Researcher’s Notebook: Constructing Fairy Tales: Architecture for a Magical Realist World

Athens is a city where, according to Eugene Trivizas, ‘Myth precedes, reality follows, and imagination is not only infinite, it is also cheap’. Crisis has devastated the capital on multiple levels and two types of spaces that spread throughout its centre have the qualities and potential for a radical change: the Polykatoikia, which is the multi-storey apartment building and the Akalyptoi, which are the uncovered spaces in between the polykatoikias, which, in most cases, are left unused. Dr Trivizas, has been responsible for the teaching of criminology in the Department of Sociology at the University of Reading since 1978, as well as a visiting Professor of Social and Political Sciences at the Panteion University of Athens since 1992. Having created more than 150 worlds of the imagination, he is the father figure of the Greek children’s book. Tales such as ‘The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig’, ‘The Last Black Cat’, and the first Greek comic-strip and televised puppet show ‘Fruitopia’, (first published in 1983, illustrated by Nikos Maroulakis), each tackle ideas of social and political injustice. In his tales, through the use of allegory and tropes, imagination is always the antidote to a crisis.

I have started my design research by writing and illustrating a magical realist fairy tale, implying that our supposedly normal and normative world is itself a fantastical, magical realist dream. The tale is weaving subtle references to ancient and contemporary myths and the characters are at times becoming part of the spaces that surround them, alluding to an architecture that unfolds and is at the same time both figurative as well as immaterial. The tale is written in Greek and I am in the process of translating it to English.

Research Drawing 1

Continue reading

Researchers Notebook: Queer Cases: The ‘He-She’ Ladies and Mother Clap’s Molly House

Fanny and Stella, photographed in Chelmsford by Fred Spalding, c.1870 (D/F 269/1/3712)

One of the most notorious yet historically significant scandals of Victorian England was the curious case of two young men in their early twenties: Frederick Park, a law student and Ernest Boulton, or Fanny and Stella (their female names). On the night of 28 April 1870, Park and Boulton were arrested outside the Strand Theatre for outraging public decency. Both were dressed in extravagant women’s clothing: Fanny wore a ‘dark-green satin crinoline trimmed’ gown; Stella, by contrast was dressed in a ‘scarlet silk evening dress’ trimmed in ‘white lace and draped with a white muslin shawl’. Boulton and Park were frequent visitors at theatres and several public events including the Oxford and Cambridge boat race and Burlington Arcade. The police had been closely monitoring the pair’s activities since 1869. They had been known to repeatedly wear make-up while dressed in men’s clothing, and were seen flirting and winking at gentlemen on the streets and at public gatherings.

Several newspapers printed their own version of what they referred to as the ‘he-she’ ladies. The Illustrated Police News recorded that upon searching the pair’s apartments, the police had found an elaborate wardrobe of female attire: ‘thirty to forty silk and other dresses, lace trimmings, half a dozen bodices, bonnets and hats, stockings, gloves, violet powder,’ along with letters and photographs from Bolton’s apartment. Continue reading

Researcher’s Notebook: The Dying Philosopher and Me

Portrait of Richard Rorty (n.d.). Attribution: ‘Richard Rorty from Philosophers, a gallery exhibition by Steve Pyke, 2011. Photo published in The Guardian, ‘Philosophers by Steve Pyke, Friday, September 2, 2011.

Have you ever read something for a specific research purpose, in the routine of study, which suddenly carved you up and reordered your entire being? That happened to me around December 2007. I remember the evening vividly, because my reading was interrupted a few times by my walk to and from the laundry room, as though it were calculated to give me ten minutes of gloomy quiet to absorb it all. I disagreed profoundly, but the way it teased my core beliefs was compelling. And, over time, I came under the spell of the American philosopher Richard Rorty.

I found out much later that he had died from pancreatic cancer, aged 75, only a few months before my first encounter, just over ten years ago today – a trivial coincidence that I’ve dressed in significance. I was unaccountably sad at the thought of that particular brain turning cold. Shortly before his death he wrote an essay about his diagnosis and disease (‘The Fire of Life’), in which he admitted that ‘neither the philosophy I had written nor that which I had read seemed to have any particular bearing on my situation’. These words gave me pause, as I had been deeply affected by his philosophical writings on life and death. This last characteristic shrug of indifference toward his own thought left me unsettled – he had given me some comfort, at least. Continue reading

Researcher’s Notebook: ‘My First Encounter with Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’

The writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1927-2013) has an extensive oeuvre. This includes 12 novels, one of which was the 1975 Booker Prize-winning Heat and Dust, along with 25 screenplays (22 of which are films), seven volumes of short stories, several plays, and other non-fiction writing. Her early novels, including A Householder (later also a film), Esmond in India and Get Ready for Battle are all set in India, where she spent 30 years. Her later novels, including Nine Lives: Chapters of a Possible Past and Three Continents, along with collections of short stories and publications in The New Yorker, were all written during the remainder of her life in the USA.

Her bequest to the British Library in 2013 mentions her wish to donate ‘all the papers relating to my prose writing to the British Library in London’, ‘in deep gratitude for my life (1939), the wonderful education they gave me, the English language itself, my great love of reading and trying to write, all of which sustained me throughout my life’.  The date refers to the year she came to England as a Jewish refugee from Germany. This statement was published in an obituary by Catherine Freeman on The Royal Society of Literature’s website. It also quotes Ruth saying, ‘The films are fun but […] I live in and for the books’.

Most people know about Ruth’s Academy Awards for best screenplay adaptations of E. M Forster’s A Room with a View in 1986, and Howard’s End in 1992, the nomination for Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day adaptation in 1993, and the BAFTA for Heat and Dust, adapted from her novel, in 1984. My aim was to highlight the significance of her prose works and to attempt to re-insert them into a wider scholarship. Continue reading