How to Make: Shadow Puppet Machine for FOOLmoon Reimagined

For FossilFOOLs, I created a work of arts-based research about how city-dwellers access nature combining digital animation and found sounds to highlight the ways that nature is affected by and yet still permeates urban areas. Inspired by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, I combined a recording of the sounds in my backyard– both human and natural– with instrumental and vocal tracks to create a re-mix of narrative sounds.   Rautavaara is known for his symphony to biodiversity, Cantus Arctics, in which he composed a rich multi-layered work that is built around recordings he made of birds in arctic region of Finland.

Still from Song to Urban Ecology, 2020

Originally, the work was to be presented with an active call for participation, people would have created shadow puppets to interact with the installation of the video on a multi-layered tent full of transparencies.

The original inspiration, collecting the ways that nature permeates the lives of my fellow city-dwellers still holds, and I have translated it to a virtual call for participation:

You can MAKE YOUR OWN shadow-puppet machine and share your story!

First, do some research

  1. When you go out today for an appropriately spaced walk, bring a piece of paper or a notebook with you.
  2. Look at the plants and animals that are around you, and spend some time looking at a few that you feel drawn to.
  3. STOP, LISTEN for 3 whole minutes: Write what you hear using onomatopoeia: some letters that you think will make the best impression of what you hear where you are.
    • It doesn’t have to be sounds from the thing that you are interested in. Just any sounds you hear, practice saying them outlaid.
    • For example the plane going over my building right now says “GURURURURURURUOOOOOOOSHSHSHSh!” and the birds say “CRRRRpppptCCrrpt-shwooooot.”
  4. THEN: Draw all the shapes you think the plant or animal you are interested in has in it. Don’t try to draw the thing, just draw the shapes.
  5. FINALLY: try to draw the thing, using the shapes you just drew. Since we are making shadow puppets later, don’t worry about the details, just get the outside shape of the thing.
  6. When you get home, think of a story about the things you drew.
    • What are the relationships between those things?
    • How does the sound relate?

Then go home and make your spinner:

Materials:

  • Re-used plastic bottl- cap
  • Drill or something sharp to poke with
  • Paper Plate, or re-used cardboard
  • Re-used plastic Forks, or popsicle sticks
  • Paperclips for attachments and hooks
  • Yarn if you want your puppets to dangle more
  • Re-used cardboard for puppet
  • Tape, Glue, other sticky stuff
  • Clothespin
  • Drawing stuff like markers

Directions:

Make the spinner

1. Poke a hole in the bottle cap, using a drill. If you don’t have a drill, you can probably use a nail and a hammer, or some other sharp thing combined with a heavy thing. For this part, you need to have a friend or a grown-up around just to be safe.

2. Stick the chopstick into the hole in the bottle cap. Put a dot of glue or tape under the bottle cap inside the lid so that it stays where it is.

  • If you use a hot glue gun, remember that the silver part and the glue are hot, so you should not touch those.

4. Take out the plate and mark the center by folding in half and pinching the middle to make an X.

5. Poke a hole through the X using a pencil or scissors, spin them around to make the hole nice and big so it spins easily. This might also need a grown up or friend to be safe.

6. Glue or tape your spokes, which are the popsicle sticks or forks to the edge of your plate so they stick out like a sun. You can use cardboard scraps if you don’t have popsicle sticks or forks to recycle.

7. If you are using cardboard or popsicle sticks, you can tape or glue a paper clip to the end of your spokes so that you have something to hook your puppets onto.

Make the puppets

  1. Take out your research drawings.
  2. Look at the shapes and the way you put them together to draw your image. You will use this to decide how to cut the cardboard for your puppet
  3. Draw the shapes you want to use for your animal or plant onto the cardboard. I like to use old TV dinner packages for this. It’s relatively soft, and not so hard to cut with scissors.
  4. Cut them out.
    • If you want multiples, you can fold the cardboard, like making gingerbread people, or snowflakes to get multiples of the same shape.
    • You can cut them with scissors or a knife. If you use a knife, please make sure you have a friend or a grown-up to help with this, just to be safe.
  5. Tape or glue them together.
  6. Tape or glue them to a paperclip. You may have to bend the paperclip to make a hook for your spokes.
  • Hang your puppets onto the spinner.
    • To assemble your story, think about the order you put them in
    • If you have birds, for example, different wing positions could indicate progress.
    • If you have flowers and Bees, you could put two flowers and one bee, or lots of flowers, some empty spokes, and then a bee.

Participate in FOOL Moon Re-imagined

To participate, post photos, videos, stories and more to the FOOL Moon Re-imagined Facebook page.

