Summer is a laid-back season for events and competitions in writing and the arts, but there are always a few tasty morsels out there in the wilds of Zürich and beyond … especially for those who like a writing retreat.
Partial image courtesy: Paul Neale
Kaufleuten has a selection of cultural events and readings planned for the coming months, including an evening with Donna Leon on 13 Junewww.kaufleuten.ch/event/donna-leon
Writing, music and yoga retreat, 19-26 June: Writing in a wellness context, with Deborah Moffitt, in the Italian part of Switzerland. www.awakeintheworld.com
Paris Writers’ Workshop, 26 June – 1 July: this year with workshops for novels, short stories and novellas, poetry and creative non fiction, as well as expert panels, author readings and social events. pariswritersworkshop.org
Writing retreat, 29 August to 4 September: gain writing confidence in a French Château, with teacher Clay Tennis.
Video interview series: As part of the Zürich-meets-London festival, art and performance collective Neue Dringlichkeit and ImpactHUB Zürich are releasing weekly video instalments of interviews with Zürich creators and entrepreneurs around entrepreneurial futurism, including the future of work and the creative economy. Watch this space: how-dare-you.org
A stone’s throw away from Zürich’s traffic nexus Bellevue, at a safe distance from Bahnhofstrasse’s extravagant and standardised luxury retail windows, sits one of the city’s best-kept, playful secrets. Behind glass windows, an eclectic selection of books, toys and vintage calendars with motifs from the 1950s vie for attention, giving off just the slightest hint of the million wonders that await inside.
Italian born and bred, but having moved to Zürich for love in her twenties, Antonella Ghelardi Keiser had a passion for stories and storytelling that sparked the idea of opening a small bookshop to be able to provide reading material in her mother tongue for her own two children. When a small location in a side street off Rennweg became available, Antonella jumped at the opportunity and opened Zürich’s then-first multilingual children’s bookshop in 2001, with a modest selection of classic children’s books in Italian, English, German and French. Honouring her roots, she named it after one of the world’s most beloved characters in children’s literature who had sprung from the pen of an Italian author: Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio.
Image courtesy: Antonella Ghelardi Keiser
The lovingly selected choice of books and toys soon caught the attention of Zürich’s international community, and Mr. Pinocchio became a popular hotspot for both parents and young readers of all ages and nationalities. Four years into its existence, the shop had outgrown its premises and moved into better-located grounds on Oberdorfstrasse, where it still resides today.
From the get-go, the store has been powered exclusively by a small group of women, among whom is Antonella’s daughter Giulietta—when she is not tied up in her studies at Zürich University. “It is a real family affair,” Antonella laughs, and her eyes sparkle with joy whenever she talks about her ‘libreria’ and the small team that keeps it going.
Antonella’s zest for life as well as her knack for nostalgic items have been infused into the small space, and are almost tangible. More often than not, those who enter Mr. Pinocchio’s magical realm find themselves hopelessly lost in childhood memories, discovering and re-discovering books and toys from their own past, while on the hunt for the perfect gift for their youngster or a god-child.
Those looking for the latest commercial toy craze will not be successful here. Everything on the shelves has been handpicked and acquired in small quantities by Antonella, on her frequent travels throughout Europe.
Image courtesy: Susan Platt
Each item here tells a story, tickles the brain or takes you on a trip down memory lane. The paper pop-up books, of which there is a whole array on Mr. Pinocchio’s shelves, attract collectors from all over Europe and have been a staple product of the business for over 15 years. Today, they are flanked by children’s classics and picture books in English, Italian, Spanish, French, German and even Russian and Croatian.
Alongside the books, masterfully crafted hand puppets, wooden model sets, colourful instruments and room decorations jostle for attention with building- and experimental kits, gruesome fake teeth and whoopee cushions—all of these comprising the many quirky and ever-growing categories of treasures.
When asked how the addition of these items came about, Antonella simply smiles and quotes Italian writer and educator Gianni Rodari:
“Vale la pena che un bambino impari piangendo quello che può imparare ridendo?”
“Is it worth it for a child to learn while crying, when they could learn while laughing?”
Soft lighting, the strains of Celine Dion and a plush couch: all signs point to cake and coffee with a favorite aunt. But once the eyes adjust to the rings, skulls and list of body parts considered fair game, it starts to make sense. This is a full-service piercing and tattoo studio, and it unquestionably belongs to Beatrice.
