(Nakiya Smith as Dinnawhan and Maitland Schnaars as Biami. Photo credit: Angie To)
For the Wiradjuri Echoes production Biami last year (see previous posts) I also made a mask and costume elements for Biami, and an emu puppet. In the creation story, Biami the creator spirit ‘created the emu Dinnawhan, the female emu, whose spirit he used to create the Wiradjuri people; who now believe they are of the egg of Biami and the female spirit’.
With a headdress (painted up by Duncan Smith) representing the five elements of the sky that he embodies – wind, lightning, thunder, rain and fog – and long soft brushing fingers, Biami’s presence was awesome!
(Duncan Smith, artistic director of the Wiradjuri Echos, with Biami‘s Rainbow Serpent. Photo credit: Angie To)
I recorded some of the build for Biami, the creation story of the Wiradjuri people, this time last year, (see previous posts) but didn’t get to blog about the Rainbow Serpent until now.
The serpent was about 4 metres long, and operated with rods by four to five people. After worrying about how I could make it twist and turn enough to be truly serpentine if it was designed to have solid body, I had what I think of my ‘warhorse’ moment of inspiration (!), and decided to make it impressionistic, with a skeleton outline instead. So it was made with coiled flexible foam backing rod, and two midline connecting lines of the same material.
Then I wrapped coloured cloth around the outlines. The design was effective and light, and enabled the serpent to snake and dive sinuously over the audience, carving out the Australian landscape according to the creation story.
These masks were made for walk-about performances by The Fool Factory at the National Gallery of Australia‘s festival during the Enlighten Festival, Canberra, March 2014. They were themed to go with the NGA’s exhibition Gold and the Incas.
The owl design was suggested by a golden bead in the exhibition, while the other was based on the decorative hilt part of a small sacrificial knife known as a tumi.
I made four puppets of Australian politicians earlier this year – Abbott, Bishop, Turnbull and Hockey – for Puppet Government, an indie youtube parody series. So far four episodes have been made, with more presently in the works. If you would like to make suggestions for future episodes you can do so on the Puppet Government FaceBook page.
I’ve recently made new hands for the Tony Liar Pants on Fire puppet, as well as some flames to accompany his smoking pants. Meanwhile he has appeared at a rally at the ANU to protest Abbott’s changes to higher education, and the March Australia protest in Melbourne last weekend.
Liar, liar, pants on fire! Giant Abbott puppet at Bust the Budget, Parliament House, Canberra, 6 July 2014
Over the last few weeks I’ve been involved with the making of a giant 3 metre tall protest puppet of the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, with the theme of Liar, liar, pants on fire. Matthew Armstrong, who came up with the concept, brought together the skills of a number of Canberra artists to make, assemble and perform the puppet within a pretty short timeframe. Thanks, too, to Dario Vacirca and Mark Timberlake from KneeHigh, now Open Space, in Adelaide who hired us the frame and advised us on various aspects.
The Abbott puppet debuted at the Bust the Budget anti-austerity rally on an icy cold day at Parliament House, Canberra, on 6th July. Matthew is now improving the puppet in a number of ways, ready for more appearances.
I made the head of the puppet from foam sheeting. Here are some photos of the process.
The rest of the civilised world and particularly Australia (with the smugness akin to the reformed smoker), see gun control as the blindingly obvious solution to mass shootings in America. I certainly do, and I’m aware many Americans do too.
Aside from gun control, though, I think there is also an issue to do with narrative within the culture. By this I mean that certain narratives arise within and help to define cultures. They follow an evolutionary path – diversification, sifting, and selection – and those selected for steer societal mores. Once embedded they can be powerful and hard to shift, as each new instance of the pattern beds it in even more, making it seem more just the way things are, and people use it to their own ends.
Mass shooting is now a powerful cultural narrative in the US for the disaffected of a particular type to use like an unimaginative recipe, so that ‘while all the stories are true, some names and identifying details have been changed.’ This knee-jerk narrative has to change, so that going on a shooting spree isn’t the obvious first port of call if you are deeply at odds with the world.
It also has to be said that the public response to these events has also become it’s own narrative.
I don’t know how you go about changing these cultural narratives – we have ones of our own in Australia; I wish I did.
I was excited to find this video about Stephen Mottram’s strange and beautiful show The Seed Carriers via Siân Kidd on Twitter last night. It’s amazing puppetry that I would love to see live one day. I was also interested in his comments about it being essentially live animation on stage, and distinctly related to installation art.