You can go with your grown-up or friends to find things that make noise in your kitchen, pots, pans, jars of rice, and create a sound response to what you heard. A wok makes a nice resounding noise, some sticks from outside might make nice snaps or scrunches.

Combine those with the onomatopoeia you created in your notes, to create a few seconds of sound to make while you take a short movie of your shadow puppet story.

Film your puppets, with the flashlight and your spinner on the wall, like in the photo. Use the hashtag #foolishsongs20 when you upload, or just put it onto the FOOLMoon Reimagined Facebook group.

  • PLAY Play!
  • Make noises like the ones you wrote down! Tell your story in a short video or write it down with some pictures of the shadows you make!
  • Here’s some ideas for how to start:
    • I picked ________ because…
    • ________ are important because…
    • _______ and _______ do ________ together because…

I plan to make a compilation video of all the submissions that everyone creates, so if you want to be included, drop me a line in the comments here, or send me an email to the letter “A” at Allida dot com. If you do not give me express permission, your documentary words, photos, and videos will not be included in our final collective story.

About this project:

Climate change is an issue that directly impacts equity, and environmental justice world wide.  Wealthy nations and communities have the resources to anticipate and act on behalf not only of themselves, but of the rest of the planet, but too often they ignore the urgency of the issue because it is inconvenient to the bottom line. In this moment, with a pandemic influencing the globe, it is clearer than ever that our mutual fates are intertwined, and that collective action is necessary, not just to prevent harm to the vulnerable, but to create beauty and connection for all.

The core inspiration for this project came from a recent encounter I had with a group of Finnish educators at the Next Wave Summit last October in Boston, hosted by the Center for Artistry and Scholarship. Their presentation at Next Wave was titled : “Everything Has to Change and it Has to Change Right Now: Sustainability in the Finnish Education System,” and they also shared this book you can download for free edited by Justin Cook of the Center for Complexity at RISD.  The presentation started with an introduction by the former director of the Finnish National Curriculum who said:

“When I started out in the office here, I remembered the love I felt when my grandparents would read to me, and I thought, I want every Finnish child to feel that love and support while they learn.”

Irmeli Halinen, retired Head of Curriculum and Development, Finland

Yes an artist, my Finnish cultural heritage influences my understanding of getting by by making do.  My mother and grandmother taught me how to re-use everything from cutting down clothes and creating rag-rugs, to darning socks and coming up with inventive ways to use old plastic bags.  I have always worked with re-purposed and re-cycled materials both because of these habits, and because the impact of seeing everyday objects in new forms raises awareness of our cultural associations. I’ve re-purposed construction materials to create wearables and decorative home objects.

It almost made me cry, because my grandparents– both the Finnish ones and the others– used to read to me and were all strong advocates for empathetic supportive education as central to civic agency.  Their model has inspired me as an educator and an artist to cut through my own identity and privilege to find common ground with people across cultural, class, race, and disability. It makes me passionate about elevating the voices and ideas of the communities I have served as an artist and and educator.  

In my work, I endeavor to love every student, and hear what they have to say because we are all one, and the multiple points of crisis our world is facing right now makes that clearer than ever.

In-between Thoughts

Art is a necessary part of my life. The process of putting pencil to paper or looping needle and yarn help me process my thoughts and feelings

Art is a necessary part of my life.  The process of putting pencil to paper, or looping needle and yarn, help me process my thoughts and feelings.  Focusing on the process of creation frees up my mind to wander and problem-solve.  Seeing the line of color as it turns into form or image gives me insights into whatever is on my mind.  

There have been times in my practice, like now,  when I have enough space to dedicate to making. Whether I have space or not, playing with form and image clears my mind and focuses me on next steps, so over the years, the process has crept into practices that fit in between things.  Instead of weaving and dyeing, I knit more.  Instead of print-making, I papercut or make origami.  

When I lived in Spain, this process bubbled up through work with my students into oil-pastel drawings, that were focused both on final results and process. 

This short private showing was made up of works that instantiate different ways of recording and making visible the process and revelation of drawing and other art that fits in-between.  

Although I started this with one thing in mind, the process of creating the mechanism to display this particular work inspired me. I am hoping to turn this display mechanism into a mobile display unit in which I can tell stories, share moments, create space for people to interact. So often art is both a narrative or metaphor for its own moment, and a springboard for the next.

Spring 2001: Meditations and Transformations

Looking back on these works, they form a through line of spiritual seeking through process. In times like now, where the world is in suspended animation, a dose of specific process and ritual can be helpful. In what ways can I impose order on the simultaneous plodding of too fast and too slow?

