Meet the Locals #1 : Mai-Britt Amsler

Copenhagen Graphic Designer and Illustrator

One of the very super cool things that you need to embrace when you move yourself around the world is opening up to all the interesting people that you may have the opportunity to meet. They make a place what it is. Connect you to it. Share your stories, listen to theirs. Learn. Explore.

Me? I’m a people person. But you may have figured that out. I love swapping stories. Learning new perspectives. Figuring out how your from impacts your here and now. In my new blog series – meet the locals – I wanted to give you personal stories about real people. Connect you to my here. Today I am so happy to introduce you to one of them. Her name is Mai-Britt Amsler and she is a graphic designer and illustrator based in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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Kafka’s Dick

Yes – you heard me. Dick. And I don’t mean Richard. Pardon my English. I’m not being crass. It’s a play. Not on words – an actual play. A theatrical production. In a theater. Kafka’s Dick.

Kafka's Dick - Graphic-01

Do you know it? No? Let me illuminate you. Kafka’s Dick is the current production being performed by the Copenhagen Theatre Circle on stage now at Kruttønden café theatre in Østerbro. I was lucky enough to attend Wednesday night’s premier, another tick in the pro column of my “say yes” to new experiences agenda.

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Oregon Ballet around the world

“What drew me to dance specifically is the [ability] to tell a story without the limitation of words.” – Jason Karman, independent filmmaker of Muse.

Having spent my youth from age three to nearly nineteen in a ballet studio or on a stage, dance for me can be a powerful portrayal of personal expression within a given framework. It requires no words, but uses the body as instrument. It is the means to communicate story, emotion, pattern and art. The body is the medium AND the message. But do we communicate through dance differently? Does where you are “from” impact your means of expression?

As an American currently living in Copenhagen, Denmark with my family from Portland, Oregon – the question of where you are from has been an intimately intriguing one as we grow our lives here abroad. When I learned that the Oregon Ballet Theatre was sending six of their company dancers here to Copenhagen for a week’s immersion into the famous Bournonville Method – a most Danish ballet tradition that has been practiced by the Royal Ballet here continuously since the 19th century – I was immediately curious how their “from” would color this experience. As a former season ticket holder the past six seasons in Portland, I was extremely excited to know Oregon Ballet around the world.

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On the Surface

On the surface, life is normal here. We are still our same American family of five. Here in this different place. Here in Denmark. On the surface, it looks nice. It seems that we can see things and do things that we haven’t seen or done before and share them here with you. On the surface, it looks like sunshine and roses. Sometimes it is. Sometimes below the surface, we’re just sleepwalking. Moving through the motions of a day from sun up to sun down whilst the world works and does and becomes. Sometimes I feel like I have to scratch off the surface to reveal the winning code, the lottery winner. Maybe we didn’t buy the ticket today though. What did we do? I sometimes wonder at the end of the day. But you can’t win if you don’t buy the ticket.

Yesterday – I bought the ticket. And I definitely won. My personal lottery that is. Those who know me know that art, especially public art, is something very important to me. Public art in the form of outdoor sculpture galleries, murals, architecture, street art and even well executed colorful graffiti. The earth without ART is just… eh. Yesterday, I attended the closing afternoon of Danish photographer Søren Solkær‘s excellent exhibition SurfaceAn enormous, in scale and presentation, portrait series pointed at street artists all over the world and in every iteration – from street “taggers” to muralists to installation artists to graffiti kings. Yesterday Søren himself led a public tour through the Oksnehallen culture center‘s display of his works. Hearing how and where and why and who from the artist himself made the images come to life and engendered a respect for the work required to undertake such a project.

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What does it mean to you? To create. I’m not talking any biblical sense of the word. But I am creative. People tell me that. And I do feel it. I believe it. It is part of who I am. What about you? Don’t think you’re creative? I don’t believe it. How we create is unique to each of us. Some people create music. Some people create art. Some people create gardens. Some people create unique ways to get their children to pick up their room. Some people create a positive personal energy that they share freely with those around them. They may not see that as creative. But I do. What you create and how you do it are as personal as your DNA.

