Friday, April 16, 2010

Very Superstitious.

I'm currently throwing myself head first into research on superstitious beliefs from around the world. I'll be basing a new body of work for an upcoming show specifically on protective symbols and amulets, but my broader research into various actions and traditions is fascinating. Here is an exert on Greek superstitions i found on this site here...

Greek Superstitions about Bread

"Bread is considered a gift from God. It has roots from the bible story, Sermon on the Mount, of how Jesus Christ fed thousands with the fish and the bread. The older village women always make the sign of the cross over a fresh loaf before slicing it. No bread is ever thrown away. If it is not eaten in some way or another, it is fed to the animals - chickens or pigs, and even dogs, as it would be a sin for it to end up in the garbage and has to be consumed by some living creature."

Greek Superstitions about Cactus

"No Greek home would be complete with out at least one cactus positioned somewhere near the front entrance. In a big ‘Feta’ can or garden pot, a cactus with its thorny spikes, takes it place proudly warding off the evil eye from the property."

Greek Superstitions about Crows

"Crows are considered omens of bad news, misfortune and death. When you see or hear a crow cawing, you say "Sto Kalo… Sto Kalo…. Kala Nea na me Feris" which loosely translated means, go well into the day and bring me good news.

Greek Superstitions about Garlic / Skordo

"The evil repelling powers of garlic is not just for vampires. Greeks believe very much in its power to keep evil away. You will usually find beautiful braids of Garlic, or some huge, one of a kind head, dangling in the entrances of shops, restaurants and homes. It is thought that garlic not only wards off the evil eye but also keeps away evil spirits and demons. It is also common for some folk to carry a clove of it on their persons or in their pocket books. A single clove, head of garlic is the best, but very hard to find.

Greek Superstitions about Knives

"Never hand some one a knife. Set it down and let them pick it up, or else you will get into a fight with that person."

Greek Superstitions about Money

"Greeks believe that Money attracts money, so never leave your pockets, purses or wallets completely empty and never completely empty your bank account. Always leave at least a coin or two. It is also considered good luck that when you give a gift of a wallet or a purse, that you put a coin or two in it before giving it to the recipient."

Greek Superstitions about Onions

"Even in these days of modern medicine, you can still find a few village women that strongly believe in the ‘Old Ways’ to cure many different ailments. Onions seem to be popular ingredients and their healing powers go way back in village Folklore.

For colds and sniffles, you can grate onions and use them as a mustard plaster on the chest. To ease the swelling from a bad sprain, grate onions and mix them with a bit of Ouzo. Apply the paste to the swollen area and bandage it up. Leave it on over night and by morning, the swelling should be gone."

Greek Superstitions about Plants & Cuttings

"If you have tried to take a cutting and root it without success, maybe you are doing something wrong. Greeks believe that in order for a cutting to root, it has to be stolen. You have to nonchalantly cut off a piece of the desired plant and take it home without telling the owner. According to superstition, it will root easily."

Greek Superstitions about Salt

"We are all familiar with the superstition of throwing salt over our left shoulder to repel evil or a demon. In Greek Folklore, salt can be used to get rid of an unwanted human presence as well.

If you have an unwanted guest in your home and you want them to leave. All you have to do is sprinkle salt behind them. The powers of the salt will chase him out.

It is also customary to sprinkle salt in a new home before you occupy it, as the salt will drive any evil out and away from you and your family."

Greek Superstitions about Shoes

"Overturned shoes (soles up) are considered very bad luck and even omens of death. Never let your shoes lay upside down. If you accidentally take them off and they land soles up, turn them over immediately and say ‘Skorda (garlic)’ and a spit or two won’t hurt either."

Greek Superstitions about Sneezing

"In Greek superstition, If you sneeze, it means that someone is talking about you. If you want to know who it is, there is a way you can find out. Ask someone around you to give you a three-digit number. Count each digit together and then count down the alphabet. Whatever letter it falls on, is the initial of the person that is talking about you.

For example, 534 is the number given. Add it together 5+3+4=12 . Count down the alphabet to ‘L’, which is the twelfth letter. That is the first initial of the person that is talking about you. Because you never know if what they are saying about you is good or bad, it wouldn’t hurt to whisper ‘Skorda (garlic)’ under your breath, just to be on the safe side."

