The Art of Connecting Artifacts and Maps

Kristine Mallinson, Denison University Class of 2015

When I first heard about the 2014 Alliance for the Advancement of Liberal Arts Colleges Humanities Lab at Carleton, I was not exactly sure what the program was going to be like. I knew that  there was going to be a group of students from different liberal arts schools examining Classical mythology in different ways. One group was going to be focusing on masks and the other on maps. I was particularly interested in the mapping mythology program. To my delight, I was accepted into that program. So, on Sunday August 10th I arrived in Minnesota for the first time excited to get started and learn more about what we would be doing. The first morning we discussed Euripides Heracles and different aspects about the play. Then we split into our different groups. In my group, Dr. Bryan Burns (our director) taught us how to use several different databases and explained that we would be using Omeka and Neatline. Now, I have never used these two programs and one should know that I am pretty bad with technology, however he said that they were simple programs.

Omeka is the artifact database, or at least that is how I like to think about it. Working at the Denison Museum during the school year and interning at the Toledo Museum of Art for a couple weeks this summer provided me with a good amount of experience working with different databases and  artifacts. I  was immediately interested and fascinated with the idea of using artifacts on a digital map to examine literary accounts.

The Journey of Theseus: the map on Neatline

The Journey of Theseus: the map on Neatline

The Life Travels of Theseus: exhibit page on Omeka

The Life Travels of Theseus: exhibit page on Omeka

I have decided to work  on mapping out the life and death of Theseus. I have used Plutarch’s  Theseus as the main historical source for his adventures. I mapped out his six deeds on his way to Athens as well as several adventures he partakes in after becoming the heir to the Athenian throne.  I am also interested in connecting him with different mythological figures and displaying this through an Omeka feature, exhibits.

Overall, I have learned a lot about online databases for artifacts as well as how to use Omeka and Neatline. All of these resources will be beneficial in my further study of the Classics. While I am still perfecting how I want to display the life and death of Theseus, it is safe to say that this is an interesting way of moving the humanities into a lab and that I have learned a lot. At the end of the week, I am excited to see what each person has created and how they decided to display different myths.

Click here to view the map of Theseus

Click here to view the exhibit about Theseus 

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It’s All in the Details

This weekend, we each floated in and out of the Weitz Centre for Creativity to toil away on our own masks. By Friday we had followed our research curiosities to their limits, chosen our particular questions and scenes to test them with, and begun the detail work on our masks. In addition to taking part in the group scene from Euripides’ Herakles, I chose to stage the climactic scene in the Bacchae, when Agave is loosed from the grips of Dionysos’ madness. I’m attempting to test the legibility on a static mask of Agave’s shift from mad pride and joy to shock, horror, and disgust. Agave
Today, as Kat, Olivia, and Clara worked on elaborate headdresses, I moulded my last of four masks, Pentheus’s decapitated head. Tomorrow, Pentheus will be painted, and lines will be memorized…we perform for the maps section on Thursday, so the pressure’s on!Pentheus

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Mysk and Math – A Carleton Experience

Hey folks. I am also part of the two week long Myth and Mask Colloquium that has been flooding this blog with posts recently. They’ve all done a pretty good job of explaining why we’re here, so I’ll keep that part brief. We eleven college students (or in my case, recently graduated college student) have come together at Carleton College for two collaborative workshops. What that means is that we’re doing school stuff, except it’s different because we’re not paying anybody money to do it. Our respective schools are funding our time here, and in exchange we have to make something interesting that they can show people.

This is going to be an image-heavy post. I’ve been taking a lot of pictures to document the process because I just got my first smartphone, and people with new phones like to wave them around at other people.

I am in the workshop group that is investigating the role of masks in ancient Greek theatrical performances. I’m glad about that, because I don’t understand maps or computers, which is what the other group is dealing with, bless their hearts.

We began the first week by embarking upon general research into the subject of masks and myth. We learned a lot.

Heracles

“Heracles as an old man, naked, raising the club against his phallos ending in seven snake-heads.”

