This month at the RMG, we are unveiling a new exhibit where the art will speak to you. Literally.
Popularized by the likes of the legendary Kermit and Miss Piggy from the gabbling crew, The Muppets, puppets have been a popular form of entertainment throughout history. This personification of an object dates back to Ancient Greece in 5th century BC where the oldest written documentation of puppets is in the works of historians Herodotus and Xenophon. Puppetry ranges from different types of mediums and are used as a source of entertainment and education all around the world including the Bunraku puppet from Osaka, Japan (1684) to the common finger puppet style used today by children and adults everywhere.
Cantastoria, or puppet storytelling, is the theme of the latest exhibit at the RMG curated by Linda Jansma. Puppet Act: Manipulating the Voice features marionettes from the Peterborough Museum & Archives collection whose historic puppets, retired from the Peterborough Puppet Guild, present as disturbing caricatures waiting to come to life once more. The exhibition, set to open May 23, also includes contemporary work from six artists. These puppeteers convey humanistic motifs of fear, manipulation, irony, humour and the battle between good and evil.
Among this work is a drawing by Coast Salish artist Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, graduate of the Emily Carr School of Art and Design. Threaded in his work are personal experiences and powerful socio-political messages used to document and promote change in Indigenous communities. Yuxweluptun sheds light on the diminution of the culture’s land and rights emulated through Native masks and imagery depicting environmental degradation.
Diana Lopez Soto is a performance artist based in Uxbridge, Ontario. In Puppet Act, she uses sheep-headed dancers to portray the relationship between man and animal. Lopez Soto’s performance catalyzes on human experimentation in animal cloning and the use of human genes to develop sheep that produce clotting protein in its milk.
Despite the lack of Chuckie-esque puppets in this exhibit, there are metaphors treading on the darker side riddled within the subjects they convey.
“Taken together, the work in this exhibition strives through the inanimate, to ignite discussions that help reflect who we, the animate, are,” says Jansma.
Toronto-based Suzy Lake was one of a pioneering group of artists in the ‘70s to implement performance, video and photography as a means of human expression. For Puppet Act, Lake personifies herself as the marionette in her mid-1970s performance piece depicting powerlessness. Infused in her work is politics of gender, the body and identity.
Spring Hurlbut is another artist who articulates social presence throughout her work. Born in Toronto, Hurlbut studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and in 1988 completed a Canadian Council-awarded residency in Barcelona to study architecture. In this exhibit, Hutlbut emulates the human condition through vintage ventriloquist dummies. Catherine Heard’s skeleton sculptures dance to the artist’s fascination with the “strangeness of the monstrous form”. Including scenes of torture and rural history, the fabric curtain made from a mixture of antique redwork embroidery and “fake” redwork imitates the style of the antiques.
Like Heard, Tim Whiten, born in Michigan and resides in Toronto, is a sculptor who expresses both the sacred and the profane within his work. His glass sculpture Saga-Ra-M references the human experience of reality using puppets and their shadows.
Puppet Act: Manipulating the Voice is on May 23 until September 1 with a reception and Artist Talk on Sunday June 7. Come see the exhibit sure to get mouths moving.
By Raechel Bonomo
Vol ‘n’ Tell is an ongoing series of blog posts written by RMG Volunteers. Raechel Bonomo is an art enthusiast and writer from Oshawa, Ont.
Image at top: Spring Hurlbut, Dizzy, 2009-2010, installation of nine vintage amateur ventriloquist dummies circa 1930-1950. Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid.
On 23 May, the RMG will open Puppet Act: Manipulating the Voice. We asked Senior Curator Linda Jansma to share with us her inspirations behind this exciting and dynamic summer exhibition. Join us for the opening on Sunday, 7 June from 1-3pm.
An April 2010 article in the Walrus magazine, profiling internationally renowned Canadian puppeteer Ronnie Burkett, got me thinking. Then, a fall 2010 visit to Uxbridge artist Diana Lopez Soto sealed it. I had to curate a show on puppets. And now, five years later, here we finally are.
My “puppet” file is four centimeters thick and I can assure you that listening to my latest amazing puppet find has even tested the patience of some RMG staff. But the project kept being pushed back as other exhibitions came along that were more time-sensitive. I could as easily have kept putting it off—once the final selection of artists and works were made, I continue to be contacted about other possible inclusions.
Puppet Act: Manipulating the Voice is comprised of both historic and contemporary work including two works that are being created specifically for this exhibition by Diana Lopez Soto and Catherine Heard. Spring Hurlbut’s words, while specific to ventriloquism, are appropriate: “It is such a curious and complex relationship one has with the inanimate becoming animated.” Within this exhibition, the inanimate are given voice—complex and multi-layered ones that for me, were worth the wait.
– Linda Jansma, Senior Curator
Image: Diana Lopez Soto, Human Factor IX; threads and variations, 2015, Installation: video and mixed media