Strange Harvest
Architecture / Design / Art
StrangeHarvest is written and collated by Sam Jacob.


In the Night Garden - Surreal Landscape of Nostalgia



The stars seem to blister like burning film as they open into pink flowers. The night sky segways into the blossom on a cherry tree, and we follow the falling petals and see a group of characters hopping and waving in a bandstand surrounded by woods.

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This is the psychedelic opening sequence of In the Night Garden, the recent under fours TV show. The scene apparently represents the shifts into dream state, and it's the most beautiful and surprising cosmic screen scene since Dave Bowmans journey through 2001s slit-scan landscapes. In both we go 'through' the sky into an alternate reality.

This particular alternate reality comes from Anne Wood and Andy Davenport of RagDoll, co- creators of the Teletubbies, and bona fide auters of kids TV in era of poorly animated, pre-teen-plotlined, ham-fisted edutainment.

In the Night Garden is by contrast, quiet, calm, with an atmosphere of sadness that is out of kilter with the upbeat rictus grin of most kid-fodder. And it is intentionally so. Wood explains their motivation: "We became very aware of the anxiety surrounding the care of young children which manifested itself in all kind of directions - but the one big subject that came up again and again was bedtime. It's the classic time for tension between children who want to stay up and parents who want them to go to bed... so this is a programme about calming things down whereas most children's TV is about gee-ing everything up!"

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We're not here for complex plot, but the shows beautiful design. Children's television demands much more from production design than adult TV. A whole, autonomous world needs to be constructed. Narrative is so constrained - in this case by lack of language: The characters say little more than variations on their name over and over again, their inarticulacy mixed with excitement like hyperactive Beckett protagonists. Without plot, the burden falls on other elements, often those considered secondary in 'grown up' programmes: vision, sound, movement, landscape and so on. The programmes design constructs experience without language. Which is not so far removed from design in the real world.

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Though childrens toys and stories might seem simplistic and lightweight, we can sometimes recognise significance for everyone in these make-believe worlds. Eduardo Paolozzi - in Independent Group days - lectured on the anatomy of Mickey Mouse as a Pop Art homage to Renaissance artists concern with medical anatatomy (of course the idea of a cartoon character having an anatomy is perverse in the first place, but the idea that an internal structure might be revealed is significant - in this case whose complexity might only be expressed through the language of James Ellroy). Alison Smithson - another Independent Grouper - wrote about the homes described by Beatrix Potter, comparing them to Aalto and Le Corbusier where 'basic necessities [are] raised to a poetic level'.

That children's narratives might encode concerns of wider culture is obvious. Anything sold to children has been worked over by educationalists, specialists, scientists, nutritionists, sports psychologists, psychiatrists and any other expert or specialist that might possibly be considered relevant. Its effect on brain tissue growth will have been monitored, its complexity of language will have been measured down to the last syllable.

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In the Night Gardens characters are descendants of the entire gene pool of children's TV. Iggle Piggle is a blue plush toy with a wonky grin and a red blanket. His co-star is Upsy Daisy, a toy-girl whose hair wiggles like small fingers when she's excited. There are the Tombliboos with bottom-heavy baby-esque anatomy; Makka Pakka, a loner who lives in what seems to be a Neolithic barrow, who sports cairn-like hair and ears who enjoys cleaning stones; The Pontipines, a family of wooden puppets who live in a tiny dollshouse at the base of a huge tree-trunk; and The Haahoos, six enormous inflatable forms who call to each other and sleep in a big pillowy pile. The characters anatomies are divergent from 'primitive' carved wood (solid) to sci-fi inflatable (empty) and shift from puppet to costume to prop, and in scale from tiny to huge.

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They inhabit a landscape where large trees, giant sized daisies, pastel coloured puffballs combine giant and miniature. Like the Teletubbies, the landscape is a surreal reworking of nature. Perhaps this is the last residue of the English Landscape tradition - Capability Brown made over by Shigeru Miyamoto. Here, on the branches of real trees a computer colourised bird-choir sing a chorus of synthetic sounds.

The history of children's TV echoes throughout. There are references to the Magic Roundabout in the bandstand, to Camberwick Green in its mechanics, to Thunderbird 2 in the Pink-Ponks green livery, to Trumpton in the echoey naïve folk music. The texture of the image is made just as rich by combining live action, rickety stop-frame and gradient perfect CGI, and the soundtrack whose organic sci-fi squelching might have arrived fresh from the Radiophonic Workshop. The programmes construction is perhaps the most sophisticated on British TV. And the effect is fantastic.

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It means that watching In the Night Garden is a cross generational experience, laced with potent nostalgia. Perhaps it reflects a generation of parents who have forced their children to watch their own childhood favourites via DVD re-issues.

