Intuitive Art Bookmaking workshop with Tamar Swartz

On March 28th, Jumblies Platform A micro-grant recipient Tamar Swartz made a guest appearance at our weekly Friday drop-in session to lead a bookmaking workshop through a process she calls “intuitive art-making”. Intuitive art is a practise that Tamar has developed in her own personal art-making and in workshop settings with other community groups, and it was a treat to have her in to share her knowledge with us. Here are some shots of the group getting into the task at hand!

 

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Tamar explaining what we’re about to do!

 

 

 

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Johnny and Michael cutting and pasting. 

 

 

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Marlene told a beautiful story about a stranger’s act of kindness in her book. 

 

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Thanks to Tamar for sharing her process with us and making our Friday at PARC extra special. 

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More Pictures from the Anniversary Celebration

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all photos by Katherine Fleitas

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25 Cakes

The title of this post could be either “Twenty Five Cakes” or “Thirty Four Cakes”. PARC recently celebrated its 34th year of operations, and to mark the occasion, Sand in Water members worked intently to create an appropriate celebratory spectacle. At the same time, we were working on publishing our second book of the year, which is called “25 Cakes”, and tells the story of a man named Wayne and his participation in the 25th anniversary of PARC. It was that year when the idea came to make twenty-five cakes for the twenty-fifth anniversary, and ever since then one more cake is added to the list each year, making for a room full of elaborately decorated, glowing, sugary creations.

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The event seemed to come together in a flash – Sand in Water members and other PARC volunteers spent countless hours the week of the party planning, baking, paper-macheing,  sculpting, rehearsing songs, and reminiscing about anniversaries past.

A special guest (re-)appearance was made by the PARC dragon – an old creature rumoured to have once held mascot status at the drop-in. A two-headed, multi-personalitied version was created by Making Room artists and Sand in Water members, and helped to kick off the celebration with a short performance.

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Making Room’s choir came out with another wonderful performance, singing all new songs and starting off the music and dance part of the evening! The abundance of sugary treats in people’s systems made for some great dance moves, as the Zepheniah James Band played some tunes for us to end the night. The final hurrah came with the breaking open of our dragon’s egg piñata, which took more than a few hits to crack open!

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All in all it was a wonderful way to celebrate PARC’s 34th anniversary and the launch of our second book. Sand in Water weekly sessions are back in full swing for the coming months as we prepare for the next big spectacle…so stay tuned!

 

 

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A lot has happened since our last post! Two weeks ago exactly, we had our first book launch and celebration at PARC. This event was a culmination of all the work we’ve been doing and fun we’ve been having since October with Sand In Water. The event was a HUGE success, and the launch of Pathways of Life is only just the beginning. We are already working on publishing the next story, 25 Cakes, which will be launched on Friday, March 14. Check back for more details on this soon!.

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The evening of our launch brought over 120 people into the transformed drop-in space at PARC. Making Room team and other volunteers worked tirelessly to make our usual drop-in room into a reinvented camp-like experience. The aroma of Zephie’s fish soup wafting out from the kitchen, paper lanterns adorning the tables, and a rock sculpture created in the image of Camp Kandalore’s infamous “smoking rock” all helped to bring us into the wilderness of camp while staying warm in Parkdale.
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There was a beautiful inaugural performance of Making Room’s choir, which ended in a sing-along of a favourite camp song, “Fire’s Burning”. We’re all looking forward to hearing the choir’s next performance on March 14th! For anyone interested in coming to a choir rehearsal, they happen Thursday evenings at 6:30, and you can get in touch with us to find out where.
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Another highlight of the celebration was the showcasing of a collection of wooden and mixed media books made by Tyde, a PARC member and longtime Making Room supporter. Her fantastical creations brought an element of magic and wonder to the evening which was enjoyed by all who stopped to interact with her inventions.
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We will be spending the next several weeks preparing to publish 25 Cakes by continuing our weekly drop-in workshops on Wednesday afternoons where we will produce imagery for the book and grand ideas for the next celebration. Stay tuned here or drop by PARC to see more of what we are up to!
(Photo credits to Katherine Fleitas)
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Our Fantastic Fall Update…and more!

