story, "Notes found inside a text of Bisclavret." I saw that the narrative had a huge amount of pop-up potential with its tale of transformation from man into beast and interior and exterior scenes of castles and forests. The only problem was that I didn't know the first thing about paper engineering. But when I was gathering up the weekly paper recycle for rubbish day I noticed that a lot of cardboard packaging employs collapsible technology which is of course the central principle behind effective pop-up design. I salvaged the cardboard separator from a wine box and a number of six-pack carriers and spent a lot of time thinking about what I could do with them. This was the result:

The protagonist of the story is a noble baron married to a wealthy heiress. Unfortunately he transforms into a wolfman for three nights of every week. In order to prevent his wife from learning his terrible secret he hides in the forest and preys on other creatures until he turns back into a man, retrieves his clothing hidden beneath a stone by an old chapel, and returns home to his wife. Naturally she wonders where he gets to and suspecting that he is having an affair implores him to reveal his secret. When he tells her the truth he also discloses that should his clothing ever be taken from the hiding place then he would remain a werewolf forever. His fickle wife, who is in love with another man, immediately realises that this is the opportunity to rid herself of her husband. When he disappears the following week she commands her lover to steal away his clothes. He willingly does so, her husband never returns, and after a short period of mourning, the wife and her lover are married.

Justify Full[The Chapel in the Woods]


I used the corner and first two slots of a beer carton for the pop-up mechanism and I found the perfect image of a lovely old chapel in a magazine and made a collaged forest backdrop from photocopies of illustrations by Gustave Doré.

The wolf is captured by a royal hunting party but the king immediately recognises that this is no ordinary beast. Our hero becomes a faithful pet, lives in the castle and sleeps at the King's side. But when the King holds a lavish banquet to which all the barons of his fiefs are invited, the knight who had married the baron's wife arrives and the wolf savagely lunges at him. The King is so surprised by his behaviour that the following day he returns to the forest where the wolf was captured to see if he could gather any clues that might explain the wolf's uncharacteristic display of aggression towards the knight. The baron's former wife, hearing that the King's party have made camp in the woods near her home, gets dressed up and takes a lavish gift to present to the King. Upon seeing his wife again the wolf is consumed by rage, attacks her and bites off her nose. The wise King puts two and two together and remembers that the woman used to be married to the noble baron who mysteriously vanished. She is forced under duress to confess her crime against her husband and return the baron's clothes. The wolf becomes a man again and the king restores his estate and riches to him and banishes the wife and her second husband from the kingdom. In a far off land she gives birth to a number of children but her line is cursed forever - all are born without a nose.

[Interior Rooms]


For the second pop-up I wanted to convey the idea of the hidden self so I used the maze like-structure of the wine box insert to create a series of interior spaces with another photocopied backdrop, this time the drawing room of a stately English home. The three front panels show a mirror that reveals nothing, a portrait of the baron's wife and a portrait of the baron. When an actual mirror is placed behind each of the portraits the dark soul of the wife is revealed (a drawing by Alberto Giacometti) as is the tortured state of our Wolfman hero (an Edward Munch Self-portrait).

Dark Soul

Those of you familiar with Jack's stories will know that straightforward narratives are not his thing and the Bisclavret story is no exception. The original story in French runs alongside the English translation and this is joined by a third, much stranger text, told as a sequence of marginal notes written by a 21 year old anorexic woman. The connection between the two characters, the wolfman in the main story, and the young woman writing the secondary text, is that both of their physical afflictions involve bodily transformation. Along with the obvious physical emaciation, one of the known side effects of anorexia is the development of a fine covering of hair over the face and body, called lanugo, which is a protective mechanism built-in to the body to help keep a person warm during periods of starvation and malnutrition.

The story written in the margins of the primary text is about a woman who takes two abandoned foundlings into her home even though she recognises from the start that the boy and girl are no ordinary children. The observations of the household staff confirm her suspicions: the way they tear at their food snarling and biting like wolves, their rough play, and obsession with hiding. They take to sleeping with the woman at night and she welcomes the maternal sensation that this unlocks in her. When her husband returns home, disheveled and grubby, after one of his frequent unexplained absences she reflects on the state of their marriage - that but for his absences she could love him still and on her tragic inability to bear him a child apart from the curious cub-like foetus that she had miscarried. To save her marriage she invites her husband back into the marital bed, they make love, but when she wakes in the half-light she finds herself alone. She looks out the window and sees her husband with the children crouched at his side making their way towards the dark forest. In the dream that follows she is one with them, among her family of wolves in the woods but in reality she must always wake alone inside her castle.

