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The Unfolding Arch of Forging Fantasy

Source collection The Unfolding Arch of Forging Fantasy

Flag semaphore

Flag semaphore is the telegraphy system conveying information at a distance by means of visual signals with hand-held flags, rods, disks, paddles, or occasionally bare or gloved hands. Information is encoded by the position of the flags; it is read when the flag is in a fixed position.

Natural Language of the Hand

When lost for words, we point, wave, motion and otherwise use our hands to attempt to indicate meaning. John Bulwer (1606 – 1656), an English doctor and philosopher, attempted to record the vocabulary contained in hand gestures and bodily motions and, in 1644, published Chirologia, or the Natural Language of the Hand, an illustrated collection of hand and finger gestures that were intended for an orator to memorise and perform whilst speaking.


Paulina Ołowska’s “Alphabet” was inspired by the book entitled “ABECEDA” by Karel Teige, who created in 1926 the experimental “moving alphabet”, in cooperation with Milca Mayerova. “Alphabet” combines rhythmicity with constructivist fascination for typography and points to the rhetorical function of dance: three performers arrange their bodies to form 26 letters confronting the alphabet of the written language with the “alphabet” of gestures and movements, create a new system of expressing meanings.

A semaphore telegraph

A semaphore telegraph is a line of stations, typically towers, for the purpose of conveying textual information by means of visual signals. It uses pivoted indicator arms and conveys information according to the direction the indicators point. The most widely used system was invented in 1792 in France by Claude Chappe, and was popular in the late eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries.

Ladies Telegraph

It has been said that in the courts of England, Spain fans were used in a more or less secret, unspoken code of messages. These fan languages were a way to cope with the restricting social etiquette. In the late 1790s Charles Francis Badini designed what he named ‘Fanology’. Printed instructions were written on the fans informing ladies how to use them. Robert Rowe’s Ladies Telegraph seemed slightly easier to use. Twenty-six flaps corresponded to the letters of the alphabet and you would point to each letter to make a word. There was also a 27th flap to signify a full stop.

International maritime signal flags

International maritime signal flags refers to various flags used to communicate with ships. The principal system of flags and associated codes is the ‘International Code of Signals’. Various navies have flag systems with additional flags and codes, and other flags are used in special uses, or have historical significance.

Crescent-shaped matted fans

The word fan derived from the Latin vannus, the Roman instrument for winnowing grain. This winnowing-fan, held sacred by all the peoples of the ancient world must be accounted amongst the earliest of the prolific fan-family. The origin of hand fans can be traced back 4.000 years ago in Egypt. It was used in ceremonies and seen as a symol of power. In this great funeral procession from a royal writer in Thebes servants wear similar crescent-shaped matted fans, along with the more graceful semicircular spring-hand fan used by ladies to fan themselves.

symbol of the merchant class

It is quite probable that the famous Ratinlixul vase depict merchants on a journey. The chief personage, in a litter, holds a fan, symbol of the merchant class. Pochteca, professional, long-distance traveling merchants in the Aztec Empire, occupied a high status in Aztec society, below the noble class. They were responsible for providing the materials that the Aztec nobility used to display their wealth, which were often obtained from foreign sources.

power dressing

Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) is perhaps one of the best known early adopters of fan-power in Europe. She enjoyed clutching and collecting folding fans and had a collection of 27 at the end of her life. Fans arrived late in her reign as gifts from afar from individuals like Sir Francis Drake, the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world. Queen Elizabeth employed these fans when power dressing for some of her many portraits that were designed to project her status and authority.

Ceremonial fans

Ceremonial fans were employed by the Native Americans; there is an account of the visit of a Taensas chief on the banks of the Lower Mississippi to Le Sieur de La Salle in 1682: “The Chief condescended to visit La Salle at his camp. A master of ceremonies and six attendants preceded him, to clear the path and prepare the place of meeting. When all was ready, he was seen advancing and preceded by two men bearing white fans, while a third displayed a disc of burnished copper, to represent the Sun, his ancestor, or, as others will have it, his elder brother.” It is safe to assume that these fans were of feathers, and the incident is an evidence that the use of the fan in high ceremonial was universal, and common to both East and West.