We have been speeding through a very busy fall and early winter season at Making Room!  Since November, we have been back at PARC working with members to create a variety of art pieces centred around the story The Pathway of Life, written by PARC staff member Bob Rose. We are now in the stages of publishing this story as a book, using the gorgeous visual material that came out of workshops done over the last months. These include string prints, free-hand drawings, photo tracing, and scanner art. We can’t wait to see the book in its final form in just under two weeks time!

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We are also busy preparing for the celebration we are throwing to launch the book on January 31. We have been coming up with many ideas on how to transform the PARC drop-in space into a magical camp-like environment for the evening. Most noticeably so far, we have been working on creating a large papier-mache rock at Friday’s drop in. The final product will have been inspired by the rock at Camp Kandalore where people sit to smoke, chat, and wait for the dinner bell to ring.

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We want to invite you to this celebration and “Pathway of Life” book launch, which are both the results of the combined efforts of over 50 PARC members and staff.  The evening will include the inaugural performance of the Making Room Choir (led by Shifra Cooper), camp stew and distribution of free copies of the book. Art work created throughout the fall will also be exhibited. The celebration will start at 6:30pm, on January 31 in the PARC drop-in. Everyone is welcome!

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Breaking through the Noise

Last week we launched the Living Machine, our most recent art project – a mobile art environment. Rebecca and the Wise Fools Choir had prepared several performances for the occasion. The first was a slow version of the old Child ballad the House Carpenter (click here for Rebecca’s post on this song).

Because the song is quite quiet and was to be performed in the busy drop-in, I suggested we have someone with a loud booming voice introduce them in the hopes of grabbing people’s attention as long as we could. Rebecca had a different idea: “I was thinking we would walk in together, sit in our chairs and begin to sing” she told me. When it was time, the choir emerged from the basement wearing white robes, entered the drop-in and found their seats around the stage area. Then they began to sing beautifully, listening carefully to one another and their confidence increased with every line.

Staff in the offices upstairs emerged along the stairwell, groups of people moved closer to hear them better and a gentled quiet took over the room – unusual for the drop-in – except as one member said to me – when people were eating.

The experience reminded me of something Ira Glass said in a talk given at the 2007 Gel Conference. Despite the fact that “This American Life” is about to broadcast its 500th episode and is into its 17th year, Leah and I only discovered it about a year ago. Since then we have managed to make through much of the episode archives and have become huge fans. Although the program began as an experiment in micro-journalism, exploring stories and moments ignored by almost anyone, since 9/11 Glass and his team have increased their scope to include the political and systemic, they have learned to moved effortlessly – and technically awe-inspiringly – between the micro and the macro, while finding the truly human behind every twist and turn.

In his speech, Glass begins describing his approach to storytelling, something he has done elsewhere. He also applies a moving retelling of Scheherazade and 1001 Nights in order to share the importance of storytelling. But it is his conclusion that I think of most often. He tells us that not only are we surrounded by stories, we are also drowning in them with various media bodies veying for our attention. But as he says, there is something about the heart felt story that can cut through the noise – whether it is in the drop-in or in the contemporary media-verse – and have people listen to one another.

It is something Ira Glass and his team does delightfully at “This American Life” and it is what we strive to do at Making Room with the Living Machine, the Wise Fools and other such projects.

