I’ve just started making a marionette. I like how this little hand is shaping up.
This is a giant remote control snail that I recently made for The Fool Factory for their promotion of National Science Week 2011. It’s about a metre long, fitted onto the chassis of a remote control car, and has eyes that move from side to side. It’s made to look somewhat like Australia’s largest land snail, the Giant Panda Snail, which inhabits sub-tropical forests in Queensland.
I’ve posted photos of the making process. The shell is shaped polystyrene layered with paper mache, and then painted. The body is made from thin PE foam sheeting covered by a strange irregular and stretchy netted fabric which I used for the skin texture, then painted. Inside the snail there is a cage that separates and protects the body from remote control chassis, and a small aluminium structure that holds the servo motors that rotate the eyes.
I’m also like the following picture of the snail in my studio, although it reminds me of when we first moved into our house and there was a small crack by the back door where leopard slugs used to come in during the night to eat the cat food in the laundry! Worse was when they used venture further into the house and we could accidentally tread on them barefoot if we were up in the night tending babies – eew!
On the last day of Unima 2008 Gary introduced me to his friends Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, who co-founded and continue to run Handspring Puppet Company, and I was lucky enough to go backstage to see the puppets from Woyzeck on the Highveld. Thank you all!
The play itself had been a festival highlight for me. First staged 16 years ago, it tells the story of Woyzeck, a man of sensibility and principle, who is brought down by jealousy; but his struggle is informed in every way by the hardships of the migrant labour system under apartheid in the South Africa of the 1950′s.
Two aspects of the show intrigued me in particular.
One was the power of director William Kentridge’s back-projected animations which formed part of the backdrop to the set. They provided not only physical settings to the action and shadow puppets, but at times gave excruciating visual metaphors for what characters were thinking and feeling. For instance, in one scene, Woyzeck is worrying about setting his master’s table. He is doing fine in reality, but in contrast, as he gets increasingly anxious about doing it perfectly, the animation shows great smudges and spills amassing into a chaos that ends in, among other things, a plane crashing and burning.
The other was, of course, the puppets. They are bunraku-style puppets, with beautifully expressive carved (and hollowed out) wooden heads and hands. Adrian is the master puppet maker and designer. He explained how after touring Woyzeck extensively for some years, the company saw selling the puppets as the only way to move on to doing new work. Their latest production, Warhorse, would have been too big to tour, and fortunately, to their surprise, the Munich City Museum was happy to lend the puppets back for the gig at Unima 2008.
Margaret (?), Andries, with the accordion, and Maria with her baby:
The mysterious newspaper death-like character:
Adrian Kohler with the Miner, explaining how the implements in his hand can be changed:
The rhino, showing the rods and mechs on the operator’s side. There is a universal joint in it’s sternum. The red bulb is it’s bladder! (not to be confused with the 2 red chairs in the background).
Here is a video of the rhino in action. You can hear Gary and Adrian chatting.
I loved the rhino most, because it has so much character, and moves in such a life-like way, while being impressionistic in style. I’m very interested in this. Kohler has developed the style much further, too, since building the rhino, as you can see if you look at the horses in Warhorse. Warhorse is the first production where Handspring has moved away from performing their own work, and Adrian commented there were advantages in being solely a maker at times, rather than being a maker/puppeteer.
Incidentally, Handspring is hoping to bring out a DVD of Woyzeck, including the animations, and there is to be a new season of Warhorse in London later in 2008. There’s just a chance I might around to catch it!
Articles I enjoyed reading about Handspring:
(My favourite so far: Steve Gillmor)
Despite my own mixed feelings, I’m expecting Loren Feldman’s Shel Israel parody to become the hottest puppet video show around while it lasts. Feldman has caused mischief and grief by taking the piss, and nicking the real Shel’s domain. You can read about it at Techcrunch or Karoli’s Bang the Drum, and here Feldman explains his initial impetus.
But it’s funny. As Steve Gillmor says in NewsGang Live (04.02.08, about the 45 -55 min mark), it’s the kind of thing you feel guilty about laughing at, but you can’t stop yourself.
At first I was nitpicking the lip syncing, but Feldman is a quick study, and seems a natural for what works dramatically. (Update May 09 : not quick enough – he still can’t lip sync.)
I’m not sure if it’s so funny if you don’t follow the tech scene, but it’s interesting to see such a connection drawn between the tech world and the online puppetry world. There are precious few of us that follow both. I am intrigued to see who is willing to be interviewed, their differing comfort levels, and of course the power that resides in the way a puppet can ask questions and go places that a real interviewer can’t. The tech world seems to take itself fairly seriously much of the time, and I think Feldman may have a tiger by the tail with his entertaining and cutting take (though I’m sure it’s also going to be unkind and is already feeding into personality feuds). No wonder he is buying more puppets today.
This is my submission for Loobylu’s July’s Month of Softies, a sock monkey. I’ve been curious about sock monkeys since first reading about the tradition a year or two ago, so I’m glad to have tried it out. This one started out plain and ugly, and I nearly abandoned him altogether, but I kept going back and reshaping bits. Now he is more refined, and I have grown quite fond of him.
World Refugee Day 2004 was held last Sunday, June 20th. In Canberra the day was celebrated with the installation of a Field of Hearts on the lawns outside Parliament House. The hearts had been sent in from all over Australia, and with messages of support for refugees written on them, were symbolic of a wish for Australia to be a more open-hearted country for refugees.
I dusted off my my two John Howard effigies for the occasion. I managed to find a way of anchoring the John Howard scarecrow in one of the dreadful white plastic bollards which, at the cost of $80,000, were installed as a security barricade around Parliament House at the time of the anti-war demonstrations in March 2003, and have remained ever since. (The government has recently approved spending $11.2 million on building a “low wall” right round Parliament House to replace them). My other John Howard puppet was one made for the coincidence of World Puppetry Day and the anti-Iraq war demonstrations. This time I sewed his lips together.
The poster I would have liked to take to World Refugee Day is the one on the left, made recently by my daughter. Its made entirely out of plastic and tapes of various kinds. This picture of the poster was taken at Reconcilliation Walk, with Old Parliament House in the background, and the ‘garden sprinkler’ flag pole of new Parliament House behind that.