She still remembers the moment, flicking through an edgy fashion magazine, when she saw body piercing, for real. The kind that caught her breath, touching something deep and ancient, and lifted her out of Thurgau, to the shores of Brighton and into the arms of the few who could pass down the craft—because that’s just how it works. After the hands-on English education, came the return home, piercing after piercing and, in 1997, the opening of the first Rue de Framboise.
If the name does not evoke pricks and pokes behind closed doors, that was the point. Beatrice says, “I just wanted it to sound more artistic, more feminine, more French, even if an English name would have been trendier, because we’re in Switzerland.” Yet for all of the soft touches, body piercing and tattooing were considered back-alley trades. Nearly two decades on, today’s studios are flanked by tapas bars and sneaker shops.
“Many more places do this now,” she explains, “so it almost looks like mass production, but that’s a different mentality. Sometimes people come in and want what they want, right now, for cheap. We can’t work that way because we depend a lot on word of mouth. If we feel something isn’t a good idea, for whatever reason, we say so. The other thing is, we don’t really want our work to look mass produced. I mean, all this …”
With one sweep of her elaborately inked arm, Beatrice encompasses the lot of studs, spikes and barbells, the tattoo operations upstairs and the winged skeleton in the window.
“All this still needs to be a little Rock ‘n’ Roll, right?”
Niculin, one of the studio’s resident tattooists, has a bit of downtime before his next appointment. A fine arts graduate who long ago turned from oil paints to ink, he is working out the design for a new tattoo.
“Tattooing has existed in every culture in the history of man,” he starts, eyes fixed on the fierce blueprint. “I think the role of tattooing in society today is the shaman. What did you need when you went to the shaman, priestess or guru? You went for healing, change, to express yourself or make something part of you that was missing.”
He pauses mid-stroke, lost in thought or distracted by the thrashing guitar one room over. Matt, another tattooist, has been cranking Earthless while hunched over a man’s nipple. The customer mustered up a pinched smile when Matt invited me in to say hello.
Niculin goes back to his sketch. After a tangent involving Maori warriors and his library of cultural metaphors, he says, “Tattoos are more socially acceptable now, even fashionable. Still, it’s our duty to warn people that, yeah, people will formulate opinions about you based on your tattoos. Even five years ago, if someone wanted a finger tattoo, we’d call it a ‘job stopper.’”
He stops to study his own hands, a swirl of myths and legends. “People think they can walk into any studio and get the same thing, but that’s not the way tattooing works. There are apprenticeships that last two to five years, and you’re done when you’re good enough.”
Aware of the clock, he surges ahead. “Think of the Old Italian Masters. They had to make a hammer by smelting iron, banging two pieces of metal together until one gave, and then using the softer one—and human effort—to finish the hammer. People don’t know how to grind their own pigments anymore, solder their own needles or wrap their own coils. This idea of being able to make the tools to make the tools, of self-sacrifice and sheer human effort: that’s what makes a true master. The relationship between master and apprentice keeps the principles alive. It’s a trade, which is why we don’t look at ourselves as artists, just ‘tattooers’ …”
The doorbell rings, time’s up. I wind downstairs to the parlor and peek into the empty piercing room, which could be a doctor’s office but for the large framed photograph. It is hard to miss: a young girl, from somewhere far away, pierced, maybe just. There is no mustered smile for the camera, just the hard, quiet truth of ritual—and the labor behind it.
Three studios, a reputation to uphold and a brain logged with the tales of all those who have come to physically mark a passage, release, second chance or whim: it is no wonder Beatrice admits to feeling tired, at least until we step outside for a picture.
As she gamely poses, feet flat on the cobblestone, I ask what makes her most proud.
“My son,” she fires back, eyes alight, as if the only possible answer is the one that roots her to flesh.
On a prim cobblestone lane that makes nearby Bahnhofstrasse look like a strip mall, there is a showroom. It stands out a bit, what with the kaleidoscopic marble arches and golden sweep of letters announcing, in case there was any doubt, that those who enter have arrived. Inside, however, the hush and impeccable glass cases suggest a typical Old Town affair—for about a second.