I’ve included a transcript of his beautiful conclusion here:

“I think what it’s about, among other things, this story, is that it is about the power of narrative. How narrative itself is a back door into a very deep place inside of us. And a place where reason doesn’t necessarily hold sway. When a story gets inside of us, it makes us less crazy… There have been stories in the news about, I don’t know, about Al Qaeda, but until you meet someone who actually joined al Qaeda, until that moment, you don’t even know what you are talking about. There has to be a person’s story that you get in your head – this is what it would be like to be that person. Or this is what is going on in Baghadad right now. This is what it would be like to be that soldier in Baghdad. This is the situation right now.  This is why, if I was a Suni, why I would hate the Shia and vice versa. Until that moment you know nothing, and everything about you as a person, deals with the information you are given in a flawed way. All of us in this room live in a very particular cultural moment, where we are bambarded by more narrative than anyone who has ever lived. I can’t remember the playwright who said this, but the last few decades, we are the first people to see actors perform on a stage on a daily basis. You know? And for us, it is even more so.  Every story on the web is a narrative, every ad is narrative, everything on television of course is a narrative, every song is a narrative. And it is narrative, narrative, narrative all day long.

“Speaking for myself, I have to say, the thing that characterizes most of those stories, is that they are yelling at us a little bit. That they are yelling at us and trying to get our attention. And trying to pierce through all the noise of the narrative. And because they are yelling, it gives them, not only a shrillness, but a falseness. Like they have to sell us the story.”

“We just started doing our show as a show on television, and one of the things about stories of  real people on television is that the people are never really at human scale. They are either like specimens, little bugs on the side to illustrate big social principles, or something that is happening in the news. Or they are props in a fake drama on a reality show. And no knock on those shows, I love those shows, but there has to be an entire apparatus set up.”

“And one of the rarest things, is to actually encounter somebody in a story around us, in the bombardment of stories – to encounter someone where you actually feel, oh my god, that is how I feel, that is actually what it feels like to be that person. Actually to imagine yourself as that person. It’s just incredibly rare. And when it happens, you totally notice. And it can happen in the oddest places.”

“There is a television show that my wife has me watching now, that has exactly the same plot, every single week, beat for beat, and when you go to the first commercial break, it is the same, when you go the next commercial break it is the same, when you go to the third commercial break it is the same. It is this television show called “House”, have you seen this? And I don’t understand why she watches it, except, but I do understand, because there is something in the actor who plays that actor, that seems so real to both of us. That, simply, to watch someone inhabit, that attitude which seems real, is enough for us to sit through the biggest crap of storytelling that ever there was. Do you know what I mean? It is simply contrived as a show. But there is something actually human and alive in it because of him, in a way that you almost never see. When it happens, it is rare and you notice. I think that is important, I think it is rare and important to do and that is why we try to do it on our show.”

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The Market – A Night to Remember

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I forsaken her crown of gold

Monday, June 17th 2013

We had a challenging practice today, but I am very proud of what we have accomplished.  We were all tired and hot, and some of us were grumpy, but we made it through a robust and detailed rehearsal.  We started doing an extensive warm-up (almost half an hour), which ended in gentle deep humming with our mouths closed.  I received a lot of positive verbal feedback after this exercise – people said that it was really relaxing, that it made them feel good, and Yohan said, ‘I feel so relaxed, I feel ready to go into a meditation now’.  We sat for ten minutes, and I think that it helped with the heat of the day.

Following our sit, we practiced our sea shanty while walking around the room, in time.  We then added instruments – I improvised an introductory melody on the violin, and Alice played along on her ‘Bazooka’ (kazoo).  We also added percussion instruments, and we worked to enunciate each word while maintaining an excited atmosphere.  Unfortunately I didn’t record this part of the rehearsal.

We also pulled together the first three verses of our Child Ballad, The House Carpenter.  It’s still slow compared to the Clarence Ashley version that I learned it from, but we’re singing in tune and we’re really listening to each other.  I tried out a new exercise today: I asked the group to sing as quietly as possible, ensuring that we could hear all of the different voices within the circle (there were seven of us today).  Sometimes I feel frustrated with this group, but I am amazed at how far we have come – the listening was intense, and the words and melody came through.  We also had an easier time hearing the men’s voices, which gives the choir a thickness that is very satisfying to listen to.  There was stillness in the room, informing me that the group cares about listening, and improving our sound as a whole.

