Archives for posts with tag: history

It’s not about the Dedepuppets today, but I want to share this video with you. It is about what is currently going on at the polytech where I have been teaching part-time until recently. Last year they got rid of all part-time staff, this year they gave notice to all 53 full-time staff members. Not to discontinue the department and the degrees on offer, but to replace the full-time lecturers with 17 administrators and part-timers from “the industry.” It is a totally unbelievable story and a slap in the face of all the great lecturers that have build the brilliant reputation of this particular department over the years. It is indeed extremely bamboozling when you know that the quality of the department was ranked 4th in NZ and has passed its educational review last year with flying colours.

The students have created this youtube video and I want to support them and my ex-collegues in their fight by sharing it with my readers.


This one is Liar. His long nose is a give-away (sorry, it is not very clear on the photo). To impress people he embellishes everything he says.  His hair is made up of a net  full of smallish fish… that is all he can catch with his tall  tales. Sometimes I wonder if he believes his own stories. He certainly doesn’t look like a very happy person.

I started working with computers in the early eighties of the last century! I am showing my age now :)…  My first job was at a computer book publisher. I was the first person in the office to get a hard drive… the envy of the entire company.  All the others still had to fluff around with the “5 and a quarter inch” disks. If you have ever seen one of them, you know why they were called floppy. My dad bought his first computer in the late ’70s. A Commodore with a tape recorder attached as a storage medium… so a hard drive was pretty cool. But everything moved very quickly from there on.

I don’t reminiscent much about the times, I hardly have contact to my peers from then, but I clearly remember the gold rush aura that surrounded us. We were cool, man, and we owned the world. In reality we were pasty-faced nocturnal creatures, trying to find our place in society by simply creating a new one. Chat rooms were all the rage in our circles.  (Remember those prehistoric modems on which you had to place the hand-set of the telephone?)  The Web wasn’t invented then and there was no commerce on the internet, it was primarily a military and scholarly network. (By the way, monitors came in a choice of green or amber and when you wanted to create a graph you had to stack asterisks on top of each other, do I need to say more?)

In the editor’s room we had a bet going. One of the male editors had to pretend to be a woman in the chat rooms. To win the bet – a crate of beer – he had to keep it up for six months undetected. He won! This experience was quite an eye-opener and I guess it explains my suspicions of social networks.

We went down to Rotorua last weekend to show our visitor the geysers and mudpools. It is definitely a “must see” place on the New Zealand agenda. It smells like rotten egg and bubbles and steams everywhere. And no, this image is not photoshopped! This is the colour of the lake, which is called Devil’s bath. The colour stems from it’s richness in minerals, particularly sulphur. However, it can change colour depending on the ambient lighting. We were lucky, we experienced the water looking this poisonous lime green.

The area was already a “tourist” destination in the 1800’s. Travellers made the trip from Europe to New Zealand to see the Pink and White Terraces, one of the natural wonders of the world. The journey took several months, so in those days it certainly wasn’t a mass destination. Even coming down from Auckland, now a 3.5 hour drive, was a week long adventure. Starting with a steam boat and then through relatively inaccessible terrain, by horse, dinghy and on  foot.

They terraces  were destroyed by a volcano eruption in 1886, buried under a thick layer of debris.

In and around Rotorua one is constantly reminded that the earth is still active. A little bit further down the country, sixty-odd kilometers away from where we were, Mt Tongariro had a little spew on Monday night. The volcano is visible  in the distance in the image below. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen next. Yesterday I heard on the radio, Mt Tongariro could do three things: Either nothing else, or it could continue similar volcanic activity of the same strength, or it could explode big time.

Mmmhm, I could have made this prediction myself.

I am staying with the cathedral theme today. I like the little devilish figures on medieval churches. Their function was to scare people into believing. The masons of old had such great imaginations about what the afterlife would look like. As literacy wasn’t widespread the stories had to be told by easily understood pictures and sculptures like these. Of course the stories were also told orally, but we all know a picture is worth a thousand words.* Apart from this, the sermon was held in  Latin, so most people didn’t understand what was being said. These sculptures were a great support in keeping the congregation in line.

I don’t know if it happens to other people as well, but I fall in love with the sound of words. The word gargoyle is one of my great loves. To my ears it has a ring like a mischievous giggle. I always thought the devilish goblins at churches are gargoyles, but I am mistaken. The figure here is technically a Grotesque. A Grotesque’s function is solely to scare people. The Gargoyles are the figures that also function as waterspouts to channel the water away from the masonry and  protect the building from water damage. I finally found out that gargoyle describes the water channel function itself, not the goblin. How un-poetic. In  German they are just called waterspout, or as my dictionary tells me: Gothic waterspout with grimace, now that is a mouthful.

