Rising of the Gehlyrns: Anatomy of a Kcymaerxthaere Installation
From August to September, Eames Demetrios, Geographer-at-Large for Kcymaerxthaere, is serving as the Geographer-in-Residence at Atlas Obscura. Here he explains more about how a Kcymaerxthaere site, one of the many of points around the globe that tell the story of a world parallel to our own, comes to be.
When I accepted the geographer residency at Atlas Obscura, I really hoped a Kcymaerxthaere installation would be pulled off during the time of the residency itself, so I could capture a timeline in a way that I haven’t really tried before. And we lucked out. Some Kcymaerxthaere installations happen really fast, others take forever; most do both. The story of Rising of the Gehlyrns, our 101st marker or historical site, installed last Saturday in Taitung, Taiwan, is a perfect example. This is how it looked at 8:30 on last Sunday morning.
How did it get this way? First, I am always looking for new locations to install Kcymaerxthaere markers, particularly internationally. We are only in 22 countries so far and it is a big planet.
There are so many stories in this parallel world and at this point the stories have their own momentum. So, do I turn down locations? Alas, yes, quite often. For starters, I can only install under certain circumstances, the most important of which is that I have permission for the marker to be there permanently — or at least 50 to 75 years.
People often think of the project as being like graffiti. But it is more like the opposite. I can’t simply create a stone and then have a municipality remove it the next day. After all, the best way to give the feeling of permanence is for something to be permanent.
My first trip to Taiwan was in 2007, and at that time I explored opportunities to install, but nothing ever quite gelled. Then, Jason Hsu, curator of TEDxTaipei, invited me to speak about Kcymaerxthaere at that event. We felt it was a great time to see if there was a way to do work on the insanely beautiful East Coast of Taiwan. We went to an area called Taitung, where many of the aboriginal people live, and some are relearning old techniques and sharing them, including the building of houses like this, by the artist Sokuru:
Though nothing panned out on that trip, another Taiwanese friend and her partner generously offered a beautiful corner of farmland on which I could tell a story. It’s outside Tainan, a larger city in the south of the island. We are still fine-tuning details on the site, but the hard core of its installation is complete. It tells the story of cultures where words are numbers and numbers are words. I will touch more on that in a later post (when we share it here on Atlas Obscura)..
Future work in Taiwan remained of interest, but laid a bit fallow. Knowing my interest in the location and the city’s interest in expanding its identity as a cultural center, Jason of TEDxTaitung approached Chi-Yi Chang, the Taitung County Deputy Governor, about a possible installation. Chi-Yi was supportive from the get-go, and also sensitive to the time and other logistical challenges.
It also wasn’t clear exactly where in Taitung City it would be. This actually was a plus for me as in the process of securing permission, almost invariably, I have seen the location. And it is almost impossible not to be impacted by it in the writing of the story — even if one consciously ignores it (because deliberately ignoring something is a response, too). So each year I try to do two markers without visiting the site or even seeing pictures of it.
For some time I had been wanting to tell a story that elaborated on the idea of a Ghelyrn. In Kcymaerxthaere, Ghelyrns were dirigible-like vessels developed by the rabansg, playful dolphin-like creatures who tired of swimming around the continents. They developed the ghelyrns to float over the continents.
This story was first installed on the Kahlenberg, a mountain just outside what we call Vienna — on a marker called Seen des Himmels (Lakes of the Sky). It tells the story of Miskeks, a beautiful saltwater lake that floated high above the Earth. Shortly after I installed that story, I began thinking about other aspects of the Ghelyrn, and I realized it must have been so cool to see them take off from the water as they floated up into the sky. I had been hoping for a coast installation site at some point, and when Taitung popped up it seemed perfect.
I wrote the story, but it still needed to be translated. All markers are in the local language, plus English. Translating the stories of Kcymaerxthaere is not a simple matter; it cannot be sent to be translated until everything about the layout of the stone is finalized. And I wanted stone partly because the work could be done locally. At 24 days out from its projected completion, we still had two big challenges: find the stone (fortunately, Claire Lee and Apple Huang from the TEDxTaitung team had found a carver) and finalize the translation.
A beautiful serpentine rock was identified, and the text was laid out. The silhouette of the available green stone seemed perfect.
At last, we could start translation. Constance on the TEDxTaitung team translated the story. But that was only the first step.
Secondly, it needed to be reviewed by a Kcymaerxthaere champion, Ming-Li, who has carefully fine-tuned the translations on the other Chinese language marker. In a sense, MIng-Li provided a kind of informal institutional memory, because we always have to keep track of how specific ideas are represented in various languages. I am most conscious of trying to preserve the declarative ambiguity of the language. As the project goes on, there are multiple sites in some languages, including Chinese. So in this case Ming-Li paid special attention to certain words and character names that had basically been translated for sound on other markers. Given how often language figures into the stories of Kcymaerxthaere, it is really amazing to get a closer look at the nuts and bolts of another language.
On July 24, the dedication day (the day of the TEDxTaitung event) was 19 days away. We laid out the new translation, but then we realized we needed even more precise measurements. TEDxTaitung team member Apple came back with measurements showing the original numbers were basically correct and there was 70 cm of depth to the stone — very stable.