This is the final product:

A couple of challenges came up today.  One, I noticed myself becoming quite frustrated with the talking that sometimes rises up between practice sections.  I was feeling on edge, and I am often unsure of how ‘hard’ I should be in our refinement workshops.  We are mostly past the creation stage, which means that I have to place more emphasis on repetition and careful listening.  I recognize that there is deep satisfaction in attentive work, and in getting something ‘right’.  These workshops are different from our other workshops, because there is a lower volume of work being produced, but there is more pressure for participants to perfect something over a given span of time.  I am constantly trying to adjust and re-adjust this balance – how refined do I need to be in my workshop structures, and how much work do we put into refinement as a group?  How much do I push the group and try to hold them together, and how much do I allow them express themselves however they are?  In our creation workshops, I barely ‘touch’ them with my words, and the group develops its own energy.  I feel that in preparing for performance, however, I need to push a little harder and apply my own judgements about perfection.  There is group energy available for this, as well – they want to get it right, but this means challenging work.

My other current challenge is more related to musical communication.  Because our songs are quite repetitive (given the nature of storytelling folksongs), there is a danger of becoming too dirge-like and sleepy.  In traditional versions of ballads, the singer doesn’t sing each verse the same way – there is different emphasis on different syllables between verses, or slight alterations to the melody.  Even as a so-called professional musician, it can be tempting to sing the song the exact same way over and over again – it’s easier to learn it this way, particularly if you haven’t been raised in this culture of song.  Within our group, it seems that both of our songs fall into slow, repetitive structures.  We have worked them to perfection – how do we breathe life back into them, allowing ourselves to take risks?

Here is an audio sample of the rest of our ‘House Carpenter’ rehearsal:

-          RB

 

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We Make the World

Puppet Love

Puppet Love

Wednesday, June 12th 2013

My basic plan for today was to begin constructing a Creation narrative with the group.  We have worked already to create voices and characters, but we haven’t developed our story.  My ‘safe zone’ as an individual creator is to think for a long time and then write, or to think through writing, or to think through music.  I have done a sort of story-thinking through the body (or ‘PLAY’) in group improvisation settings with actors and dancers, but yesterday I felt anxious because I have never directed this kind of activity.

I knew that I didn’t want to facilitate a writing activity – I could envision the group getting stuck in all of their thinking, and I also worried about collectively writing a creation story that didn’t translate smoothly from words ‘on the page’ to a story ‘in the body’.  By the time the workshop began, however, my only tool was a list of questions pertaining to Creation. I.e. ‘Why make a world?’ ‘How did it happen?’  Was there a Creator?’ ‘What does the world look like?’ ‘What kinds of beings live there?’ ‘How is the world habitable?’ ‘How did it become habitable?’ ‘Is this world in danger?’ etc.  I also had a coconut shell as a potentially-inspiring object – the two halves are attached by a zipper, which can be opened to reveal a fabric pouch on the inside.

Marlene and the World

Marlene and the World

Alice

Alice

I started the workshop by asking participants to peek inside the shell and tell us about what they saw.  In hindsight, this activity relates directly to a conversation that I had with Michael and Sonja on Monday.  Quoting something he had recently read, Michael suggested that ‘Objects pull us out of ourselves and into the world’.  An object therefore becomes a sort of membrane that forms the basis for interaction.  In the case of the coconut, the shell acted as a seed within which an ecosystem could imaginatively grow.  Our answers were:

-          A happy world with peace.  Wheat and grass grow here, and marijuana.  There’s no crack and no cocaine, only plants that feed us, and peace and understanding (Marlene).

-          A part of the world which is very silent – this a cave that I see in here.  I am always interested in caves, and solitude.  In our Eastern religion we talk about silence – from silence comes the Mystery, and Creativity (Yohan).