*BTW in German the saying goes: a picture says more than a thousand words. Does this mean the Germans are bigger wafflers?

At the moment I have so many balls in the air, but I won’t write about any of them. Instead I will have to let you in on a secret: I am terribly superstitious when it comes to ideas and unfinished projects. I can’t talk about them! As soon as I start talking about ideas publicly, they fall to pieces or things just don’t happen. I can count on that!

One thing I can talk about now though… My book is going to be displayed at the Frankfurt Book Fair. This book fair is the biggest of its kind. It is a trade show for publishers and booksellers. There will be seven and a half thousand exhibitors from one hundred and six countries. Each of them bringing their new titles along, and among them my tiny little book, which travels in the bag of another New Zealand publisher. New Zealand is the guest of honour this year. This is a big plus. It means a lot to me, I am still a traditional publisher at heart! I remember when I was at the book fair years ago, I was always totally overwhelmed by the sheer amount of titles on display. It is like the internet made visual!

Because I don’t want to talk about the finer details or my other projects, I thought I will play visual “Chinese Whispers” on my blog for a while. I will put up images that are somehow related to the previous one, but totally different at the same time. And then I will tell a little story around the image. I am curious how it will go.

Today’s image is an old letter press machine  in motion. My link to yesterday’s image is the blur: yesterday it was a  person, today it is a machine. The printer down the road has one of them (actually the one shown in the picture) and he runs weekend workshops. He asked me the other day if I can be his helper sometimes. I am very happy to do that. I still find it amazing that until the late 1970’s type was put together piece by piece to print books and newspapers. Not much had changed since Gutenberg invented the moveable letters in 1439. Imagine how people must have felt in those times, when all of a sudden a book didn’t need to be copied manually word by word, but could be put together first and then replicated as many times as needed in what must have felt in those times like lightening speed. It must have felt to them like the Internet to us now?

Yesterday’s image was the “yang” to the old lady in the post lonely path (“yin”). The bare trees, the coldness and the male person climbing up the stairs into the light, while the old lady walks into the darkness…

When I put yesterday’s image up, I remembered this one here, which I always like for it’s colours. The image yesterday was taken in the ruins of an old castle in Germany. The castle dates back to 914 and sits on top of a volcano not far from Lake Constanze.  Meanwhile at the other end of the world, New Zealand wasn’t even inhabited by humans at this time. The first Moa-hunters arrived here around 1300. (The Moa is long gone, people are still here). The picture in this post was taken in some defense tunnels that were built into a volcano at the harbour entrance to Auckland. They were build in the 1880’s  when there was a scare of a Russian invasion.

This image was taken at the eeriest place I have ever been to. A place called Prora. We stumbled across it by accident too, which is quite difficult, as these steps belong to a building that is 4.5 kilometres long. Yes, four point five! And worst… it is only 150 meters from the beach.

It is a concrete legacy of the crazy man that ruled Germany a life-time ago. The complex was planned as a seaside resort for 20 000 workers but was never finished. As it belonged to  the Eastern part of Germany, the Soviets established a military base in there after 1945. They dismantled some of the buildings, relocating all of the re-usable material, leaving bare brick skeletons behind when they moved out. In the late 1950’s the Eastern Germans took over and put some finishing touches on the building. It was then used as a National People’s Army camp until the Wall came down in 1989. During this time it was a restricted military zone, therefore a no go area. The checkered history continued after reunification. The German Army (Bundeswehr) utilised it for a while and it was used as a Refugee camp for people from the Balkans. In 2011 a Youth Hostel opened up.

When I was there (2007), only one of the blocks was used. It housed a museum outlining the history of the building and the history of the National People’s Army (Eastern German Army). The rest was 4.4 kilometers of gutted buildings in various states of decay.

The whole thing is like a snake. All rooms have a sea view, so the building is very narrow.  The picture below shows the seaward side.

On the side away from the sea runs a corridor and every 100 meters or so there is a staircase extension, where the washrooms are located as well. These extensions are depicted in the image below. So you walk for miles alongside this building always seeing the same thing.

This place has all the recent German history packed into it. This makes it so eerie for me.

This is another one of my favorite images, even though not many people I showed it to share my excitement. Actually nobody I showed it to liked it, but then I think only a handful of people have seen it so far.

I admire the old lady, holding tightly on to her handbag, striding out with great determination. Her crooked body still exudes purpose. There is no waiver in her gait. Straight down the middle, protected by spring-green chestnut trees. These trees have been around for centuries and have seen many old ladies passing by. (Yes, I do understand why other people might not get excited :)

Yesterday I had some time to do more research on the Internet regarding the puppet world. I found some amazing stuff overseas, but New Zealand looks pretty grim. There is a “Puppeteers in New Zealand” organisation. But their website ( has a very neglected feel. There is a forum with 13 members but it is locked and the last entry was 2010.

