Saturday, 31 December 2011

The Mayor's Thames Festival

A secret club worked on this project with the House of Fairy Tales in 2010 - ages ago - but I never got around to write about it and I really liked what we did, so here it is!

signal post
A secret club's signaling post in the festival grounds

We started with two workshops teaching children in primary schools in South East London, that the House of Fairy Tales had matched us up with: Rockmount Primary in Upper Norwood and St. William of York Primary school in Forest Hill.

The idea was to run a practical workshop in each school to get the kids working on the theme, Waterwheel, and to develop ideas together that we then would use as inspiration to create one or more pieces of artwork to be installed in the Bernie Spain Gardens at the Mayor's Thames Festival.


The first workshop we called, Monsters, Maids and Men of the Sea, which was based on the mythical beings of the sea and the idea that some of these might actually live or have lived in the Thames. The kids drew fantastical hybrids of creatures, inspired by the Surrealists' collaborative game "exquisite corpse", i.e. one child would draw the head of a creature and then passed his/her drawing on to another child, who would draw the creature's body/tail.

deciding on cargo

The other workshop was essentially about messaging and communication at sea. The children made beautiful ships from paper and cargo flags to symbolizes the load these ships would carry. We also experimented with morse code in the school yard using umbrellas.

in the school yard

Following these workshops, Kenn and I got our thinking caps on and we developed a signaling system based on the kids' drawings, that could be operated easily and would invite visitors to indulge in some collaborative play!

Here are a few pictures of our work-in-progress:

the making of 2
Kenn outside the house, making the rather tall scaffold to hold the signals

the making of 4
Me, doing some sawing in the kitchen and a little bit pregnant

the making of 3
Background patterns and colour combinations for the signal flags

The finished signals

In the end, we decided to stick fairly close to the childrens' drawings of all the fantastical sea creatures and hybrids - they were so fabulous!

Following, you can see pictures of our stall in the House of Fairy Tales Fabulist's quarter at the Mayor's Thames Festival:

decoding station 1

Kenn explains the Books of Heads and Tails. And on the right: The Cargo Identification Codes and the Signal Decoder.

the book of heads and the book of tails 1

A little girl is leafing through the Book of Heads and the Book of Tails.

cargo ID codes
Cargo ID Codes

Above you can see a close-up of the actual cargo identification flags, that the kids had drawn in our workshop.

Our station 3

Here, a little boy is decoding the signal he has spotted on our signaling post, but will he earn his sailor's tattoo?

signals and signaleer
Signals and Signaleer

Apart from the signal, we also made two books using the original drawings of the children.
Like the Equisite Corpse game, they worked together, i.e. placed next to each other, one book displays the head, while the other shows the tail of a creature. Leafing through both books simultaneously, there are a great number of possibilities to explore matching up creatures in fun ways...

the book of heads and the book of tails 2
The Book of Heads and the Book of Tails

Have a look inside...

poking prickle boy
Poking Prickle Boy

stripeless zebra woman
Stripeless Zebra Woman

opti bob
Opti Bob

Looking back at this project makes me very happy. We had a lot of fun and the kids from Rockmount and St. William of York, too, I think, because they all came to visit and play with us!

sailor tattoo stamp

Friday, 30 December 2011

The extra-extra-ordinary pet boutique

This is one of a secret club's workshops, I shouldn't forget to write about.

The extra-extra-ordinary pet boutique or den extra-extra-ordinære kæledyrsbutik as we called it in Danish, was a workshop a secret club was commissioned to develop for Aarhus Kommune Biblioteker, the city's libraries.

This paper based workshop was developed and designed for young children aged 5 to 11 and was held at the libraries at Åby and Skødstrup in September this year.

To get started, participating kids chose from our many templates to construct an animal mask that presented an amalgamation of all the features of all the animals they ever would have liked to have as a pet, if they could.

the face changer and other templates

One could combine the templates together in many different ways, so the possibilities to create rare, wonderfully strange, dangerous, funny and disarmingly charming pets were endless!

Here you can see our workshop at Skødstrup library, which was one of the nicest libraries I have ever been to.
Jane Kloster had joined a secret club for this event and all together we got going and created some amazing pet masks with the children and sometimes also their parents.

two related beasts show off their extra-ordinary fine ears

bits and pieces with potential

We repeated the workshop at the library in Åby, where some of the friends of a secret club returned.

You can see one of them here with Kenn! As it turned out, he was as in fact fast as lightning and it was hard to catch a glimpse of him - a wild little creature!
He had a broad winning smile and apparently asked to have some bum feathers too ;)

Antlors and horns of different types proved to be quite popular as well as super long floppy ears and sometimes excessive amounts of fur was asked for!

One could choose between black or white paper as a base for the mask and then pick from a wide range of coloured pieces of papers to cut out and add noses, whiskers, spots and stripes and more.

At the end of the afternoon, parents and their favourite pets left us, they seemed happy for having had the opportunity to play!

A little Christmas magic

Shane Brox had an exhibition at Den Gamle By (The Old Town) this Christmas.
Being one of my favourite places in Aarhus, this open-air village museum with its historical buildings offers a fitting frame to Mr Brox' extra-ordinary glue-gun creations and arrangements of toys.

Apparently, suitcases full of beautiful old toys were lend to him by the museum to be arranged in his very individual way.
The display is amazing, it tells stories wherever you look. There is humour and irony and a critical view not only on urban living in particular but on life in general, that you can perceive if you look a little closer.