We engaged with the material according to our individual interests. Since I had the opportunity to perform in mask last semester (in the Aaron Cromie-directed Bi-College Theatre Program Mainstage Show, The Serpent Woman, in the style of Commedia dell’Arte), I focused on the performative aspects of mask. Body movement, acting technique, that sort of thing.

Believe it or not this taught me a lot (that's me on the left, photo credit to Paola Nogueros).

Believe it or not this taught me a lot (that’s me on the left, photo credit to Paola Nogueros).

Once we built some context for our task, we set about the mask construction process. I don’t really understand how materials interact in the physical world, but the process involved putting wet bandages all over our faces–the kind that harden into casts. The process also involved Vaseline, as many awkward processes do.

vaseline

I won't tell you it wasn't weird.

I won’t tell you it wasn’t weird.

Even Haverford’s very own Laura McGrane participated in the terrifying process! Now we all have disembodied versions of our own faces that we can gaze upon whenever we want.

But that wasn’t enough for us intrepid explorers of antiquity. Next we poured plaster into the faces so as to make molds that would let us replicate the experience of making masks without using our own tender faces over and over again.

uncanny

Jesus approves.

We have since been using the molds to make masks with the hopes of using them for live performance. The masks are supposed to represent different characters from The Heracles of Euripides. We’ve been using clay to alter our casted features into different emotional registers. To do that, we had to learn about emotions.

This is what 90% joy looks like.

This is what 90% joy looks like.

The above app is called Grimace. It lets us adjust that face’s emotions on a sliding scale and note how the positions of his features change. Those six options apparently represent the complete range of human emotions. We’ve been using the app on the very nice iPads that the very nice people at Carleton were very nice to supply.

I also took an online quiz and learned that I am not a sociopath when it comes to recognizing human emotions.

It’s pretty weird to be touching our own faces all day.

This is Clara. The human emotion on her face is called "Explaining".

This is Clara. The human emotion on her face is called “Teaching”.

Clara has been instructing guiding motivating inspiring urging helping us. I’m so hesitant to select a specific word choice because this model of making-learning-doing is very much experimental for the humanities, and our roles are not exactly clear in a lot of ways. That lack of clarity allows us more freedom than traditional academia, though it also allows us more confusion. That being said, Clara has been a fantastic mentor in the process, and I appreciate her willingness to engage with all of the materials alongside us. This sort of active professor-student collaboration is one that I think should be cultivated much more in a collegiate environment. It’s good to have a professor as a partner in our task, rather than an overseer. One thing is for sure–the folks who are running this colloquium are motivated and eager to provide us with anything that we might need. For example, they let us have a big ol’ projector for two weeks, and we’ve been using it to host group movie nights in the on-campus townhouses that we call home.

We watched World's Greatest Dad to honor the memory of Robin Williams on the day of his passing.

We watched World’s Greatest Dad to honor the memory of Robin Williams on the day of his passing.

Anyway, the making of the masks has been fun. We pour things, peel things, paint things, and stab things.

Contrary to appearances this is supposed to be Heracles not Oedipus.

Contrary to appearances this is supposed to be Heracles not Oedipus.

We also got attacked by a bat, but we’re okay.

It was a learning experience in that I explained to people that Batman did not become Batman by being bitten by a bat.

It was a learning experience–I had to explain to my fellow collaborators that Batman did not become Batman by being bitten by a bat.

Before I end this post I want to give you a taste of the kind of concepts we’ve been exploring. There has been a lot of talk about ambiguity of expression (think the Mona Lisa), and a lot of debate about just how much range of expression an ancient Greek mask could have embodied. I think after making our masks, we’ve come to the conclusion that they can portray quite a range indeed, depending on the angle at which they are viewed. I imagine that range will widen even further when they are worn by embodied performers, but for now, here are five pictures of my (unfinished) masks at different angles.

angle 1

angle 2

angle 3

angle 4

angle 5

Pretty neat, huh? Aside from the fact that my Heracles appears to have spent too much time in the tanning salon, the range of expression is evocative. This coming week will be spent putting the masks to the test in our best attempts at performance. So that’ll be funny.