There are of course puppeteers for children around and there seems to have been a New Zealand Puppet Theatre founded by Annie Forbes in 1984, which was going for some years. Annie Forbes, a third generation puppeteer, has moved to Australia.

The funniest thing I found was on Wikipedia (puppetry subhead oceania). There are a couple of good paragraphs about Australia and then – New Zealanders hold onto your seats!– one sentence: “In New Zealand, a similar history has taken place.” That’s it! Thinking about it now, that might be because all the good puppeteers have moved across the Tasman (see above).

I am going to finish Push-Push today.

This image is a close-up of a spider web with dew. It is an allegory of what’s going on in my head at the moment. I have all these great and sparkling ideas but the path there…

I want to share a couple more surprising tidbits from my reading lately.

So, the reigning powers tried to marginalize popular theatre  (I am not just talking about puppet theatre, but all forms of entertainment for the masses). In the article The golden age of the boulevard Marvin Carlson describes the rise of popular theatre from  fair ground attraction to permanent stages around the Boulevard du Temple in Paris, where all the entertaining stages conglomerated. The Boulevard got the nick-name Boulevard of Crime in the 1820s, not because it was dangerous to go there, but because what was on show. The Almanach of Spectacles  1823  published the numbers of crimes performed on the stages (for twenty years):

… Tautin has been stabbed 16,302 times, Marty has been poisoned in various ways 11,000 times, Fresnoy has been murdered 27,000 times, Mlle Adele Dupuis has been the innocent victim of 75,000 seductions, abductions, or drownings, 6,500 capital charges have tested Mlle Levesque’s virtues and Mlle Oliver, whose career is scarcely launched, has already tasted the cup of crime and vengeance 16,000 times.

Sounds like a normal year on TV to me.

John Houchin recounts in his article The origins of the cabaret artistique how the cabaret moved from a place where artists performed their own material for their peers to a public establishment to make money.

By 1900 the cabaret had become a competitive, commercial undertaking. Owners and producers had to devise a point of difference to stand out and attract audiences. The Cabaret de l’Ane Rouge (Cabaret of the Red Ass) had a large fresco depicting the crucifixion of a large red ass. Singers presented café-concert fare and the announcer was a huckster who encouraged the audience to drink. In the Cabaret du Néant (Cabaret of Death) visitors were served at coffins and lighting was provided by corpse lamps. The Cabaret du Ciel (Cabaret of Heaven) featured harp music, a master of ceremonies dressed as priest and a man costumed as an angel sprinkled the audience with holy water. The Cabaret l’Enfer (Cabaret of Infernal Regions) offered the alternative to celestial bliss, a glimpse of hell: The decorations that hung from the ceiling were sculptures of bodies writhing in pain.

All I can say: Move to the side Goths. We have seen it all before :).

Both articles were in Schlechter, J. (ed), Popular Theatre, Routledge 2003.

This painting The conspirators I have done a few years back, when I’ve just started painting in acrylic. This was well before the puppets, but looking at it now I think it is very foreboding, they were already in there.

I am reading this book about Popular Theatre at the moment (Schlechter, J. (ed), Popular Theatre, Routledge 2003). The subtitle is A source book and gee it really is. As a visual artist I never looked at the history of theatre and certainly not at popular theatre. I never really thought about, how important and wide-spread puppetry was in history. Puppets were always part of the common entertainment but their stories were passed on orally. Our (European) cultural inheritance is based on written works by playwrights who had to please their financiers, the small, aristocratic elite. I read somewhere that even Goethe, the great German writer was originally inspired by a puppet show to write his most famous work “Faust”.

Popular Theatre  had to earn their living by attracting the masses. Authorities were unable to control or manipulate it for their own ends and therefore it was often censored or dismissed by governments and academia.  But of course this didn’t work too well, quite to the contrary. As the performers weren’t financially dependent on one particular source, they didn’t need to conform to externally imposed standards. They basically could say what they wanted. Often the more they made fun of the establishment, the bigger audiences they attracted.

Peter Schumann, the great contemporary puppeteer and founder of the Bread and Puppet Theatre said: [puppet theatre is] by definition of its most persuasive characteristics, an anarchic art, subversive and untameable by nature, an art which is easier researched in police records than in theatre chronicles, an art which by fate and spirit does not aspire to represent governments or civilisations, but prefers its own secret and demeaning stature in society, representing, more or less, the demons of that society and definitely not its institutions. [p41]