By July 30, there were 11 days to go, and the carver was at last starting to work on the stone. Then on August 8, I arrived by train in Taitung. Apple, TEDxTaitung intern Ingrid Chang, and I went straight to Forest Park to meet up with folks from Taitung city. Word was the stone had been carved, and was already in Taitung. But still we had one small detail to address: where to put the stone!
You might say it could go anywhere, but the location of a marker conveys experiences — the experience of finding it and what you see as you read it. I thought the view of the water might work, but not too close to it. I had also conveyed to the team that we wanted a feeling of discovery, but still have it be accessible.
We biked around the park with the park crew, but in the end there were two sites. The first one was right on the beach. But I felt with it being on the sand, it would be hard for the reader to feel the distance to the water and give themselves a sense of the Ghelyrns approaching.
Ingrid and Apple on the left, explaining our perspective to the Foreman of the Grounds Team regarding the installation
The second site was in Seashore Park, contiguous with Taitung Forest Park. It was a little bit disheartening — it did not have the energy I was hoping for. Too exposed. Also, it seemed like a place where the city was not yet done with its development, and I did not want the marker to be in the way. Even with the agreement to not move it, the energy in this case felt wrong to force the development around the Kcymaerxthaere site. And, perhaps more important, there was not too much drama of discovery way out in the middle there.
Our first view of Site 2
But then, off to the side, I saw a group of trees which were, in a sense, the last tendrils of Forest Park. And I wandered over. This was the spot. It would have a feeling of discovery, and would frame the visitors vista with alot of different elements in the landscape. It also would feel (since the marker would be installed in the grass with the grey of the beach visible) that the Ghelyrns were traveling further to get to you as the reader.
Site 2, the final location is just off screen to the left
Site 2, the group in the glade of trees. When you visit, note that pavilion, Taitung Centennial International Landmark. It will make finding the stone very easy. (Photo: Apple Huang)
On August 9 was the installation itself. We’ll soon be adding a bunch of installation photographs to the Kcymaerxthaere.com pages about the marker. There are so many details, but all of the steps impact, big and small, the final experience of the visitor and reader.
Geographer-at-Large with the stone as it arrives on site. (Photo: Apple Huang)
After the big decision about the location, the next most critical thing is to maintain the proper orientation. One of the things that is so intriguing to me is that all people orient themselves to read a marker — any marker — perpendicular to the center of it. What that means is we know exactly what people are seeing as they read.
Lowering the stone into the concrete
As you stand here, at this marker, the ocean is framed for you on the left by the kind of mini-headland and on the right by the tree. And the tree is much closer, so you have a somewhat theatrical feeling of observing, even though you are just a few steps from a street that gets dozens of tour busses a day.
And you have a feeling of discovery, if you approach from the north (left as you face the ocean — and read the marker), the marker is literally revealed to you as you walk), but from the south, too, though you can see it from further away, it is still part of the tree area, part of the wilder aspect of the Forest Park just across the stream (that separates us from the headland). And this is another difference between photography and seeing it in person — you take in all these details unthinkingly. In person, the sound of the water and our innate spatial sense help us know the stream is just over that edge.
But another thing happens: we tend to look straight along that line perpendicular to the center of the marker. So what I point the marker at is critical. Here, I pointed the marker to empty horizon, a bit to the left of the shadow of Green Island (a couple of dozen miles offshore). So, on a clear day, in your peripheral vision you do see that island form. Before the marker was even done, a couple of people told me that the silhouette reminded him of the Ghelyrn. And then, as the jets flew over from the local airbase, someone else asked me did you plan that? That it would be a flight path?
Look closely in the center. One can discern the silhouette of Green Island in the distance (or is that a Ghelyrn?)
I was very conscious of Green Island in the siting of the marker. And I totally could see it representing a Ghelyrn without me even having to say it. And, similarly, I was thrilled for the jets to go overhead in this context. I always trust that these things will happen. Partly because I believe humans love finding patterns and making connections. I consciously do so in the installation, and think visitors are more or less conscious of experiencing them as well. Serendipity bring certain types of joy, knowledge, and wonder into our lives that is deeply enriching and energizing, and that becomes part of the Kcymaerxthaere experience. It gives you new things to look for. Some I know about, many more I am sure I don’t.
After all, anyone who reads the markers out in the world, makes their own pattern connections. Humans are amazing at applying context onto what they see around them — and the Kcymaerxthaere project trades on that. Lives on that.
A job well done. Shaking hands with the Foreman of the Taitung Forest Park Grounds Crew.
Many people who read this post will never see the marker in person. But once you have seen another marker in person, it will change how you look at these images and read this text. Because even this seeing we are doing online is another form of seeing that our minds bring all our knowledge and context, too.
August 10 was Dedication Day. Chi-Yi, Taitung County Bureau of Culture Affairs Director Lu and I held a press conference announcing the marker. I explained some of the ideas of it. And Chi-Yi quite nicely contextualized the marker in the community’s vision for the future.
In closing, every year I spent thinking about this place and story mattered and yet, without the rush at the end, there would be no marker there at all. And there’s a story akin to this behind just about every marker now being shared on Atlas Obscura.
Yours truly, Kcymaerxthaere’s Geographer-at-Large, Signing in the concrete.
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