Thursday, February 08, 2007

What's Lost?

We sat across from a woman on our flight to Chicago recently who was crocheting a gorgeous baby blue hat. I've never paid much attention to the craft of crocheting (but my Mom used to do it, so I thought I understood it), so I was surprised to see this woman pulling from two balls of yarn (one thick and wavy, the other what I'd call regular width) at the same time. This got me to thinking about A Tale of Two Cities (I know, that was knitting), which got me to thinking about making one's own clothes, which got me to thinking about spinning thread from raw wool or cotton, which led me to realize that a good number of fairy tales deal with spinning wheels, which got me to wondering if they still teach children those tales (like Rumpelstiltskin) or whether they've been replaced with updated versions where the characters prick their fingers on a broken teleporttransformagfigurator or whatever. Yes, yes, I know, I need to remember to bring more reading material on flights.

I was reminded of this twisted stream of consciousness by a
post on Greg Allen's blog about high-tech yurts:

Don't get me wrong, I love me some yurts. But like the equally lovable geodesic dome, something always seems lost in between ideal sustainable concept and hippie-dippy, style-free, domestic execution.

Finally, though, someone's made a yurt for the Wallpaper Dwell designblog generation. That's he Ecoshack promise, anyway. Their Nomad Yurt has a bit of a kick to it. Plus, it's available in lyboo, and when the bright red nylon outershell comes available, you'll be able to set it up on the slope, and no one will snowboard into the side of you. Very important. [And not just because your yurt's shaped like a mogul.]
I'll admit my first response to this report was "Yikes." Unlike Greg, who seems to have a long-standing opinion on yurts, I've only recently fallen in love with the idea of them. Travelling in Kyrgyzstan (which, to give you some idea of the importance of yurts to their sense of identity, has a stylized representation of the roof of the traditional yurt on their national flag [the photo of the monument in central Bishkek above displays the same design]), we not only encountered countless yurts and people who lived in them, but learned that it took Bambino's Aunt five years of constant work to build her yurt.

Mind you, I understand that there were perhaps better things she could have done with her time and the new high-tech yurt would free her up to do them, but there's something so beautiful and human about the fact that she did make it, with her own hands (we have some gorgeous rugs she made for us that we love as well), that I fear we're losing. I realize this is not a new concern. Each new advance that frees mankind from the drudgery of some thankless task, like spinning cotton, knitting clothes, or what have you, brings similar worries, even though they all come with their own new mythology and romance (it may take time, but eventually we'll project positive associations onto any gadget).

After 9/11, when the potential for a cataclysmic event that might plunge a good chunk of the country back into the dark ages seemed suddenly totally thinkable, I took stock of what I thought my survival skills are. Could I start a fire with two stones? Could I build a fort? Could I capture, kill, and skin a rabbit or other source of food? What about clothes? How truly resourceful am I out there, in the wild? I like to think I'd be OK (who doesn't?), but without access to Wikipedia, how would I find out how to do such things?

We watched the catch-up program on Lost last night. We've never really gotten into that program, and the truth is Bambino flipped between that, American Idol, and Deal or No Deal constantly (can you say ADHD?), so I'm still mostly confused about what's going on on that island. But that scenario is more or less the same as the post-apocalyptic one mentioned above, as is the reality show Survivor, suggesting to me that I"m not the only one thinking about such things. So I"m wondering, despite the way we'll still project romance onto any new technology---but because we're so far removed from creating/hunting down the essentials for our lives (food, shelter, clothing)---if we're not subconsciously a bit alarmed by our collective ignorance about surviving without supermarkets and UPS.

People who didn't know they had it in them will emerge from war-torn hell holes, doing what they have to, but mostly by scavenging the remnants of what technology-built processes left behind. How long would any of us pampered souls truly last on a deserted island? Sorry for the morose post...but if artists don't know the answers to these questions, we're potentially royally screwed.

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Blogger Mark said...

My wife makes the 9/11 connection and the surge of people that are knitting and making all sorts things by hand. It's a need to make order out of chaos. Taking a wild ball of yarn, or two, and organizing, row upon row of ordered beauty.
This Dicovery Channel survival show is pretty amazing.

2/08/2007 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger hlowe said...

which got me to wondering if they still teach children those tales

In your quandary about fairy tales you must read The Flight of the Wild Gander by Joseph Campbell.

Good stuff for airports. Also,
yes, fairy tales are usually embedded in most state standards.

2/08/2007 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

This Dicovery Channel survival show is pretty amazing

OK, that seals it...I'm definitely screwed...that guy peed on his headdress to keep his head cooler in the desert...ewwww....

