It all began with five boxes...
Early this week, we were lucky enough to spend three days with Puppeteer and Designer Emma Fisher, learning about installations and developing our own under Emma's expert guidance. Our installations will be presented at a festival in the South of France (Festival de Marionette) later this month.
Upon each box there was a message or a theme leading us to our inspiration for our work. One was a poem, another was a photograph, mine was hidden within myself... a memory. Inside the boxes were our materials. We each had 2-3 materials in our box and from these our installations would be realized. My box contained large sections of lace fabric, several small white drawstring bags and colorful feathers with the question "What memory do these materials conjure up?"
Almost instantly I had a sense of a time and place. As a little girl I remember going to the Folk Festival with my mum, a vibrant place full of that lovely hippy style. She bought dream catchers for myself and my sister and also special little draw string bags full of worry dolls. Something I had not thought about in years, my worry dolls were precious to me for a time; I would whisper my worries to the tiny dolls before I went to sleep and place them under my pillow. With a little bit of research I found that worry dolls are a Guatemalan tradition, and the dolls role is to worry in your place while you sleep and transport your worry away during the night.
After some time alone with our boxes, we all came together and shared our thoughts and ideas for our installations. It was really astounding how such simple stimuli brought out such a broad range of ideas, really strong and vibrant ideas, all of which sounded really interesting. Emma's approach to this project was so clever and the work that we developed shows how effective it really was.
Five puppeteers set off to work, with three days to complete our installations we needed to work hard to realize our visions. Step one for me was to make some worry dolls! I remembered the dolls so fondly and looking at images online, I knew I would not be able to create an exact replica with the materials I had at hand. Creating my own version, I managed to create something quite similar to the traditional worry dolls, but with a little more of my own flare. Between myself and Emma, we managed to make around 80 worry dolls in only a few short hours. These brightly colored creations look somewhat like candy laid out in their box and being thrown together so quickly, naturally have very distinct looks, something I had always loved as a child... that no two worry dolls were the same.
Now, to back track just a little... What is an installation? Emma has a strong background as an installation artist and so began our workshop with a presentation of some of her own work and a quick lesson in installation art. An installation is generally something site specific; a 3D piece of art that is installed to change someones perception of a space. Something that you can walk through, around and perhaps interact with. Our installations needed to have an aspect of puppetry to them given that we are taking them to a puppetry festival. We were allocated spaces around the LSP house that would be our installation site. Mine was the small front garden/ courtyard.
Now that I had my army of worry dolls, I needed to decide how they would work within my installation. I returned to the dream catcher image that had arisen so strongly when I first looked in to my box. With a clothes line at my disposal running across the space, I decided to construct some giant dream catchers, with the lace material at the center and the feathers dangling below, that people would need to walk through in order to enter the space. At the back of the space they would find a zig zagging line of what looked like bunting but was in fact little draw string bags hung up on ropes of lace. Below this they would find a box of worry dolls with the instructions "Choose a worry doll. Whisper to them your worry. Place them in a bag. Leave your worry behind." On each bag I decided to write a different quote about worrying, giving the audience a more interesting choice of where they would place their worry doll.
The only question remaining was the puppetry aspect of my piece. I decided to make a slightly larger worry doll who would be operated as a rod puppet, with a joint in her neck and waist and a rod operating her head and hips. A very simple idea, it was amazing how much attitude this puppet seemed to have almost instantly! During the installation run, she sat atop the box of dolls, whispering the instructions to the audience as they came and quoting the line written on the bag where they placed their doll. Simple yet effective.
The final aspect to my piece which proved to be a lot of fun throughout the process was a complex back story, which seemed to grow more intricate as the days went by. What a sad role these dolls have, what a horrible job to have to worry for other people. We decided it must be a punishment... you must have to do something quite bad in order to be sentenced to this life. We then decided that, as the dolls worry more and more, their color begins to change, turning them black. When they have completely turned, they are no longer useful and so get sent to the dream catchers where they live out their days surrounded by the nightmares caught in the dream catchers (symbolized by black feathers). What a fate! I then constructed a rebellion, where some of the dolls who have turned partially black were escaping out of one of the bags, climbing along a rope in to the garden.
My puppet I decided, was the matron of this prison, watching over the operation and keeping the other dolls in line. Whether this comes across to my audience is another question entirely! Emma says that the lovely thing about installations is that every person who comes through will take away something different from it. Maybe one out of every ten people will notice the escaping dolls, but for that person it is something extra special. I think this is a really nice way to think about installations. Working with Emma over these three days really gave me an appreciation for the art form and a broader understanding of its potential.
It is interesting; though we were a group of five working together, we were all quite involved with our own installations. I really love all of the other work that was created over these three days but because I was so involved with my own process, I unfortunately can not comment on anyone else's. The work produced really was astounding... such variety and attention to detail. We often questioned "What would have happened if we had picked different boxes!?" It was a fantastic few days, really good fun, hard work, very inspiring and fantastically rewarding. We finished up with a performance for Emma and our favorite LSP outside eye Melanie Smith. They walked through the house, following on from one installation to the next. All of our work was linked in a way, exploring the cycle of life and ending with a very moving funeral service for Kay Yasugi's old man puppet made of pantyhose. Both Emma and Mel were very impressed with the work, and I must say, I too was so proud of all of us for the work we produced.
Such a wonderful experience, I really can not thank Emma enough for her support, her wisdom and her guidance. I learned so much through this process and feel the skills I gained will be of great use to me for future endeavors. A mention must also go to the whole team, such a friendly, fun and supportive group... To Caroline Astell-Burt, Kay Yasugi, Ella Mackay and Addya Panayiotou, thank you all so much for being the best company.
Some of our installations will be up and running for "Living Room Theatre", a free show case event taking place at LSP this coming Tuesday, July 8. And all of them will be active at the Festival de Marionette in France at the end of the month.
You can see more photo's of this workshop in the Gallery.
With only four days left at the LSP house, I am starting to reflect on my time here and Oh how I am going to miss it! Heading to France next Thursday, the two weeks we spend there will mark the end of my LSP journey, graduating in London at the end of the month. It is safe to say, emotions are running high at the moment... Stay tuned for more!!
For more about Emma Fisher visit: http://emmacfisher.blogspot.co.uk/
For more about the London School of Puppetry visit: http://londonschoolofpuppetry.com/