Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Mapping Project: Animation

This is an animated loop that will be projected as part of the show. It looks pretty good at full wall-size:

The Mapping Project: Digital Prints

As a part of "The Mapping Project" performance, I'm creating some digital prints that illustrate stories that come from some of the dancers. We've interviewed the dancers about the experiences of their grandparents, relating to the second world war. Going back two generations, the family lines of these Bay-Area based dancers get flung pretty far, geographically: the stories touch on, among other things, the bombing of Frankfurt, the Japanese occupation of China, a kind of pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and the Japanese internment Camps at Rowher and Tule Lake.

Most of the maps that form the backgrounds of the prints were scanned from the collection of the Prelinger Library, an absolutely wonderful resource on 8th street. Anyone who's even remotely bookish is bound to have a great time there.

The below posts show the five prints (click on the images to see larger versions), along with the text of the dancers' stories.

The prints will be displayed in the exhibition area of CounterPulse during the performance, and through much of June. I'm limiting each to an edition of ten, and unframed prints will be sold for $150 (the originals are roughly 11" by 15"). Please contact me at chrislanier2001 (at) yahoo (dot) com for details.

-- posted by chris lanier

Anna's story

My family lived in Frankfurt while it was being bombed. There was an air raid and the family went down to go to the shelter. But my dad, he was about seven, he didn’t want to go. He got absolutely hysterical about it, screaming that he didn’t want to go. They gave up, and went back to their house. And found out, the next day, that the shelter had suffered a direct hit. Everyone in it had died. Dad doesn’t like to talk about this. Whenever Oma talked about it, her voice would get full of emotion, quivering, almost crying. That seemed to be one of the reasons Dad didn’t like to bring up the war – it would make Oma very emotional. He didn’t want us to learn German.

I didn’t understand all the implications. I knew my grandfather was in the army, but Oma said he wasn’t in the Nazi army, he was in the “other” army. It wasn’t until much later, somehow this came up with my boyfriend, who was Jewish. I told him my Opa was in the other army, and he said “Anna, there was no other army.” And a little light went off in my head.

Debby's story

The first time I talked to my grandmother about her experience in camp was for a school project. The teacher wanted to do something about the Japanese internment camps, and he set up a mock trial in class. I was assigned to be a “witness,” to interview my grandmother, and take up the position that the Camps were wrong. On the other side, another student was supposed to make the case that the Camps were necessary.

I don’t think it occurred to the teacher that it might be awkward to talk to my grandmother about her experiences. In fact, she didn’t mind talking. She was very matter of fact about it.

When my great grandfather decided to buy a house on Mount Vernon Street in the Mission, the neighbors circulated a petition saying they didn't want any Japs in the neighborhood. At that time, there were no Asians living there. After a time, they got to know, and became good friends with the Italian neighbors. But my grandma still remembers being harassed. She would take the bus to school, and the driver would refuse to let her off at her stop, so she was forced to walk back from the end of the line. After the war started, she saw her father treated very badly because he was a first generation immigrant.

They were interred first in Rohwer, Arkansas, but then she was transferred to the high security segregation center at Tule Lake, when her father and uncle refused to sign a loyalty oath. Because the Tule Lake prisoners were seen as potential enemies of the United States, they were treated roughly, and there was a lot of violence there. My grandma saw a prisoner disemboweled by a guard.

Rowher was a swamp – very hot and humid, and my grandma remembered all these strange creatures she saw there – she’d been a city girl, so the swamp creatures were quite outside her experience. Her father found a giant turtle with grotesque bumps all over its head. It looked like a beast from the age of dinosaurs. He tied a rope around its neck and dragged it back to the buildings – so he could show the kids. One night, when she was trying to sleep, she saw a snake, up in the rafters above her head. It was shedding its skin against the beams, and pieces of the shed skin were falling down onto her face.

The prosecuting attorney, for the class project, was an eloquent white kid. A good debater. I wasn’t very organized in my points, and I was also fairly shy. The stories my grandmother told me were these memories that didn’t necessarily have much to do with presenting a case. At one point, I mentioned that she remembered going to the movies – they projected movies in camp. And the “prosecuting attorney” really jumped on that. They were even provided entertainment – so really, how bad could it have been?

So, in short – I didn’t end up making a very good case. What made it even worse was that I won the trial anyway. The class – they knew the correct judgment. The judgment of history. They felt sorry for me.

Stacz's story

My grandfather was stationed on a big boat in the pacific for two years during the second world war. He only talked about it as a kind of joke. He would make these nudge-nudge wink-wink comments about being in exotic ports, meeting geishas. It all went over my head. I had no idea what a geisha was—I think, as a kid, I pictured women in grass skirts, hula dancing, palm trees – my only pictures of exotic foreign women came from cartoons. It annoyed my grandmother to no end to hear his innuendos, until she one day told me he’d never actually set foot in Japan. Most of those two years were spent boxed up on that giant ship – he went all the way across the world, but really all he saw of it was the inside of a boat.