2/08/2007 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

:))) it gets better, hope your not thursty.

2/08/2007 10:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Coming this fall on PBS...

"This Old Yurt"

2/08/2007 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Mark, that series is like totally addictive...the grosser it gets the more I can't turn away...this video on "raw" eating is stunning

"This Old Yurt"

he he...with Bob Vilabekov

2/08/2007 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Nothing like a little maggot protein before I begin a painting.

2/08/2007 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Nothing like a little maggot protein before I begin a painting.

Hmmm...that raises another interesting question...if you're on a deserted island, would you be able to make your own canvases, brushes, and paints????

2/08/2007 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger George said...


I loved that photograph of you and the Bambino in the yurt. Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t the landscape in that area fairly drab? The color in the weavings, rugs, etc might also fulfill a psychic or psychological necessity as well as serve in a decorative function. A way of visually cheering up the day.

In looking at the photo, the construction of the yurt is fascinating. It looks like the ‘walls’ can be disassembled and scissor close into a nice bundle. I also expect that the ‘framing’, both the wall and the ceiling provide more stability in the winds that must be common in the area. After 2000 years, it may be a ‘crude’ technology but one which has withstood the test of time. The design would have a structural flexibility allowing it to moderately deform without failing structurally. A yurt is made like it is because its design works, form follows function.

As for the ‘thankless tasks’ involved in weaving, spinning etc, this is a characteristic of hand made objects including artworks. Just a thought.

2/08/2007 11:26:00 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

I can see it now: New Yurt, cultural center of the country, a blaze of pattern and color....

2/08/2007 11:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Ed - I think you need The Dangerous Book for Boys.

If I were on a desert island I would work in "mixed media," of course.

2/08/2007 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

As for the ‘thankless tasks’ involved in weaving, spinning etc,

Yeah, George, I regretted that characterization after I reread it...lazy writing.

I have a wonderful photo of a yurt dissasembled and stored away for the winter...I'll try to find it and post. You're right about how compactly they can be stored.

Some yurts are so remarkably luxurious...there's one totally decked out in the Lenin Museum (now the Historical Museum) in Central Bishkek...MTV Kyrgyz Cribs: Yurt Style can't be far off.

2/08/2007 11:41:00 AM  
Blogger Tracy said...

My husband and I moved to the country a few years ago and since then, have made a conscious effort to live a more self-sustainable life. We have extensive vegetable gardens, raise chickens and plan to add goats and sheep next year. We take full advantage of modern technology, but we can also see a way to have a nice (but very different!) life without much of that, if need be.

Our life is much more grounded now, and while it's hard to explain, everything, including my work, seems more clear than it did in the 'burbs. And those that knew us then think it's comical that we have such a different lifestyle now. I do too, but somehow it does connect for us and with the art we both create.

PS And I knit sweaters, hats and scarves for our family and friends:) It's very relaxing.

2/08/2007 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


I wasn’t in disagreement over the notion of ‘thankless tasks’, it are often part of the process, a process that can be ‘thankless’ sometimes and on others not. I was suggesting that maybe we value these types of objects because we respond empathetically to them. We sense the care the maker has invested in them. I am using both ‘care’ and ‘tasks’ in an extended sense here, not just as craft but also the thought behind the process. I think that the compelling results of creation, art, craft, writing, music etc, convey this sense of caring and involvement by the maker.

2/08/2007 01:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

I have felt a compelling need to keep alive old technologies like sewing and weaving and use them in my work. (Nothing to do with 9/11 for me; this predates 9/11 by years.) It's hard to explain exactly why. Partly it's the connection to traditional "making", to the unity of the mind and the hand that is embedded in objects that we make by hand, and I also enjoy feeling connected to a tradition that lots of "regular" people (non-artists) have engaged in for thousands of years. Weaving is actually quite a complex, and very old, technology. I think this has been mentioned before, but the Jacquard loom in 18th France was seminal (or ovule, if you will) to the development of computers. I also love weaving for formal/conceptual/integral reasons: as you weave you are incrementally forming both the structure and surface of something, unlike with painting, in which you basically are decorating the surface of a stretched piece of (woven!) cloth.

But I do modernize, in that I'm not making rugs and clothes; I'm using ancient technologies with comtemporary materials to hopefully create a link between past and present.

Beautiful yurt, by the way.

2/08/2007 01:53:00 PM  
Blogger John Holdway said...

I took a caveman style survival course when I was in my early twenties. We learned to make fires with sticks, catch rodents in traps, and catch fish with my hands. But at the end it was obvious that the real survival skill was working together.

