The Reason I Jump by Observatorium: Theatre director and playwright Graham Eatough from Glasgow invited Observatorium to design a maze including a labyrinth for his adaptation of the book The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida. Naoki is a non-verbal, autistic, Japanese author, who was just 13 years old when he wrote the book, a one-of-a-kind unique memoir that demonstrates how an autistic mind works. As Naoki describes a profound relationship between people with autism and nature, the outdoor setting of North Kelvin Meadow and Children’s Wood in Glasgow offered an extraordinary environment to consider our place in the natural world and to listen to stories around about autism. The theatre production was created with, and performed by, a group of artists with autism ranging from early teens to 60 years old.
As a site-specific production, the show is designed specifically for The Children’s Wood and North Kelvin Meadow as a maze of accordion-like folding fences by Observatorium, welcoming the audience to immerse themselves in the world of Naoki’s garden. Building on a rich history of garden art, and engaging with the adaptation of a Japanese text to a Glaswegian context, the designers worked in consultation with community coordinators of The Children’s Wood and North Kelvin Meadow to shape a reimagining of the space in its entirety.
Observatorium creates spaces for retreat or silence in open space, just to have a moment to observe the world around you, to look back and have a moment of reflection on your everyday spaces.
The 2-hectare wilderness became home to a temporary wooden maze structure, with a permanent stone labyrinth, built with the community, at its center.
To transform the fields and woods into a maze garden more than a mile of fencing was needed. A catalog of five different sizes of folding fences provided enough flexibility and mass to include all corners of the 2-hectare site of city wilderness. Visiting the theatre production included immersion in very different types of natural biotopes. Due to the transparency, one could see the other fences as well. It creates a sort of a hazy, tall grass atmosphere at different heights, preventing the audience to see boundaries.
It’s a very open design – one could step through the fences – as non-manipulative as possible. This is a theatre design that creates corners where you can retreat, where you can sit down, and you might encounter the dog walker or you might see the raised beds, or the orchard in blossom. All those simple things of life are present as well.
As you traveled through the maze you encountered the show’s autistic performers, who related Naoki’s insights from the book as well as their own stories. The audience strolled quietly and somewhat disoriented from one encounter with a performer to another. Every performer had a hut of his/her own with an interior design symbolic of their character and their own experiences of autism.
After finding your own path through the maze, and discovering more about autism as you go went, you were invited finally to walk the labyrinth, a more personal experience of self-discovery for those who desired it.
Incorporating the needs of the community, performers, and the pragmatic concerns of a production while observing its dramaturgy has resulted in a maze that offers the audience not only an immersive experience befitting their needs and choices within it but also an idyllic space matching the ideal bond to nature that Higashida describes and aspires to shape.
All pictures © Observatorium.org.
Children’s Wood and North Kelvin Meadow, Glasgow, West End | 23 June 2018 | A Production from National Theatre of Scotland.
Observatorium (1997, Rotterdam) is a partnership of the artists Geert van de Camp, Andre Dekker, Lieven Poutsma and Ruud Reutelingsperger. Through iconic architectural works of art and participatory processes, they provide new meanings and unconventional usage of squares, parks, industrial wasteland or city ruins already in transformation.Their public artworks are places with an inviting character where one can spend time and view the world around him/her. Observatorium aims to add the imaginative to the public realm, which at the same time is a reflection on the nature of the context. In all projects, they work towards a sense commonality and citizen ownership.