Sunday, 20 March 2011

Death: representations and folk lore

Over History and all over the planet each country and culture has their own beliefs and views of death. The most generic and common presentation of death across Europe which has developed from the 1500's is the skeletal figure cloaked in black carrying a scythe, "The Grim Reaper" (photo sketch from my sketch book). This creature is one of fear a being who has the ability to take life away when he wishes. Tales have been told of bartering with him to save lives. The Grim Reaper is also refered to as the Dark Angel (painting: "Angel of Death" by Evelyn De Morgan : This form of death is seen as the bringer of relief the end of pain and of suffering. A juxtaposition to the depiction of the Grim Reaper. Many different novels and films have used the Skeletal form to portray death such as 'The Hogfather' (2006) and 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens.

In Russian Folklore they have their own skeletal creature named 'Baba Yaga'. She is an old skeletal crone with a long nose and teeth of iron. She represents wisdom and death

In Russian culture death can be viewed as a reversable process. Death is closly linked to sleep. They believe in two types of death, Good and Bad death. Good being when you die of old age at the time God chose for you and bad deaths are ones that happen before this tim ie a murder or suicide. Death is also seen sometimes represented as a child or through various birds.

Another area of research I took was various symbols carved into cemetries during the 19th century. There were many symbols or plants or animals that symbolise death or the idea of life being cut short.

A Broken Tree Branch- life cut short

Drapery- Death and Mourning

Hourglass/winged hourglass- End of Time of the Earth

The Poppy- Death and Eternal Sleep

Snakes - Death

Down Turned Torch - Extinguished Life

Tree Trunk- Life Cut Short

Urn - Death

The Weeping Willow Tree- Sorrow and Mourning

All of these symbols could be included as small features of the furniture in the rooms such as mouldings or carvings in the headboard of the bed or back of the sofa.

Taking some inspiration from this research I made some sketches of what the 'it' in Ivan's room might be. Even though 'it' isnt going to be completely visible it needs to be illuded to and as the designer of the 'it' I need to know what it would have looked like. Also taking inspiration from imigary in the book of blackness and hands.

First I made some very rough sketches of the various room layouts and then focused on the screened corner of the study including some symbols like the willow branches and drapery

I wanted to create the darkness coming or leaking from behind the screen. The overall design consisted of a hand grabbing at a draped piece of fabric (symbol) with arms of willow branches winding out from behind the screen. In all I thought this initial sketch too fussy and crouded. I was trying to consider an idea that is not generic or obvious so I decided to continue with this later. One feature I did include on the screen were mirrored panels that had been smashed or cracked. Mirrors can be beautiful pieces to work with for many reasons.

1 they can lighten a room or create the illusion of a bigger room (which is good as we are limited to 12ft walls)

2 a broken mirror can symbolise anything the audience wants to percieve, bad luck, broken future even death

3 considering this corner of the room from Ivan's mentally distorted view seeing his own face fragmented in the broken segments of glass would add to his distress.

4 the view of the room through a distorted mirror could give us some wonderful opertunities for the final still shots of the finished set.

I believed before I could continue designing this part of the room I had to consider what the 'it' was. How was death portrayed. My first ides were what is death was a child? small and unintimidating a binary oposition to what death actually is.

I started by looking a some photos of old illustrations of children from the era and photos of the Russian aristocracy with their chidren The photo below is of Alexey Romanov the last heir to the throne of Russia. ( )

Using these images and some understanding of the novel I sketched out what I considered Ivan to be so scared of. The is a big theme in the book of age and death vs youth and health. Ivan believes the only one who understands him is is young son. The 'it' I have created encompasses all these desires of youth also linking to a very important quote in the book "Il faut que jeunesse se passe" or "Youth must have it's fling" a rule that Ivan once applied to his way of living. The child in the sketch also has visual decay eating away at the side of Ivan's injury the pain that is constantly eating away at him.

Even though this character would not be entirely visible by drawing it it is helping me as one of the designers to understand Ivans fear... which in the end is what the room has to denote.

Before carrying on with my own ideas I waited until the next group meeting not only to run my ideas past everyone else but to also take note of what Rob (other member or team death) had come up with so I could carry on by merging our ideas together....

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