When I make a puppet there is this truly uncanny moment when the materials I am sculpting and assembling suddenly cease to be objects and become, instantaneously and horrifically a subject, alive on my studio bench. I cannot predict when that moment is or what conditions have to come together to cause this phenomena – it can happen at any stage of the puppet making journey. Perhaps this taps into the ambiguity of sentience in beings - at what point is a subject intelligent? As a puppeteer, at play or in performance, there are also uncanny moments when the puppet or object can seem to make choices outside of my own will. Audience members make these connections too: one person came up to me after a performance and said that they wanted to kill the puppet because of his nasty behaviour toward me.
My core performance practise is movement, dance and text improvisation. Over the last few years I have been researching improvising with puppetry as a portmanteau form of performance. (1) My work is fully improvised, the only thing I know before entering the performance space is that I have a puppet on my person or pre-set somewhere and that at some point they will be revealed. The performance becomes a duet; two beings riffing off each other. To do this we both have to be present in the space and open to the audience. I play with the edges of life – if I let the object drop or swing, roll across the floor, be awkwardly removed from my grip – at what point is he alive or is he dead? Sometimes I might not “puppeteer” the puppet much at all throughout the piece. (2)
Puppetry affords me the opportunity to meddle with artificial intelligence without fear of creating a Crichtonesque dystopia. When a robot can sense the uncanniness of the puppet then we will have our point of singularity.
(1) Which I could call Puppisation or Impropet but they sound like over-priced and pointless products you might find at your local vet.
(2) As in - manipulate as I have been professionally trained to do.
Throughout my visual arts training I made little investigations into the world of puppetry. In 2009, I moved to Melbourne to study a Postgraduate Diploma in Puppetry at the Victorian College of the Arts. (2009 turned out to be the last year this course ran, this is a huge shame as it was the only full time course in puppetry in the Southern Hemisphere)