The leaf, the light and I

autumn leaves

I would like to take you in a short walk through a small, wild garden.

What are we looking for?

Just let eyes freely lead you, without thinking, and – maybe – beauty will appear.

Why “maybe”? Wasn’t beauty already there (in a flower, a leaf, a tree) before we came?

Yes, in a way… But the aesthetic experience can only happen during a meeting: between a flower (a leaf, a tree) and somebody who looks at it. The aesthetic experience is a special kind of relationship. Let’s look it closer.

While walking, some leaves attracted me. It was not a generic or naturalistic interest, but a specific imagine that has appeared and caught my eyes because of a certain color, a shadow, a texture of ribs. It is not “any” leaf but “that” leaf, in that moment and place, seen from a precise point of view. Light helps to create that unique picture, affecting its colors and shadows. Thus, through the light, a special connection has established between me and the leaf.

Have we found it or was it waiting for us?

Maybe both, in a kind of synchrony. There is a potential beauty that needs both waiting and intentionality for revealing itself. An empty and receptive space is necessary to make something new come in.

Can we preserve it? Do we give us enough “empty” time?

I think everyone can feel the sensation of being intensely connected to something while looking at it. This is an aesthetic experience. It happens “hic et nunc”, here and now. A small oasis where time stands still.

So why just don’t pick that flower to bring home and put it in a vase?
Because it is an experience of connection, not of possession.
Where does it happen?
Almost everywhere. This is why I took you in a small garden, a few steps from home, and not in a National Museum.

Can we take a picture of it?
This is a central point: photography can be a tool, not a goal. If our objective is catching a beautiful picture to hang on, the camera will be an obstacle for living this kind of experience.
No products, no thinking process… So what’s the point?
A short, intense meeting with beauty: the leaf, the light and I.
Enjoy your walk.

Having a walk at a cat’s pace

Transformer cat cubes

This is a feline story that really happened in the streets of a small, beautiful Italian village, Cartoceto. I hope that cat and children lovers will get some inspiration from it. It all started with a walk. My friend Michele Ferri and I had not any particular destination, we just enjoyed walking and looking around. This attitude, between curiosity and the pleasure of idleness, already began to tune ourselves into the silent inhabitants of those beautiful courtyards. In fact, after a few steps, a pair of mustaches and two luminous eyes appeared out of nowhere. Then many others continued to appear one after one, inside a vase, on the windowsills, in the middle of a street, on doormats. “Okay guys, you can go through our kingdom on this one, but without disturbing too much please.”

The Italian village Cartoceto

They must have whispered something to us in the telepathic language of cats, because at the end of the walk, during a coffee-break in the square of the village, a bizarre feline idea was born. After about one year, that idea became real for a day, when the village turned into a surprise journey full of plays, games, music, exhibitions, events… Obviously all cat-inspired.

cat-event village map

Rare feline specimens looked out of the windows. One of them, an aristocratic lady-cat with lace gloves, used to open the shutters as she heard a good song. So the courtyard under the window was full of musical instruments, and a music master improvised some serenades with occasional passers-by.

Various cats at the windows

The Meows Parc was guarded by ten Swinging Cats. These wary guardians oscillated in all directions without ever falling, but trying to get in the way of everyone who passed by. Be careful not to get touched by them!

The game of swinging cats

At some point during the walk, one inevitably came across Mr. Hurry’s house. After the bell ring, here he is hastily looking out from his terrace to tell very short stories of ancient and legendary cats.

An actor telling stories from a terrace

Heads of all colors, striped, checkered or polka-dot legs, furry bellies, zig zag mustache… The Transformist Cube-cats could be broken down and reassembled in hundreds feline identities.

the game of transformable cat cubes

While wearing mouse ears, children went through the cheese-tunnel, making sure that “cat-children” didn’t steal their tails through the holes.

Cheese cardboard tunnel

Involving local shopkeepers and artisans, all the stands of the feline market were strictly themed: books, biscuits, t-shirts, ceramics, puppets.

cat shaped biscuits
cat puppets

Finally, the notorious Red Grinning Cat suddenly appeared during the night, just as the band was playing the march “At a Cat’s Pace”. Don’t panic: the Mad Tamer was fortunately around. He was the only one that could successfully try to domesticate a Red Grinning specimen, for his great experience of imaginary animals.

