Science Doesn’t Sleep (5.1.08)

Bacteria

Be very afraid, bacteria. Be very afraid.
Creative Commons License photo credit: kaibara87

So here’s what went down since you logged off.

Despite the fact that we got a special preview of the amazing rock-hewn church iFest built for this year’s event, and a behind-the-scenes look into the arts director’s creative process, a series of mishaps kept us from getting a final look at the finished church. Luckily, Photine is there for us, with this amazing photo of the finished product.

You kill a werewolf with a silver stake – everyone knows that. Science Buzz informs us that at the nano-scale, silver becomes much more deadly – killing off all bacteria, good and bad.

Intense heat is not the only reason you wouldn’t want to be hanging out on the Sun – check out this video of “sunquakes.” (via Geology.com)

Irony alert! The human cousin deemed Nutcracker Man actually preferred soft fruits.

Ever wondered if a boomerang works in space? Now we know.

Science Doesn’t Sleep (4.28.08)

Hello? Hello?
Creative Commons License photo credit: CharlesLam

So here’s what went down since you logged off.

iFest is over for this year - did you make it out? What did you think? Did the life-size rock-hewn church live up to the hype? The Chronicle has coverage of the festival’s last day.

Did you hear? Lucy is staying in Houston a little while longer.

I said, I’M AWESOME!!! But, self-esteem this high isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Operator, put me through to the rainforest. I hear insects are using plants like telephones.

Well, it does speak in code…And it turns out, my computer might be spying on me.

There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle over CERN’s Large Hadron Collider – like, whether it will create a black hole that will swallow the Earth. The Bad Astronomer did a great post debunking this theory, and he’s just posted a video tour of the Collider that shows just how big it really is.

Bringing art “Out of Africa”: an interview with iFest’s arts director

kati-with-banners.jpg

iFest visual arts director Kati
Ozanic-Lemberger (right) shows
her artwork, which will be  on display as
part of the replica of an Ethiopian
 rock-hewn church.  

The lovely folks over at iFest love bloggers. (Maybe it’s because they are bloggers.) In fact, they love bloggers so much that they were willing to invite us to a exclusive blogger preview of the life-size replica of a Ethiopian rock-hewn church being built as part of this year’s “Out of Africa” theme – despite the fact that, at the time, this blog did not have any posts, subscribers, readers of any kind. That is to say, it didn’t actually exist.

Well, thank you, iFest, because the experience was pretty cool. But what impressed me more than the very real-looking, very big Ethiopian church being created out of wood, wire mesh and plaster was the lady who was bringing it all together – in her backyard.

Kati Ozanic-Lemberger is the visual arts director for iFest – which means she not only figures out what kinds of art, artists, performers and personalities you need in order to cram an entire culture – or this year, an entire continent – into four short days, she also creates original artwork to add authenticity to the displays and, when it’s called for, builds life-size Ethiopian churches in her backyard.

Luckily, she agreed to answer a few questions about just how she does it.

The iFest features a different country or culture every year. As the visual arts director, how do you go about choosing the art and creating displays that will best represent each culture to people who may be totally unfamiliar with it? What are the challenges? How is the experience of creating the arts framework for China (last year’s theme) different from creating it for Africa?

Research, research, research…the library, the internet, talking with members of the local community…when I’m lucky, travelling to the country and seeing it for myself. The  basic themes that I try to cover are history, language, architecture, visual arts, fashion, religious practices and other areas that may be unfamiliar or entertaining to the general public. The challenges usually involve balancing the information on different ethnic groups. The festival usually works closely with the government of the country we are spotlighting; Ministry of Culture, Education, Tourism, etc….with every country there is usually some kind of politcal differences, but we work on putting that aside and focusing strictly on cultural aspects.

China was a daunting task, but it ended up being nothing compared to this year’s theme, “Out of Africa: The Three Journeys.” We are not just covering “a country,” but several chapters of history; the African Diaspora.

In a previous post, we displayed in-process photos of a life-size replica of a rock-hewn church from Lalibela, in Ethiopia – that is being created in your backyard. Can you tell us about the process of creating such a monumental display? And, what will people experience when they walk through it?

One of the real rock-hewn
churches of Lalibela.

Creative Commons License photo credit: mrflip

I think this is going to be a really cool exhibit…and I will be happy when it is out of my backyard!

