Monday, October 25, 2021

Totem in Manchester

 Guest blog by Alexandra P. Alberda

Totem Latamat outside Manchester Museum

As TOTEM LATAMAT makes its journey towards Glasgow for Cop26, we are asking people who encounter it along the way to write guest pieces about the encounter.  Alexandra P. Alberda spent most of her youth in Bismarck, North Dakota, USA. She is mixed race and Jemez Pueblo, which has meant that she has grown up at the thresholds of cultures.  She is Curator of Indigenous Perspectives at Manchester Museum - the first person to hold such a role.

Between October 21st -24th TOTEM LATAMAT was installed on The University of Manchester’s University Place Square opposite the Manchester Museum across Oxford Road. At the Museum, we are proud to host this important work as it contributes not only to our Indigenising Manchester Museum programme, but also to our hello future programme, which is concerned with climate and environmental action. TOTEM LATAMAT was an example of Indigenous action and lived experiences (through QR extra material) that our communities, students, staff and visitors could encounter. Many remarked to me on the beauty of the work and message, and how the materials seemed very important in considering actions we take. 

This installation coincided in a happy accident with the wonderful Corridor of Light celebration, which brings in people and families from across the Greater Manchester area. It was placed next to an audio-visual work by Antonio Roberts called Move Fast and Break Things. Through this event, regular University activity and dozens of prospective student trips on the Saturday, thousands of people viewed or interacted with TOTEM LATAMAT, and I certainly saw at least a couple hundred take selfies with it and read the signs.  Jun Tiburcio’s TOTEM LATAMAT was an important ambassador of Indigenous perspectives on climate crisis/burning and a provoker of conversation.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Totem at the Rollright Stones

 Guest blog by George Lambrick

Totem Latamat at the centre of the stone circle

As TOTEM LATAMAT makes its journey towards Glasgow for Cop26, we are asking people who encounter it along the way to write guest pieces about the encounter.  George Lambrick is Chair of the Rollright Trust, which administers the ancient site of the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire.

The Rollright Trust was delighted to be asked to host TOTEM LATAMAT at the Rollright Stones for a couple of days on its way to COP26. By dint of a carefully worked out installation, it was possible to place the totem at the centre of the King’s Men stone circle leaving no trace of how it had arrived, thereby enhancing its sense of belonging – which many visitors commented on.   

The stone circle dates from a period about 4,500 years ago when domestication of animals and plants was well-established but before ‘farming’ in the sense of extensive fields and permanent farms and villages was established.  Indeed, it is very possible that the Stones were erected in a still widely forested landscape before increasingly rapid clearance for agriculture in later prehistory (c. 3,000 years ago) led to flooding in the Thames valley as arable agriculture expanded to feed a rapidly growing, increasingly urban population.  It could hardly be a better location for reminding us that in Western Europe we long since went through effects of deforestation for farming which now, on a far greater global scale, are causing even more devastating changes – not just to water land and ecology, but also climate.

The only comparable previous event at the stone circle was a visit by Sir Anish Kapoor’s ‘Turning the World Inside Out’ in 2004 – and this new visitor has been just as impressive, temporarily changing the architectural dynamics of this ancient ceremonial gathering place in ways that draw attention to many of its key characteristics.  The act of placing such a striking, contrasting yet somehow complementary feature at the centre of the circle exactly on its axis from the entrance to the tallest stone makes a profound difference.  The scale of the totem meant it had a presence that was unmistakably significant, one visitor commenting that it made the stone circle’s somewhat inconspicuous entrance seem larger and more significant – not least because the totem was carefully oriented to face the entrance square-on. 

The symbolism of the totem is fascinating in its varied messages.  It was possible to pick up on this in how we placed it, with its more optimistic and hopeful front facing out over the beautiful Cotswolds landscape while turning its back (representing the damage that human development has been done to the environment) on the noisy HGVs and other traffic on the road that passes less than 10m from the stone circle.

Many visitors commented on the cheerful vibrant colours of the totem, which beautifully complemented the more muted but no less varied colours of the 70-odd species of lichens that cover every surface of the stones.  The natural materials of the totem and the unshaped irregular form of the stones also complemented each other, one of our volunteers commenting on it as ‘a real antidote to mass-production.’  Another striking feature of what the totem brought to the site was the sense of life engendered by the movement of the fabric scarf and bamboo ‘wings’ which rattled fiercely in a strong breeze and like wind chimes in gentle gusts.  At one point this percussive effect was complemented by a group of three regular visitors who circumnavigate the stone circle rhythmically sounding a gong and tambour drums as a form of meditation, and on this occasion included the totem in their perambulations.  A player of medieval-style English bagpipes (as reconstructed from illustrations from the time of Chaucer) added another musical dimension.  The combination of colour, movement, sound and smell of the wood (especially down-wind) gave the totem an added sense of liveliness which further enhanced its impact in contrast to the rock-solid stones.  