The following photograph on the right, to me is like a scene from Desperate Housewives, a bit plastic and surreal, the doll is doing her gardening, just like Bree van de Kamp.

In 2009, I spent Christmas in Denmark and that was when I first saw Shane Brox' childrens' Christmas program 'Shanes Verden' (Shane's World) on Danish TV. I felt truly inspired then and now I still admire the wonderful mix of toys of all different types, sizes and makes - toys made from tin, plastic, wood, knitted, sewn or glued - all blended together to tell stories and populate a magical and highly imaginative landscape.

Here is a trailer of 'Shanes Verden':

What I find so inspiring is that Shane Brox creates characters and toys from everyday objects (egg boxes, tetra paks, cardboard, etc.) that would usually end up in the bin. He certainly is not afraid of kitsch, but I think this lends his cardboard friends their special charm and an edge that makes them memorable and honestly, it is amazing to watch how he can fix together just about anything with a glue gun!

So I am a Shane Brox fan!
His work has been all over the shops this Christmas, and I am hoping that although there was a Shane Brox Advent calendar, one could buy and DIY kits and workshops one could attend, that the increasing popularity of his work will not turn his great ideas mainstream.

Mio, Kenn and I play with a huge Sammelsurium (a disordered and unsystematic collection) of objects and toys, too and love it. You can create an imaginative united world where everything finds its place!

As I am talking about Christmas magic, I have to mention also a long lived tradition in my house.

I am a real fan of Christmas stories and winter fairy tales and every year I watch Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel (Three wishes for Cinderella).
My very best friend from school days gave it to me on DVD, so although I haven't lived in Germany for a very long time, I don't have to miss out!
Thanks, Karin, you are the best!

Although from 1973, this film has aged incredibly well and I probably have watched it since I was 7 years old, every year, every Christmas. I guess, I am hopelessly romantic, but this film just propels me into this dream world and I can't think of anything more magic than galloping on a white horse through the snow and forest :)
It also makes me think of a naughty horse, I used to ride in London - I miss you, Jude!

This trailer is part two of the film, but it is the one with the horse, the snow and the forest:)

I am already looking forward to watching it next year!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Duplo Santa

My little son Mio got a huge box of Lego Duplo for his
1st birthday.

We have a lot of fun with it- I build and he destroys :)

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Making ghost jam and other yummy stuff

My obsession with making preserves started probably about three years ago.

Living in Brockley then, right next to the Brockley & Ladywell Cemetary gave Kenn and me the inspiration, because we found out that one can forage for the most amazing and succulent blackberries there.

They grow on thick scratchy bushes, the kind, that one would imagine grew around Sleeping Beauty as she lay there sleeping for too many years.

When picking berries, I usually dive right in to reach for the biggest berries and of course, I come out badly scratched on my arms and legs. Somehow, I never seem to care too much about it at the time, although I do get quite annoyed when I want to wear a skirt, but look like I have been in a fight with a couple of wild cats.

I even destroyed Kenn's favourite Muji raincoat this year (in the vain attempt to protect my skin). I didn't mean to poke hundreds of holes into it, it kind of just happened :( I guess I am getting a bit carried away when foraging!
I still feel guilty about the raincoat, but the jam was amazing, especially the one where we added a bit of vanilla!

Unfortunately, it wasn't ghost jam this year, as we don't live in Brockley anymore, but the Danish blackberries were also pretty yummy!

Each time, I draw individual labels for the jars of jam, marmalade and jelly and of course for the bottles of syrup.
It is fun to do and once the cupboard is full, without a label, I would not be able to remember what delicious treasure is in where.

This year, Kenn and I tried to preserve lots of new things too. We made an apple jam with cardamom, which is one of my favourite spices. We foraged for elderberries and pears, here in Aarhus and made syrup. From the elderflowers,we made cordial, which is very aromatic and refreshing! And when we where on holiday this summer, we picked lots and lots of rosehips. But to be honest, I thought they were a bit of a pain to clean and deseed!

We also made hedgerow jelly (there is a great receipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall), which has a mix of apples and rosehips.

Recently, I experimented with making preserved lemons. The jury is still out on whether it is any good, as one is meant to leave it closed for at least four weeks. I am very curious!

A couple of weeks ago, we also tried our hands at making our very first batch of English orange marmalade.
The one where we added whiskey is now my absolute super-über favourite!
It is so good that I could eat it straight from the jar, although on a piece of fresh bread with butter, it is simply heaven!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Medal making fun with a secret club

This September, at the Aarhus Festuge - the city's annual festival-
a secret club was commissioned to hold its famous medal making/faking workshop at the Tivoli on family sunday.

The workshop took place outside all day and to be protected from the elements a bit, for the first time, we used our own tent, which was of course embellished with our very own en hemmelig klub (a secret club) sign and customized bunting. I had even sewn a large banner in matching colours!

The lovely Jane Kloster had joined a secret club for this event, and together we trained and assisted many kids and grown ups in medal making and faking.

In the morning, we had neatly laid out all workshop materials on a side table, but as the day wore on, it got so busy and just look at our table!
Coloured pieces of paper were everywhere, stencils were passed on from one child to the next, one had to dig to find our little treasure chest with the coins and even the miracle coin polish got tipped over twice...

It was great fun! At times we even had to ask people to come back in a little while, because there were no seats left.

Once a medal was completed, the participants could use our magnificent lie generator and roll Kenn's fabulous dice with symbols to come up with a tall tale of glory and honour to match their colourful creations.

Here are some of our proud medallists!