After the shock of being dropped into a survival situation. The most important tool and asset is the Team. A big part of the team self identification is where art begins to develop.

2/08/2007 02:05:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I know how this is going to sound (and it's why I play tennis and not baseball), but I'm not built for team sports nor other team's not in my DNA...

there's no "me" in Team

Having said that, if I want to survive, I guess I better get over it, eh?

2/08/2007 02:26:00 PM  
Blogger Tracy said...

Ed, I think in times of necessity, we can all find things in ourselves that we didn't know we had.

2/08/2007 02:51:00 PM  
Blogger Tracy said...

Wow! That sounds SO corny!!!

2/08/2007 02:58:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed, you should read -- I've mentioned it more than once in the past few weeks -- Cormac McCarthy's The Road. You will then be convinced that not only won't you survive the coming apocalypse, you probably won't want to.

Personally I'm absolutely certain I'd die almost immediately if forced to fend for myself. Especially if I'm in that Twilight Zone episode where the guy breaks his glasses, because I'm pretty much blind without them. But even with my glasses, I couldn't catch anything bigger than a cricket and wouldn't know what to do with anything more complex than a package of ground beef. Clean and skin a rabbit? Ha ha. Although I could maybe manage a squirrel because there are instructions in my copy of The Joy of Cooking (make sure you get the older edition).

Regarding yurts, Bucky Fuller reported that his geodesics, which were widely ignored as private dwellings in the West, were embraced by Mongols (and presumably other similar cultures like the Kyrgyz) because the geodesic reminded them of their yurts. Although Bucky was very firm that his geodesics should not be handmade (and if you do make them by hand, they tend to leak).

2/08/2007 03:42:00 PM  
Blogger Jacques de Beaufort said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2/08/2007 04:06:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I lost internet today, talk about deserted islands. But if I were "Lost", I would use coconut hair for brushes, berries and minerals for pigemnts, with slug slime for a binder.Then I would paint on shells and mermaid's bodies.

2/08/2007 04:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OH, no!

"Gay" National Geographic again!


Just kidding, I am gay.

2/08/2007 04:08:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

"Remote tribal communities don't know that they're poor and "uncivilized" until we tell them. Usually they're better off without this "knowledge"."

That is a surprisingly romantic idea coming from you, Jacques. It reeks of the end-of-times academicism that professors trade in these days. I thought you maintained some distance from the kool-aid dispenser based on my reading of your blogs and your obvious love for R A Wilson.

But then again, maybe I am taking your post too seriously.

2/08/2007 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger Jacques de Beaufort said...

Right you are Tim...there is no Utopia..the "Noble Savage" is quite the antiquated and naive notion..he's probably hanging out with Bigfoot and Nessie somehwere smoking bannana skin joints.

But I'm also fascinated with cycles. I always think of that fantastic series of paintings by Thomas Cole "Course of Empire" when these things come up. And any number of paintings by John Martin...

I also live in LA and have an enormous amount of deep rage at whoever came up with the whole "urban sprawl" thing. So I harbor resentments.

In summary: end of civilzation no different than beggining of civilization no different from now.


2/08/2007 04:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, making something handmade, such as baby clothes etc...Using your hands to make some order out of this chaotic world. To give something back?

2/08/2007 05:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

I feel like being on a deserted island everyday, as a big big issue for me is trying to understand how function the technology that I use and how I can replicate it from scratch. which is extremely hard.

For the basic survival stuff, I've met natives in north Canada when I was younger, and I have friends who spend a couple months each year with them as they are very passionate about the whole "native" thing, and I learn stuff from them. So I'm sure I'd get by.

I have the same problem as Chris though. If I lost my contact lenses I would have to use pin-holed stuff and try to see if I can adjust something that would give me a percentage of acuity (but a very small range view).

The importance is to keep a notion of how to make glass (and metal fonding, while we're at it). I think you need sand, iron, and natural rock chemicals. Than bulging or retracting glass is easier once you know how to make it.

If we can get rapidly into the Bronze age again than that's fantastic. But that depends on where you live and what's avail.

And team effort, of course.



2/08/2007 06:26:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

Unfortunally in my opinion it's not a yurt. Yurt for me is a history, hard work, artistic skills etc. Each yurt has a story and history behind.

2/09/2007 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

excellent point bambino, worthy of its own post. Are certain objects only worthy of a certain name when they're created via a particular process?

I'll mull that over and post on it next week.

2/09/2007 10:43:00 AM  
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2/11/2007 09:33:00 AM  

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