String Figures’ concept initially started by the fascination for Inuït culture.
It is an inherited book “The People of the Polar North” written in the beginning of the 20th century by Greenlandic/Danish polar explorer and anthropologist K. Rasmussen, that opened Zoë Mc Pherson’s interest for indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada and Alaska : Animism, nomadism, respect of nature, strong connection with animals, connection flesh, this repulsive and intriguing carnivore diet, hunting, fishing, rituals to thank the spirits that lived in the animals, drum dancing, throat singing, spiritual and shamanic practices, legends, games, flexible family structures, sense of humor, the practice of string figures,...
These above themes, almost read as fantastic tales about the Arctic population were confronted with todays digital Inuït medias (produced by locals) such as Isuma TV, Arviat film, social networks. The impact the government had in the loss of traditional knowledge and heritage is huge : children were seperated from their parents and forced into residential schools, families were forced to become settlement based, their diet changed, importing food from abroad, alcohol got introduced, seal hunt got banned, suicide started to grow and the rate is still currently very high.
Today, through healing and reconciliation, Inuit families and communities are working towards reclaiming traditional values and traditions.
These researches resulted in a compilation video Inuït zapping with humor and lightness ; a song Esk’o released on tape in 2014 and an Inuït mix with collected radio recordings, music and ethnographic sound archives broadcasted on NTS radio.
In January 2017, she interviewed Canadian Inuk throat singer, artist and activist Tanya Tagaq for Gonzo Circus magazine : “They colonize half the world and are afraid of immigrants, fuck you! […] not long ago the government wanted us all to stop living on the land and live into communities, so that the north east passage could not be claimed by Russia. So the government put us into these communities, even killing all of our sled dogs so we would be stuck and then we couldn't hunt as much, we haven't had good control of our own natural resources and with this storage of residential schools . They took all of us away with a very abusive loss of language, loss of culture, etc.”
The Inuït spirit of the String Figures Tuutannguarjuk came through as an ideal transmedia concept for many reasons :
A global practice
In the last century, String figure activities have been documented and collected in cultures as diverse as Native American groups, the Maori in New Zealand, Aborigines in Australia, Rapanui on Easter Island, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Bornean, Fijian, Melanesian, Hawaiian, Filipino, Papua New Guinean, Peruvian, African, New Caledonian, Indian, and Tibetan.
And even without having all the possible communication channels as we have today, string figures were practiced all over the world.
A meditative, mathematical and graphical practice
Interlacing strings into mathematical complex shapes require a certain agility, methodology and focus. Keywords are as follows : Opening, Loop, Movements, Stretch, Attach, Relax, Transpose. Shapes evolveby making them, and aspire the person making them into evolutive graphical aesthetics.
Connecting with one another and storytelling
String figures were used to transmit important knowledge to the community, beliefs, etc.
Chanting and story-telling as an accompaniment of String Figures is almost universal.
A succession of figures and transitions form a string story. Such as this example of Navajo String Games by Grandma Margaret shows us.
Spirituality and symbolism
Inuit believed in the spirit of the String Figures : Tuutannguarjuk. It is a dangerous spirit that sometimes would attack women, and may even carry away those who become too eager to play with string figures. The Inuit evidence proves that cat's-cradle may, in part, have a magical significance and suggests a line for future inquiry. In Europe the practice had all but disappeared centuries earlier due to the association of String Figures with witchcraft, most specifically the “binding spells” involving knotting strings.
It has frequent representation of persons, incidents, or objects connected with religion or mythology.
References include :
- the publications of the String Figures International Association - ISFA
- the Jurassic technology museum in Los Angeles
- the most extensive Inuït section of it’s kind in the world, part of the Ethnographic collections at Danemark’s National museum in Copenhagen
- Harry Smith elegant collection of String Figures
- Honor C Maude’s publications
- String Figures, a study of many lands by Caroline Furness Jayne
- the work and teachings of James Murphy now based in New York city
- the pictures of Mr. Murphy’s students by Robin Moor
- String Figures video youtube playlist
String Figures artistic concept was developped through the encounter with visual artist and director Alessandra Leone. Together they crafted an audiovisual mood board incorporating at every stage of the process the following dualities : Organic ~ Electronic ; Folk ~ Digital ; Local ~ Global ; Earthy ~ Otherworldly ; Ancient ~ Modern ; Local identity ~ Globalisation ; Harmony ~ Dissonance
Each chapter explores a symbolic axis around which liminal transformations occur.
From the unknotting of the opening to the final transmission the movements of String Figures coil around a sonic memory.
« It is not me making the figure, the string is telling me what my body should do.
It is guiding me to the figure. » Hen, choreographer
It is guiding me to the figure. » Hen, choreographer
i. sabotage story (unknot opening)
ii. deep (prayer)
iii. shaman (how I became) ~ inuït legend
iv. komusar (moving)
v. hardingfele (release)
vi. inouï (and free)
vii. transmission (so it shall never be lost)
even if you tie a hundred knots
it will remain one
hold it in between your hands
and see where it takes you
it’s not just a child’s game
but a weapon
for restoring harmony ~
lava emerges from the tree
everything is surreal
yet strongly familiar
explore this planet
search for inner openings
in an unknown space
the rhythm that mark lives
it is disturbing
we share this game