The under 4s are a generation whose connection with media is markedly different their older brothers and sisters. Media has shattered so that it's harder to tell if a phenomenon is a TV show, website, toy, magazine or stage show. Schedules are replaced by a vast lake of instantly accessible clips found amongst the cultural video-hoard of YouTube.

That a programme for the under 4's should be soaked in nostalgia is of course odd - surely nostalgia is the preserve of the old? But perhaps nostalgia is not really about the passing of time or personal history accrued but a cultural product that is handed to us fully formed. In the Night Garden is a faultless example of manufactured nostalgia. And it uses this perfect synthesis to construct a space outside parents terrible fear for their children's future by evoking their own past.

Just as Alison Smithson could see nascent Arts and Crafts and proto-Modernism in Mrs Tigglewinkles house, or Paolzzi could see the collapse of armature in Mickeys hollow frame, perhaps In the Night Garden reveals nostalgia as the prime subject of contemporary culture.

The phenomenon of over-powering nostalgia is present in other cultural arenas. In design, the splicing of old with new has become an overnight cliché. In politics we hear speeches that attempt to weld together old ideas with new formats: socialists nostalgic for Thatcherism or Thatcherites nostalgic for the Welfare State.

Why should nostalgia be such a powerful force in contemporary culture?

Maybe nostalgia is a significant way of faking a sensation of love - and all media, just like its creators wants to be loved. It tugs at the heart strings and moistens our eyes with a tenderness that certainly feels authentic. It hijacks our fear of the future and provides a haven for the ache for other places and other times.

Though it may feel part of us - even welded to our core - these are often memories of externally provided images rather than internal experiences. They've been formed after the event, by consensus and communicated to us through media. Nostalgia is often as impersonal as the memories of the Nexus-6 replicant Rachel in Blade Runner. There are semi-memories that we've learnt from family Super 8 films, from endlessly repeated clips, and a media in constant state of historical revisionism. Never before has so much information been available with instant recall. The dividing line between our own memory and the capture and cataloguing of time that digital technology has allowed.

Its effect is so powerful - beyond logic or argument - that it is hard to see whether nostalgia is a subject or object, a technique or a mode of operation. Perhaps, like drunks hell bent on another shot, we're addicted to the sensation overpowering us and delivering us into oblivion.

If this means living in a world which will edge ever closer to In the Night Garden, I'm all for it. The idea that amateurish craft and high technology might reside in reverberating synthesised harmony, that genre splicing and scale hopping might become a way of life, and that giant inflatable good-natured things will wander the streets, I'm all for it. Maybe - finally cut loose from an outmoded 19th century idea of progress - we'll find ourselves liberated and excitedly repeating our names over and over again because nothing more need be said.

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Posted by anothersam at October 28, 2007 4:14 PM.

2 Comments

Emma said:

I like the sound of that world... Haven't seen this programme but it looks a bit like a gentler version of the work of Jim Woodring.

Liam said:

My oldest daughter who is five burst into tears the first time she finished watched In The Night Garden, not because it was scary, or because the program was over, but because she thought it was just "so lovely".
You are right; the opening sequence with the stars turning into flowers is one of the most beautiful bits of television I have seen in years. Gives be the shivers every time I see it.

Leave a comment





Contents:

More Scenes In Cartoon Deserta

Eiffel X-Rays

Beyond: Values and Symptoms

Sub Plan

Shenzhen: Window of the World

White Power

Generic Powerpoint Template: Delivering Bad News

Duplicate Array

The Best New Building In London

Book Review: The Infrastructural City

A Balloon in the Pantheon

Letters From The Pantheon

Henry Moore in Motion

On My Steel Horse I Ride

The Michael Jackson Monument Design Competition

Now Showing: John Baldessari Sings Sol LeWitt

Obscure Design Typologies: Life Guard Chairs

Osama bin Laden Cigarette Lighter: Novelty Products as Congealed Culture

Absurd Car Crashes: A Eulogy for J.G. Ballard

Candy Pistol

Now Showing: Dan Grahams 'Rock My Religion'

This Concrete 'O': On Serotonin, the M25, and the Motorik Picturesque

Church of the Literal Narrative

Philadelphias Floating Architecture

Now Viewing: Married To The Eiffel Tower

Le Corbusiers Image Hoard: Poeme Electronique

Giant American Signs: Original Learning from Las Vegas Footage

Giant Soviet Signs Cut Into Forests

Bricks Melted Into Icicles: Napalm Decorative

C-Labs 'Unfriendly Skies' & 'Bootleg' Volume

2 The Lighthouse: Self Storage & Architectural Hallucinations

Ceci N'Est Pas Une Pipe: Infrastructure as Architectural Subconcious.

Viva Sectional Cinematography!

Now Showing: The Installation of an Irreversible Axis on a Dynamic Timeline

Plug: Junk Jet

Sim Seasons Greetings! The Rise of Neo-Winter

Geography in Bad, Festive Drag.

