Tuesday, 10 November 2015

The Rooms/ Quipu Project

On Saturday I visited The Rooms, a festival consisting a series of interactive installations and events (described as "a playground for new ideas") in the old Firestation, Magistrates Courts and Police Station in Bristol City Centre.

As well as the installations, over the course of the weekend there was also a programme of free talks, workshops, film screenings, live music and house parties!

The Rooms was created by REACT, a creative economy hub for the South West & Wales. Supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, REACT invests in collaboration, cultural experimentation and creative innovation between University researchers and creative businesses.

In total there were 16 different rooms to explore, each room offered something unique, engaging and innovative, but for me there was one in particular that really stood out which was The Waiting Room.

The Waiting Room was set up as a Peruvian medical clinic where visitors were invited to enter and listen to the stories some of the 300,000 women and 25,000 men affected by Peru's mass sterilisation programme of the 1990's.

Below is an explanation about the project taken from the official website: www.quipu-project.com

"An interplay between a low-tech telephone line and a high-tech digital interface, the Quipu Project enables communities that are politically, geographically and digitally marginalised to tell their stories around the world using the internet.

Victims are able to access the free phone line and share the difficult experiences and the ensuing difficulties they had faced since they were forcibly sterilised against their will.

The phone line then operates like a web forum: the collaborators can listen to each others’ testimony and record a response, meaning they can offer each other support and solidarity, even though they live many miles apart.

In addition, the audience can record their reaction to the testimonies and upload them to the archive. These messages are translated and recorded for the contributors through the phone line, letting them know that people have listened and are supporting them and engaging in dialogue. For many collaborators this will be the first time their stories will be acknowledged outside their own communities. The testimonies are archived publicly online so that they will never be lost, ignored or forgotten.

The Quipu Project is an experiment in ‘living’ documentary – a story that continues to grow and evolve after its “release” online. This approach allows the story to emerge organically and to continue telling itself, as the contributors and people around the world listen and respond to each other. The open-ended structure also reflects the fact that, for the collaborators, this remains a story without an ending until justice is achieved.

From the start, the Quipu Project was developed in partnership with people in Peru who were sterilised. They are our collaborators, in a project created with them, not for them.

The aim of the Quipu Project is to shine a spotlight on the sterilisations by bringing the collaborators’ testimonies to a wider audience. The hope is that this will become a useful tool in the campaign for recognition and reparation."

Prior to visiting The Rooms, I had never heard about the sterilisation programme which was introduced by Peru's government in 1995. Although at the time it was promoted as a means of providing good reproductive healthcare and birth control, the reality was that sterilisation was often only promoted in impoverished, rural and indigenous communities.  
Consent was often manipulated or not obtained, and there are accounts of people being coerced, forced by medical staff, or sterilised without their knowledge while in hospital for another procedure. Many survivors still suffer physical and emotional trauma and suffering.
Listening to the testimonies of the victims in The Waiting Room was both harrowing and extremely moving, it is almost unbelievable that such a cruel scheme could have happened just 20 years ago. In spite of how difficult it may be to listen to the men and women who have contributed to The Quipu Project, it is a great step towards spreading awareness and acknowledged about the pain they have endured and finally give the victims a chance to voice the injustice of the situation.

If you would like to read more about the Quipu Project and listen to the testimonies you can visit the website here  

Why Quipu?

Quipus are ancient systems of threads and knots that  are thought to have been used by the Incas to keep records in their predominantly oral culture . The cords were made from cotton, llama or alpaca hair and were used for everything from tax and census-keeping to storytelling, where the threads and knots were prompts for memory and language.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Do Book Company and Lectures

Last week I went to a great event held at Bristol's independent record and book store Rise. I've actually been to a few really good in store gigs there - often musicians performing shows in larger music venues around Bristol will do a short set or a couple of acoustic songs to promote the release of a new album or encourage fans to come to a later gig. Personally I much prefer, smaller more intimate venues so sometimes I will prefer to watch the Rise in store performances (especially seeing as they are often free!)

This event was to promote the launch of a new book series released by the 'Do Book Company' - an independent publishing house based in Shoreditch. 'Do Books' are a series of 11 inspirational pocket guide books which aim to create positive changes be it through learning a new skill or craft, a shift in thinking or by giving you the inspiration and encouragement to achieve a goal or dream. Each book is only about 100 pages, making them quick and easy to read and focusing on the practicalities of 'doing' rather than the background theory.

The books are written by speakers from the Do Lectures - which form part of a 3 day festival/conference founded in Cardigan, Wales. Fans of the world famous TED talks will love the Do lectures as they are very similar - the lectures cover a huge range of themes and subjects given by people from all walks of life.

