We’re raised to identify objects and process them in a practical fashion. If we’re crossing a street and a car approaches, we’re programmed to tread cautiously. If a pan sizzles, we don’t grab it with both hands. We’re so focused on life’s prickly realities that we rarely spare a thought for what isn’t there and what could be.
“I like to challenge assumptions about visual and physical reality so you imagine what’s not there,” says Los Angeles-based artist Eames Demetrios, who’s created a whole “what if?” world called Kcymaerxthaere with its own language, geography, culture, and physics. He travels the globe giving talks and supervising projects that link his world to ours, mounting markers denoting “historical events,” initiating community art and writing, building installations, and developing his strange saga through stories and web pages.
The vocabulary can be daunting — Kcymaerxthaere (pronounced “Chimerascthere”) is the name of his universe, a dauktryn is a doctrine, a Svenskcy is a district, and a dgyld is a young person. But with Demetrios acting as a rapid-chatting, amiable guide and geographer-at-large, the elseworld soon makes sense.
“It’s a lot to take in at first,” Demetrios admits, standing in a dark corner of the Halsey. A viewer’s first encounter is usually with one of his plaques or a storytelling event. “Then they would like to know more. The rabbit hole’s pretty deep and rewarding.” For Piccolo Spoleto, the warren will extend to Charleston on two sites: the Old City Jail and the foundations of a range marker in Charleston Harbor. There will also be an exhibition at the Halsey, which Director and Senior Curator Mark Sloan likens to “a visitor’s center, a Whitman’s Guide to Kcymaerxthaere.” Along with general information about the project, the Halsey will exhibit scaled-down replicas of some of Demetrios’ work and associated Namibian embroideries.
There’s no way to show the full scope of the artist’s work at the institute. According to Sloan, “It’s in 18 countries, on all continents except Antarctica. It could be billed as the world’s largest public art project.” The internet has helped aficionados navigate the curious lands, but Demetrios believes that “in one sense, Kcymaerxthaere doesn’t need the internet. It uses a very physical means for people to have a storytelling experience that’s not nearly as mediated as most of the ones we have now are, on computers and in movies.”
When Demetrios started the project, he wanted his markers to be secret pleasures. “I was worried about giving away too much information,” he recalls. Now he feels the opposite. He describes the project as “a performance piece created in my head. I owe it to people to give it depth.”
Fans have responded by avidly following site updates, traveling to different locations, and even competing in an annual spelling bee. “People can become invested in it,” says Sloan. “When Eames tells a story about a woman whose voice was so beautiful she could not be denied, or schools of undead lawyers, they see what a fascinating universe he’s created with wonderful intersections.”
One such “nodal point” will be a plaque at the Old City Jail. The American College of the Building Arts has created several carvings of characters from the story associated with the plaque. One carving is based on a drawing by an Academic Magnet High School student. In another example of community outreach, Magnet teacher Junius Wright is supervising the construction of a Kcymaerxthaere Wikipage and stories to suit some of the Navy Yard’s abandoned buildings.
In the harbor, Charleston Waterkeeper founder Cyrus Buffum is giving Demetrios guidance on the historical and ecological significance of the underwater site he’s chosen. An illuminated range marker once stood there, but now only the foundations remain. One of Demetrios’ nodes will be eight feet under, marked with a float. “The area was a hazard,” says Buffum. “I never wanted to go near it. But for this we forged into the unknown, did an exploratory dive, and found out what was under the rougher water.”
Under water, at a gallery or historical site, or at a public storytelling event, Demetrios will continue to forge into the unknown and inspire others to do the same.