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On losing eyelashes for the sake of scholarship and art

On Sunday afternoon, eleven students from liberal arts colleges across the country arrived at Carleton College for the inaugural AALAC* Humanities Lab. My lab, “Mask, Character & Myth,” is investigating the function of masks in Greek tragedy. For modern audiences accustomed to small, indoor theaters and the close-up shots made possible in cinema, masks can seem like an obstacle for actors to overcome. Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni summarized this view in the eighteenth century: “The actor must, in our days, possess a soul; and the soul under a mask is like fire under ashes.”

The Greeks, however, found tragedy deeply moving, masks and all — it certainly did not seem “soulless” to them. How, then, can we imagine masks, not as a hindrance, but as a catalyst for creativity?

Each of the five members of my lab has chosen a research specialty to explore; mine is the differences between masks for chorus members and those for main actors. Eric Csapo observes that in artistic representations of the theater, chorus members are more clearly identifiable as “actors,” whereas members of the main cast are often subsumed into their new, mythical identity. Consider, for example, the famous Pronomos vase:

Pronomos 360[2]

Most of the chorus members are talking to each other while holding their masks, officially out of character. The Heracles actor, however, is labelled “Heracles” and, even though his mask is off, it looks just like his actual face; he has no distinct identity of his own. Are mythical figures like Heracles so strong that they overpower their actors’ own identities? How might the mask’s influence over its wearer change, depending on whether it is a choral mask identical to 11 others, or a representation of a unique, legendary character?

Alongside these academic inquiries, we’ve been getting our hands (and faces) dirty in our lab — because why should science students get all the fun? On Tuesday, we covered each other’s faces in bandages to make masks. It can be a little unsettling to be unable to see, speak, or move your face for nearly half an hour, so the unmasked among us took turns reading Winnie the Pooh aloud to pass the time.

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When I pulled my mask off, some of my eyelashes were stuck in the plaster. The sacrifices we make for art…

On Wednesday, we poured plaster into those masks so that we can now make masks from those molds, instead of losing eyelashes every time we want to try something new.

 

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Plaster mold of my head in a swim cap. My parents will treasure it forever, I’m sure.

Now, we’re hard at work making and painting masks for the characters we’ve chosen. I spent yesterday playing with modeling clay in an attempt to make my face look like an old man’s face, since I’m creating masks for Amphitryon and the Heracles chorus.

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In my defense, there’s scholarship on the role of asymmetry in masks…

Art projects were never a strong point of mine, but I’ll make it work eventually…I hope.

Next week, we’ll start actually performing selections from tragedy while masked, so stay tuned — there’s sure to be a wealth of embarrassing and wonderful photos and videos…

*Alliance to Advance Liberal Arts Colleges

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gods, and masks, and murders, oh my!

My work in progress.

My work in progress.

 

The first week of the Hum Lab: A Consortial Workshop is coming to a close.  We arrived in the land of ten thousand lakes as a motley, enthusiastic crew of students from various liberal arts colleges and of various majors, bound together only by our shared reading of Euripede’s Heracles and a general confusion about what would we could and would produce over the course of an intensive, two week, collaborative working period. 

Many research articles, Google Docs, and plaster molds later, and our projects are beginning to (literally) take shape.

Half of us are working on contextualizing and recreating tragic masks of the sort that would have been utilized in 5th century B.C.E. Athenian theater; tragedies were all performed in mask. There is not a whole lot of information running around about this, but some visual evidence remains in vase-paintings (especially the famous Pronomos Vase) and texts (the often-quoted, but dubiously reliable descriptions of the origins of drama that Aristotle writes, for one). There is also a significant amount of contemporary scholarship about the symbolism and purpose of tragic masks, exploring everything from the meaning of a frontal gaze, the possibility that masks protect the actor and spectators from the spiritual and moral pollution of the atrocities portrayed in the tragedies, and the role of ambiguous facial features in the perception of human emotion. 