Les Millionnaires. This is the jeweler steeped in the tradition of turning Zürich’s discreet aesthetic on its head, yet appealing to folks who, if held upside down, might start raining coins—to adapt an image furnished by co-founder Urs. But long before the acclaim, international expansion or foray into watchmaking, Les Millionnaires boasted just five rings and an ironic name. That was over 30 years ago, when Urs, designer Francine and goldsmith Ernst were sure of only one thing: they had no idea what they were doing.
“We’re a little crazy, all three of us,” says Francine, not without a hint of pride, while trying to recount exactly how jewelry inspired by fairytales, the animal kingdom and the dark sparks of their imagination took them this far.
The first three Millionnaires: Ernst, Francine and Urs
“My designs can’t always be sold,” she goes on, happy enough to defer to the experts, in particular Ernst. With his magic hands and years of experience, he is better placed to work out which ideas can be painstakingly brought to life for a limited series, one-off, or not at all. I think of the startling sculpture with the snail perched on an olive-sized stone—around here, called “a ring”—and have to wonder what never made it past the cast. Are there limits as to what can and can’t be done?
“No,” she says, right before Ernst quips, “Yes.” And then they laugh in the way people who have spent hundreds of thousands of hours working together, might.
In the atelier across the river, five craftsmen hunch over precious metal. They hammer and file, one thumbing through a plastic tub of diamonds, just as other Old Town jewelers once did before striking out on their own. In this métier, timeworn techniques die hard, even if they are now accompanied by tinny pop music and the stops and screeches of machinery.
Just off the basement workshop lined with tarnished rods and helmets, Urs weaves past the floor-to-ceiling shelves. They overflow with a jumble of twine, scraps and crates stuffed with the makings of Les Millionnaires’ offbeat displays. Elsewhere: dusty cases of champagne, swaths of iridescent velvet and wooden gift boxes, each carved by hand.
“Everything we’ve ever done,” says Urs, “comes from the gut.”
We are a long way from the sleek and sterile—from creativity that can be deconstructed or cloned in bulk. Every glittering beetle, seahorse and gargoyle is birthed in this bunker. Every dream and walk in the woods lives in metal and stone. A geometrically imprecise shape is sometimes the most perfect, and a patch of shadow can split into a thousand tiny stars.
“The eye,” says Ernst, “tends to linger on what it can’t work out.”
it was with great sadness that I recently learned about your fate—from Switzerland’s biggest tabloid, of all places. And although it does not come as a complete surprise to those who have been close to you in recent years—who saw the writing on the wall before and after changes in ownership and circumstances that made it increasingly difficult to thrive under the corporate thumb—the news that you are indeed being shut down this coming spring, while in still excellent health, made no sense, and still came as a shock.
You and I, we go back some 23 years, my dear. While this may be but a trifle in your lifespan as a bookshop at house zur Werdmühle, since your inception by Kurt Stäheli & Co. in the early 1930s, it means you’ve been along for the ride for more than half of my life. And that, to me, is quite a feat.
I remember walking through your doors in 1992, with a rather long, Xeroxed (yes, Xeroxed) list of choices for required reading material, handed out by the University of Zürich, where I had just started to study English literature. Several sheets of paper listed essential and optional reading material, including the King James version of the Bible (yep), Beowulf (of course), and a myriad of choices of drama, poetry, prose and fiction spanning five centuries.
Needless to say, I felt a slight pang of overwhelm knowing full well that my picks would have a great impact on my further academic path. But how was I supposed to know which books to choose, when I hadn’t read them yet?
Enter your booksellers: the beating heart and breathing soul that is at the very core of you, many of whom had been with you for decades and some of whom I have had the privilege to get to know over the years.
Ah, yes, your booksellers. A passionate lot, each and every one of them. A special breed now as they were then, taking pride in guiding those who have entered their domain, glowing with a smug joy at a satisfied customer leaving the store with a copy of their favourite book or a book by a beloved author when they made a successful recommendation. It is they who made you what you are today, my dear bookshop, because—let’s face it—your new parents, the Orell Füssli AG, never really knew what to make of you over the last dozen years or so since they acquired you in 1998.