Indian hand fans

The origins of Indian hand fans can be traced back to the ancient times, when they were used in temples to fan deities, in the royal courts and in households. There is a mention of fans in the Indian Epic poem - Mahabharat (a major Sanskrit epics of ancient India). Temple fans vary in size from tiny to large fans needing the full strength of a person to move them. The villages and towns have varieties of traditional hand fans. In each place, the fans are made of different materials and have intricate designs.

theatrical props for ornamentation

Feather fans were used for ceremonial purposes by the ruling Incas of South America. Ritual as a performance requires actors and spectators with a shared foundation of symbols, and is therefore inextricably linked to a given context of social identity, tradition and meaning. Acts like vocalization, dance, and sacrifice are all examples of common elements, and many such acts require theatrical props for ornamentation. Fans played a significant part in the rituals as they could represent wealth and status as well refer symbolically to the concept of certain spirits.


The folding fan is recognized as being invented in Japan or China with both countries holding legends of ite screation. In Japan the fan is thought to be modelled after the folding wings of a bat, while the Chinese believe the sight of a woman fanning her face mask at a festival led to the tool’s creation. But the most endorsed history of the folding fan is that in pre-modern Japan (552–784), before the invention of paper, aristocrats, bureaucrats, and rulers used portable strips of wood called mokkan as notebooks. Rivets were attached at their base binding the strips together into expandable, fan-like, readable and portable collections. At some point these developed into foldable wooden fans.

commemorative souvenirs

Fans were often used for advertising or as commemorative souvenirs. In Europe and the USA, fans were popular gifts for guests at weddings or important public events. Churches and chapels provided Psalm- or scripture-printed fans for their congregations on especially hot days. Many fans had political cartoons or were made with specific colors to represent one’s political stance. This 1930’s gloriously graphic, over-sized silk and satin folk art fan is encrypted with 12 quotes from George Washington’s Farewell Address.

ogi no soshi

The paintings on folding fans are works of art that their owners can enjoy privately, whenever and wherever they choose. With the folding fan — a canvas on which carefully selected images could readily be applied and shared — it was particularly easy to depict a specific scene from a long tale. By attaching fan paintings to folding screens or collecting them in albums of paintings, people could savor the entire story. The motifs chosen with care to suit the small plane have much in common with waka poetry, which expresses its subject in a limited number of syllables. That connection led, in the late Muromachi period (1336-1573), to the development of what are called ogi no soshi, “fan-shaped paintings with waka poems,” a genre with puzzle-solving elements in which waka poems were guessed at based on the paintings on folding fans.

Chinese dancing fan

The Chinese dancing fan was developed in the seventh century, and the management of the fan became a highly regarded feminine art. The Mai Ogi has ten sticks and a thick paper mount showing the family crest. Chinese painters crafted many fan decoration designs. The Chinese fan dance plays a few different roles in China. It is used to help pass down stories and traditions of Chinese culture, as entertainment and the choreography encourages physical fitness and the ability to memorize routines. The fans are used to accentuate the dancers’ movements and costumes.

Japanese War Fan

A Japanese War Fan or Tessen (”iron fan”) is a weaponized Japanese hand fan designed for use in warfare. Several types of war fans were used by the samurai class of feudal Japan and each had a different look and purpose. One of the most significant uses was as a signalling device. The commander would raise or lower his fan and point in different ways to issue commands to the soldiers, which would then be passed on by other forms of visible and audible signalling.War fans could also be used as weapons. The art of fighting with war fans is tessenjutsu.

flamenco dance

The fan is one of the complements for the flamenco dance, especially by women during their interpretations. In the 19th century fans were used by ladies of the court to send secret messages to the knights, and it is precisely the use of that particular language that caused it to become a complement to flamenco dancing, where it now plays an essential role. Thanks to the use of the fan in flamenco, the dancers manage to give a special grace and style to their interpretations.

