Tulse Luper

The character

Tulse Luper is a character created by Peter Greenaway who appears a number of times in his films: he can be seen or is at least referred to in A Walk Through H: the Reincarnation of an Ornithologist, Vertical Features Remake, The Fall and Drowning by Numbers, and he is of course the main character of The Tulse Luper Suitcases trilogy. To a large extent, it makes sense to consider Tulse Luper as Greenaway’s alter ego; just like Greenaway, Tulse Luper is complex and multi-faceted, ambiguous, both witness and actor of the events of his time, precise but changing, committed but independent. He is the very symbol of his own existence.

Peter Greenaway himself wrote that Tulse Luper is «combined from various admired eruditions - John Cage - for John Cage's inventiveness and ability to tell stories... Buckminster Fuller - for Buckminster Fuller's stamina and loquaciousness... an enviable touch of Marcel Duchamp for mystery and provocativeness... and then to bring it all back to earth, the landscape and Natural History, to taxonomists and cataloguers, egg-collectors and left-handed clerks and parochial diarists - to make him familiar and local and English. He borrowed a touch of the gossip, John Aubrey, and the innocent, studious naturalist Gilbert White of Selbourne, and the red-faced ecologist, William Cobbett. Other traits derive from Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Ronald Brooks Kitaj, Sacha Vierny, Laurence Sterne, Peter Greenaway's father, Marshall McLuhan, Jean le Rond d'Alembert, Edward Gibbon, Charles Darwin, Father Christmas, John James Audubon, Étienne-Louis Boullée, Samuel Johnson, Carolus Linnaeus, Fatty Arbuckle, Jacques Ledoux, Thornton Wilder and Isaac Newton.

Lover and sometime wife is/was Cissie Colpitts. Known to sport a hat and pipe, sometimes a shotgun and motor-cycle. Is a polyglot, a polymath, and sometime tiresome autodidact who had a mocking theory about almost everything - he was always speaking his mind. Makes continual significant appearances as a referee of events. Some say he is far-sighted but garrulous, others that he is myopic. He could be blind. Takes pleasure in accumulating more of the same yet relishing the essential minor differences. Once appeared as an authoritative ornithologist, which was a surprise even to those who know him best. Was a master-cataloguer, an enumerator and a collector of statistics. Had a compulsion to draw maps, index disaster and break chaos into small pieces so that he might rearrange those pieces in a different way, perhaps alphabetically. Likes to reminisce and look back. Madgett in “Drowning by Numbers“ is regarded as a plumper and more combative version of Tulse Luper.»

The Tulse Luper Suitcases

From the Tulse Luper network: «The Tulse Luper Suitcases reconstructs the life of Tulse Henry Purcell Luper, a professional writer and project-maker, cought up in a life of prisons. He was born in 1911 in Newport, South Wales, England and presumably last heard of in 1989. His life is reconstructed from the evidence of 92 suitcases found around the world - 92 being the atomic number of the element Uranium. Our ambition (...) is to build an extensive, online archive of his adventures, the places he visited, the characters he met, his prisons, the projects he made, the objects that were found in the 92 suitcases and of some events in 20th century history. Luper's life is set against the background of the 20th century history of Uranium. It covers some sixty years from 1928 with the mining potential discovery of Uranium in Colorado, to 1989 and the break-up of the Berlin Wall at the end of the Cold War, that at least saw a hiatus and perhaps a first-chapter finish to the story of Uranium, nuclear fission and the potential of the Atomic Bomb. These years could perhaps be called the Uranium Years. Perhaps future historians might refer to the twentieth century as the Uranium Century, such has been the real and metaphorical power of that word and that element hovering over the Second World War and the subsequent Cold War.»

With The Tulse Luper Suitcases Greenaway realised a gigantic and polymorphous oeuvre, articulated through a wide net of media: besides the movies - The Moab Story, Vaux to the Sea, From Sark to the Finish, A Life in Suitcases - the project comes also in TV series, DVDs, expositions, theatre plays and installations, a website, an online game, books, etc. This is an oeuvre comprising an exceptionally diverse, and maybe uniquely large variety of narrative techniques, all of it initiated and realised by Greenaway.