These fledgling explorations of spiritual connection through internal or external processes formed the ground on which I sit: learning to navigate and impose routines and practices upon myself to manage the firehose of information that I am curious about and engaged with at any given moment.

Although the final work in the series, which I shared last week, was designed to invite participation, both of these works are focused internally, or at least on making personal internal processes external, just for me.

What I wrote at the time only scratches the surface of what I can see now looking backwards, so in addition to the captions from the red portfolio album, I’ve added some reflections, and included a third piece, which was not successfully documented at the time, but which connects to a tension in my work about embodied fashion.

Performance I: Copper Circle Clock

To draw attention to the tension of values that is inherent in the aesthetics of fine art in the western canon, I often choose materials that one would normally consider practical and re-cycle, re-purpose, or re-position them to an aesthetic rather than practical value.  In the world of the arts, materials matter.  Whether one chooses oil paint, pencil, charcoal, or fabric, there is something to be said for the way the material affects the viewer.  

Materials have cultural weight, and by repurposing hardware, I seek to show honor and value for labor in my creative practice.  

As the daughter of a college-educated union Ironworker, I value the beauty that is created by labor.  It’s one of the reasons that the buildings and bridges in Chicago were so inspirational.  Hands made them, and I value every stage of the process from idea and design, to re-bar and sand-blasting.  

In this work, I took washers and laid them out in a clock formation in the middle of the room and then twisted them successively on to loops on refrigerator tubing and large washers to create an artifact from the performance.  

In designing the work, I was considering the form that I imagined, an artifact which would leave a vertical tracing through time. Knitting or beading leave behind a structure, and the purpose is the product, for example a sweater or a necklace.  In this performance I created illustration of time itself by using fiber craft skills to engineer a purpose-made object that spirals up in a circle, with cardinal points to mark how we chart time on a clock.  

The most interesting piece of the work was the sound that the washers made, jingling and sliding along the copper tube.  It reminded me of my visit to the Buddhist temple in Japan when I was fourteen years old.  The rhythmic jingle was like the meditation bells and drums that the monks and practitioners made as they repeated their sutras.  

The finished object hung on my ceiling for awhile at home, jingling in the breeze of that summer with the window open reminding me about stopping and noticing time and process.  

Performance II: Rolling into Transformation

So many times when we consider changes we want to make in ourselves, we think we know what to expect, and yet, even in a simple action, there are often emotions and feelings that one does not anticipate.  Some are joyful, and some are frightening.  It is how one considers them that creates growth.  

This was a performance to externalize internal processes of wrapping and unwrapping emotions and thoughts during moments of change.  Conceptualized as a quick meditation on personal transformation, I cocooned myself into a cloth in Lincoln Park. 

The wrapping was more claustrophobic, and the unwrapping was more freeing than I expected it to be.  

The cloth was a sign leftover from an exhibit at the Field Museum, which I purchased at a re-use center and which my friends had taken to Burning Man.  Dust from the Playa, stuck in the cloth despite repeated washings, also stuck in my throat.  I can still feel the air as I finally came free, joyful to be out of that internal space. 

Performance III: Personal Space Farthingale (Undocumented)

The convenience of public transportation is huge, however, the process of entering a crowded train carrying a hatbox on one’s head on the way to the theatre can make one feel like a sardine.  

One tension I felt in Chicago was between that independence provided by public transportation and the dehumanizing feeling of being packed so close to other people, never looking one another in the eye, or looking too closely at one another as sometimes happens.  

To explore this, I attempted to create some personal space for myself with a PVC icosahedron farthingale, which I wore on the bus during one of our studio days.  It kept people from touching me, and its pointy triangles hurt both me and them.  The reaction I had was mostly stares, as if this personal safety device were more of a fetish object than armor.  

Unlike the washer mail I created, it does not invite touch, but the visibility of this armor meant that in wearing it, I still made myself an object of curiosity.  There is that tension in urban space between seeking to connect to others and wishing to remain safe and anonymous.  This work did not do exactly what I expected it to, but it created an interesting discourse about safety, desire, and space.  

Bedouin Cocoon: Spring 2001

The unexpected places in which surprises happen are the places where invention happens.  Whatever plans I made, the process of creating and performing forced me to push my limits.  Those limits left space for the air to pass, and for others to enter and share in the learning. 

This performance did not have a title when I started, it began with the feeling of transience and tension that exists in cities between constructed and natural space. I loved Chicago in many ways, but things moved so quickly, especially for me: I worked full time and went to art school part time, trying to afford space and time for myself to breathe was extremely challenging.

