It has been a while since my last blog entry – the 1st day of January seems a good moment to resume.
I have been unable to write for the past three months as I have been immersed in making elements for my forthcoming show ‘Hutch’. Somehow in the process of puppet building and devising, I lost all desire to write. I was dwelling in a wordless space of sculpting, designing puppet joints and visualising spaces, music and gestures.
The past three months have been a long, mostly solitary slog – alternating between long hours in the studio, cups of tea, rumination in the garden, acute highs and lows and then back to the studio. I’ve been working on a small self-portrait puppet, which will be birthed from an empty dress in the final scene of ‘Hutch’.
Reproducing one’s own likeness in the form of a puppet is no easy task on a number of levels. It confronts you with your own mortality, as it is the act of suspending a moment of time.
I am aware that this puppet is a version of my 42-year –old self forever trapped in paper-mache repose. This miniature self, is something at once inert, yet charged with the capacity to receive a borrowed vitality. I have created a little cadaver who dances at my touch.
Another aspect of the difficulty of puppet self-portraiture is the elusiveness of what it is that constitutes ‘likeness’. In portraiture we talk of capturing someone’s ‘essence’ – to merely describe the sum of their parts does not guarantee a depiction their ‘likeness’. It’s really hard to identify what it is that constitutes our own likeness, as we never see it objectively. My puppet is a caricature I suppose – yet it goes someway towards expressing the experience of my own embodiment and perhaps my speculation of what I must look like to others (which is it’s own form of auto-biographical disclosure).
There has also been a comical aspect to this process; during the building of this puppet, I’ve also been trying to re-build my own flesh and blood body. Due to a back injury I’ve been doing Pilates and physiotherapy. While packing my puppets midriff with rolls of baby fat foam to create softness and describe ‘she-ness’, I’ve been working hard to whittle away my own softness. I have spent hours designing joints that rotate and flex, while my joints are stiff – I’ve created a spine that bends gracefully in all the places mine won’t. I will continue to age while she will remain impassive and smooth under her mask of gesso. There is something disconcerting about the durability of her materials compared to the perishability of mine.
The puppet, being a liminal object, suspended between ‘thing-ness’ and a borrowed subjectivity, does indeed reference our own finite time as subjects before we return to incoherent stuff, to elements.
Many years ago I heard a French Philosopher (whose name I can’t recall) talking about the transition of the body from a condition of desirable self-hood (he/she, I/you), to a repulsive, decomposing thing – an ‘it’. It becomes a thing that we reject, distance ourselves from, try to forget. A puppet also shifts between these two poles – its life comes and goes; we pick it up (he/she), we put it down (thing/it).
This new puppet is a self-portrait but primarily she’s an actor – she represents me as my character in Hutch. How well she performs is yet to be tested! Though she is mute, I’m certain she has something to say.