The Ruins of the Future

High Tech As Steampunk ...

On The Retro Infrastructural

Simulations of Industry: High Tech Architecture and Thatcherism

David Greene: The Big Nothing

From The Factory to the Allotment: Tony Wilson, Urbanist

Koolhaas HouseLife / Gan Eden: The Revenge of Architectural Media

Ruburb-ric: The Ecologies of the Farnsworth House

The Architecture of Divorce

Flagrant Delit: The Movie

Landscape as Clothing

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham Redux

Acts of Un-Building: Timelapse Demolitions

Yard Filth: Next Years Hot Look

Stonehenge: A Black Hole At The Heart Of British Architecture

The Popemobile: Mechanised Robes & Motorised Architecture

Tarmac Adam, Tarmac Eden

The Secret Language of Surface

Some Housekeeping

Information Fields: Agriculture as Media

My Bloody Valentine: Sound as Substance

A Cubist Copse: Gehrys Serpentine Pavilion

Olympic Model Protest

Spouting Off: Some Thoughts On The Fountainhead

Form Follows Dysfunction: Bad Construction & The Morality of Detail

Floating Homes

Vintage Tradeshow Surrealism: International Grune Woche

Moving Houses: Buildings In Motion

Desktop Study: The Strange World of Sports Studio Design

Married to the Eiffel Tower: More Objectum Sexuals

60 Years of The Crazy Horse Memorial

Married to the Berlin Wall: "The Best and Sexiest Wall Ever Existed!"

Inflatable Icebergs: Sublimated Guilt Has Never Been So Fun

The Cinderella Effect: Phantom Architectures of Illumination

Two Deaths and a Retirement: The Strange Shape of British Architecture

If London Were Like New York: Antique Schizo-Manhattanism

If London Were Like Venice: Antique Geo-Poetic Speculations and Hydro-Fantasy

41 Hours in an Elevator: The Movie

NASA: Mapping the Moon with Sport

Lemon Squeezy: Design Tendencies after the Juicy Salif

Stadium Seat Mosaics

The Nihilistic Beauty of Weapons Arranged in Patterns

Light Vessel Automata

Dogs: Britains Greatest Design Obsession

Madison Avenue Modern

Detroit Sucks: The Motor Shows Last Gasp

Mies' Grave: Cut Out Model

All You Can Eat

Valentine Machine

The Tools of Re-Geography

Floating in a New Town Sky

Authentic Replicas: Football and the Franchising of Place

Folk Football: Landscape, Space and Abstraction

Haystack House

A Wishing Well with a Fat Up Pipe

The Camoufluers and the Day-Glo Battleship

Pseudoccino: Instant Coffee Foam

Yesterdays Technology, Today

Blown Up: More Inflatable Military Stuff

On Christmas Trees, Folk Forests and Staples Office Supplies

Hampton Courts Shrouded Sculptures

Named Fabric: 20 Sponsored Pieces of Architecture at the New Museum

Form Follows Felony: The Secret Home of the Un-Dead Canoeist.

Architectural Magazines: Paranoid Beliefs, Public Autotheraphy - More on Clip/Stamp/Fold

Little Magazines Seen Today

James Bond Lives Next Door: Suburban Imagery as Industry

The Ghost of Christmas Futurism

Petrified War Machine

Military Deceptions

Chapters for an Imaginary Book About Architecture

Shrouded Plinth - Urban Striptease

In the Night Garden - Surreal Landscape of Nostalgia

Kim Jong II, The Great Architect

Pill Box Picturesque

Un Clear Monument

Place Faking: Instant Heritage for the Thames Gateway

The Marc Bolan Memorial Crash Barrier.

Warped Domesticity

The Nuclear Heritage Coast

Enjoy The Silence: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

The Story of O (2)

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham

X100: A Design Exercise

How to Plan A New Town

Carpet Bomber

In Search of Britains Vehicular History

Scenes in Cartoon Deserta

Scary Suburbanism: Why Horror is at Home in the Suburbs

Re-Make Re-Model

I Like Your Manifesto, Lets Put it to the Test-o

How to Become a Famous Architect

Northampton - Sci-fi Pop Planning Promotion

Advertising Central Milton Keynes

Baltic Exchanged

Festival of Nostalgia

The Clapham Trainwash

Airports as Music

Test Card Dummies

The Velvet Underground at the Glass House

Duplikate: Kate Moss on the Production Line of Individuality

The Museum that Ate Itself

Hollow Inside: Starbucks Foam and the Rise of Ambiguous Materials

Revisions to the Architecture of Hell

Crufts: Dogs, Design and Aesthetic Genetics

Eos Airlines: Executive Bubbles over the Atlantic

London's Ugliest Buildings

1.51 Miles Of String

Google Earths Vertiginous Mapping

Church of the Ascension and Descension

Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles

Replica Bombs

The Invisible Bungalow

House / Boat

Reading Lines: Skateboarding and Public Space

Mountain Sculpting

Sint Lucas in BD

Bat House Competition

Old Walton Bridge

Kiruna: The Town That Moved

Spray On Magnetic Defense

Chris Cornish: Prototyping History

The Jubilee Gestalt Vase

The Most Visited Location in the UK

Anything to Feel Weightless Again: The Cargo Lifter and the Tropical Island Resort

