Goldsmiths Graduate Design Scheme: Rada Lewis brings to life “The Wolf and His Victims”

The Graduate Design Scheme is an opportunity for Goldsmiths Design graduates to return on campus and work on their own projects: for a fee, they can use a studio space, the workshops, and book machinery. This academic year, Rada Lewis (BA Design 2010) came back to Goldsmiths to develop a personal project based on a Bulgarian folk tale with political connotations about revenge, unity and how we can learn to live with each other.

Rada is bringing to life the “The Wolf and His Victims” through puppets constructed primarily out of paper; the outcome of the project will be a book and, ultimately, a stop-motion animated film. You can read the story and see images from the project on Rada’s website.

On how the project started:

“My work has always been text-based, I’m interested in text – fiction as well as non-fiction. I am from Bulgaria, and my sister sent me some Bulgarian folk stories she found extremely amusing, just for a laugh. I read this and I thought, I need to draw it. So first I started drawing it with pencils, then I started making the characters out of paper. I like making paper sculptures, so this felt natural and comfortable for me.”

On the themes of the story:

“It’s a political statement about affinity and unity, and on another level, it’s about the futility of vendetta. The animals which the wolf hunts are taking vendetta on him, but their attempts are futile and there is no redemption, so it’s quite a dark story. There is affinity between the victims, but dividing the world into victims and exploiters is also futile. I’ve been reading Donna Haraway, and she speaks a lot about how we need to learn to live together as a collective of beings, and how we also need to learn to die together.

Another deeper level of the story is about the equal importance of all living things.  A book that informed me very much on this issue is “The Lost Wolves of Japan”, by the anthropologist Brett Walker. It’s an examination of how wolves were exterminated in Japan; it was an ideological quest that came with Westernisation: they were invented as an enemy. Wolves were not perceived as a big threat before that, they had their place in the ecosystem and in people’s spiritual practices.”

On designing the characters:

“Back in Bulgaria, as a child, I was spending my summers in villages, so I knew quite well what sheep and goats looked and felt like. I have even taken them to pasture on a couple of occasions. But I had a problem with the wolf, because I understood my knowledge of ‘wolf’-ness came from fictional narratives, which made it quite abstract. With a friend, I visited a wolf sanctuary, we spent a good day watching wolves, and this is what came out, my wolf is this dark lonely man. The dogs were easy, because I have had dogs myself, and I know many dogs. Making the puppets is like sketching with a pencil, I sketch with paper instead. My purpose isn’t to be extremely sophisticated.”

On choosing animation as a medium:

“For my graduation project at Goldsmiths I did some very basic stop motion animation. Over the years, I’ve done a bit more, and I think now I have the mental and physical space to actually develop it and take it somewhere more accomplished. Film is a very powerful artform, you have everything in there, and it’s not a single person’s game either. I think you can reach out much more with a film than with a book. But there will also be a book because I love making books!”

On her career since graduation:

“After I graduated, I sort of hit the road: the day after the degree show I left for Berlin, then moved to live in Barcelona where I had my second daughter, then went back to Bulgaria for a bit and am now settled again in England. I’m interested in everything. I try to work on socially responsible projects but what I do is bounded by and in response to the capitalist reality we live in. I’ve done a few art exhibitions and collaborations over the years and worked for various NGOs, GOs and businesses.

A very important project for me is Famulus – an illustrated book of my sister’s poetry. She has been my primary collaborator since we were little, and she is working with me on the stop-motion film I am making now. Famulus is in 3 languages: Bulgarian, Spanish and English. It was recently used in psychotherapy sessions for Bulgarian immigrants in the Nordic countries.

I guess I’m pretty erratic, I’m always moving in life quite intuitively and that’s why I went to Goldsmiths in the first place. Imagine, one day I’m designing a poetry book, or making a puppet theatre made of paper based on a Bulgarian folk tale, and the next day I will go and work on a business project. I’m quite pleased that I’m able to feed on many sources, to drink from many rivers, to show versatility.”

On bringing the project to Goldsmiths:

“Being on the graduate scheme gave me the confidence that this project is OK to take further. I’ve always been looking up to Goldsmiths for critical reassurance, and returning here was the first step. The Graduate Scheme allows me to keep The Wolf and His Victims project pure, rather than taking it to an agency or to someone with a commercial interest who would think: “what financial return am I going to get at the end of it?” Goldsmiths is a place where you can stay critical and be ethically intact. This is what I remembered from Goldsmiths Design, and this is what I came back to rediscover. It gives you the space to develop your work with a higher vision rather than just being busy for the sake of it.”

Read more about the Graduate Design Scheme and other members of the programme on the Design blog.