Commedia dell’Arte

The Commedia dell’Arte is the earliest example of professional secular theatre in Europe characterised by improvised dialogue, the use of leather half-masks and ‘stock character’ types. Italian in origin it soon traversed much of Europe influencing the development of theatre. The plays were drawn from ‘the private sphere of human life’, therefore universal in their details: the realities of making one’s way in the world, negotiating one’s position in the social hierarchy, attempting to fulfil desires and to strive for contentment have not changed over the millennia.


Commedia scenes influenced the baroque and rococo lifestyle where grandiose balls took the disguise of Venetian-style masquerades. There we meet an implement that is closely related to the fan: the mask. The Zanni of the Commedia dell’Arte all wore masks as part of their typical dress. Masks and fans often serve similar purposes as one can hide oneself behind, spy on someone without being seen, or simply act more liberally in disguise.

a partisan platform

During the Napoleonic occupation of Italy, instigators of reform and critics used the carnival masks to hide their identities while fueling political agendas in the performances, challenging social rule and hurling blatant insults and criticisms at the regime. In 1797, in order to destroy the impromptu style of carnival as a partisan platform, Napoleon outlawed the Commedia dell’arte. It was not reborn in Venice until 1979.

stock character

A stock character is a stereotypical fictional person or type of person in a work of art such as a novel, play, or a film who audiences recognize from frequent recurrences in a particular literary tradition. There is a wide range of stock characters, covering men and women of various ages, social classes and demeanors. They are archetypal characters distinguished by their simplification and flatness thus easy targets for parody and to be criticized as clichés, but they are as well an effective time- and effort-saving shortcut for story creators.


Masked characters are often referred to as “masks”. In other words, the characteristics of the character and those of the of the mask are the same. In spite of the obvious artifice of masks and stylisation, the characters of the Commedia dell’Arte were drawn from elements of real contemporary types. Many of them were associated with specifi c cities and regions of Italy, and often expressed themselves in the local vernacular. Indeed, a good example of this is to be found in the mask of Pantalone, the old Venetian merchant.

Il Dottore’s costume

Each character in Commedia dell’arte has a distinct costume that helps the audience understand who the character is. Il Dottore’s costume was a play on the academic dress of the Bolognese scholars. Il Dottore is almost always clothed entirely in black. He wore a long black gown or jacket that went below the knees. Over the gown, he would have a long black robe that went down to his heels, and he would have on black shoes, stockings, and breeches.

color palette alphabet

Bruno Taut (1880 – 1938) was a renowned German architect, urban planner and author. He was active during the Weimar period and is known for his theoretical works as well as his building designs. He interpreted color into deeper meanings in his buildings. Early on, as Taut flirted with an artist’s career, he used colors to create elements of psychological, decorative and spatial design. For Taut, color played a dual role: it was a ‘symbol of the new happiness’ but also spread a folksy good cheer throughout the house, inside and out. The color palette in his book ‘Ein Wohnhaus’ (1929) forms an alphabet.


Although the use of various devices to signify individuals and groups goes back to antiquity, both the form and use of such devices varied widely, and the concept of regular, hereditary designs, constituting the distinguishing feature of heraldry, did not develop until the High Middle Ages in Europe. It is very often claimed that the use of helmets with face guards during this period made it difficult to recognize one’s commanders in the field when large armies gathered together for extended periods, necessitating the development of heraldry as a symbolic language.


Akan textile art has important mythological and ceremonial significance, especially the kente, which is woven in narrow strips by master weavers using a complex technique called “floating fabric” to achieve the unique designs. The names of the patterns represent historical anecdotes associated with the oral tradition of the Akan. For example, the pattern of Obaakofoo Mmu Man symbolizing democratic governance and Emaa Da represents new creativity and knowledge from experience.