'Its beauty will know no season'

2000 Years of Non Stop Nostalgia. Or How Half Timbering Made Me Whole Again.

Inside-out Aldwych

Backpeddling into the Future: The Historical-Futurism of British Architecture

Miss Selfridges' Feeling for Fake Snow. The Oxford St. Lights and Why We Need Artificial Winter

Nelsons Cavern

Foam Gargoyle

New Tory Logo: A Hazy Shade of Politics

Jeff Koons, Rem Koolhaas, Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Serpentine

Souvenir Empire

Celebrity Scents: The Bittersweet Smell of Success

Imperfect Pitch - Football, Space and Landscape

Product Placement: Making the Impossible Possible

Suburban Growth: Matthew Moores Field of Dreams

Perfect Sound Forever: The Secret Function of High End Stereos

Picture of the Week 1

A Little Light Product Placement

Some Advice To A Young Designer

London and on and on

In the Gallery of Ice Creams

Useless Proclamations for a Beautiful City

Mini Mies Chair

Topsy Turvy VSBA: Inverted Heros of an Upside Down Avant Guard

Harvest III: Buried Things

The Harvest II

The Harvest I

Estuary Urbanism

The Royal Families Trees

Everything Flows: ideological cartography

How Geostationary Was My Valley?

The Psychotic Utopia of the Suburbs and the Suburbanisation of War.

LegoLand London Cluster

In a Lonely Place - Under Construction

Design Will Eat Itself

Mach 3 Nitro Gel - Design that's foaming at the mouth.

Marchitecture. Architectural things to do in London this March

Metallic Jet Powered Cloud

"When we got married I had no idea he would do something like this, he just said he was going to do some decorating."

The Electric Cenotaph

Russian Rok

Commitment ...

Dinner in the Iguanadon

Trace

What happens when you cross a pen with a car?

Leg Table Leg

Florentine Building Sites

Good Morning Britain

Football Pitch: Best of British

The Sad Photographer

The First Cut is the Cheapest - Blenheim Palace: pop architecture that goes for the jugular

Book Now For Christmas

Requiem for a Toilet Seat

Architecture that Destroys

TomTom Mobile 5 / GO 700

Winning Design

Another Croydon

Holiday Snap II : Giant Glowing French Balls

Holiday Snap: Canadian War Memorial, Vimy, France

Pecha Kucha London

Anatomy of an Architectural News Story

Big Bens

First Cut - Case Closed

The Texas Tower

Its All About the Big Benjamins

G8 Security Tower

White Cubed Blues

Poundbury, unexpectedly, in the rain

The Exploding Concrete Inevitable. Lou Reed and the Casa da Musica

Swingball

Untitled (Plastic Sack and Timber)

Berlin 1945 - The Obscene Picturesque

Pizza Planet

Goal Sculptures

Interview: Jeremy Deller & Alan Kane

Previewing Cedric Price

The Mardas Touch

Building a Lionel Richie Head

Ornament is Grime 2

An Incredible Smell of Roasting Coffee

Flatpack Frenzy at New IKEA

Langlands & Bell - The House of Osama Bin Laden

Labour is kind of working

Happy Death Men

Build to Let

Architectural Criticism gets Sharp

Niagara Falls

Ornament is Grime

FA(ke) Cup

Q&A: Wouter Vanstiphout

X-treme urinals

Unigate Cowscape

Spray-on Snow

From the Baffler ...

One in a Taxi

The Queen Machine

The Knork

Venturi, Scott Brown and my love that dare not speak its name.

Polictical Placards

The Ketchup Conumdrum

Douglas Coupland: Design and Fiction

It's a Small World

Images de Parfums

Soft Carcass

Christopher Dresser at the V&A

Blow up Pub

Municipal Mummification

The Matt and Ron Show

Semi - detached

Half Timbered Van

Feltham Future

Favorite Things

Fugitives and Refugees' - Chuck Palahniuk

The Pop Vernacular

Design by Chefs

Just What is it That Makes Yesterdays Homes So Different, So Appealing?

Archigrams Pastoral Futurism

Sorry Mies

The Flaming Lips - Live.

Everything Counts - The Sound of Geography Collapsing.

Carlton Terrace Extension

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