[Castle: Exterior / Interior]

In the final pop-up I wanted to create a sense of the woman's solitude and the absence of her werewolf family. I used the remainder of the six-pack carton to construct an incremental pop-up using photocopied magazine images of a wooded garden with stone steps leading off into the bush, the exterior of the castle, a curved interior stairway and a bedroom with an empty but slept-in bed.

When I took the book to a specialist book binder in Cuba Street to have a nice clothbound cover made for it the man took one look, laughed out loud and pretty much told me not to waste my money. That was a bit demoralising but on my way home I saw an oversized antique key in a shop window. I bought it, crudely bound the book in corrugated card, and stitched the key onto the cover for dramatic effect.

[Cover]

So there it was - my first pop-up book and Jack loved it. My sister Therese, who had seen the labour involved in putting it together and never once complained about the piles of cardboard debris around our flat, gave me a fantastic pop-up Alice in Wonderland for Christmas. Designed by Robert Sabuda, the undisputed modern master of paper-engineering, it has six main pop-ups of various scenes from the story but each page has a smaller insert with at least three more pop-ups.

Every technique under the sun is used in the book. There are concertina and tunnel pop-ups and countless figures that change from one thing into another, even the Queen of Hearts' roses change from white to red as you lift the page. The final page is breathtaking in its complexity as the deck of cards fall down on Alice's head and she awakens from her dream.


I could see that I was in danger of developing an obsession with pop-up books but instead of going out and buying a whole lot of them I decided that I would continue to make more of my own.

That's the end of the back story. It wasn't so little as it turns out but if you're still interested I'd like to show you a few of the 3d prototypes and projects that I've been making more recently.



As a Christmas present for Michele Leggott last year I made a pop-up stairway to accompany a lovely stanza extracted from her poetic sequence 'hello and goodbye':

when I walk sea waves
as I turn glass mallets
and turn again wind chimes
sleeping with the last track
climbing the stairs in the dark


You can find the full text here.

[Michele's Card]

I really like the simplicity of the form and the optical illusion created by the contrasting card underneath that makes it look as if the tops of the steps are red.



A few months ago my artist friend Katharina Jaeger asked if I would write an essay to accompany her exhibition at Campbell Grant Galleries in Christchurch in May. I've been a fan of Katharina's work since she exhibited at Lopdell House a few years ago when I used to work there as a curator. She works mainly with textiles and soft sculpture but instead of taking a soft approach to the medium, Katharina's art has a dark, sinister and disturbing side, which I like a lot. She creates strange taxidermic environments filled with stuffed, sheathed, sutured, draped, elasticised, and dangling objects that get under your skin. ‘I enjoy that haberdashery can be so mean’, she wrote to me recently and I have to say that this idea intrigued me a great deal.

In her latest exhibition, Fold, Katharina created an installation using ornate footstools, tables, and a box of broken pieces of antique furniture. She made fabric shrouds for the disembodied fragments and dangled them from the gallery ceiling and for the freestanding four-legged pieces she made swollen amorphous fabric forms that rose from the surfaces of the tables and footrests as if the objects were coming to life.


In response to Katharina's exhibition I wrote an essay titled 'The half-life of haberdashery', and printed it as a limited edition (30 copies) hand-stitched A5 catalogue. By way of a folded response to the haunted half-life of Katharina's Fold I made a slightly creepy two-piece pop-up form in the back of the catalogue that expands and breathes as you open it.


When Jack and I were talking recently about the various possibilities for future Pania Press publications we came up with the idea of starting a range of different series that could be added to over time. We'd already produced two poetry chapbooks, two art catalogues, and an anthology of stories and poems but we were keen to keep Pania Press fresh and expand our enterprise in new and interesting ways. We've come up with ideas for three new series so far:

Pania Peculiars:

An outlet for the more extreme end of fiction, poetry and art book publication. Our only proviso for the 'Peculiars' is that the darker and weirder the material is the better. Although it's a one-off I think we'd probably categorise the Wolfman pop-up book as our first 'Peculiar'. Interestingly, when we took the book down off the shelf to show to a friend recently two large mason bees flew out of the spine. Being the superstitious souls that we are we think that might be some kind of portent but we're not quite sure of what!