-          I see the world renewing, and taking me back home.  But the earth is a different colour – it’s not blue, it’s sort of red.  There’s something happening in some distant part of the earth and it’s gotta be renewed.  And I’m sorry for it, because it’s our fault (Michelle).

-          I see a big dock with lots of water.  I see a shoreline that is all bumpy with pine trees, and it reminds me of what it feels like to be a kid (Michael Burtt).

-          I see a moon, and a meteorite goin’ past the moon, and the meteorite’s a dark colour with a little sparkle, and the moon is a crescent moon at that (Alice).

This was a beautiful activity, and it seemed to spark creativity while bringing us into a softly focussed, contemplative space.

RB and the World

RB and the World

At some point over the course of our coconut-peering, I arrived at an idea that I thought might solve my anxiety over how to improvise a world into being.  I had been thinking earlier about physically acting out the story, and this didn’t feel right for me.  Instead, I decided to see if we could sound out the beginning of the world.  We sat with our eyes closed, and I asked the group to imagine early morning on the first day of the world.  I then asked them to very quietly sound this out.  This is what we came up with:

I then asked each person of the group different questions, such as who was walking around?  Where did they come from?  One person would contribute a thought, and then I would move on to the next question.  We eventually came up with a character, a moon woman, who is walking around and singing, inviting the flowers and the mountains and the trees to come to life.  The group collectively made sounds for each of these beings, so that it felt like the world was creakily growing, and breathing, through sound.  One of the most stunning limits of the human voice is that it has to breathe: we have been using a lot of machine imagery lately, because we are building a machine, but our machine is called the ‘Living Machine’.  I think that our choral activities form a strong basis for enlivening the machine, because at our most basic level we learn how to breathe together, and this act reminds us that even in our most efficient, coordinated moments we are still living beings and not machines.

The world is waking up:

After our sit, I facilitated narrative refinement with puppets.  We made the same world-growing noises, but we brought the cone-puppets out and came up with movements.  I then asked Alice to narrate, and I also asked her to sing the moon-woman song while the puppets grew.  This is our first attempt:

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I have been thinking lately about the joint process of creation and refinement within a group setting.  On Monday we had a really focussed workshop that involved singing the same song again and again, and trying to get all of our notes in tune.  Michael had suggested that perhaps this facilitation style was too ‘tight’ – too dependent on the facilitator, with not enough participant input.  Today’s workshop was very different – as a facilitator I touched the group with questions, but we all created together.  I had an interesting insight about this: at the beginning of the year (September/October), I tried to facilitate activities such as this one, involving group improvisation through sound.  While they weren’t complete failures, I felt like I was herding sheep and very little progress was made.  I feel that the other kind of work (detailed refinement), which takes an entirely different kind of discipline, has helped the group to form the trust and creative cohesion that is required in order to improvise collectively.  In addition, the facilitator-heavy rehearsals are spaces wherein the group can relax into a clear structure, building up skills without being continuously subject to the vulnerability of original creation.

The idea of building hard skills as a group (ie. being able to sing in tune) reminds me of something that my university music-improvisation teacher, Casey Sokol, often spoke about.  He was concerned with the idea of ‘practicing for improvisation’ – How does a person practice with the aim of pulling magical threads from the air?  Maybe a metaphor of ritual can be applied here.  How does the shaman or otherwise-named leader of ritual learn the structures that will enable the transformative element to occur during the act itself?  They can’t always be inviting magic in – this would be creatively exhausting, and the magic only happens when the other structures are performed correctly.  And, how do the ritual-participants learn these structures, preparing themselves to be ceremonially moved?