You were their red-headed stepchild, in their eyes merely the English branch of a German bookstore chain, sticking out like a sore thumb with your talent of catering both to the English expat community in the greater Zürich area as well as the Swiss readership with your cunning mix of extraordinary in-house events providing local as well as renowned international authors and small businesses with a platform to promote their work, your knack for knowing how to truly make your customers happy by including English comfort food section (Marmite! Vegemite! Cheerios!), and bringing the joy of reading to people of all ages and walks of life.
But you do not merely sell books.
You are a nexus of human connection. And a home away from home for so many. A place to meet, to sit and to chat on your red leather sofas.
You celebrate the English language, its multi-coloured culture and basically life in general.
Every. Single. Day.
And it works.
In an increasingly dire economic climate, in times where online giants were starting to take over the bulk of the book sales and the naysayers predicted the imminent end of the book as nigh, you managed to consistently make a healthy profit over the last ten years*.
Mindbogglingly, at a location on Bahnhofstrasse in Zürich—one of the world’s most expensive shopping miles.
And, even more surprisingly, you managed to pull this all off without the support of a proper web- or social media presence.
Because, sadly, the fact that you always have been—and always will be—neither a department, nor a branch of a chain, but your own persona (or brand if you will) with your own loyal (!) tribe, went largely ignored by your parent company who repeatedly smothered any advances by your management to bring you into the 21st century with a decent online presence.
Yes, you are unique. One of a kind. And successful. So much so, that other bookshops such as German KulturKaufhaus Dussman came to visit you for inspiration of their new books section of their store in Berlin.
But none of this seems to matter to the new powers-that-be since the latest merger with Thalia a little over two years ago.
While your old adoptive parents may have never fully understood you, they at least allowed you to continue based on the fact that you were somehow, miraculously, thriving.
But your new guardians, the Orell Füssli Thalia AG, have decided that neither your successful past nor present mean anything and—without even as much as conferring with the people who have effectively guided you for more than a decade—determined you had no future, and sold your rent contract at a bargain price for the sake of a quick buck.
So it goes.
I accept that the dice have been cast and your fate has been sealed.
However, I take comfort from the fact that I understand that you will not go gentle into that good night.
Knowing you and your quirky bookseller bunch, the next Halloween, the inherent All Hallows Read, the twinkly Xmas lights and Santa’s visit to the children on the monthly Saturday morning story hour and all of your other spunky shindigs before you will have to close your doors in the spring of 2016, will be extra special.
Santa reads to the children
I look back fondly and in deep gratitude to all the joy that you have brought into my life, moments of laughter and great pleasure at your happenings that will be forever etched into my memory:
Riding high with David Sedaris on Panta Rhei on the lake of Zürich, journeying along with Michael Cunningham at Sternwarte Zürich, mesmerized by Nicolas Sparks in the Puppentheater Stadelhofen, fascinated by our very own Alain de Botton at the Bookshop and many more … but, to me, most memorably, the epic two-hour roller-coaster ride with Tad Williams in your basement in 2011.
Tad Williams, 2011
Oh, how I will miss you and your shenanigans.
Case in point: The Night Circus, the book club meetings, the women’s night, the roaring twenties, the James Bond night, the Harry Potter midnight openings, or the Long Night of the Books … among many, many more.
As both the local media and our city’s culture department barely acknowledged the fact that you will be gone soon, shrugging their indifferent shoulders at the most recent loss of a colourful dot that will turn Bahnhofstrasse into a another grey blur of global brand monotony, I trust that my—and hopefully other people’s—expression of appreciation will help preserve your memory.
‘Tis but a tiny blog note, considering the opposition silence, but it is enough to keep the general show of disinterest from being unanimous.
Qui tacet, consentit.
I hope others will join me by wishing you and yours a safe journey to the next chapters in your lives. #GoodbyeOFTB
On certain days, it’s uncanny: the turquoise shallows, cobalt drop and unrelenting shimmer for as far as the neck can crane. The Mediterranean, you could swear it—with a squint and some imagination, maybe even a cove around St. Tropez. Toss in a few gulls and those Boesch motorboats that cost as much as a watch, and you’re living the dream.
Except the dream is right here, in a landlocked country, fertilizing the shores and giving the lucky people who live on them something to look at. On this, the locals and transient folk agree: Zürisee is the city’s crowning asset. Once an international trade route, today a playground, but still: 88 square kilometers of alpine aqua pura are reason enough to be proud, if not a bit punchy.