Pania Singles:

In this series we will be working with single poems or short stories that have design or illustrative potential. Jack's translation of the Jorge Luis Borges poem, 'laberinto' [Labyrinth] is our first experiment. Here's the poem:

The Minotaur

There'll never be a door. You're stuck inside.
These sunken casemates are the universe,
all the universe of signs: forward, reverse,
no centre to the web, no world outside.
Don't think the insane precision of your game,
monotonously counting every turn,
monotonously counting every turn,
will save you. The result will be the same.
Stop looking forward to the bloody charge
of the beast who is a man, who is your double,
whose shadow punctuates this seamless puzzle
of rubber walls contracted to a cage.
He isn't there. You're fucked. You'd better learn
not to expect the dark thrust of his horn.


Here's the prototype 'Minotaur':

[Minotaur Concertina Book]


I've divided the poem into four pop-up spreads. The first is a series of sunken casemates. The second is a trio of floating stairs. The third looks at the concept of the double and features a pair of contracting cage or mask forms. The fourth spread is a group of geometric shapes that on second glance form the face of the horned Minotaur. The book will either be assembled as a concertina format with a hand printed maze on the backing card or it will be bound as a carousel book that folds around on itself to create a labyrinthine effect.


Pania Play scripts:

The beauty of having such a diverse and prolific writer in the family is that I never have to look far for inspiration for my next prototype and I never quite know what Jack is working on at any given moment. It shouldn't have come as any surprise when he presented me with the script for his first play a couple of months ago. I'd told Jack about two wine box puppet theatres that I'd made as presents for my nieces and nephews - an adaptation of Petrouchka and a children's version of my favourite Italo Calvino story, The Baron in the Trees. My description of the two theatres obviously made an impression on him because he went off and wrote an adaptation of the Greek drama The Oresteia by Aeschylus - only Jack's version is called The Puppet Oresteia. The narrators are two children, Gene and Rusty, who are rehearsing a puppet show of The Oresteia that they intend to perform for their family.

Gene, Rusty's older sister, has obviously been reading up on Greek Mythology, because she's updated the play considerably to include a lot of commentary on her mother and father's recent divorce, the Iraq war, and a number of other things. She's also incorporated Euripides' two plays about King Agamemnon's eldest daughter Iphigenia into the plot, and these serve as bookends for the vicious family bloodletting which is the focus of Aeschylus's play.

It's important to remember that what we're watching is only a dress rehearsal, as it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the family are going to shut down the eventual performance of this very disturbing drama about five minutes in (as King Claudius does with the play within the play in Hamlet).

Our idea is to publish the playscript with images of the wine box theatre complete with its various scenes and puppet characters in action reproduced on the facing pages.

Here's an extract from the play:

Scene 3: The Palace at Mycenae [night]
Jacuzzi (exterior)
the queen, her lover & her son / Clytemnestra, Aegisthus & Orestes:

Gene: You were great as Daddy … as Agamemnon, Rusty. You do him much better than me.

Rusty: Thanks. You don’t think he’ll mind?

Gene: Nah. Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke, anyway. This next bit is a bit complicated, though – you’ve got to do both guys, Aegisthus and Orestes. Even when they’re talking to each other.

Rusty: Should I do it in different voices?

Gene: Yeah. Your own voice for Orestes, and that pompous, self-satisfied one of yours for Uncle Al – Aegisthus. I’ll stick with Clytemnestra …

That little bitch screamed like a stuck pig. Some prophet she was! She ran like a rabbit and fought like a mountain lion.

Aegisthus: Did you kill her?

Clytemnestra: Of course I killed her. Unless you know of any way of surviving having your throat slit from ear to ear, that is?

Aegisthus: Har de-har har. Very funny.

Clytemnestra: So much blood!

Aegisthus: Well, what did you expect? Did you think he’d just slip gracefully out of the picture, leaving a sigh and a faint odour of roses?

Clytemnestra: No, but … fuck, what a mess!

Aegisthus: You were going to say it’ll take a while to clean up, weren’t you?

Clytemnestra: No! Though .. Why would that be such a stupid thing to say? I mean, you don’t have to wash the clothes – or the floors, for that matter …

Aegisthus: Neither do you.

Here's the wine box theatre with five tiered scenery backdrops that are removed one at a time as the action unfolds:

[The Puppet Theatre]

In keeping with the plot, the design challenge was to make the theatre look like a child had made it - which wasn't hard for me because I can't draw to save my life so my art and craft projects always have a naïve quality about them. So there's the update from Pania Press. Lots of fun 3D projects on the boil so standby over the next wee while as we go into production and turn these prototypes into gorgeous finished objects.

- Bronwyn Lloyd



Antigone

(December 25, 2015) Antigone . Poem by Jack Ross. Design by Bronwyn Lloyd. Pania Singles 3. Auckland: Pania Press, 2015. Every Chri...