The imaginary Red Grinning Cat

Even if every project is carried out by a group of people, I usually let things speak for themselves without mentioning names. However, this was a special experience, a really collective and site-specific event. So many thanks to all the people who made it possible:

  • Michele Ferri, co-author of the project, from the first inspiring walk to every final detail
  • My father Aldo Pucci, for his indispensable technical support
  • Olga Valeri for believing in this crazy idea
  • Mario Mariani for the original musical piece “At a Cat’s Pace” and the band of Cartoceto for having masterfully performed it
  • The Caffè Massimo for the delicious MadCat biscuits
  • All friends, villagers, actors and artists who made their great contribution for free
  • All the cats of the village, who were watching us from hiding places. “Ok, go ahead, today you can stay in our kingdom… But tomorrow everything comes back how it was before.” Thank you, Your Majesty.
cat paintings on a palace wall
Art installation by Monica Monachesi e Giuseppe Braghiroli

Pencil-flowers and creative thinking

pencil flowers

When can a process be defined “creative”? What does it mean “to be creative”? It is a very complex subject and there are several definitions. I have chosen one I like. The French mathematician Henry Poincaré defined creativity as “the capacity to join scattered elements in new and useful combinations”. This means that a creative result establishes a useful link between elements that were already known before but apparently unrelated.
It often happens that we can not choose the starting elements, we just have them; but – according to Poincaré – this does not limit our creativity, as it comes from the quality of the relations: from the way to put together the elements rather than from the elements themselves.
Let’s see how this theory can be applied to a concrete example from my work. Many years ago, I was asked to project a workshop in a public library. Of course, there were some established conditions I had to consider: the workshop was supposed to last about one hour, for children from 6 to 10 years old, celebrating the library’s birthday and using simple stationery or recycled materials (paper, fabric, plastic bottles, pensils, markers, scissors, glue). Moreover, we had a large amount of pencils available (thanks to a sponsor).

Writing-flowers

Starting from these initial elements, the workshop idea I found was a “writing-flower”, built with a pencil and paper or fabric petals. It was also possible to cut and paste words from photocopied papers with poems, that were placed in some carboard trees (you can see these trees in the post “Technique or imagination?” clicking here). At the end of the workhop, children could give some of the flowers to the library users as an unexpected gift.

The writing-flower holds together all the initial conditions in a useful and pleasant way: it exploites the materials’ potential, it is appropriate to the age of the children and to the duration of the workshop, connected to the specific place of the library (as it concerns writing) and to its birthday, as flowers are typical gift-objects.
How did this idea originate? It was not a sudden inspiration but formed through the observation of the initial elements, that suggested which solutions were possible and which not, which one fitted better to all the conditions.
For example, we had a lot of pencils: what does a pencil suggest by its shape? Or thinking about the library’s birthday: what kind of object could be preferably used as a gift for a birthday’s celebration?
If an idea does not meet all the conditions, it has to be discarded, even if sometimes it is not easy to leave it.

The choice of how to present materials is an important part of the project. In this case, I chose to make available pre-cut shapes because we had a short time, so I preferred to simplify the construction and focus on composition, formal or chromatic choices, combinations of different flowers.

The worshop went well and they asked me another one, with the same theme but a bit different. I designed other pencil-flowers using another recycled material: plastic bottles. If you are interested in, have a look to the post “The grammar of plastic bottles” clicking here.
Finally, I think that the design process of this workshop can be defined “creative”. Nevertheless, was the workshop a creative experience itself for the children (according to the initial definition)? I think that in the flowers’ construction creativity had a relatively small component, as well as there was a small margin of choice (concerning colours, shapes and sequences of petals). After all, the aim of the laboratory was not the development of creativity and children enjoyed the experience very much.

writing flowers workshop

So I think that an handmade or artistic activity is not necessarily “creative” (it is a common stereotyped idea). Of course, it is important to share the same definition of creativity as well.

Some years later, it happened that I proposed a workshop about pencil-flowers in a very different context, where the partecipants were asked to develop a more creative process. In that case, we had a longer available time and the theme of “words” was not connected to the context. I invited the partecipants to explore different kind of paper in order to create different shapes of flowers. We used colored pencils, so that the color itself could inspire a certain kind of flower.

Coming back to the initial definition of creativity (as the capacity to join scattered elements in new and useful combinations), there is something Poincaré discovered about it that surprised me very much: the intuitive criterion to recognize the usefulness of the elements’ combination is its beauty. In other words: the most useful idea is also the most beautiful.

Isn’t it amazing?

Enjoy it and have good creative processes!

Writer-pencil-flowers
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