It’s spooky season, and Hope’s Harvest RI volunteers got a bit of a fright at the sight of strange aliens in the fields over the past two months “Are they protestors?” a volunteer asked, “What do they want?” “Why are they here?”
The creatures you have seen on gleaning trips or on our social media are called the Yuranian Aliens, a species of Subterranean Extraterrestrials. They are part of the Space Transformation Station (STS,) a satellite project of the well-known international performance group and creature fabrication studio based in Providence, RI, Big Nazo. Big Nazo’s performance style blends puppet and mask traditions, live music, street theater, and Commedia Del Arte.
Just like Hope’s Harvest RI, the STS is funded by the Carter Fellowship for Entrepreneurial Innovation, a program at the Rhode Island Foundation founded by John and Letitia Carter. The STS flagship space exists in the Intermodal Center in Kennedy Plaza, and is the first of many empty storefronts in local transit hubs and city centers to be converted into vital, “autonomous creativity zones,” says Erminio Pinque, founder and director of Big Nazo.
When STS aliens arrive on site, they choose to reinforce the vibes and actions of those around them, surprise or distract participants and onlookers, or simply be as an “undefined element” of the setting. As people experience their own reaction to strange stimuli, there is a moment of awareness invoked by the presence of something unfamiliar. This reaction can be a valuable indicator of how we, as society, interact with the ‘Other.’
Ermino argues that people have forgotten how to imagine the world from a different point of view and struggle to empathize for humans and beings whose existence don’t fit our perception of ‘good’, ‘equal’, or ‘important.’ We have lost the skill of civil discourse and the nuances of what it means to converse rather than argue, listen rather than speak, and try to understand rather than reinforce what we already believe. Ermino continues that “true innovation and the parts of our institutions we cherish were developed” from the integration and collaboration of “outsiders” and “outsider ideas.” Accepting others and modeling positive behavior when presented with challenging views or ideas are integral to the development of human culture.
So why is Big Nazo on Hope’s Harvest RI trips?
The pandemic has forced us all to adjust to the new norms of socially distant experiences, and the STS is no exception. With Kennedy Plaza on lockdown, public appearances of Big Nazo in “outer-spaces” has become their sole available mode of performance. Whether these spaces are urban centers, small neighborhoods, or in our case, rural farms, the creatures of STS are finding their way into the public eye on the most unexpected stages.
When Erminio approached Hope’s Harvest RI about a potential collaboration, everyone saw the STS as an opportunity to cultivate joy and curiosity in all the “untapped fantasy of farming.” Those who follow Hope’s Harvest RI have seen the wide array of “ugly produce” we gather; intertwined carrots embracing, heart-shaped radishes, people-shaped potatoes, and conjoined tomatoes to name just a few examples. When we glean, we realize that the nature of nature is often weird and unpredictable. Our nourishment comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and despite modern marketing for “perfect produce,” humans have always grown, cooked, and shared meals from the diverse and sometimes strange bounty of Earth.
On site at Hope’s Harvest RI gleans, the Yuranian Aliens have danced, traded potatoes, chattered in foreign languages, and celebrated in the company of volunteers. They remind us of the magic and the opportunity for exploration every time we pick a funky fruit, chat with a new peer, and navigate the unknown of cultural, agricultural, and physically different encounters.
The seeds we plant are connected to the seasons of the cosmos, and to forget our tiny point of view in the larger system of the universe can blind us to the larger unity of humanity, the earth, and how we are all united under the stars. We are never alone in our existence, and if grappling with our awkward tendencies in the face of “difference” is something we can practice when aliens touch down in the fields mid glean, then we will only be more prepared when we encounter a person, group, or party that also challenges our beliefs.
Follow Big Nazo on social media @bignazo to see their spontaneous outdoor performances and “get out the vote” appearances. Instagram is the group’s main platform from which they repost to Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.
If you want more spooky adventures with Hope’s Harvest RI, don’t miss our Hallogleans the last week of October! Keep an eye on our Facebook and newsletter posts for more details.