Creative flower pots
Creative flower pots

I used to help run the Art Literacy program in my children’s elementary school and middle school. With a team, we planned out a school year’s worth of master artist presentations and accompanying art projects to inspire the children. Volunteers were trained and then able to present in their own children’s classes. We were aiming at giving the children a language with which to view art – an art literacy, if you will. Armed with new vocabulary that was ever reinforced over the years with a variety of artists spanning many generations and styles, a child would be able to look at any piece of art and know things about it. They may or may not remember the name of that artist or where he was from or what year it was painted. But, they would be able to see how the artist’s use of LINE makes the piece interesting. How COLOR expresses feeling. How SHAPE defines subjects and compositions. From pre-K to 8th grade, 4 year olds to 14 year olds. The children got it. Pablo Picasso said “every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”

One of the major challenges we faced as organizers of this fabulous program was with volunteers who deemed themselves “uncreative.” They couldn’t paint. They didn’t know how to draw. They weren’t artists. So they said. Didn’t matter. Doesn’t matter. And although I would have adored the space to let each volunteer go through their paces with each hands-on project before leading children through, it wasn’t necessary. Where adults might get hung up wouldn’t be where the children would be hung up and sometimes being too comfortable with the medium leads to constraint on their childrens’ interpretation. There was no right or wrong way. How the child used the proposed materials and how they manufactured their piece was up to them. They were creating. Let them create. Would it be a masterpiece? Maybe. Some were. Some materials were easier to use and afforded a wall-worthy outcome. I will admit that I love seeing some of the projects over the years on the walls in friends’ homes or posted to their fridges or tacked to the bulletin board. Not all of the finished projects were so share worthy. But. Did the child get to see what it was like to use charcoal pencils. Yes. Usually all over their hands, arms, sometimes face. Was it different than a regular pencil? Yes. How about oil pastels. Or wire. Or clay. All different. Different ways of composing. Different ways of translating that idea or vision in their head through the materials provided into something else in the time allotted. That is creating. Trying. Sometimes succeeding. Sometimes learning. Never failing.

My home space for creating
My home space for creating

We need more of that in our life. Trying. Sometimes succeeding. Sometimes learning. Never failing. Creating. I truly believe that we all do it. We just don’t call it that. We are constantly creating new ways to express ourselves. To our children. To our spouse. To our friends. To our community. To the grocery store clerk who keeps putting the canned goods in after the produce. Seriously? Not an issue here in Denmark – you bag your goods yourself. And you better do it quickly, because even if that divider thing that slides the next customer’s goods to the end beside you – he may only have two things and you have 22 and then the next person waiting has no place for their goods to slide to. Incredulous look to follow, hurried packing ensues. Creatively shoving your plastic packaged produce on top. Creating.

Wee lass creating her Ancient Egyptian Costume
Wee lass creating her Ancient Egyptian Costume

Living in a foreign country affords a million and one ways to create. We must establish new staples in our diets with what we can economically find here. We must generate adaptations of our old favorite recipes using metric systems and slutty stoves that only speak Danish and work in Celsius. Quick son, what is the conversion for 350 degrees Fahrenheit again? We must craft our space here. Unfurnished it was. We must be inventive on how to get to and from school and work. What happens when your pre-paid travel kort is empty? Get creative. The kids are getting good at that one. With a broken ankle, I have to invent ways of moving those dishes from the table to the dishwasher. How to sweep the floor without breaking the other foot. How to do laundry. I usually push a chair in front of me with my crutches piled with the goods requiring transfer. I’m sure the neighbors downstairs love that. We must generate new social contacts, friends and classmates. I’m doing ok in that arena. It is fun creating those new relationships. I have to fashion some sort of Eurovision Viewing Party themed costume for some new friends’ event tomorrow night. Don’t know what Eurovision is? Me either. I’m about to find out. Hmmmm. Outfit suggestions? I’ll figure out something! It will probably be completely off mark, but I will have tried.

Creative interpretation of a classic
Creative interpretation of a classic

So before I let you go this Fredag. Please take this into your weekend. Remember that we are all creative. We do it everyday. Push yourself to create something different. Set the table a different way. Take a different way to work. Make a new playlist. Doodle on your checkbook. Write a letter. Post a picture to Instagram using a new filter (let go of the reins Nellie – don’t hold yourself back!) Mix a patterned top with striped pants. You get the idea. You can go big. You can keep it simple. It’s up to you. But know while you’re doing it, you are the only one who made it. You are the only one who created it. You are creative. Wow. I did not set out to produce such a self-help piece today. But there it is. Create. My friends. Create. Whatever forces in the universe brought you to read this, I hope it has inspired. Possibly instilled a new outlook in your personal space. One where moving around the world is not required. Moving yourself. That’s all. Go. Do. Create. And share! I wanna see! Here’s my latest…

Paper crafting class project
Paper crafting class project

Happy Fredag! Cheers from Denmark!