While these and some other, more technical questions (i.e.: can spectators see the features of a mask at the distance that would have been typically between a viewer and the performing space in the 5th century B.C.E.) will be tested once we have our masks, my own particular interest is in the dramatic portrayal of the divine in Heracles.

Hanging over the play is the gods’ role in justice: do they uphold it or do they toy with it for their own pleasure or perhaps they are outside of it altogether? Moreover, just like the humans in the play, the gods are constrained by fate, by more powerful beings, and by their own flaws. At the tragic crescendo of the play, Heracles’ returns from the underworld just in time to save his family from the murderous plotting of a political usurper– only to then kill them himself in a fit of madness brought on by the goddess Lyssa. The spectators are privy to a conversation between Lyssa and another goddess, Iris, just before Lyssa sets Heracles to doom.  Lyssa states that Heracles does not deserve to be subjected to the horror of killing his children, especially because he faithfully served the gods in his recent labors; Iris waves away her objections, and so Lyssa accepts the will of Iris and Hera. In one line of text, it is as if her moral compass’s bleeping warnings of cruelty never sounded off; she gleefully describes how her madness is inescapable and overpowering, and sets off to destroying Heracles’ family.

In making a mask of Lyssa, I am attempting to explore the imaged manifestation of the divine in the Greek tragic world. It seems, from the little historical evidence remaining, that divine masks were not much different than mortal masks– and that the gods’ actions within the tragedies were just as troubling of the question of free will and right action as the mortals’. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mapping myth at Carleton College

Thanks to Haverford’s own Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities and Carleton College’s humanities center, eleven students are currently spending two weeks at Carleton, located in Northfield, Minnesota to participate in the HumLab: A Consortial Workshop.

I’m woking on mapping the interlocking myths of Jason, the Argonauts, and Medea and linking these intertwined stories to both material and mythical spaces and ancient artifacts.  I’m using Omeka to catalogue the artifacts I want to use to tell this story, and Neatline to map it into both our world and that of Greek myth.  Here’s a behind-the-scenes screenshot of my project thus far:

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 2.41.43 PM

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House Managing during a Festival

physicalSo the summer has been chugging along. I’ve continued to do some marketing work for Links Hall, creating ticket sale pages and programs for visiting artists. I also cleaned up the digital archives, updating them through June of this year. Next week I’ll start updating July’s events. The big news from July was Physical Festival, a 9-day festival celebrating physical theater. There were two weekends during which visiting companies performed, and during the week local Chicago artists took the stage, including a scratch night. I house managed a night during the weekend. This involved checking people in at the door and selling tickets, cleaning the space before and after the show, and basically just being available for whatever the artists needed. The house manager’s perk is that they get to watch the shows once everyone has been checked in, so I was fortunate enough to watch Out of Balanz from Denmark perform their adorable 2-man show “Next Door”, and to see 3 artists from Oregon perform their new show “Circo de tu Corazon.” It was a really lovely night. I’ll be sad to leave in a few weeks.

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Museum/Page/Container

1After a few days of travel, I finally arrived at Japanese Seto Inland Sea for a feast of dialogue between artworks and the space in which they are contained, and between human creations and the natural environment. I heard about this Seto art project last year when I was participating Kijimuna Children’s Theater Festival in Okinawa City and while I was doing research on the artworks that remain on the islands, I became increasingly excited about encountering them in person. Naoshima was my first stop.

2From Yayoi Kusama’s red pumpkin gazing at the islands afar besides Miyanoura port to six House projects sitting quietly among other local houses, I felt that the boundary between space and object, museum and artwork, container and its content starts to fade. The relation between the object and the space makes both of them parts of an integral artwork: the walls and floors of the house become textured canvases, directional narratives or three-dimensional sculptures. The house contains objects of art as it is made of these objects. It pushes me to continue to think the book as a more literal architectural space: the media not only serves or corresponds to the content but becomes an integral part of the work itself.

