I have come to accept that certain art projects take years to grow from the initial seed (idea) to a finished piece of art, with its own story to tell. My ‘Reflection’ puppets, is one such project.
Background to the puppets
I found this abstract From a blog post in March 2014:
“… During my residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig, Ireland [September 2013] I was invited to visit the dance studio. When I made my way up there, the person who had invited me was not there. Walking through the door I was faced by a full wall of mirrors. Unsettled by my reflection, I turned around, sat down, and observed the beautiful views from the large windows: the greenhouse, Annaghmakerrig House, fields, and trees. Lots of trees. A robin landed on the wall in front of me. A playful dog ran back and forth (danced?) along the patio, his owner not to be seen. Listening to a reversing tractor making a sound like a musical instrument, I decided it was time to look around and face the dance studio mirrors.
I walked, slowly. Stood still, two canes holding me upright. When I moved the canes behind my back I looked pretty normal. I could be that dancer. But looking with intend into my face, brought sadness.
Here was the reality: I am disabled. Rely on canes to walk. Can only stand steadily for a few minutes. Away from mirrors I generally do not see my life to be so much different from the ‘healthy’.
I needed to trust my body, trust I can dance. In my own way.
As a result of this encounter, the puppets I was working on which were to represent dancers, changed from two healthy dancers to one disabled dancer seeing her healthy reflection in the mirror.
In art I can be who I want to be. In art I have danced. …”
I had started to make one of the heads four years ago. But life took a different route. And I was not so sure about the head I had created. It was different from my usual more whimsical faces. Over the years other sculptures were started, and finished. But this one head remained in my studio. Untouched. But not forgotten. Two months ago I resumed working on the puppets. I made the mirror-image-puppet and assembled the bodies.
Seeing these bodies side by side, in all their nakedness, a friend commented on how this also represents my story. The story of illness, of disability, of fragility, of a broken body in a way.
‘But’, I said’. ‘They will be dressed, of course!’
But isn’t that a story in itself.
The assembling of the bodies, the painting, dressing up and all, covers up the reality of a fragile body. A puppet body which can not function without support. Support of strings, and glue, and wires and a cross to manipulate movement. My body, which can not fully function without the support of mobility aids, of society, of friendships…
Fragility and pride
I have painted the heads, hands and shoes, and creating the clothing. And with that, the puppets are becoming little beings. The (reflection) puppet, showing of her new socks, portrays a sense of fragility, but also a huge sense of pride.
Communication & Movement
There seems to be a communication between the two puppets; sharing both sides of the story of life with illness/disability.
Over the years I have noticed that my work reflects the stages of my life with illness/disability. The challenges, but also the hopes and desires.
I had come to expect that a project about movements, about dance, would translate into my own return to dance in a physical sense.
But I can now see it is about a different kind of movement: toward taking steps back into society.
This project so far has brought a collaboration with Artist Dominic Fee, who is designing a mechanical way with create the movements of the puppets, incorporating his own artwork.
It has brought me to teaching puppet making in my studio, but also virtually with Greg Crowhurst, partner and carer of Linda, who’s work I wrote about here. And has created contacts in the world of puppetry all over the world.
Through puppet making, I am learning more about my own disability,
and is becoming a way to dance in the world,
to dance with the world.
I am deeply grateful for this dance – for this reflection.
Further reading and links:
- Previous blog post on DAO about puppetry and disability
- Greg Crowhurst’s blog post about starting puppet making. How challenges can be overcome. Greg is going to document his Johnny Toes’ puppet project.
- Contact Corina if you’re interested to do a course in puppet making.