Voice 4 Vision 2011

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Duality of the Puppet: Objects of Art and Performance ....... a few thoughts behind the upcoming Panel at the V4V Festival Dec 17, 2011

This panel brings together scholars and artists who work in
puppetry or with objects in performance to share their thoughts
on the dual role of the puppet as object of visual art and tool or
character for performance. What does the object itself contain,
transmit, evoke? How does it crystallize, bring forth,
preserve the performance? Do these issues change when
considering images vs. objects or with virtual objects?  How do
these images/objects translate across cultures? How important is
the artifact of the show? -CLAUDIA ORENSTEIN
ON THE INSPIRATIONS FOR HER BEHIND                                                                             
"Over a year ago I read Prehistoric Figurines: Representation
and Corporeality in the Neolithic by  archaeologist Douglass
Bailey. In the book Bailey is  researching figurines and the
human fascination with corporeal representation as evidenced
by these figurines--these objects which are abstractions of
human form. He talks about the involvement of, and the effect
on the viewer--but also the involvement of, and effect on the
handler of these objects.To try to discover what these effects
might have been, he looks at modern artists and their use of
objects and other forms of corporeal representation --studying
what it is about this "objectness" that effects us, and how and
why. (He also refers to scientific studies  that explore this as
well.) But, he didn't look at puppets or puppetry-and so I
wondered about how puppetry related to this early interest in
making and possibly moving/handling -or creating still scenarios
/tableaux for contemplation --using these figurines and often
little furniture made on their scale.

I  also recently read Performing Remains: Art and War in Times
of Theatrical Reenactment by theater theorist Rebecca
Schneider, writing about "performance/performing remains" --
and it strikes me that one "performance remains" of a puppetry
event are the objects-the corporeal representations- which were
[once] performed. So the object is a very unique part of what
we do--and we choose it as an integral part of our storytelling
over other forms of storytelling...why? And --what can we learn
about ourselves by interrogating these questions?  Schneider
talks about body to body transmission of  performance- so that
it  (performance) remains by being transmitted through time--
body to body, memory to memory. Can we apply her thinking(
and the archeologist's) to puppetry to unpack any new thinking
of our own about why we are working with objects, -and why or
how audiences of puppetry are effected? Is it different than the
effects of live actor theater? Or walking around a sculpture-that
never has-never will be and  never was-- intended to be
performed? Or when we see an object which was not intended to
be performed-but is? Or-what can we say now about our
condition (current culture) when we realize that there are many
who will call a piece of their own body a puppet--is it objectified,
or is it super endowed/super concentrated with the essence of
"life"? Are we alienated to and from our own body-or to being
human? Why? Or, what about the new space/ time dimension
that has been made real by electricity and the digital age
(Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media: The Extensions of
Man) I find some people completely resist it--and find it hard to
comprehend it--but the ephemeral object that exists in digital
form is now being manipulated -Second Sight, Xbox, Playstation-
Avatars perform life in digital theater playgrounds. It is an
idealized version of us that we reflect back-- who we want to be-
- and we perform behind the digital veil. We watch ourselves
mostly--and a little, we watch the performance of others.

Can we pick up an object that has been designed and built to be
performable--and find there is performance information
sedimented in the object that we can discern across time--and
also across cultures? (Will those who come 100 years after us,
be able to find us in the puppet objects we leave behind?) So,
this is the direction I'd like to ask questions. I'd like to
investigate what it is about the object that speaks-and how does
it speak-- I am interested in the fact that a great deal of time is
invested in thinking about and designing the object with the
belief that there is a language of design that is communicative.
And, if we were to pick up a 500 year old hand puppet, or a 500
year old marionette, or a 500 year old shadow puppet--clearly
there is built into the object a necessary way of moving it--and
so is it possible, that in what was intended to be the way of
handling and causing movement in the object ,  that body to
body transmission of puppetry is accomplished? We won't be
able to recreate the entire 'performance" or "story" from that
past of the object--but a shard perhaps is reflected back at
us.....? .What I hope we can look at from the various
perspectives of panelists are the questions about the visual and
material culture -the cultural anthropology of puppets and
puppetry-- the historiography of puppetry-social and cultural
studies of ourselves that the object-what we call puppets can tell

I've been reading Hans -Thies Lehmann's Postdramatic Theatre
too--and it seems that  in Postdramatic theater-linear, narrative
storytelling is not always the end goal and some puppetry artists
may be looking for another kind of relationship with the viewer
in the theatrical space....Additionally some artists from other
fields are now beginning to enter the field of puppetry making
their art in this  movable/performable object theatrical form;
they are clearly hoping that some of the story or information
they wish to convey is transmitted by and through design and
art. Josef Krofta of Drak led a workshop that I attended once
and it was imperative to him as well: that the choice of materials
from which the object was made, the choice in design, are and
must be intentional, it conveys information --so he felt it was
important that this be the first and  important part of the thinking
and development of a work for puppetry. "