Because some have the nerve to call it small—but tell that to the gent who couldn’t quite get to shore on a morning swim. While it was traumatic for that poor girl, wading into his corpse at the Badi, he had to go! When you’re classified as potable, you have a reputation to uphold.
And is “banana-shaped” really the best the guide books can do? Show me the banana that can hike up rents, wow UNESCO and host spaghetti-themed cruises without irony. Show me any fruit that can turn from green to purple to steel in an hour, creeping to the edges like silence or a thousand little blades.
Mix it up, keep them guessing, show them who’s boss. Kick up the surf and blame the boats. Turn up the temp and call out the fleas. For every record-breaking heatwave, there’s ice in living memory. For every preening swan, a coot squeaks like bicycle brakes and never gets the bread. The banks that now teem with people once swarmed with disease. Come in, the water’s fine, but the parent who loses sight of a child for one second ages five years.
Postcards lie, but nature doesn’t. You just keep moving—east to west, glacier to river, liquid to cloud, surface to floor. You’re more than a pretty picture: you’re as deep as the darkness 136 meters down. So the next time your eye skips over the void to gaze at the twinkling hills, remember: lights seem brighter when they’re mirrored in black.
Samuel Schwarz is a Swiss film and theatre director, and founder of the 400asa Theatre group in Zürich. Libby O’Loghlin asks him about ‘Polder‘,the largest transmedia storytelling project to come out of Switzerland, of which he is the founder and director. Schwarz is also writer of the feature film, which he co-directed with Julian M. Grünthal.
Samuel Schwarz, film and theatre director, and founder of Theatre group 400asa. Image copyright: Stephan Rappo
The Polder film is being released in 2016, but the film is in fact only one adaptation (or ‘touchpoint’) for the whole Polder project … tell us a bit about what a ‘polder’ is, and where it all began.
At the beginning, there were two projects. We planned a ‘conspiracy’ game to evolve over time, with the 400asa theatre company and, in parallel, I developed the script for the movie with some small funding from SWR (Süddeutscher Rundfunk). Then I pitched both projects to a game start-up we wanted to collaborate with. But the CEO of that start-up (GBANGA), Matthias Sala, said, “Listen, Sam, this is not two projects. Think of Polder as one project.” That was in 2010.
Polder touchpoints. Image courtsy: Samuel Schwarz
According to John Clute’s “Encyclopaedia of Fantasy”, polders are:
enclaves of toughened reality demarcated by boundaries (thresholds) from the surrounding world … an active microcosm, armed against the potential wrongness of that which surrounds it, an anachronism consciously opposed to wrong time. Polders change only when they are being devoured from without.
The classic examples would be Tolkien’s Shire and Oz or Hogwarts, but digital worlds make especially intensive polders possible—with the large global corporations being ideal ‘hosts’.
Our Polder is a hellish trip into the magical psycho narrative of IT corporations, and it tells us about our relationships with those major corporations that administer our fantasies. It is also about our disappearance into these parallel worlds. What will happen when the machines can emulate sentient beings? Will they enjoy human rights … even when these beings can be reproduced by the billions, with quantum computers?
When we posed these questions at the beginning of project development, they were still questions of fantasy. Pure science fiction. But now, they preoccupy the most important scientists, neurologists and jurists. That’s how quickly Moore’s law has brought these questions out of the realm of fantasy into reality. Scientists and computer pioneers like Stephen Hawking, Max Tegmark and Bill Gates have, in the meantime, even founded the Future of Life Institute, in order to warn us of the dangers of artificial intelligence.
“Moore’s law” is the observation that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years.
—Wikipedia, Moore’s law
How did you go about orchestrating the Polder Alternate Reality Games (ARG) in 2013, and how many people were involved?
We had different manifestations. In the urban games storyworld, in Zürich and Bern, the effort was gigantic. There were more than 40 actors in the game-zones, and of course an interactive storytelling like that is not possible without the integration of role players who bring themselves in, free of charge. We paid 15 professional actors and crew as though they were in an outside-theatre production.
Professional actor Luc Müller playing an addicted NEUROO-X technology ‘user’, in the Polder Alternate Reality Game in Bern. Image courtesy: Julian M. Grünthal.