Greek Superstitions about Spitting

"Greeks spit for a number of superstitious reasons. The most common is to keep evil away from you. For example, if you hear of some one speaking of misfortune or bad news, and fear the possibility of the same thing happening to you, you would spit three times on your own person. Greeks say " Ftise Ston Korfo Sou" or loosely translated, spit on yourself/your cleavage. It wards off the evil from coming to you. Now I’m not talking about drawing from the depths of your throat… a simple little spray will do. Spit three times and remember …Ptew not Phtewwey.

Spitting is also commonly used to avoid misfortune, so you don’t give the ‘evil eye’ to yourself and jinx some endeavour. Take for example Greek fishermen. They will spit in their nets before lowering them into the sea so they ward off evil and get good days’ catch. Likewise, a student may feel that he wrote a wonderful report and spit on it before handing it in for grading. The spit will chase the bad spirits away and avoid the jinx."

Greek Superstitions about Talismans Filahta

"Talismans or ‘Filahta’ are regularly used in Greece. Most commonly you will see these charms pinned to the backs of small children’s and infant’s clothing. But you will also find that many of the older people carry them in their pockets and purses or have them discretely pinned to their clothing too.

There are numerous items that are used for Filahta that are thought to guard you from the Evil Eye or what the Greek Orthodox Church calls Baskania. Of course, there are the simple gold crosses or medals of Saints, and evil eyes and beads, but there are also small pieces of cloth sewn into sachets, holding an array of mysterious contents.

These sachets can be filled with pieces of olive branch or basil that have been used by a priest in some ceremony, dirt from the grave of a Saint or maybe burnt candle shavings from a Church altar. Anything can be used for these charms, but the rule is that it has to be something from holy ground or something that has been blessed. Any one item, or a combination is sewn into a very small, triangular sachet and sometimes adorned with beads in the sign of the cross.

The Nuns and Monks of Jerusalem make beautiful Filahta that are filled with dirt or stones of the Holy Land. Perhaps the most famous of all Filahta is the "Constantinato". Gold Medallions that St. Helena had commissioned and named after her son Constantine. The legend says that these Medallions contained wood shavings from the Holy Cross itself, mixed in with the gold."

Greek Superstitions about Touch Red / Piase Kokkino

"It might be considered a form of ESP or maybe just coincidence, but sometimes two people have the same thought and speak the same words at the same time. Take for example two girlfriends going out shopping together and stopping to admire a dress in a window. They both say ‘That’s Beautiful’ simultaneously. Greeks believe this to be an omen that those two persons will get into a fight and they say to ‘Piase Kokkino’ or ‘Touch Red’ to avoid the argument. Both persons have to touch something that’s red, right then and there. Any item will do, clothing, food – anything."

Alison Wilder.

Images taken from artist's site:

Another fortunate stumble whilst on a random Googling journey. New York artist Alison Wilder struck a great chord with me, both with her art, the concept behind her work and her philosophy surrounding the role of the artist.
Read a fantastically great chunk of insight into Alison's thinking here... and a link to more of Alison's work and info here...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Alexander Girard

I love the expression and character in each of these dolls. There is something about the quickness of hand when capturing expression that i am really drawn to. Alongside their colour and shapes, these dolls are more alive to me then so many of the more 'life like' toys created. I really get the sense that a little spirit resides in each and every one of these.

Text borrowed from The Style Files website...

They are a delight for collectors, these wooden dolls from Alexander Girard. Girard (1907 – 1993) is famous for his bright coloured, lively patterned and rich textured textile designs. The designer had a deep interest in the folk art of South America, Eastern Europe and Asia, and drew inspiration from traditional handcrafted artefacts for his work. The colour palette, patterns and motifs that account for the recognisable distinctiveness of many of his designs can be traced back to these cultural roots. The Wooden Dolls, designed and made by Girard in 1963 for his own house in Santa Fe, were also inspired by his collection of folk art.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Holy Cra...!

I'm not entirely sure how i feel about these, but they certainly stopped me in my Googling tracks. This is a pair of shoes created by UK artist and shoe designer INSA. They are a response to a brief given to a collection of young British designers as part of a retrospective exhibition a the TATE, celebrating the work Caribbean artist, Chris Ofili.
I guess my shoe radar must have been on high beam due to having recently set my Object Ideation class a brief whereby they had to deconstruct a shoe then use the new raw materials available to them to create a series of new objects, some wearable, some not. Though these here still remain a shoe of sorts, i'm quite taken by the concept, materials and structure.


