Eames Demetrios: Geographer of a Parallel Universe | KCET
Eames Demetrios: Geographer of a Parallel Universe
Author and filmmaker Eames Demetrios is a creator of worlds. "There are things that surprise, even me as the creator," he says about his life's work as the Geographer-at-Large for the mythical realms of Kcymaerxthaere. To put it plainly, he tells stories, hosts lengthy discussions of Kcymaerxthaere's language and culture, and places historical markers at real locations around our world that refer to Kcymaerxthaere. But with each placard that commemorates a epic battle or a magical event, Kcymaerxthaere becomes more real, the way a cave painting represents an ancient culture we've never met and will never meet. We understand the past through its shadows, those intangible traces from which we build an understanding of the people who preceded us. Demitrios creates a new history with his public placards that future generations may even believe to be true. At of time of this writing, 98 markers indicate sites in 22 countries -- but as Demetrios says, "new things are coming to light all the time. Of course, I'll never be able to do every site, every building, even in a single town much less across the world."
Kcymaerxthaere is not really a parallel universe, Demetrios believes, since there are physical interruptions of that world into ours, it's more of a concurrent plane of existence. Of course, it has its own ancient past and creation mythology just like we do, which is in need of excavation, just like ours. It is evidence of those physical interruptions which Demetrios seeks to discover and chronicle, along the way placing markers and plaques at sites of historical significance, involving local populations and artisans in this level of history as well as in the crafting of suitable commemorative situations. Besides a few printed guidebooks, Demetrios operates a website and smart-phone app to aid in cultural-tourism convenience, in which for purposes of conventional cartography, our world is referred to as "linear" (for example, "linear Austria").
Sites where significant events unfolded have been found in Los Angeles, New Mexico, Lithuania, Montana, Singapore, Indonesia, off the coast of Scotland, Spain, Armenia, Austria, Sweden, South America, Northern Africa, and several cities called Paris in various nations of the world. There's an underwater desert off the coast of Namibia, where the Gathered Armies of Complexity fought The Battle of Sometimes. There's a seven-legged, deer-like creature whose prime-numbered legs are delicious and nutritious but whose others are poisonous, and there's a plaque somewhere in Armenia about the time an important man ate the wrong leg. There's a marker in Taiwan having to do with a language wherein words and numbers are switched, and where you can read novels in the stones. Angelenos looking for sites closer to home might try Kulver Glade off Jefferson Blvd, Shirotsumek Hill in Chinatown, and Remnal of a Senging Chave in Hollywood. The Krblin Jihn Kabin in Joshua Tree is one of the most lovely, haunting, radical experiences of architecture, language, landscape and cultural politics that you can imagine.
Markers and Historic Sites are spread out in enough places ("there's a site six hours from anywhere") that many people should be able visit at least one with relatively little effort. The sites are not always where you might expect to find monumental history, to say the least; but all have the power to transform even your own hometown into a place you've never been. Since Demetrios feels strongly that "the journey to a place as an integral part of the story of that place," his Field Guides offer good directions, detailed historical accounts, engaging design, and useful glossaries, but little in the way of thorough photodocumentation. Rather than finding the whole story laid out in the pages, you are inspired to undertake something that is really quite analog, and finish the exploration for yourself. If you go on the site and plug in your location, it geo-tracks you and suggests the closest sites and nearby restaurants. It's worth looking up the prevalence of sites on any trip you have planned, thereby to find yourself delving deeper into "local history" than most locals may ever have done. The plaques function as communication beacons, providing start or end points for your travels in between; prompts, really, for adding a new dimension to experience, and for the accrual of personal history.
Speaking of personal history, if his first name rings a bell, that's because his grandparents were the iconic designers and influential thinkers, Charles and Ray Eames. His 2002 book "An Eames Primer," and his TED talks on the subject, are as much about preserving his grandparents' stories as a personal matter as it about anthologizing the legacy of their biggest ideas. He himself operates as a documentarian, writer, and storyteller who never fails to emphasize that he is "not a designer, not an architect." That said, he readily admits -- and this project very much demonstrates -- that there is a salient role for design and architecture to play in storytelling too, and in that sense he has clearly absorbed certain principles from the famously user-friendly, pragmatic work of his family. For example when he says, "How can I, working intuitively, help people understand this space as part of the story?" it is very much in line with pronouncements from the Eameses like "The details are details. They make the product. The connections, the connections, the connections. It will in the end be these details that give the product its life." And when Demetrios says "I think we all have a responsibility to our heritage, which is not exactly us, but is a part of us, and to our own present and future, which is us, but not only us," he could be speaking as much about his family's work as about what drives his work as the Geographer-at-Large for Kcymaerxthaere.
There's a bit of a spoiler here, but when pressed further on the paradoxical relationships of then and now, here and there, fact and fiction that animate the undertaking, Demetrios describes a moment when he thought to himself, "Wouldn't it be lovely to experience a fiction out in the physical world, in a way that involved all the senses, plus time, space, etc." But still it's important to him as an artist and author that the experience survive and retain its value after the secret is discovered. "Part of me doesn't want to answer the question, to expend energy trying to differentiate what's true in our world from what's true in theirs. It's like Second Life except you can stub your toe! I'll say this though; there's a school of public thought that is about reinterpreting history, being counterfactual, and that's fine but it's not what I'm doing. The real story of everything is already wonderful, it doesn't need my help, only my maps. These are whole new stories to us, and although they happened and are happening both there and here, the moment this becomes known to us the history is a part of this place, the here place. The mind has a virtual reality toolkit ready to be unpacked; and anyway don't we all suspend disbelief every day? Everything we know, at some point someone else told us, taught us. Is it really so different? Let yourself be unmoored for a moment -- we don't get enough of that."
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