On several days—like the Halloween special—we also had some school classes as zombies in the game zone. But things like that just ‘happened’ … we didn’t plan it. Although you could say that because the system was built in this way, it was bound to happen.
At one point, there was a very strange mix of users, and prosumers in the game zones. One night, we had an ‘audience of users’ of about a hundred people.
In Sils Maria, in the countryside—which was our other ARG storyworld—our audience was older, it was the ‘geriatric audience’ version, if you like. For old people who like to be immersed in a wonderful landscapes—and be entertained by good-looking young actors who read Nietzsche for them in a warm comfort zone!
Übermensch on a donkey: Nietzsche’s concept of the Übermensch (super human) is played out with Zürich actress Meret Hottinger, in the Sils Maria Alternate Reality Game, Zarathustra.
Of course, from a commercial point of view, the alternate reality games were PR-campaigns for the later phases of the storytelling. [Because there was going to be a movie, for example.] But because we tell the story across a long timeframe, we and the actors were ultimately immersed deeply in the stage we were at, with no thought that it was a ‘PR character’. There was of course a commercial master plan, but we always forgot about it … in this way, we are no different than the naïve Star Wars fan who knows that the franchise is always pulling his money out of his pocket … because the story is still cool! This is—again—terrible and beautiful at the same time.
At the 2013 XMedia Lab held here in Switzerland, World Building Institute’s Alex McDowell (Minority Report, Fight Club) talked comprehensively about storyworlds, placing the importance of world-building far ahead of plotting or character development. Does this resonate with your experience in developing the Polder film?
We developed the main themes of the plot in in several manifestations of Alternate Reality Games, as I mentioned—in urban landscapes, but also in nature. The ARG in nature became a very important manifestation for us—this was the Alternate Reality Game Polder: Zarathustra that we set in Sils Maria [in the Swiss canton of Graubünden]. In this world, the Game start-up, NEUROO-X, like science and technology, help us to evolve or transcend our own humanity.
Sils Maria was for us the perfect landscape, because Sils Maria as a ‘mindscape’, is very connected with the Idea of Nietzsche’s Übermensch. The valley itself looks almost CGI-rendered in its extreme beauty, and it is also where Nietzsche in fact wrote Zarathustra.
Our theatre-audience (‘users’) were immersed with the Polder-App: they were guided with GPS tracked audio walks, and they had to solve mysterious riddles, and then they could meet in the wood wizards, knights and witches from our universe.
Cosplayer in Blutturm, Bern. Image courtesy: Julian M. Grünthal.
In Nietzsche’s Thus spoke Zarathustra there is a passage in which Nietzsche is full of anger against the state. For him, ‘the state’ is a monster. And he reflects on freedom (in opposition to this state). In Sils Maria, we realised the inner core of our project is the struggle of ‘old structures’—countries, parliaments—against the power and intelligence of smart Silicon Valley narratives, which don’t need states and parliaments anymore and who are created by brilliant men and women.
And the characters?
In our story, the brilliant game designer Marcus is a kind of reincarnation of Edward Snowden, who rises against the ‘evil’ IT industry. Then we have fantastical characters like the beautiful witch Kuchisake Onna, who we developed out of a basic warlike conflict—a mixture of Old Testament Lilith, manga demons and Lara Croft. A real nerd fantasy.
Montage, various Polder movie stills, images courtesy: Dschoint Venture/Niama/Kamm(m)acher.
Our Urban Space alternate reality games in Zürich and Bern was made for younger people, for gamers, for fantasy fans and role players [called ‘cosplayers’, from ‘costume players’]. They—like us—like storytelling about ‘evil’ companies, idealistic heroes, rebels, artificial Intelligence, thinking machines, wizards and monsters. They also like level systems … and the participation culture.
Linear storytelling (immersive audio walks) guided these users to the interactive ‘game-zones’. They had to solve riddles within the game-zone, and interact with the actors. And—to your question about characters—at the end of the game, they had to fight against the Boss called Fritz (played by the very charismatic and clever professional actor, Philippe Graber). The users played in Fritz’s subconscious. Fritz was a character influenced strongly by Nietzsche—but that was not essential for the understanding of the story, it was more a joke for the insiders. (Fritz, as a character, is intact without the philosophical background.) But for the game system it was essential that there was a character who had the problems of Fritz, who was lost in a mental labyrinth—like Nietzsche. And it was essential that the users help Fritz ‘kill’ himself in this alternate gaming-dream-world. With this act of humanistic violence they could prevent a massacre in the game’s ‘real world’. Of course it was also a reflection about violence in games.