1. Eugene Hutz from Gypsy/Punk band Gogol Bordello. Check out their music on You can also see him in the film Everything is Illuminated.

2. Romanian girl.

3. Sorry, i don't know where i found this one.

4. Or this one. Feel free to email me if you know where these images are from and i'll credit them, or take them off if requested.

5. Spanish Gypsies.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Ceremony, Ritual.

1. Traditional Russian dress

2. TONGREN COUNTY, CHINA. Tu ethnic minority group men put on their make-up before the 'Wutu' Dance during an annual exorcism ceremony at Nianduhu Village on January 8, 2007 in Tongren County of Qinghai Province, northwest China. The village holds a ceremony to drive out evil spirits every year, in which they will choose seven strong men to perform the ancient dance 'Wutu', which means tiger in ancient time. The men will apply ashes and draw lines on their bodies, villagers then put Chinese bread and meat on the sticks of the Wutus. The more food Wutus took, the more luck they were considered to bring, as the villagers think Wutus take away bad luck and evil. In the end of the ceremony, Wutus will wash themselves in the river symbolizing getting rid of the evil.

3. TAXKORGAN COUNTY, CHINA. Friends and relatives present buttermilk to the groom during a wedding ceremony of Tajik ethnic minority group on September 24, 2006 in Taxkorgan County of Kashi Prefecture, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China. The wedding ceremony of Tajik people is usually grand and will last for three days, during which people will sing, dance and hold the lamb snatching contest. Guests will scatter flour on the newlywed's house and the groom will apply flour to his face, which symbolizes auspiciousness. Tajik ethnic has a population of over 41,000 and most of them are distributed in Xinjiang Region.

4. Initiation ritual in Malawi, Africa.


I just read a great article on the Art Jewelry Forum (AJF) website about the significance, value and power of certain pieces of jewelry that don't necessarily have any materialistic value. Here is an excerpt...

Taking time out from thinking profound thoughts about contemporary jewelry, we here at AJF recently found ourselves watching Disney-Pixar’s movie Up! (the one with the old man, the kid, the house and all those balloons). It is, along with many other things, a moving meditation on the powerful nature of jewelry, in this case badges. From the grape soda bottle top with safety pin which becomes a treasured memento of one man’s love for his wife and a souvenir of memories of their shared childhood adventures and dreams, to the badges that cover the sash of a Scouts-like wilderness adventure group, Up! is an excellent reminder that jewelry’s significance doesn’t have to come from either precious materials or artistic statements.

Indeed, what is so notable about this movie is the way it reveals that one of the deep veins of meaning and significance for jewelry has nothing to do with the work of the jeweler – skill or questions of art – at all.
Meaning is generated around the badge through personal and social relationships that can be attached to any object. It is an example of the talisman, which has a rich history in jewelry. Unlike the amulet, in which power comes from what the object is (a tooth or claw to ward off dangerous animals, for example), the talisman’s meaning is invested in the object through ritual. A talisman can be made of anything, even a discarded bottle top. After watching Up! we found ourselves wondering why contemporary jewelry seldom seems to achieve such significance. And how interesting it is that such potential remains alive in jewelry, waiting to be activated.

I was particularly drawn to the statement which i've highlighted in red. The idea behind 'charged' adornment & jewellery has been an ongoing topic of interest for me, focusing much of my attention on amulets and talismans and the potency of personal 'charms'. From my research, both visual and theoretical i've tried to extract the 'essence' of what gives an object talismanic properties and inject it into my own work. But really, what i'm realising more and more is that, as a maker, you can only provide a vessel, the power and potency comes from the belief and significance imbued by the owner. There are a myriad of reasons why people chose non specific, non indoctrinated objects as their talismanic tokens, most of them are either highly personal or intuitive. A badge becomes a talisman when it comes to embody an individual's desires, dreams, memories and experiences, this is something that cannot be fabricated.
What i try to do is appeal to people's sentiment, intuition and intrigue. By creating things that are at once vaguely familiar as they are mysterious and abstract, i invite people to make friends with pieces that they can project their own stories onto.

This is such a multi faceted topic that i'm still only just unpacking the surface layer of, but it's great to read articles that are addressing and discussing these things.

Click here to read the rest... AJF - Jewelry Causes article

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Am digging this website!
Website devoted to Indian and Himalayan folk and tribal art.
Its a bit of a mission to get through it, but totally worth it!

Here's a few gems...