In response to that feeling of continual fatigue, my stream of making turned meditative. I did drawings, beading, knitting, manual work that I could carry and which made me stop to breathe.

These small works, however, did not solve the feeling of being stuck in close quarters: a too small apartment, the space between people on a bus, the low-ceilinged platforms of the Red and Blue lines, and no benches or welcoming areas to stop and contemplate the beautiful tall buildings and open spaces.

Out of this feeling of claustrophobia, arose a desire to create a sacred space, created through and set aside for the things that I value. So this performance had four goals: 

  • Creation of an artifact that illustrates or leaves traces in time or space
  • Consideration of sacred or meditative space as internal or external
  • Connection to pattern, repetition, but valuing biomimetic or organic 
  • Consciousness of processes for growth

To leave traces of the process of meditation, I designed a structure that could be sewn sequentially, one tube after another like beads. The finished product would be a 5/8 icosahedron.  To pull in natural and biomimetic forms, I then wove fabric in and out in a meditative way to create a cocoon-like structure. This was all done with a rhythm and in silence, considering, meditating and creating at once.  

Putting all of this together, the dome created a space for contemplation shared with others.  The process, artifact, pattern and form being inspired were combination of human and natural forms, and they created an interior space in open air.  I chose the spot, on top of the airshafts surrounded by wildflowers because they epitomized for me the tension between natural and urban that I felt in Chicago, and felt like a generative location.  

The surprising moments in the process, where the poles fell through the grating, and when the whole structure blew over, illustrate for me something that I have since taken on as key to my practice:  There is no such thing as a mistake in art, only a new opportunity to create something new.  As you click through the gallery you can read my thoughts on the artwork at the time.

On the Journey: But What About the Leaves

A red photo album on my colorful concentric circle rag rug in my apartment in Boston.

When I was visiting my father over winter break, I unearthed documentation of artwork that I did twenty years ago.  It is funny to think of myself as an artist-practitioner for twenty years.  Yet, when I look back at that work it is plain how it connects to my work today, and the red threads in the work stitch clearly through a variety of projects between then and now.  

Some of these red-threads are obvious to me, but I have shown the work to a couple of friends, both of whom asked some razor sharp questions, that make me feel like the work was more of a success than I thought it was at the time. 

The documentation in question was work for a class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago called “Materiality, the Body, and Motion,” which was taught by Mark Jeffery. The documentation is bound up in a red photo album with photos by my classmates, and a colleague, Alberto Antonio Aguilar, who worked at Pearl with me. The book is interspersed with handwritten notes on deep teal colored vellum, onion skin, and copper painted magnolia leaves.  I will be sharing these projects over the next few days and weeks.

The photo album is open on my rag rug and you can see my toes.
What’s inside the Red Album

The work was about safety and connection in urban life: seeking a way to create sacred space and grounding to the earth in a place coated in concrete and hyper-human constructed space.  

My two friends who asked questions about the work zeroed in on that right away.  They read my notes and asked questions about the patterns and the method of creation.  They wanted to know how the projects related to one another and to my current practice.  They helped me bring out some meaning that I created at the time, but hadn’t then developed the spiritual wisdom to put into words.  

The three projects were investigations into my relationship with the city of Chicago, and to urban space in general.  

Sunset Reflected II

My feelings about urban spaces are mixed.  On the one hand, it is clear that the way towards sustainability involves dense living areas.  In denser areas, it is easier to create infrastructure that supports sustainable choices like public transportation, and larger buildings which hold temperatures and can be regulated with convection using green architectural techniques.  On the other hand, it is clear that urban spaces as they exist with layer upon layer of human choices that clutter those possibilities.  While nature creeps into sidewalk cracks and organized plantings, urban areas are also removed from the grounding feeling of nature. 

Downtown Chicago in the year 2000, before the re-development of Millenium Park, had very little space that held native plants or quasi-wild spaces. Now there is a beautiful garden with native plants, tailored on a very geometric matrix, but still more wild than what was there then: a big field of grass.  

Where I grew up, on the southeast side of Ann Arbor, was only a 20 minute bicycle ride from the denser downtown.  However my house was across the street from a city-owned field, pond, and swamp that had been bought back from a developer sometime in the 1970’s as evidenced by abandoned foundations from their attempts to remediate the floodway.  In addition the Ann Arbor Public Schools’ biggest nature area, the Mitchell Scarlett Woods, was right next to my school, and all these connected up with a big park nearby that has its own nature areas.  