I don’t really think he was really trying to convince me of anything. He was a bit of a joker. Very lively. I remember him hoofing it up in the kitchen – tap-dancing. He loved big band jazz, Cab Calloway – he went to see Cab Calloway with grandma, when they lived in New York.

I was extremely curious about what he’d experienced in the war – wondering if he’d ever killed anybody, wondering what that might be like. I don’t think I ever asked him outright about it – somehow the sense that it wasn’t permitted to ask got through to me. I was at least smart enough, a few years down the line, to bring up the subject of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to my grandma instead of my grandfather. I’d been genuinely spooked by the details of the bombings – the people vaporized into shadows left on walls, the patterns of kimonos burned into the skin of the women who were wearing them. Grandma seemed mad at me for bringing it up – she told me it was necessary, the bombings. If they hadn’t been bombed, Granddad would’ve never come home, would’ve died over there.

I got pretty obsessed with World War 2. I watched movies, documentaries, read comic books about it. It’s actually become a kind of genre in videogames. Horror games, adventure games, science fiction games, fantasy games – World War Two games. I know it’s weird – reliving the stuff that kept him up nights, as a way of killing time. You can play online – instead of playing against the computer, you’re playing against other people on the internet – you have no idea where they’re playing from. So you have South Koreans playing the Italians or whatnot, fighting the Americans, who might actually be played by some Japanese kids, or middle-aged French guys, or whatever. Who knows, maybe there’s some bored al-Qaeda guys online, in some sleeper cell in Hamburg or somewhere, they’re getting through their insomnia by playing the Nazi side, trying to make World War Two come out different. And I’m in America, re-fighting the war, fighting a little virtual skirmish in the war on terror.

Eric's story

My great Grandfather was named Jakub Blechmann, we call it Blackman. He grew up in the Ukraine. He left the area in the Ukraine to avoid being drafted into the army. I guess it was the Tsar’s army. He traveled by foot – and I assume he hitched rides too – across the Ukraine into Eastern Europe, across Western Europe, and to a port, where he took a boat to the US. There he made hats, he made shoes, until he saved enough money to bring my great grandmother and their son over.

They settled in Los Angeles. In his later years he became Orthodox Jewish, and lived near a temple. He would walk to temple. This was Fairfax, a Jewish area of LA. When I went over there it was always a little scary. There was a sternness to him, a gruffness to my great-grandmother -- Zadie and Bubbie. I really felt the old country in them.

We would visit them for the Seder, and he would lead the prayers. The family was a mix of people who were religious, and people who were anti-religious. The Seders would be a bit of a struggle – Jakub would be going through the Haggadah, and my grandpa would be making jokes all night about the service. Finally I heard my great grandfather was getting so upset about the jokes, that he turned off his hearing aid, so he could just go on, and truck on through.

When they were in their eighties, Zadie and Bubbie went to Israel, to die there. It felt auspicious to them, they wanted to be buried there. They lived there for a few years, but it ended up they weren’t dying. My family has a history of living a long time, so going there in their eighties was premature. They ended up missing the family, and came back to the US. My grandfather met them at the airport, and went to go pick up their suitcase – he tried to pick it up and couldn’t lift it. It was extremely heavy. Later he found out that they had filled their suitcase with dirt from Israel – probably from Jerusalem – and that was the dirt they wanted to be buried in when they died.

Kristen's story

The main story I remember about the war was how my grandmother’s sister had been forced to kneel and crawl over broken glass by Japanese soldiers. There were many other hardships under the Japanese occupation. They tried not to eat meat unless they slaughtered it themselves. The rumor was that the meat sold at the market was actually human flesh since the Japanese took all the livestock. There were other stories—Japanese fighter planes shooting down family villages, best friends being shot down and killed in plain sight. But the story about Po-Po’s sister crawling on broken glass—that one haunted me. How could anyone do something so cruel to another person? Every time I see broken glass on the sidewalk, I think about how it would feel to have shards of glass pierce and tear into the flesh of my knees and palms.

It was that broken glass story that made me as a child understand why Po-Po hated Japanese people for so long. Funny thing is, I actually remembered the facts of that story wrong. It turns out it wasn’t the Japanese who made Po-Po’s sister crawl on glass. It was actually the Chinese communists during the Cultural Revolution.

Actually, I didn’t hear the story directly from Po-Po. It was my mother who told me. I had asked her why Po-Po didn’t like the Japanese. It’s funny, in school the kids assumed that being Chinese and Japanese were the same thing. There was one Japanese boy in my class, and the other kids assumed the two of us—me being the only Chinese girl—would get married.

Now my grandfather, he was in the U.S. at the time of the war. He would have been sent to Normandy as a soldier, but he got out of it. He spoke both Chinese and English, but when he got drafted, he pretended he didn’t know any English. That way he wouldn’t be sent into battle. You might think he’d want to get in there, to fight the Japanese, but he pulled one over on the army instead. It was more important to him to stay alive. He ended up stationed in Arizona and worked as an army cook.

The Mapping Project Postcard