During the promotional launch at rise, the authors of the following four books each gave a 15-20 minute lecture summarizing their book and how they came to write it:

  • Do Breathe - Calm your mind. Find your focus. Get stuff done. - Michael Townsend Williams
  • Do Disrupt - Change the status quo. Or become it. - Mark Shayler 
  • Do Purpose - Why brands with a purpose do better and matter more. - David Hieatt
  • Do Fly - Find your way. Make a living. Be your best self. - Gavin Strange

Each author was so engaging and interesting in different ways and although they only spoke for a short amount of time, I could have happily sat there and listened to them all night! I could have bought the whole series of books there and then but the one that really caught my eye (partly because of the awesome name of the author!) was Do Story - How to tell your story so the world listens. (Written by Bobette Buster)

I'm really into true story telling events at the moment and am pretty addicted to podcasts and blogs like The Moth, Humans of New York etc... Bobettes book offers some great advice on how to tell your own story and how the skills used to do this can be really beneficial to other aspects of your life, be it personal or professional.

The evening was rounded off by a great musical performance by Luke Sital Singh who I had been wanting to see again since watching him perform in the pouring rain two years ago at glastonbury - it was nice to watch him in the warm and dry comfort of the rise record store!

The books are definitely worth reading - as I said they are pretty short so they are accessible for people who are not really into reading and cover a wide range of subjects. I would love to attend the Do Lectures festival and the other events that they are now holding all around the world - however I was slightly dismayed when I went on their website and discovered that tickets for the 3 day event cost over £1200! So I guess for now I will stick with my slightly more affordable paperback book! On a serious note this is something that has been irritating me a lot lately ( - events which are apparently aim to "inspire and encourage discussion and debate between young people from all backgrounds" but are then priced so that only really high earners can possibly afford the tickets) and is something I will write about in an upcoming post.

However I should say that there are a lot of videos on the do lectures website that you can watch for free so do check them out here:

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Experimental Travel Part 3

So to round off my 'Experimental Travel' posts - here are a few more weird and wonderful festivals around the world! 


White Nights FestivalThe White Nights festival is an arts held annually in St Petersburg during the arctic season when the sun can still be seen at midnight. The festival includes a series of classical ballet, opera and music events with performances by Russian and international dancers, singers, musicians and actors. The Scarlet Sails show is famous for spectacular firework displays celebration is the culmination of the White Nights season and the largest public event anywhere in Russia with the annual estimated attendance
about one million people! The White Nights festival aims to promote cultural exchange between Russia and the rest of the world and strengthen St Petersburg's reputation as a world centre for culture and the arts.


Burning Man - Black Rock Desert, Nevada.

The Burning Man Festival is an annual event held at the end of August where up to 48,000 people gather in Nevada’s Black Rock desert to create art and express their individuality. It takes its name from the ritual burning of a large wooden effigy, which is set alight on Saturday evening. The Burning Man website lists the following ten principles:

  • Radical inclusion
  • Gifting
  • Decommodification
  • Radical self reliance
  • Radical self expression
  • Communal effort
  • Civil responsibility
  • Leaving no trace
  • Participation
  • Immediacy
The event is described as an experiment in community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance. Festival goers often say that you cannot truly understand Burning Man without attending - however be warned this festival is not for the faint hearted!


Up Helly AA

Occuring once a year in the Shetland Islands, this fire festival marks the end of the yule season. Costumed participants march through the streets carrying torches,followed by hours of performing acts and dancing in halls throughout Lerwick. The procession culminates in the torches being thrown into a life size replica of a Viking longship or galley.


Cheese Rolling

The final festival on my list is in my hometown of Gloucestershire! However although it is so close to where I live I have never actually been to watch the bizarre spectacle of cheese rolling....

The cheese rolling race/event takes place annually on the Spring bank Holiday on the incredibly steep Coopers hill in Gloucester. Traditionally it was done by only locals but over the years it has become world famous and now attracts participants from as far as Japan and America.

So what is cheese rolling? Well from the top of the hill a 9 lb round of Double Gloucester cheese is rolled, and competitors start racing down the hill after it aiming to catch it. The first person over the finish line at the bottom of the hill wins the cheese!

There have been many many injuries from the event and every year the ambulances will be stationed nearby ready to treat those who hurt themselves! Due to strict health and safety rules, as well as the difficulty of trying to control the large number of people who come to watch the event is no longer officially managed by an organisation and authorities will try to discourage people taking part or going to watch. However this has had very little effect and hundreds of people will still assemble to hold spontaneous races, risking life and limb to catch the cheese!

So that concludes my posts on alternative festivals around the world - the few I have featured are just a snippet of the many that are out there though and you really could spend a lifetime visiting them all!

As for experimental travelling - perhaps I will use my book and decide to take on some of the challenges when I next go on an adventure!

Check out my previous posts on experimental travel and weird festivals below:

Experimental Travel Part 1

Part 2

Monday, 28 September 2015

Blood Moon

Did you see the blood moon last night? Ralph and I watched it from my garden at 3am. Living in a city I wasn't expecting there to be much to see due to light pollution but the sky was so clear and I could see all the stars and constellations as well as a beautiful rust coloured moon. So magical!

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Experimental Travel - Part 2

Following on from my previous post on experimental travel and after a conversation with friends, I have come up with my own experimental travel adventure that I would love to do! This one isn't really something that could be done in a weekend or a few months though as it would be pretty costly and would probably take a lifetime to complete!

