One of the ‘simple pleasures’ of working on the Silent Eye workshops is that I get to fulfil my dream to run a wardrobe and props department. I love the challenges of making things work. Most of the time, we choose, as a friend of the School put it, to represent, rather than recreate. But that is usually a practical decision rather than through lack of research. The costumes and props are not a necessity… they are not why we produce these workshops; they are simply there to encourage the imagination to immerse itself in a time and place not of this time and, very often, not of this world.
But, it has to be said, finding solutions to knotty problems is fun. In Leaf and Flame, for example, we had to behead an axe-wielding green giant. Not only that, but he then had to pick up his head and walk, offering its contents to the assembled Companions.
We managed the beheading with shadows cast on a screen, a realistic ‘thwack’ from a wet towel for when the blow fell and a bouncing football for the fallen head. And, if the Companions in the temple laughed when said football hit the ground a little too late… for which I take the blame… they were not laughing when our now-headless giant reappeared, head in hands quite literally, to say, “Pick a card, any card…”
Many of the Companions bring their own costumes to add to the atmosphere and we never manage to get pictures of most of them as we do not take cameras into the temple… at least not until the end.
This time, the costumes we put together were, for the most part, completely inaccurate from a historical perspective, apart from Anu and the Serpent, but wholly suggestive of the era we wanted to recreate. The temple we dressed in rich colours with a symbolic design that, we hoped, would become clear as the weekend progressed. My kitchen had, for quite some time, become more of a workshop than a culinary laboratory and my garden shed became a spray booth. I must have the only gold-plated lawnmower in the village. It is just a shame it doesn’t really work…
An embroidery frame and wedding cake dowel made the sceptre of Gilgamesh. Enkidu’s boomerang was a child’s wooden toy, duly gilded. The Voice of Destiny mask, which I was dreading trying to make, was a breeze once I’d realised that pasta made superb curls for its beard. A plant pot, also gilded, with a home-made lid, made our brewing vat for Shiduri the ale-wife, and a plant pot was pressed into service for the crown of the god Anu.
Now, much has already been written about this plant pot. We have told how ‘the god’ spent ages trying on different sizes at the garden centre, much to the amusement and confusion of passers-by. We found one that fit well and I took it home to work on it. The last thing I wanted was for it to look like a plant pot…even though that is exactly what the ancient reliefs seem to show. I tried everything from fabric, to papier-mâché and plaster bandages, finally settling on an air-drying, lightweight ‘clay’ with which to cover the pot and make the horns that encircle the crown.
The other awkward one was the mask of Huwawa, the Spirit of the Cedar Forest. The various descriptions of this being cover all kinds of strange combinations of animals, most of them with scales and a lion’s heads. There is one other depiction, though, that we found far more powerful… a clay mask that appears to be made of intestines.
The symbolism of the intestines, which could have been used in divinations, seemed to fit the role better than the leonine creature. In a very real sense, Gilgamesh’s determination to slay the ‘demon’, as he perceived it, would determine his future. The intestines are about as close to symbolic earth as the body gets, processing intake and output to fuel life. In our society, we tend to shy away from such concepts, but they are a beautiful bit of organic engineering and as sacred as the rest of the physical world.
For Gilgamesh to slay Huwawa, would be to cut himself off from the sacred earth, both within himself and on a wider level.
So, we needed the mask. Clay would be too heavy to wear, and that was the only thing I could think of with which to model the details. Papier-mâché and the lightweight clay were tried and discarded. I settled for plaster bandages and a lot of mess, finally bronzing the whole with spray paint.
It was not the most artistic attempt, but, when it was worn by our Huwawa, his voice resonated and echoed within its hollow confines, his silent movements and shadowy cloak created a creature I wish we could have captured on film and the whole effect was eerily uncanny and otherworldly. He was superb…and I breathed a sign of relief that the mask actually worked.
Which is more than can be said of the plant pot.
It fit beautifully in the garden centre… but somehow, when I had clad it in clay, making it bigger and bulkier than ever, added its horns and gilded the whole… it looked even more like a plant pot…and no longer anywhere near big enough. The great god Anu decided against it and went for the spare headdress I had packed instead.
I can’t say I blame him… but at least I got a picture.