The Grammar of Fantasy

Gianni Rodari was not only the author of many beloved children’s books, he was also an educator and activist who truly understood the power of the imaginative life. In The Grammar of Fantasy Rodari presents numerous and wonderful techniques for creating stories. He discusses these specific techniques in the context of the imagination, fairy tales, folk tales, children’s stories, cognitive development, and compassionate education. Rodari was one of the founders of the innovative educational approach that began in Reggio Emilia, Italy. The Grammar of Fantasy grew out of a series of informal workshops that Rodari conducted there.

The Parliament of Things

The Parliament of Things is a speculative research into the emancipation of animals, plants and things. What if we welcome all things into our Parliament, not centred around Men, but around Life? What would be the plight of the planet? The reasoning of a fish? What claims would trees make, and what future would oil see for itself? The Parliament of Things designs a ritual, which will transform attendants into a mountain, a forest, a goldfish – you name it – and will enable them to speak by means of the communication-techniques provided.

“Family Constellation”

In June 2016, New York–based artist Chloe Piene held a Familienaufstellung performance in Vienna, Austria.“Family Constellation” is a form of therapy developed in the 1990s by the German psychotherapist Bert Hellinger with roots in existential psychology, Gestalt psychology, and psychodynamic therapy. Piene invited people to play the roles of her real family members, both alive and dead, including the artist Matthew Barney as her brother, and actress Petra Morse of the National Theater in Vienna as her mother.

sandae masked play

Today the sandae masked play is performed by villagers in Korea. Masks cover either the whole head or the face and are made from paper or gourds or, occasionally, are carved from wood. They are boldly painted to represent the stock characters of the play: monks, shaman, noblemen, young dancing girl, and others, staging satiric dialogue plays that hold officialdom up to ridicule.


Kyōgen (“mad words” or “wild speech”) is a form of traditional Japanese comic theater. Kyōgen plays are invariably brief – often about 10 minutes and often contain only two or three roles, which are often stock characters. Notable ones include Tarō kaja (main servant, literally “firstborn son + servant”), Jirō kaja (second servant), and the master (shujin). Movements and dialogue in kyōgen are typically very exaggerated, making the action of the play easy to understand.

Sanskrit drama

Indian theatre is one of the most ancient forms of Asian theatre and it features a detailed textual, sculptural, and dramatic effects. An appreciation for the stagecraft and classic Sanskrit drama was seen as an essential part of a sophisticated world view, by the end of the seventh century. Its drama is regarded as the highest achievement of Sanskrit literature.It used stock characters, such as the hero (nayaka), heroine (nayika), or clown (vidusaka).

Wayang golek

Wayang (Javanese: “shadow”), a classical Javanese puppet drama that uses the shadows thrown by puppets manipulated by rods against a translucent screen lit from behind. Developed before the 10th century, the form had origins in the thalubomalata, the leather puppets of southern India. Wayang golek uses a set of 60–70 puppets, which do not always portray specific characters, but stock types, the puppets thus being interchangeable.

an intermediary role

During the 17th century, the Turkish shadow theatre spread along the northern shores of Africa. The “storytellers with their picture boxes” and their little glove puppets have transformed the very notion of the puppet through the richness of its forms and functions. The distinction is often made between the sacred and the profane when it comes to African puppets. They often play an intermediary role between gods, ancestors and men caught in the hardships of existence. On the other hand many puppets have been used to entertain the public, thus mingling with the profane.

Punch and Judy

Punch and Judy is a traditional puppet show featuring Mr. Punch and his wife Judy. The performance consists of a sequence of short scenes, each depicting an interaction between two characters, most typically Mr. Punch and one other character who usually falls victim to Punch’s slapstick. The cast is similar to that of a soap opera or a folk tale: the principal characters must appear, but the lesser characters are included at the discretion of the performer. New characters may be added and older characters dropped as the tradition changes.

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