What to do when the future is uncertain?
Eva Zeisel was a Hungarian-American tableware designer. The fluid forms of her plates, cups and crockery elevated these objects from simply functional to highly meaningful. Meaningful because they evoked a sense of humanity in the viewer and the user. Her most famous piece, the salt and pepper shakers were made as a reflection of the relationship between her and her daughter. The shakers convey some kind of profound connection.
What we can learn from Zeisel most, is from her experience in a Soviet prison. Her 'Soviet prison memoir, is a message in a bottle for those suffering in times of crisis. Zeisel moved to Russia in 1932 and began working for a factory designing plates and crockery. It was here, in Moscow that she was imprisoned. She was accused of plotting to kill Stalin and was held unjustly in a prison in Leningrad. Although Zeisel never made anything during her time in the prison, she wrote poems to entertain herself. She called herself a tourist and her memoir is serious but also funny and witty at the same time. To actually write down her poems, she had become resourceful. She heated sugar and the ash from cigarettes to make a kind of molasses ink. Plucking a feather from a pigeon who sat outside her window, she scribbled on wrappers of tin cans with the quill (her mother sent her food in the cans) Her poems did not survive her sentence. She did not publish them. What the poems did was occupy her and 'move time'.
'I composed poems trying to fill the time. Most of my poems had a cadence to the six and a half paces. If I tell you one, you will hear it' ~Eva Zeisel, A Soviet prison memoir
Eva Zeisel was released from prison and expelled from Russia after 16 months. She then moved to the United states and became a celebrated industrial designer. What we learn from Zeisel is the need to keep humor, playfulness alive when the future turns from unpredictable to stuck to doomed. Zeisel used her poems and creativity to survive a tough situation.
What does it mean to be imprisoned?
Jafar Panahi is an Iranin film maker and director. Taxi Tehran, Pardeh are some of his recent and well known films. In 2010, Panahi was imprisoned for publicly supporting the Iranian Green protests. He was incarcerated and claimed to be a threat to Iranian national security. In the end, he received a 20 year ban from making films, directing and writing and a six year home imprisonment.
What does it mean to be told you cannot work?
'This is not a film' is his documentary where he simply films himself on his iPhone, stuck inside his house on the even of the new year. 'How can I make a film' he asks the camera, struggling to narrate his latest screenplay. Sitting on the carpet of his living room, he battles with the ban of filming while wanting to tell stories at the same time. The documentary is actually not a film, its a personal struggle that unfolds on camera without Panahi's knowledge. Throughout the movie Panahi asks if this is a movie worth making? Is it in anyway a story?
Jafar Panahi : Do you think I will shoot something of importance?
Friend: It matters that the camera stays on. Just record it.
Jafar Panahi: All right. We'll maybe watch this footage later and see how it turns out.
In the evening, the city is lit up with fireworks for the new year. Panahi simply points his phone, complains about the camera quality and shoots the night sky. 'I'm bored, so i'm making a film' he says to which his friend responds 'you know when hair dressers have nothing to do, they cut each other s hair' and laughs.
Once filmed, he simply edited it to form a cohesive narrative. The events of the film are unplanned and spontaneous. In the last scene Panahi travels down the lift with his trash man, making stops at every floor to pick up the trash and talking to him about his life. Could anyone have written and directed all the details and nuances that make real life interesting? Possibly not.
The film is effective in communicating the life of a man confined within his home. From within the home it explains the context of modern day Iran. It shows how Iranian filmmakers flirt with tight restrictions and risk their lives to show their films to the world. This movie was smuggled out of Iran in a cake and shown at the Cannes film festival.
Both artists were victims of political agenda. The creative act is not really political unless it covers a political subject. But the act of making things is a powerful tool. It represents something greater than the individual, it represents character, resilience and strength. On a personal level, making things simply lets us be. When confined and faced difficult tragedy, the creative act can be tool for survival (and more)
Copyright: All info-graphics made by the author, with information from Wikipedia.