Some might say true transmedia stories (i.e., stories that are designed to unfold over time using different elements across various media) aren’t for ‘the masses’ because the inherent fragmentation of the narrative requires more commitment or engagement from the consumer—‘context-switching’, if you like—and most people don’t have time for that. Yet others would argue that this fragmentation leaves much more ‘space’ for the viewer/reader/consumer to engage or bring their own experiences to the story. Where do you stand on this?
I don’t think it’s necessary for the user to change platforms all the time to have a good story experience. I think storytelling gets better when the creators use several platforms, though, because they can create deeper worlds, and they have to address several audiences for the same content.
Set, cosplay scene, in which it can be seen that the influence of the Alternate Reality Game experiences flowed directly into the film development. Image courtesy: Philippe Antonello.
One can’t deny that cross-media projects can be enormous in scope, with a lot of moving parts and ever-changing and evolving technologies. What attracts you personally to working with numerous media, and what’s the most challenging part for you?
For us, the use of the technique is not the most challenging part. It’s more the fascinating new relationships of users to the story. I like to think about the changes the technologies attract with our thinking. But I am still not sure if the high potential of transmedia storytelling is just a very smart simulation of the ‘franchise’. Just look at the example of soccer: every ‘real soccer fan’ thinks he is a real ‘soccer fan’—and he hates FIFA and Sepp Blatter. But in the end the fan is a creature of Sepp Blatter.
Maybe the users just think they can ‘create’ a story and be part of it, and maybe that’s just an illusion the ‘machine’ or the thinking ‘franchise’ creates for him. But how sweet is this illusion! The joy of the user is also a reality. That means: I still don’t know if we live in a nightmare or in a wonderful, colourful dream. And it’s this ambivalence the polder wants to express.
Tell us more about this ‘ambivalence’.
Today users play ‘retro games’ and experience a kind of melancholic longing, and the kids dress up as cosplayers and want to be like their beloved entities. The boundaries have shifted. This has a lot to do with the stronger influence of Japanese storytelling. The moral ambivalence of narrative attitude is also a result of the confrontation with the magic ‘Trickfilms’ of Hayao Miyazaki (creator of Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away—but also by the Cartoon Heidi), an important example for us. So the parallel worlds and the main world are converging, and when the differentiation between reality and gaming is dissolved, there is no more game, then we are—as one of the Polder characters says—”… in hell”.
We may complain about the exploitation of our most secret longings, about the gamification of our life environment, but we nonetheless like to lose ourselves in the artificial worlds of the machines.
Big Data makes it possible for the corporations, the secret services and their machines, to provide us with the dreams we always wanted to dream. The algorithms know more about us than we do. Polder is a ‘user’ project that illustrates our ambivalent relationship with these corporations, that can fulfil our most beautiful, but also our most terrible longings. We are bound in an unholy/holy love-hate relationship. We may complain about the exploitation of our most secret longings, about the gamification of our life environment, but we nonetheless like to lose ourselves in the artificial worlds of the machines.
But can we say with certainty that this loss of our sense of reality is only bad? Is perhaps the sweet desire of Friedrich Nietzsche’s last human being fulfilled for us? What will it be like when the machines simply satisfy more of our desires? Will we defend ourselves? Should we defend ourselves? Will we even play anymore when everything has become a game?
‘Fritz’ Nietzsche and ‘users’: image from the Polder ARG Zarathustra in Sils Maria. Image courtesy: Jules Spinatsch.
Finally, The Woolf special question: What is one of your favourite works of fiction, and why?
2001: A Space Odyssey is very very high on my list. Why? Because of the line of HAL, the computer: “Will I dream, Dave?”
The Polder film will be released in 2016.
