Ein Interview mit Eames Demetrios – Teil 2 Der etwas andere Eames

«Es ist nicht wichtig, was du betrachtest, sondern was du siehst.» Während mir Eames Demetrios von seiner fiktiven Welt erzählt, lässt mich das Zitat von Henry David Thoreau nicht los. Es umschreibt in etwa, was mir der Kreativkopf Eames in vielen Beispielen und lebendigen Bildern über seine Projekte und seine Sicht der Dinge erzählt. Die Welt des Eames ist eine eigentümliche. Sie ist auch nicht auf Anhieb zu verstehen. Doch wer sich dadurch nicht beirren lässt, dem eröffnet sich ein Universum, in das hineinzutauchen sich mit Sicherheit lohnt. Und um es in Eames’ Worten zu sagen: Von einer guten Geschichte profitiert man immer irgendwie.


1. SILVIA STEIDINGER: Eames, yesterday, I went to Basel to locate a bronze plaque mounted on a piece of stone with a story engraved—it is part of one of your projects. Could you explain the function of the bronze plaque and what your project «Kcymaerxthaere» represents?

EAMES DEMETRIOS: Kcymaerxthaere (KCY) is an alternative universe I’ve created. It has a lot of manifestations but one of the main ones is that we go around the world installing markers and historic sites that honor events of this fictional world in our real world. So, this bronze plaque you have seen is one of those markers.
But KCY is really a story. The typical beauty of storytelling is that the defining of the world happens at the same time as the experience of the story. Usually, if you read «Pride and Prejudice» or «Lord of the Rings», the story takes you through a world, and by the time you’re through the book you’ve actually very conveniently seen all the aspects. You’ve had your world defined for you by the way the story wants you to. So, what I was curious about was: could you create an alternative universe where the world existed before the stories? Could you do the world first and then, could you make it a 3-dimensional experience, an analog experience of a fictional world?
      And then, I thought that there’s a virtual experience we have all the time that we don’t think is unusual at all and that’s reading. And reading is very odd. Because when you read a book, you imagine what you’re reading. So, you see the horses on the beach, you see the hero falling asleep, etc. Even when you read a menu, your brain makes you see what you read – some carrots, the fish, etc. But if you had a camera in your eyes, what you’d be seeing is letters on a page. So what you’re seeing is NOT what you see.
Now, I thought: WHAT IF you could have that experience while you’re somewhere, while you’re conjuring up this world in a slightly different way than other people [since we all imagine stories differently], but the same time, you hear a dog barking, you feel that it’s either warm or really cold, you sneak there at night or at early sunrise — so you’re having all these datapoints that are telling you you’re really there — while another part of your mind is telling you you’re not there.
     It’s somehow like when you were a kid, playing with a box and you knew it’s a boat and a box at the same time. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could have that experience and wouldn’t it be great if I could make the whole world a box that is also a boat in that sense?
Another interesting aspect is that in the old days we had clusters of understandings and not pure representation. If you think about «Hänsel & Gretel», 500 years ago, everyone would have known who Hänsel and Gretel were but everybodys image of them would have been different. Whereas now, Darth Vader is a photograph of a black helmet. We got very used to this idea of complete visualisation of fantastical things. The value of visualisations that happens only in our minds is not to be underestimated.
     Or, look at the great cathedrals in Europe: those stained glass windows were built partly because most of the people in the congregation were illiterate. So they needed images. But there wasn’t a brief that said: St. Thomas has brown eyes. But everybody knew that if you showed St. Francis you would show him surrounded by animals. And think about James Bond: How many ... eight guys have played him and we all talked about them as if it’s the one James Bond?! We have a part in us that is very used to ambiguity in representation. So, what I wanted to do is to create a way of storytelling that kind of lives in that ambiguity.
When we look at things, we somehow apply context. It makes you see almost too precisely and so, when you see a red car, it’s really hard to only see the color red, because your mind tells you it is a red car before you are aware of thinking the thought. Which is good because you don’t want to get run over by the red car while crossing the street. BUT it actually prevents you from seeing all the things that aren’t there.
     When I was in Armenia for an installation of my project, the mayor of the town replied: «Who cares if it’s not there?» And I said: »Well, think about it: everything important in your life, whether it’s relationships or your family or your career, all those things didn’t exist before they DID. In fact the whole country of Armenia didn’t exist before it was there.» So he smiled, and since September 2013 we have a site there.

2. What do you intend by creating this parallel universe? What do people gain from it?

I think, most of us would agree that we always gain something when we hear a story.
That’s for starters. But the other thing I would say is that it helps you to look at the world fresh— which seems to be a very difficult and yet a rather important thing to do. Human beings have an almost poignant ability to adapt. You know, we get used to things.
     For example, when you go to a friend’s house for the first time: Have you ever noticed that it seems to take forever to get there but on your way back it’s a lot quicker? That’s because on your way there you’re actually looking at the world. And we don’t usually do that. In fact, most people on this planet would teleport if they could. If you could step out of the front door and be at work, most people would do that. We’ve gotten into this place where we feel like the world is in our way.
     The other thing is, that right now, everybody knows exactly where they are thanks to GPS, mobile phones, etc. But less and less they know roughly where they are. So, I think, by honoring the physicality of the world in this unexpected way, what I do is to give another set of datapoints to understand our world. Which, in some ways, is part of reclaiming our connection to the world. And I can’t emphasize this enough: I’m trying to tell a story. But I trust, that by doing it through all these other layers, in a funny way it enriches people’s experience of our world.

3. In connection with building a site for Kcymaerxthaere you often engage locals to contribute to your project. In what way and what for?

