and was blown away. Isn't that great stuff?! One of my favorite things about that is the flames used as the light source for the shadow puppets in the traditional production. So, after my video-watching-adrenaline rush subsided, I thought about some drawings I had made in the past.
That drawing was one of a bunch of pieces I made for a show I called the Existential Theater. I made those drawings back in 1996. At the time I was really interested in making images that had a mix of drawing from the model and drawing from casts, and I enjoyed how the viewer would bring figures to life even if they were made from disjointed parts. What I wasn't really thinking about at the time, but which I'm finding more and more intriguing these days, was the way these drawings were really a species of still-life, but a form of still-life that looked to the stage for inspiration, in the contained spaces and dramatic lighting and deployment of figures in the images. The theatrical aspect was obvious, but I wasn't as focused on the "still-life".
So in 2004, I go to this puppet show at Bard College,
a performance of "Nevsky Prospekt", by the Russian puppet theater company "Theatre Potudan". It blows me away. Just incredible. It was a miniature stage, with wonderfully beautiful and strange and delicate puppets. The imagery was frequently very surreal. And yet, as an audience member, you were fully involved with these puppets as living beings. One of the wonders was that, with such a tiny stage, the viewer was seated just a few feet from the performers, and the fact that these performers were made of paper and sticks and strings was celebrated, not hidden. Though you understood them to be puppets, the suspension of belief, the empathy you had for these objects, was just breathtaking.
The climactic moment of the production involves the suicide of the main character. This is shown by way of the puppeteer's hands entering the stage, gathering the puppet's strings, and cutting them. That cliched metaphor of the puppet's strings, so often used to symbolize being in someone else's control, here was turned around to show us the strings as the very life-force of the puppet. Which, of course, they are. After the puppet falls limp to the stage, the hands reach down and cradle the lifeless form. Gosh, it was beautiful.
I left that production just astonished. That was some seriously powerful stuff. I didn't have a place for it in my own studio practice at the time, but boy, I wished I did.
I recently became aware of a project that William Kentridge did in 2005, the "Black Box"
or "Chambre Noire". Kentridge's work has me all fired up as well, with his combination of drawing, animation, and puppetry. And in this particular project, his building of a mechanical miniature stage in which the lighting of scraps of drawings and wire, their movement through the space and the shadows they cast, the use of some images as "characters" and some as "setting", all resonates with me.
And, thinking about all of that, makes me realize how I'm digesting those influences in my own work. When I started the Zero Sum Art Project I didn't realize that I would start accumulating these strange objects in my studio, and I certainly hadn't planned on building a stage to place them in. I hadn't planned on incorporating photography, and I didn't realize that collage would play such a large role in the artwork. It's kind of delightful that these things have happened, but it's only now that I'm really seeing the relationship of those choices to a lot of things I've worked on and looked at and thought about in the past.
Zero Sum work in progress
So thanks for the heads-up, Judith, I really appreciate it!