A puppet is defined as an inanimate figure whose physical acts are controlled by another. Puppets are used to entertain, educate, instill social values or be politically subversive. Ancient civilizations were crafting figures with moveable parts four to five thousand years ago in the Indus Valley and Egypt and the earliest recorded puppet performance was held some 600 years before Tutankhamen. In Canada, long before the arrival of Europeans, Aboriginal cultures were using figures in ritual presentations. The Haida, Kw akw ak’aw akw and the Tsimshian cultures on the West Coast produced particularly complex articulated figures for ceremonial and entertainment purposes. Although in contemporary culture puppets are often associated with their makers/masters: most famously, Edgar Bergen, Jim Hanson and Ronnie Burkett this exhibition takes as its focus the actual puppet and the messages it delivers. Various contemporary artists whose work with puppets deal with themes of fear/manipulation/irony/humour/good and evil are featured in Puppet Act: Manipulating the Voice. The work included ranges from performative, installation, painting, sculpture, and photography.
Known to instill delight in children, puppets can also impart fear and anxiety in adults and many of the works in this exhibition leave the viewer in a state of unease. In fact, there are words for this particular form of distress: Automatonophobia, “the fear of anything that falsely represents a sentient being”, or Pupaphobia, “the fear of puppets.”
Historic Marionettes from the Peterborough Puppet Guild set the stage, and actual ventriloquist dummies are also shown in Spring Hurlbut’s work, while those of Catherine Heard and Diana Lopez Soto veer towards the subversive. A drawing by Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun speaks to cultural and environmental degradation, while Tim Whiten addresses states of reality in his glass sculpture. Suzy Lake’s photographs are documents to a performance where she became the manipulated being with all of its levels of social and feminist meaning.
Taken together, the work in this exhibition strives through the inanimate, to ignite discussions that help reflect who we, the animate, are.
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