The Polder storyworld, and all its adaptations, can be discovered by diving down the Polder Facebook rabbit-hole: www.facebook.com/derpolder
Zürich is full of creative, imaginative, cultural nomads for whom adaptation is a way of life. Change and learning how to fit in means something different to all of us. It’s awkward, painful, enlightening, hard work, liberating and funny. Here, some Woolf readers talk about their own journeys of adaptation, growth and imagination.
By Gabrielle Mathieu
Image: Your imagination can take you anywhere martinakphotography.com/ Creative Commons
Consider this: You’re raised by a former New York artist and a Swiss actress, who then converts full-heartedly to Hinduism. Your older half-sisters live in Brooklyn with their Jewish mother. Your older Swiss cousin absconds to Thailand, your younger Swiss cousin moves to Greece. You have no siblings or relatives nearby to show you the ropes as your tiny family moves all across the globe.
Now it is 1975 and you’re a bewildered teenager in the U.S.A. You do not know who Sonny and Cher are. You’re forbidden to wear blue jeans. Your schoolmates laugh at you often, and not from your own instigation.
You become an informal social anthropologist. You develop a life-long fascination with parsing cultural signifiers, including clothing styles, media preferences, and body language. Just the body language of a region can yield many observations: do people merely purse their lips when they are displeased, or will you get a tongue-lashing if you step in it? How long should you hold eye contact? What’s merely flirting, and what constitutes a blatant come-on that will get you in hot water?
And yet, the more you observe, the less you crave a full-scale adaptation. Certainly, you concede, a quick nod to cultural norms is indicated. You will not bare your midriff in a church, you will not laugh like a braying donkey with your Swiss friends, you will not be reserved and chilly on your vacation in Ireland. But the more you travel, the less you care about fitting in. You have never fit in, you will never fit in; you could never squeeze all your multicultural experiences under one hat.
Local community thrives on continuity and provides security, but it exacts a price. You cannot reinvent yourself, you must plod through the steps of being who you are, there are expectations and webs that wind themselves around you.
The world is full of people like you: born one place and living in another. That is your community. Those who adapt, and adapt again, but remain true to what’s inside.
Images and text: Hilarie Burke
I am an extrovert. I was born in Japan. My education started as the only non-Japanese among 30 Kindergarteners. We moved to three Asian countries for 2-4 year stints before settling in the US at age 12. Additionally, I was a cross-eyed, toe headed dyslexic with glasses and eye patch. I learned, right off the bat, that I was a person among people, not part of the clan. I would never fit in, an early if unconscious realization that freed me from the agony of trying. Being open to the people around me, led me to folks of like mind, our energies matched. The idea that I might ever be able to actually ‘fit in’ never entered my mind, except to yearn for the impossible—thick, black Asian hair. I gained a broad sense of what community means. My good friends in each country were native to that country; an adaptation practice that goes a long way. Self worth could not be measured according to the approval of others. Paying attention to my own disapproving thoughts became an adaptive tool.
When I listen to the conversation about immigration and the need for immigrants to adapt, I wonder. What does that mean? Ok, finding and keeping a job, and generally living by the laws and norms of the society one lives in. But even second-generation immigrants will always be part of the culture they came from, especially if there is a racial difference. It helps to recognize that they add great cultural wealth to the host country. Resistance to change is treacherous. Adaptation is core to the process of evolution. Integrating into a global society is a survival tactic.
I remain comfortable as an outsider living in Switzerland, and muddling through German. Knowing I will never be Swiss is liberating. If I have a clan, it is the international community. We share a big thing in common. We are all outsiders.
Polder film stills montage courtesy: Dschoint Venture/Niama Film/Kamm(m)acher
Summer in Zürich is all about outdoors. The lake is warming up and so is the culture scene. A wealth of entertainments await. Glorious locations, exciting visitors and homegrown talent—it’s all right here, on our doorstep. Throw off your thermals and dive in.
Books and authors
Highlights of the Literaturhaus Programme include Siri Hustvedt on 10 June and Laurie Penny on 17 June. Browse the events here. http://www.literaturhaus.ch/
From 12 June to 12 July, Zurich’s Festspiele fills the city with an annual celebration of classical music, art, theatre, opera, and dance, presenting local and international artists of world renown. www.zuercher-festspiele.ch
Every summer (6-23 August), over 20 theatre groups stage performances around the city, including open-air productions next to the lake, for the Theaterspektakel!