In musical terms we sometimes speak of ‘instrument geography’ – knowing your fingerboard or your keyboard so well that you can make your way around it without a map.  There is also something that could be called the geography of a tradition – knowing the notes and the phrasing and all the other technical elements so well that you no longer require a teacher or a guidebook.  This concept applies to the performer and also to the audience members.  If the audience members have no knowledge surrounding the formal structures of the tradition they are witnessing, it is less likely that they will feel moved in the intangible sense.  Blues music, for instance, all sounded the same to me (boring and repetitive) until I started learning how to play it, at which point it became an impossibly expansive world unto itself.  This is why context is so important when learning about traditions outside those that the performer/audience member has been raised in.

Grist for the mill.

-          RB

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Michelle awakens her puppet

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Shapeshifting

Beast by Shelley and Brenda

Beast by Shelley and Brenda

Wednesday, June 5th 2013

In my Monday meeting with Michael, Sonja and Farah on Monday, we talked about what elements of our production we would like to have ready for the Solstice (June 21st).  We agreed that it would be great to have a puppet performance prepared, and that we would like to have some audience interaction with the puppets.

One of the challenges that I have been pondering is how to create new characters, while using this performance as an opportunity to display the beautiful puppets that we made for Under One Tent.  I like the theme of Creation Story, and I have been excited about the possibilities for creating lush and flamboyant puppet creatures to suit the voice-characters that we recently developed.  I haven’t wanted to return to the original characters that we made for the cone-puppets, because we spent a lot of time working with those throughout the winter, and our group needs something fresh.

Beast by Rebecca and Shelley

Beast by Rebecca and Shelley

During our meeting, Sonja suggested that we create storylines that feature some kind of a transformation.  She suggested that we make mythical-creature costumes for the puppets – these would be fairly easy to construct, and would allow us to add a new element while building on what we already have.  I think that given the construction of the puppets (hard, clay heads with long fabric bodies that fit inside of a cone), an easy costume design would be to make a head-piece that fits securely on to the puppet head, and can be built upon to create a flashy, magical headdress.  To transform the bodies, it would be fairly simple to create a standard cloak that can be painted and embellished with fabric, sequins and feathers.

I did some research on various shape-shifting stories, and I discovered that one of the main narrative features is to have a transformation occur for reasons of either imprisonment or liberation. In Beauty and the Beast, for example, the prince has been imprisoned in a Beast’s body, and only love without judgement can set him free and turn him back into a prince.  In other stories, such as the Selke stories of Scotland, Ireland and Wales, captive seal-wives find the sealskins that their human-husbands stole, and they are thus able to return to their true homes in the ocean.

Beast by Michelle and Marlene

Beast by Michelle and Marlene

Based on experience, I think that an effective way to develop stories with this group is to start with the characters, and then move toward story-development.  This also keeps in line with Michael’s aim to maintain a stronger focus on the act of creating vs. the ideas surrounding creation (sounds like grad-school therapy to me).  I decided to start with the game of ‘exquisite-corpse’.  I asked the participants to think of a habitat, or several habitats that their creature might be able to live in, and then I interviewed them about what the creature looks like.  I asked them to draw the head of the creature, using pastels, on the top portion of a large white piece of paper that I had folded into thirds.  After each head was finished, we passed the creatures to our left.  I asked the participants to draw the torso and bottom-third of their creature as though its body were a cloak, while keeping the top-third folded over.

Beast by Brenda and Michelle

Beast by Brenda and Michelle

The interview and drawing exercise (including an opening warm-up and sit) took up our entire two hours.   I had been hoping to make it to some story development this week, but that will have to wait.  I plan to ask participants some basic questions that can be expanded into larger stories.  I.e. ‘Is this the creature’s natural form, or did it start as a human?’  ‘Did it become this creature as a form of escape?’  What was it escaping from?’ – etc. etc.  I might also try to think of ways that our stories can relate to remembered events in our lives.  I think that sometimes magical stories rise from real stories regardless of the teller’s intent, but it might be interesting and fun to deliberately turn our lived-stories into myths.  There is a danger, however, that this will make the activity too structured and complex, which could have the effect of dampening creativity.  I will need to think on this one.

-          RB

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