There is a very long tradition of people placing a wide variety of offerings or decorations on and around the Stones.  During the installation, we were very anxious about forecast high winds and wanted to make the totem even more stable.  As a pragmatic solution, we placed two smallish but heavy stones that we use for a children’s stone-moving exercise on the base as temporary extra contribution, literally helping to make the totem more ‘grounded’ but in a manner suitable to its new setting.  Subsequently an apple was added between the eagle’s talons, and later some hawthorn berries. 

Numerous children visited (including a class from the local primary school) – one child familiar with the Stones, but not aware of what she was about to see coming round the corner, let out a delighted whoop of ‘WOW!’  Also very welcome is the unforeseen effect that the totem’s visit has made to the work of our Trust – several of our Friends group visited with enthusiasm, we renewed and reinforced our connections with volunteers who helped with the installation and removal as well as neighbours who helped keep an eye on the totem overnight.  

Finally, congratulations to Jun Tiburcio for his brilliant and moving sculpture; greetings to the Totonac peoples in making so clear their commitment to the vital importance of safeguarding Indigenous culture and the environment; and a very big thank you to all involved in making this special visit possible. 

Totem in Coventry

 Guest blog by Thomas Ellmer

Totem Latamat outside Warwick Arts Centre

As TOTEM LATAMAT makes its journey towards Glasgow for Cop26, we are asking people who encounter it along the way to write guest pieces about the encounter.  Thomas Ellmer is Deputy Curator at Warwick Arts Centre, in Coventry, the 2021 UK City of Culture.  During Cop, WAC will host the Change Festival, which is collaborating with ORIGINS for Indigenous programming.  

We were thrilled to welcome Totem Latamat to Warwick Arts Centre and to the University of Warwick campus. Stately yet spooky, majestic and mysterious, Totem Latamat was quickly surrounded by University of Warwick students. The Totem posed for photos, making sure its colourful headdress was nicely lit from above and its environmental proposition was felt.

Students and members of staff were surprised by the sculpture’s scale and moving elements. Now we know what 4.5m in height is.   
“Oh wow, it’ll have its work cut out at Cop26,” said one student.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Totem in Enfield

Guest blog by Ali Istanbullu

YTA's Young Notes Choir welcome Totem Latamat to Enfield

As TOTEM LATAMAT makes its journey towards Glasgow for Cop26, we are asking people who encounter it along the way to write guest pieces about the encounter.  Ali Istanbullu is a child protection social worker, living in Enfield.  He has worked with refugees in different locations across the Middle East, and for the last decade has been working in a deprived and diverse London borough in the child protection area.

Colossal heatwaves, wildfires, torrential rains, and stronger hurricanes that devastated swathes of land and killed dozens of people across Africa, South America and Europe. The Earth is telling us something and we need to do something about it. Poorest communities are at the receiving end of these devastating effects.  Totem Latamat is a messenger sent by Indigenous people to the leaders in COP26. Totem Latamat is not only a response to the leaders but also it is our connection to the environment and Earth. Totem Latamat is an art with a loud and resonating voice for the most important issues of our day and age. It was a great experience for us to meet this Indigenous Mexican response to climate change en route to COP26.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Totem in Milton Keynes

 Guest blog by Joan Harris

TOTEM LATAMAT surrounded by lasers in Milton Keynes

As TOTEM LATAMAT makes its journey towards Glasgow for Cop26, we are asking people who encounter it along the way to write guest pieces about the encounter.  Joan Harris was part of the group from Interfaith Milton Keynes who welcomed the totem to Station Square.

I was surprised at how colourful and beautiful the totem is!  The photo in the initial information I had seen obviously showed the totem not finished, so it was a glorious sight against a blue autumn sky. The juxtaposition of the totem against the building project behind it focused the message of nature being dominated by human activity.  The gathered observers raising their voices in song (even in 2 parts in rounds!), is encouraging that we can work together for the good. Thanks to all involved in getting that beautiful symbol and art here to our city.

Totem at Chiswick House


Pupils from Chiswick School encounter Totem Latamat

A guest blog by Ellie Scott

As TOTEM LATAMAT makes its journey towards Glasgow for Cop26, we are asking people who encounter it along the way to write guest pieces about the encounter. The first post is by Ellie Scott, who is a pupil at Chiswick School.  

Hi, I'm Ellie and on Monday, my friends went to Chiswick House to do a speech about the environment. It was really great meeting the Deputy Ambassador of Mexico, the Mayor of Chiswick and seeing the big totem used to spread environmental awareness and peace. Something I found really cool about the totem was the fact that it was carved entirely out of wood! On our way to Chiswick House, some students and I had to carry a massive pole full of information about ourselves, our nationality and much more! On the way there, it was pretty tiring due to us carrying the pole. Then, we carried the steelpan instruments to the grass from the van they were in, before doing some pictures for the press. Not so long after that, my friends and I said our speeches and introduced ourselves to the Deputy Ambassador of Mexico. What's more, Chiswick School’s steelpan band then played Levitating as a welcome to the totem, before we met the Mayor of Chiswick after a song blessing the totem, from a Shaman. This day was an amazing experience and I loved it.

Quechua shaman Kurikindi blesses Totem Latamat