It all began with a discussion about La Tomatina Festival in Spain - which in case you didn't know about it is a huge tomato fight in the streets of Bunol in Spain which is held in late August everyday. My friends and I all agreed that we would love to attend and then got to thinking about how great it would be to attend all the weird and wonderful festivals across the globe... 
Well once I began my research I discovered there were so many that it would be impossible to list them all! But here are a few that look especially fantastic....


Holi Festival - Also known as the festival of colours or the festival of love, Holi is an ancient Hindu festival which is primarily observed in India. It is celebrated in spring at the approach of the vernal equinox on a full moon. The festival signifies the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring, end of winter, and for many a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair broken relationships, and is also celebrated as a thanksgiving for a good harvest.

Whilst you are in India why not visit this festival too:

Jaipur Elephant Festival: The Elephant Festival is an annual event held every year at Jaipur the capital city of Rajasthan. It is organised according to the Indian calendar on the full moon day of Phalgun Purnima (February/March), this coincides with day of Holika Dahan, just a day before Dulendhi, which the Indian festival of colour and joy Holi is celebrated! As the name suggests elephants are the centre of attraction at the Elephant Festival Jaipur. Pachyderms are washed, painted and groomed in all finery by their loving grooms or Mahouts as they are called in India. Elephants are specially decorated for the elephant festival, with chunky elephant jewellery, large anklets decked with bells grace their feet, their bodies are painted with traditional Indian motifs, gold embroidered velvet rugs grace their backs along with silver and gold plated Howdahs and gold embroidered velvet parasol’s.


Thailand has become very popular as a gap year destination and is well known for its infamous full moon festival! However if you are looking for something a bit alternative how about this:

The Monkey Buffet Festival is a really a unique and bizarre Festival held in in the province of Lopburi, North of Bangkok. During the festival 4000 kilograms of fruits, vegetables, cakes, candies is set down in front of temples on tables, in pyramid or just on a simple mat for the delight of the 3000 monkeys living in the area.
The Monkey Buffet Festival also host plenty of activities in relation with monkeys: music and dances with young people dress like monkeys and hand made monkey costumes, masks and monkey sculptures are all created for the occasion.
The Festival was invented in 1989 by a local business man in order to boost the tourism in the Lopburi province. Since thousand of visitors come every year to see the numerous monkeys filling their stomachs!


Home of the quirky and mad, Japan has plenty of festivals to choose from! Here are two I like the look of:

Konaki Sumo: Konaki (crying) Sumo or Nakizumo (sumo of tears) is more than 400 years old tradition organized in some Japanese temples. Konaki Sumo takes place every April in the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo and includes almost 100 babies.Two Sumo wrestlers, both holding a baby, face each other and wait whose baby is going to cry first.There is also a priest who shouts and waves at the babies. If both babies start crying at the same time the winner is the one who cries louder.If all this sounds a bit mean, it should be noted that the festival is also time of praying for baby's health. There is a Japanese proverb stating that "naku ko wa sodatsu" or "crying babies grow fast". It is believed that louder the baby cries the more gods' blessing she or he get!

The Fuji Shibazakura festival is a festival of flowers which gives colour to the Mt Fuji. Around 800,000 shibazakura (moss flox) bloom in beautiful shades of pink at the bottom of the mountain in late springtime every year near the scenic Fuji Five Lakes area, and sees more than 9 million visitors pass through annually.The festival takes place from mid-April through June, but the best time to see the five different kinds of Pink Moss flowers, usually takes place in early to mid-May.

Since I found so many weird and wonderful festivals I am going to split this into a few seperate blog posts - so stay tuned for my next one which features festivals around Russia, America, Europe and some a bit closer to home!

Friday, 18 September 2015

Experimental Travel - Part 1

10 years ago I was listening to the Radio and I heard a review of a book called "The Lonely Planet Guide to Experimental Travel" and decided immediately to go out and buy it. Lonely Planet travel guides are pretty well known for being good but this one is a little unusual... It is a book that helps you see and explore the world in alternative ways and offers a playful way of travelling, where the destination is unknown.

The book includes over 40 ways to take a journey, each described by a hypothesis, the equipment needed and the method (along with the results of travelers who have tested out each challenge). Examples of the different exercises range from simple challenges such as taking a friends dog for a walk and letting yourself be completely led by what interests the dog; or a trip that would require a bit more daring and preparation such as 'Erotourism' - in which a couple would travel separately to the same city and then try to find each other without contact.

Another method suggested is to travel by a certain number - for instance the number 12: take a train that departs at 12:12 and get off at the 12th stop. Or, catch a number 12 bus and get off after the 12th person has got on after you. Only stay at hotels that are on the 12th building on their street.

It has always been my dream to travel the world but it can be hard when you don't have the money saved or are restricted in other ways. This book is full of suggestions that can make journeys more interesting and offers ideas that help the reader to see places that you may travel to everyday in a new way. I think the philosophy and concept of the book is really valuable and can really be applied to things beyond experimental travelling - it's about experimenting, relying on serendipity and chance and looking at the world around you a little differently. 

I had sort of forgotten about the book until recently, but having picked it up again I am now toying with the idea of trying out some of the challenges around Bristol! Perhaps I will start a new blog documenting each adventure!