There are 12 rock churches in Lalibela that are interconnected by a series of tunnels carved into the mountains. The church that we reproduced is Beta Ghiorgis, the House of St. George. We simulated the effect of the church being carved down into the mountain by building a mountainous structure that surrounds two sides of the church. Visitors can walk through the mountain and see cultural information on Ethiopia, provided by the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and on the outside walls of the mountain will be a photography display depicting various Ethiopian themes.

Inside the church, I did several reproductions of Ethiopian Orthodox Christian murals. There will be a  display of traditional crosses courtesy of the Honorary Consul General of Ethiopia. Incense and audio of Orthodox Christian liturgical chants will give the feel of being in Lalibela.
The biggest challenge in building the church is that all we had to work from was a little photograph of Beta Ghiorgis…but, I think it turned out great.

The view of a rock-hewn church,
from ground level.
Creative Commons License photo credit: mrflip

Earlier this month, you were kind enough to give us a sneak peek into a selection of the art that will be on display, which reflected Africa’s more recent history. What can you tell me about the “Three Journeys” theme that explores the entire history of the African continent? Will there be displays that are designed to reflect the million-year evolutionary history of Africa, as the cradle of mankind?

The Three Journeys theme starts with Africa as the cradle of humanity with a focus on Ethiopia and the discovery of the fossil “Lucy.” The science museum was instrumental in not only bringing Lucy to Houston, but paving the way for the involvement of the Ethiopian government and local community in iFest. All of the educational posters that are at the Lucy exhibit have been reproduced, with the permission of [exhibit curator] Dirk Van Tuerenhout, for my cultural displays. This was a tremendous help and is greatly appreciated! The Houston Museum of Natural Science will also have a tented exhibit onsite where they will have information on the Lucy exhibit and other African educational information.

The first of the Three Journeys refers to mankind originating in Africa and the migration of humans out of Africa. The Second Journey refers to the forced migration of Africans through the Transatlantic slave trade. The Third Journey refers to contemporary Africa and globalization. This will be represented by several exhibits by African countries with communities in Houston.

kati-with-banner.jpg

This banner – which displays historic photographs and
quotes from civil rights leaders – will be part of the
displays in the “Forward to Freedom” area of iFest.

You’ve personally created a lot of the art that will be displayed at the iFest this year. As an artist, what has inspired you most about this year’s pan-African theme?

I really enjoyed doing the paintings for Lalibela. They have a definite folk art feel to them and they were relatively easy to reproduce; which is great when time is short. But, I think the part I enjoyed most was putting together the exhibit “Forward to Freedom: Segregation to Integration.” I really learned alot about the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and met some really wonderful people locally who gave me their personal insight.

You have some fascinating things planned for the festival this year, but what are you most excited about seeing at this year’s iFest?

That’s a really hard question to answer. First of all, I want to make sure that everything DOES get done!

I feel pretty personal about every exhibit because every exhibit has meant that I’ve had personal contact with some amazing people that gave me their input. I’m excited to see what the Ethiopians think of Lalibela and the structure we built for traditonal coffee ceremonies. I’m excited to see how Queen Quet of the Gullah people brings the whole plantation area to life, how Naomi Carrier interprets Texas history with her play “Little Slave for Sale,” how the public reacts to how I’ve interpreted the harshness of segregation, how they respond to “Deep Root:Strong Branch”, which shows all that has come out of Africa across the generations….and I want people to have fun and enjoy the music, with maybe a deeper understanding of it’s African roots, and have some good food at the same time! Deep stuff this year.

kati-with-map.jpg

Kati points out the location for the
rock-hewn church on the
plans for iFest’s layout.

And, what did I miss? What else can people expect to see and experience at iFest?

I think people can expect to have a really great time this year. We have an excellent music lineup, awesome food and really cool international markets…I’ll be shopping the second weekend once I know all of my exhibits are in order! Come prepared to party, but before you go too overboard, take some time and go through the exhibits in the “Out of Africa Zone,”  because there is alot of great information that will give you a broad history on the people of Africa and those of African descent around the world.

If you have kids, which I do, check out the Jamaica Zone in Upper Sam Houston Park. The pirate ship, pirates and belly dancers are a blast…

You can check out Kati’s work – as well as the work of amazing artists from all over Africa – at this year’s iFest, April 19 – 20 and 26 – 27; hope to see you there!

