Lenis Lex, sed Lex - The Uncanny String, Van Eyck, Maastricht
‘In addition, he went on, these puppets possess the virtue of being immune to gravity’s force. They know nothing of the inertia of matter, that quality which above all is diametrically opposed to the dance, because the force that lifts them into the air is greater than the one that binds them to the earth.’ (On the Marionette Theater Heinrich von Kleist, translated by Thomas G. Neumiller) As Heinrich von Kleist seminal text on puppetry implies, the puppet is more than a child’s entertainment. It is the body’s parallel. Moreover, it is beyond the body as it is not directly affected by the scientific and corporeal laws of humanity. Not only do puppets defy gravity, as representations of humans and their creations their purpose is often to defy the laws of ridicule, reflection and imagination that we impose on ourselves. Through their overt material construction yet life-like appearance, they actively mark the edicts of movement and meaning - political, cultural, social, historical or otherwise - that we have levied on ourselves. The history and practice of puppetry has been a form of performance that inherently takes on the distinct relationship we as humans have towards the parameters of established law and existence.(‘When character is destiny, the mechanical is the deep plot.’ Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls)In Balinese shadow-puppet theatre - or Wayang (dating back to the 9th century) - the silhouettes portray the re-enactment of sacred texts and tales of ancient Hindu scripture; often the puppeteer himself being both an artist and spiritual leader, making relevant both sides of the screen on which the shadows are portrayed. These puppets were often also assigned supernatural powers and capable of springing from death, reviving ancient souls, heroes and clowns. In doing so they mediate between life and death. In other examples puppetry was used as a subversive criticism of power. Inherent to this circumstance is the relationship between puppet and its master, and therefore the puppet - active or not - as an instrument, has in its potential already a pronounced position towards authority. It has the ability to articulate - through vulgarities, violence, and political innuendo - the more sensitive timely societal circumstances. They thereby undermine the social and political conditions that disallow these topics, by making them explicit and thereby activated. From Punch and Judy shows started in 17th century England, or the Bread and Puppet theatre group in the late 20th century, puppet shows have claimed (again) an intermediary position in order to hold a mirror up to ourselves. Herein lie a kind of pedagogy, but different in that it confronts itself with established ideologies and imperialisms, yet offering no distinct solution, only possible alternatives and sensibilities in for the audience’s consideration. Like a court jester,the puppet as commentator wedges its message in-between dichotomies with the aim to distance itself - as well as distance the hand that is and isn’t the puppet - from being an alternative, wanting merely to offer an alternative way of understanding. It is for this reason perhaps, that so many artists - throughout the ages but still today in contemporary practices - have incorporated puppetry in their work, or committed the translation of their vision(s) of society to projects specifically involving puppetry. The aim of The Uncanny String is to provide merely indication of the different forms in which this is possible. It has sought to reveal a breadth of disciplines and formats of puppetry, as well present a differentiation of cultural levels within which these puppetry works are relevant.
© 2018, powered by MC, all rights reserved, photos: MC Krell and guests