3Another piece of House project consists of a newly built wooden house inserted in the middle of reminiscent statues of an ancient shrine and a modern glass ladder in contrasts with the mossy stones coming up from the underground cave that can only be seen at the end of a walk through a narrow tunnel with a flashlight. The art object stands in place of the disappeared shrine architecture and the underground design invites a discovery of not only the glass ladder, but also the surrounding space of mountain and sea, and the history and memory that emerges from the depth of our mind. I wonder if the book space can become something similar, a functional presence, a directional discovery and a metaphor rooted in its own architecture.4

 

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Stonewall, Pride, and Trans Justice

Hi Everyone!

Thanks to the HCAH, I’ve spent most of my summer in New York doing research for my Anthropology thesis. At the moment I’m in the final steps of my volunteer-research project with NYC Pride, the official pride organizer for the events in Manhattan, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a trans* and gender non-conforming legal clinic and community organizing collective that focuses on racial and economic justice. For the first month of my project, I was focused on helping NYC Pride with various events for the Stonewall Riots 45th anniversary and conducting a demographic survey for them during the march (which people estimate had 2-3 million people attending this year!). During the Rally, I had the honor of driving Susan Sarandon in a golf cart and meeting Laverne Cox!!! It was awesome–she was really nice and even asked about my project:

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That day, I also participated in the 10th Annual Trans Day of Action with the SRLP. That march I had much more time to observe, enjoy, and engage as I wasn’t running around with volunteers in 90 degree weather trying to fill out a 1000 surveys! At both events I  was studying how different queer and trans* groups memorialize and understand the Stonewall Riots, which I’ve learned are much more about myth than they are about definitive history. Check out this awesome poster I saw at the TDOA:

IMG_7013 (1)

Now, I’m finishing up my work at the SRLP and doing some last interviews with volunteers, staff, and board members at NYC Pride. I have three weeks left to finish, and spend some time in the two archives I’m using, the National Archive of LGBT History and the Lesbian Herstory Archives. I don’t want to leave New York at all, but with the endless distractions here I know I’ll never start transcribing the hours and hours of material I have!

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Blowing My Cover

Now that my FringeArts internship is winding down (this is my last week), I think it’s time to come clean. You may have thought that I took this internship because of my love of the arts, my affection for editing, or my fondness for my coworkers. Fools! I have actually been here undercover, furthering my own agenda. That’s right, I have been abusing my vast powers as the FringeArts guide and information management intern to subtly propagate the Doctrine of the Oxford Comma.

Why am I blowing my cover now? Because the Festival Guide has already gone to print, and with it, all my imbedded propaganda! (*Cue evil laugh here.) Now bask in these screen shots from the Festival Guide, or, as I like to think of it, The Comma-ist Manifesto:

Check out that oxford comma.

Check out that Oxford comma.

Oh wow you guys, there are three oxford commas in here.

Oh wow you guys, there are three Oxford commas in here.

Picture 8

There are zero commas here. I just thought it was a very important sentence.

Those are very black-and-white. Here’s something for your color-deprived eyes:

sdf

Because poison dart frogs are awesome, that’s why. Photo from FactsColumn.

I hope you appreciate my restraint. You wouldn’t believe how many Oxford comma examples I screenshotted (screenshot? screenshot-ed?), but I figured this post was already pushing the limits of what anyone would willingly sit through, so I held back.

In the name of diversity of expression, I will leave you with this guest appearance by the vocative comma:

Oh hey, vocative comma.

Oh hey, vocative comma.

So now you know. You’ll never again be able to see the Festival Guide as anything but a tool of the system (the system, of course, being me). But hey, if you do still wanna see the Guide after this confession, you can join us at our Guide Launch party this Friday, Aug 1, featuring plant-generated music and a complimentary beer for you over-21-ers.

—Miriam Hwang-Carlos

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