IN THE SPACE IN-BETWEEN EXISTS A THREE-DIMENSIONAL PARALLEL UNIVERSE UNLIKE ANYTHING YOU COULD EVER DREAM. UNLESS YOU’RE EAMES DEMETRIOS, THAT IS
Photographs by Leann Mueller
Armed with just a travel guide and two pairs of Isotoner gloves, my boyfriend, Matthew, and I trudged through New York City on a frigid winter afternoon in search of enlightenment. We found it at the bottom of a stairwell, just outside the entrance to the East Village’s scruffy Arrow Bar. According to a bronze plaque mounted on the wall, it was near this site that a $24 gambling debt owed to the Algonquin Round Table Casino forever transformed the history and ownership of Manhattan. “How many drunk patrons do you think have stood puzzling over this plaque at 2 a.m.?” Matthew asked me. That depends on where they get their history.
The “Sale of Manhattan” is currently the mid-Atlantic region’s only marked site for the Kcymaerxthaere (pronounced Ky- MAR-ex-theer), a fictional universe that’s largely parallel to our own. “A lot of the events of the Kcymaerxthaere took place a generation of generations ago,” says Eames Demetrios, the project’s 49-year-old creative force and official geographer-at-large, a position that has him discovering this alternate universe rather than just inventing it. The Kcymaerxthaere is what Demetrios calls a global work of three-dimensional storytelling, an undertaking that includes gallery shows, lectures, a website, plaque installation ceremonies, occasional bus and walking tours and even sing-alongs. Luckily, the accomplished filmmaker, author and artist is accustomed to grand endeavors: His maternal grandparents were the legendary midcentury modern designers Charles and Ray Eames, perhaps best known for their enduring leather-upholstered Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman and architecturally inspiring Case Study House #8 (Eames House). Demetrios spent much of his childhood immersed in imaginative pursuits. The Kcymaerxthaere is simply a natural progression.
The idea behind Kcymaerxthaere, or Kymaerica, as it was earlier known, originated in the early ’90s with a screenplay Demetrios penned about Los Angeles’ invasion and occupation of San Francisco for its water rights, but it wasn’t until a decade later that the project began taking shape. “About seven years ago, I was really fascinated with roads,” Demetrios says, “and [I] took lots of photographs — not just of roads but of textures. I always felt like I was capturing something just outside the frame, which in some ways is obviously not logical. Then it all manifested into this project.” Eventually realizing that he could create these “three-dimensional storytelling experiences,” Demetrios installed his first plaque, the “Battle of Athenz,” in what he calls linear Athens, Ga. (all his references to our world include the word linear), in 2003. Today, there are some 70 markers documenting events from the Kcymaerxthaere worldwide: “Angel Alley and Surrounds” appears in a London alleyway near a Kentucky Fried Chicken; “Storyteller Flats” adorns the side of a large boulder in Siren, Wis., about 30 yards off State Route 70; and the “Battle of Marathon” stands opposite a seafood eatery’s takeout window in the Florida Keys. There are also a handful of more fully realized historical sites, such as Embassy Row in Paris, Ill., a town that has particularly taken to the project, and the walk through Krblin Jihn Kabin in Joshua Tree, Calif., which has a nine-point compass embedded in the floor. Demetrios installs these plaques and sites at what he calls “points of intersection,” pinning some parts (“Not all parts,” he stresses, “but some”) of his parallel universe to our own linear world.
Exploring the Kcymaerxthaere requires a hearty imagination because Demetrios’ fictional universe is based on the theory that we can change how we perceive our visual environment, or as Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” With a bit of mental flexing, these stories — accessible online, at individual physical sites, at Demetrios’ Kcymaerxthaere lectures and in two travel guides — are not just amusing but also interesting, with inventive characters like time-slipping Grwosts and seven-legged Gnaciens, deer-resembling creatures that have highly nutritious prime-numbered legs but poisonous (and ultimately deadly) nonprime ones. Similar to our linear world, the Kcymaerxthaere is separated into continent-like shapes called rezhns that are then divided into distrykts and gwomes, or nation-footprints. Each gwome has its own texture flag, a unique cultural symbol that Demetrios often displays at gallery shows. All of the Kcymaerxthaere’s plaques and stories relate in a larger context but not necessarily to all the others.