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An Essay

“Before you can change the world you have to be able to form a picture of the world being other than it appears. Imagination, not intelligence, made us human. Squirrels are quite intelligent when it comes to nuts, but as far as we can tell they have never told stories about a hero who stole nuts from the gods”¹

- Terry Pratchett, 1998

Once upon a time, while sitting in a café on a dark London day, Charles Dickens looked up and noticed the words MOOR-EEFFOC written on the glass door (COFFEE-ROOM seen backwards)².  A shock went through his blood, and suddenly he found himself transported into a strange land, not the trite England he knew before, but somewhere fresh and exciting. From this alternate perspective, he was able to look with new eyes. Fantasy is often dismissed for its “irrelevance” to the world we live in, and documentary cited as truth. But is fantasy any less real than documentary?  Documentary, masquerading under the pretext of truth - with its viewpoint and bias, its cropping and framing, its presentation out of context - could be seen as more misleading, and human imagination the ultimate root of our own reality. The filmmaker Werner Herzog insists that documentary “reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants” but maintained that “there are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylisation³”.

Fantasy has also been endowed with the power of metaphor and hyperbole, to speak intensely and compellingly of things that relate to our own world. The distance between the two worlds creates space for ideas to flow between, and in this space things can be said with more impact than the often exhausted, “real-life” based approaches that have lost force. This defamiliarisation can make us look at the world in a different way. Fantasy is currently more important than ever before, for, in the words of David Pringle, “throughout most of human history and prehistory that quality of “unknown-ness” existed for most people, most of the time; it was a simple fact of life in a world where few people travelled more than a few miles from home. Today, although we have gained in so many ways from the advances of modern science, modern medicine, modern transport and modern communications, we have lost that feeling of otherness, that sense of mystery which sustains the human imagination.”⁴

For several years now I've been working on a project creating a parallel, invented, and often metaphorical universe called the Kingdom of Klah. Klah is a mysterious island nation, somewhat like my home country New Zealand, and is situated halfway between my own "reality" and reality as I imagine it. It is driven by the firm belief that escapism, fantasy, suspension of disbelief, acceptance of the 'other', and the imagination are of crucial importance to the world. The project spans a number of media such as photographs, illustrations, stories, newspaper articles, sound recordings, animations and screenprints.

The photographic works in particular are intended to offer a second point of view of events that both highlight the absurdity of the ‘real’ world, and emphasise the importance of believing in possibilities: that one way of seeing is not the only way of seeing – a cup only has a handle from one angle of view.

Themes in the stories are frequently based around the hopes and dreams of even the most monstrous of creatures, the ridiculousness of the world, and that anything is possible. I mean this last part in two quite different ways, in both an empowering, walk through the walls sense, and simultaneously a nudge of caution, for I do not believe it is wise for humans to think they know everything. It is important to remember that things are not always as they seem. 

We must also have experiences, we must have tales, we must have glimpses of other lives and difficulties and possibilities, to smooth away harsh corners and become a more organic shape of understanding, and not cause harm to others, be they our own race, other races, other creatures, the mysterious natural world.

We must have freedom of the mind.

Nina van der Voorn, Oxford, 2015.

[1] Pratchett, T & Pringle, D. (2006). The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy, p6. London: Carlton Books Ltd.

[2] Tolkien, J.R.R. (1964). Tree and Leaf, p52. London: Unwin Books.

[3] Herzog, W. (1999). Defining ‘Ecstatic Truth’, interview with Roger Ebert. Sourced July 2017 http://www.rogerebert.com/rogers-journal/herzogs-minnesota-declaration-defining-ecstatic-truth

[4] Pratchett, T & Pringle, D. (2006). The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy, p16. London: Carlton Books Ltd.