«One description of The Tulse Luper Suitcases is to describe it as the autobiography of a professional prisoner. It may be that we are all prisoners of something - love, money, sex, fame, religious belief, power, ambition, greed, debt, a job, a garden, a dog, train-time-tables, a mortgage, perhaps just the grocery bill. Consequently most prisons are not rooms with a barred window and a locked door. And a second truism - every prisoner needs a jailer just as every jailer needs a prisoner to legitimise his job description. The resultant relationship is a balance of power situation, and not always weighted in favour of the jailer. The above list is no idle list, for my hero, Tulse Luper, not so many million miles from me, his author, suffers from being imprisoned by most of these characteristics. Of course as author, I am Tulse Luper's jailer, just as I am his prisoner. But I get to choose the prisons. (...) Tulse Luper tries to make all the prisons of The Tulse Luper Suitcases, prisons with a view.» - Peter Greenaway, introduction to the Tulse Luper in Turin book.

Tulse Luper is bringing a life of travels all around the world shared with numerous journeys in a lot of jails. The suitcases of Tulse Luper are like prisons, hiding objects, tangible (photographs, toys, sewing needles) or more metaphorical (rainbows, a sleeper, Tulse's life). They are all glimpses of Luper's existence, and perhaps, by extension, our own.

Tulse Luper Journey

Among the many projects developed by Peter Greenaway around The Tulse Luper Suitcases, the online game called "Tulse Luper Journey" takes on a special significance in my own experience.

As a player of the game (unfortunately no longer available), you were an explorer of the 92 suitcases that Tulse Luper packed during his life and distributed all over the world. By opening the 92 suitcases while solving the corresponding game, and with the help of other players, one was able to gather information about Tulse Luper, and collect all the fragments of a 92-minute film. This very exciting game, beautifully designed, was highlighted by extremely difficult tasks: all players will forever remember the mind-blowing "code" of suitcase 39, or the typing challenge of suitcase 88...

A number of prizes were available to players of the game, rewarding specific steps in the global quest. The first prize, a trip around the world in the footsteps of Tulse Luper, was offered to the player who completed the research before the deadline and presented an original project related to Luper's story. I was incredibly lucky to be chosen as the winner of this first prize from a community of up to 12500 players!

Thanks to this magical trip I visited some exceptional places of our world and added my little contribution to a blog dedicated to The Tulse Luper Suitcases, mixing real facts and fictions.

From Transience to today

Like many artists, I develop a few obsessions in my work that recur more or less consciously: time, the avoidance of notions of beginning and end, numbers, symmetry, a desperate need for globalization, and a constant desire to create perfect cycles. I think this shows enough to explain why Greenaway's work has such a resonance in my own sensibility.

The story of Tulse Luper, or rather his stories, are for me the absolute symbol of Greenaway's art. The fascinating character of Tulse Luper, who is not only a completely re-created life, but also personifies an analysis of 60 years of the 20th century from several points of view, is in my opinion one of the greatest and most complete forms of art ever created!

My project is to compose a large symphonic/instrumental/vocal concept based on The Tulse Luper Suitcases. The whole piece will be 92 minutes long. Each minute is directly related to the corresponding suitcase and can be seen as a self-describing chose en soi with its own specific containment, a cell living in perfect autarky. By assembling the cells, through the cumulative juxtaposition of all its particles, the Tulse Luper organism is progressively generated in a process of gestation.

Transience was the first step of this huge global project, which I hope to have time to write, and gathers the first 12 referenced suitcases, used as aesthetic and philosophical sources. Since then, more suitcases have been written, mostly integrated, hidden within my other successive projects. The Ariadne's thread is gradually being built up, reconstructing the musical alter ego of the emblematic character imagined by Greenaway.

About my suitcases