Well, we are doing an installation right now — I hope next week — in Central Java. It is at a school and I told those kids the story of Culev Larsze (a remarkable woman who saved 24 armies from sure destruction) and they all drew their versions. Then I selected 25 which some other students turned into ceramic tiles which are going to go on the base of the carving.

4. Do you think that one day, people will look at the stories of Kcymaerxthaere and believe that they are real?

I don’t know the answer to that question. But it’s not my goal to confuse people.
What I’m really trying to do is to use this tool kit of physicality to tell a story in a richer way. Sometimes, when I go to a place with the intention to install a marker, people are concerned that it could be confusing for both locals and visitors to have these markers there. What’s happened in every case is that it actually made people more curious about their own local history. Because often, when you have a point of contrast, you can learn more.
     For example, we did this site in Paris, Illinios, where the local preservation league was very much against it because it was an old building and although we were very respectful to it, we made something rather unexpected. At the end, they found that more people came to the local historical society trying to understand, than had come for a long time because for the first time, there was something there to figure out.
You know, nobody’s mad that Shakespeare wrote about Richard III. On the contrary, it makes people more curious about his life.
I guess my feeling is that in the long run it will be another story layered on our lands and one will incorporate that story into the story of the world.

5. You’ve recently released a book with the title «The Disputed Likeness Activity Book». What can you
tell me about it?

The full title is actually «Please Don’t Connect the Dots: A Kcymaerxthaere Disputed Likeness Activity Book» It is kind of related to KCY, and there are exercises in it where the user is invited to draw some of the described creatures of KCY. I call it «disputed likenesses» because if I, as the creator of the book, drew these creatures, then you would say: «They’re your creatures, of course you know what they look like!» But by leaving it a bit vague it’s a great place for everyone’s creativity to live.
     And I guess I just feel like that this business of looking at the world fresh is extremely important. And the other thing, I should say, is that I’m not such a nice guy who’s doing this to save the world. As I said before: I just think it’s a great way to tell a story. And I believe that by coming from a pure place with this and those exercises — that somehow it will help. The interesting thing about stories is, that their morals come in many forms. Sometimes, we get obsessed with the question of happy endings or endings being in certain ways. But sometimes, we learn from stories with unhappy endings because those have meaning to us also. I just have a real faith that encouraging kids to not connect the dots — to make their own connections — will help.
     I can only respond to the activity books we had as kids where we had to connect the dots. I mean, they were always fun — but limited. But where could you go after you finished?
When you think about it, those aren’t bad lessons for people to learn. This idea of that there are a lot of right answers but there are also some wrong answers. And if you look at the challenges of the world, we really need to look at things fresh. In that sense, it’s kind of constructive.

6. So, when you ask kids to draw one of your fictional creatures of Kcymaerxthaere, for example the «Gnacien», don’t you fear that there might be the chance that they just adapt what they see on the other kid’s drawing? That you get the «Darth Vader» effect?

The point is, there is not one drawing which is the official drawing. And that’s a really good point. Whereas, if you draw Darth Vader and it doesn’t look like Darth Vader from the movie, then it’s wrong. There’s no objective reference point of what a Gnacien looks like. But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t wrong answers. I mean, if you draw a Gnacien with six legs, then you’re not doing it right (because a Gnacien has seven legs). But there are a lot of right answers that are very different from each other. And I think that that’s not a bad thing for people to learn — and it’s also fun.

7. One of your projects is a DVD called «Scale Is the New Geography», and a statement of yours is that «scale is a key way to organize understanding and experience». Can you explain what you mean by this?

«Scale Is the New Geography» is a new program that I have developed based on Charles and Ray’s film «Powers of Ten». 

My point with that is that you really need to understand what size things are. This sounds very basic but if you don’t understand that, you’re not really able to put them into a context.
If we’re looking at global warming: Carbon Monoxide is not an evil molecule. I mean, molecules pretty much aren’t good or evil one way or another. It’s actually part of the cycle of life. It’s the scale in which we’re introducing it into the atmosphere that is having major consequences.
     The reason why I say it’s the new geography is, if you know the map of world, if you know where Brazil is, you have a place in your mind to hang that location when you hear about the World Cup happening in Brazil — if you don’t know where it is, then it’s just sort of not here. What happens, is that you divide the world into yourself and all the things that aren’t here.
Timelines are the same way. If you don’t know that the American Civil War happened after the American Revolution then a lot of things won’t make sense to you. If you’re trying to understand American history, that is. And I can say that about any country in the world. So timelines are an arbitrary but meaningful way to organize information.
     My point is: timelines are ways to organize the understanding of the world, maps are ways to organize the understanding of the world and scale is also a way to organize the understanding of the world. If you don’t know the relative size of things, if you don’t know that a cell is 1/100,000 of the size of a person, then how are you going to make sense of things like genetic engineering and things like that? Or, if you think that an atom is basically the size of the diameter of a hair — which is also something that’s really hard to see — if you think that all the things you don’t see are roughly the same size, you’re not going to make much sense of the world.
     It’s about having a common frame-work to discuss the challenges of the world.
So, I belive that scale is the new geography.

8. You call yourself a «Geographer at Large», how come ...?

Well, I needed a title (laughs). And I always liked the idea of ambassadors at large. So it came to my mind that I wanted a title and that’s what I am now.

9. You come from a highly creative family. You’re a filmmaker. Was it always crystal clear that your path would be less conventional than maybe other people’s who become advocats or doctors?

Although I suppose that, if I came from a creative family, then this is very conventional. (laughs)


Für das Gespräch bedanke ich mich bei Eames ganz herzlich .

→ Den ersten Teil des Interviews mit Eames Demetrios können Sie hier lesen.