Kati Ozanic-Lemberger, Visual Arts Director for the Houston International Festival, is a native of Illinois. She attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and graduated from the Univerisity of Illinois in Chicago with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and certification as an art teacher in grades K-12, She moved to Houston in 1992, worked as an art teacher, freelance artist and eventually became involved with the International Festival, as site artist, in 1998. She is married to Yolle Lemberger, a native of Austria and head of construction for the festival. They have two children; Sepp, 8 and Lilli, 6.

It’s big. Really, really big.

art-with-photo.jpg
An image of the actual rock-hewn churches in
Lalibela, Ethiopia, resting on original artwork that
will be on display at iFest.

Seriously. Huge.
This could be said of iFest in general, what with over 250,000 people storming the festival’s grounds last year – but I’m talking about the life-size replica of a rock-hewn church being creating as part of this year’s “Out of Africa” theme.

Visitors to our Lucy exhibit might be familiar with these man-made wonders from Lalibela. 12th-century Ethiopians hand-carved these multi-story Christian churches right into the ground – they took 24 years to complete. If that doesn’t seem ridiculously impressive, I’d like to know what exactly you get up to in your spare time.

We have a scale model in the show – since it would be no small task (and not at all advisable, given that it’s a world heritage site) to move a million-ton church made of solid stone from Ethiopia to Houston. And that’s given that you could actually detach it, and find the equipment to lift it out of the mountain it is literally carved right into.

Suffice it to say, in this very rare case, real thing = not a good idea.

But the folks over at iFest have done us one – or one thousand – times better on this one. And we were invited to take a sneak peek at the monumental process of building a rock-hewn Ethiopian church – in a backyard.

jenny-in-tunnel.jpg
This very tunnel-y tunnel will soon be
part of a massive, life-size replica
of an Ethiopian rock-hewn church.
See how life-size it is.

Never having been to iFest, I expected to show up at the actual site where this huge monument will be on display. Not so. And let me tell you, it’s quite a thing (a very cool, surprising, only-in-Houston thing) to round a corner in someone’s neighborhood and come face to face with a giant Ethiopian tunnel – among the other surprises they’re building to “ooh!” and “ahhh!” you this year.

Watching the construction – the wire, wood and plaster coming together to make ancient Ethiopian rock – was fascinating. Interestingly, it seems that the same stuff our paleo-guys use to protect and preserve the Dimetrodon fossils they’re digging up in Seymour, TX is also very useful for creating replica Ethiopian tunnels. Apparently, plaster the new Duct tape.

Since they were still in the plastering stage, most of the action centered around this guy – who, we noticed, looks an awful lot like a pretty famous pirate. And for good reason – in addition to being a quite talented sprayer of plaster, he’s also an actor who often portrays, drumroll, please…a pirate! (And he’ll be in character at iFest, if you want to say hi.)

pirate-jack-sparrow.jpg
“No,” he insisted – “Jack Sparrow looks
like me.” Touche, sir.

Several iFest representatives were there to tell us all about what’s going down April 19-20 and 26-27, including a visit from Queen Quet of the Gullah nation, an amazing music lineup, an Ethiopian fashion show, African cooking demonstrations, world art markets and more.

A lot of people commented about the general impression that iFest is just another place to get a turkey leg – an impression the organizers are trying very hard to combat. (And you can see, right here, that this event is indeed much more than an opportunity to sample different kinds of meats-on-sticks.) Which is wonderful; still, the question was raised – legitimately, I think:

“We can still get a turkey leg, right?”

Have no fear. We were assured that in addition to art, culture, unique experiences, entertainment and information, you can indeed also get a turkey leg.

people-in-tunnel.jpg
More tunnel vision.

Sadly, we didn’t get to see the church itself – they’d already taken it to the festival grounds – so we’ll have to wait and see it next weekend. (P.S. If you haven’t been to see Lucy yet, stop by on your way to or from iFest – 4/27 is the last day to experience both.)

In the meantime, inquiring minds want to know: what’s it like to build giant Ethiopian church in your backyard? How do you represent the culture of an entire continent in four short days? Check back next week for the answers, from iFest visual arts director Kati Ozanic-Lemberger.