Outside

Essentially, we could walk for about two miles inside those woods, with few traces of humanity except the sound of 1-94 racing by a football field away from us.  We went on orienteering and nature walks in those woods.  We overturned rocks and stumps finding bugs, hunting garter snakes, and corralling toads.  Turtles and egrets sunned themselves in the pond, and we shoveled it to skate and play hockey in the winter.  

Yet we were only about twenty minutes by bus or bike from Ann Arbor’s downtown packed with cafes, galleries, vintage shops, and book sellers.

I was privileged to have easy access to both urban and natural life.  

Chicago, with the backwards flowing river, reclaimed swampland, giant skyscrapers, and twenty-four hour public transportation was both exhilarating and traumatic for me.  Being able to go anywhere I wanted easily, and accessing the resources of a huge urban area– fabric stores, art galleries, cultural activities– gave me power and cultural capital that I couldn’t quite reach in my hometown.  The geometric hard spaces are organized and functional, created by the values of urban life: easy to navigate, but rigid and mechanical.  They are so shiny they seemed untouchable and fragile. 

Humans built the city and it was inspirational and intimidating.   

Nightscape Portrait

However the beauty of human-built spaces was also a barrier.  It was difficult for me to be so far removed from organically flowing streams and wild areas full of overgrown woods.  In my dorm at DePaul, I was removed from the sounds of birds.  They were replaced by the rumble of the EL going by at all hours across an empty field with no trees.  

When I moved out of the dorm, the neighborhoods I lived in were a bit better.  I prioritized living near parks or near the lake, but there was still a restlessness that I felt that fed into my artistic practice, and motivated me to see solace in creating art, connection, and what I used to think of as “sacred space.”  

Thoughts about home

When I moved to the Boston area for graduate school, it was surreal.

On the way here from Ypsilanti, Michigan, not quite my home town, but very close, I drove through Canada. Not that exotic, I’ve done this road trip a few times in my life, though customs and border enforcement always makes me nervous.

Then, I visited my best friend, whom I have now known 3/4 of my life. She is working on re-habbing a castle in Upstate New York to create a Social Circus and Arts center. It’s an old armory that looks like a castle. She and her significant have spent a few years working on this project and building support for it.

I hadn’t seen her in a number of years, but that felt like home.

Then, she drove with me to Boston, and helped me settle in. She drove back to her fairy castle, and stowed my car until Christmas.

Meanwhile, my cousin was getting married in Marin County, so as soon as my stuff was in the apartment, I flew out to OAK and hung out with family, recouped my grandfather’s camera and a bunch of art I had forgotten he had from my ex-boyfriend, via my ex-boss in Palo Alto.

That felt like a very fraught version of Home.

Cambridge, where I flew back to live, did not feel like home. My apartment was empty, I knew nobody. As a nontraditional older student I felt out of place at Harvard, even though I “pass” as belonging, there were many places and times that I was unable to push back on things.

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And then there was none…

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Fast-forward to this past summer: the job I got after grad-school pays enough that I can save money and for the first time in ten years, I can afford a trip to Madrid.

The mom from “my” family came to meet me at the airport, and drove me back to where I was staying. Their house has had some renovations, but it’s pretty much as I remembered it, except the littles (from my Segovia Alphabet Video) are now just entering college and about to take a year abroad on an Erasmus scholarship in Italy.

I saw so many of my old friends in Madrid and Paris, and remembered exactly how to get around and where to find what I needed.

Many people are now absent, but it still felt like home.

I’ve now been in Boston for just over two years. I lived in Madrid for four. I live here. Some parts of it feel like home, but it is a place I still don’t feel connected.

Home comes with a lot of cultural and geographical values attached to it. I remember at one point, real estate agents switched from selling houses to selling homes. I found it jarring, even though I was about eight years old.

Is it possible to buy a home?

To me, home is something more human than architecture. It is not just the building you live in, but the shared value created by the inhabitants of the place. Not everywhere I have lived is a home. I am no rolling stone, and mostly, I don’t wear a hat,

Seriously though: some places I have stayed are just that: a place I spend time to sleep.

Video and poetry collaboration with Iva Markicevic

Others had some ineffable qualities that made them home. Some of that was the work that I myself put into them, particularly when I lived alone.

However there is more to it than that: connecting to the place in one way or another and creating a sense of community. Roommates, neighbors, family, work affiliations, and community evolvement all play a part in that.

I do not have a magic formula, but I know that creating a sense of home takes work, but it also takes a willingness to accept others.

These works of digital art reflect some of my thoughts, and some of Iva Markicevic’s thoughts about home. The joys and pains of attachment to a place are ripe for creating because all of us struggle with what it means to be home and how to build it.