Handmade by Computers

Terrible Comfort updates and thinks

Archive for other people’s puppet stuff

Puppets out in the world of art

I’ve found puppets in education, obviously, and puppets in mental health and I’m currently focused on trying to find artists who build puppets. It seems blindingly obvious to me that puppets are these incredible works of 3d art/craft and yet no one seems to have noticed.

So at the moment, my artist list runs to four.

There’s a photo somewhere of Frida Kahlo performing marionettes for a child. I haven;t been able to find it yet, but it was mentioned in a book I’m reading (The Puppet Show by Ingrid Schaffner and Carin Kuoni. I’ll review it once I’ve finished reading it). Interestingly enough if you do a search of “frida kahlo puppet” you find heaps of people out there that have made puppets or dolls of Kahlo. Again it’s a example of fans making dolls and puppets out of the things they adore. Weird and worth looking into it further… But I digress.

IN that same book it talks about one of Jackson Pollack’s paintings has a figure cut out of it, he made a marionette and then cut a covering for it out of the painting. You can see a copy here.

There’s also Paul Klee, who made around 50 hand puppets for his son Felix over about a 9 year period, also Klee never thought of them as art and never included them in any catalog of his work. There’s a photo from the exhibition here and you can see the self portrait puppet Klee made here.

And I went to the Mirka Mora exhibition at Heide which had a couple of newspaper articles included and one mentioned her love of dolls and puppets. It’s very hard to find anything else about it on the net though. Her love of dolls is mentioned as fact but I can’t find interviews with her or anything talking about either. But then I find this site saying “For the 1988 Bicentennial festivities at the Sydney opera House, she designed 85 five-foot-high puppets on plywood, all painted with oil for the opera, “Bennelong,” about the Aboriginal man of the same name who befriended Captain Phillip” . I can’t find any photos of them though. However I did find this gorgeous photo of her clutching dolls she made in her studio with more behind her. I suspect since I can’t find anything else that she didn’t make a lot of puppets as her work, but nice to know she did make some.

That’s my list so far. But I look forward to adding to it further. Love the detective work!


world wide collaboration

Surfing from link to link, as you do, I came across The Old Trout Puppet Workshop in Canada. They look like a bunch of fun guys with an open invitation for people to drop by the studio and check out what’s going on, which I wish I could, damn living across the world from all these interesting things…

But the thing that caught my eye was their world-wide collaboration on their next project, called Ignorance.
Ignorance is a puppet documentary about the blissful prehistoric origins of humanity, and how our brains evolved into the hideous bliss-sucking parasites they are today. Yes: it’s about how why we’re not happy. And how we might solve this problem without resorting to alcoholism, tranquilizers, frontal-lobotomies, or other forms of induced ignorance.
And the cool thing is that they’re doing the whole thing on this blog. You can contrubute words, images, songs, thoughts, anything that you like. And they may or may not use it (there’s a great disclaimer at the bottom of the page) but I love the idea of being able to throw ideas at people about something they’re working on.

So I made them an image. This is how some of the Terrible Comfort shows get designed. Rob will find interesting bits of text, which he sends to me, I’ll make images out of the ideas and send those back and then we use the images to design set or atmosphere in the shows.

Thinking about the ideas of neanderthals, I What if, before neanderthals discovered fire, they had fire made of rocks? So I set about making that image.

Once it was made I wondered if, instead of fire made of rocks, was it petrified fire in a museum setting in a display of neanderthal life? It could be either…

So head on over to the Old Trout’s blog and see if you’re inspired to throw something into the mix too!


So I’ve been thinking…

If you’re reading this post, feel free to answer any of these questions via the comments section…

I’ve been thinking about puppets out in the world. Who makes puppets? Who uses puppets? Where do they appear in the real world?

If you do a search on google images, you’ll get a bunch of photographs of teenage girls bent over in awkward positions with badly photoshoped strings coning from their wrists and ankles. Clearly puppets are a popular idea and being manipulated from outside resonates with artistic youth. But what else will you find? There’s tiny felt finger puppets with big stitching and at the other end there’s photos of beautifully created professional hand and mouth puppets. Who are the people making them? The puppets that you can find seem to fall into three categories – made for children by parents/ friends of their parents, puppet companies making their own guys and people claiming to be professional and offering to sell you their hand and mouth puppets.

Are these the only types of people that make puppets? And since type 2 and 3 can make their own puppets to use, is the only people buying puppets people who are buying gifts for children?

The 2 other types of puppet that appear over and over in a google search is a hand puppet of Angel from Buffy (and, erm, Angel) and Christian Ministry puppets. I haven’t seen the episode where Angel turns into a puppet but it was a great merchandising moment for Joss Wheadon, but I can’t help wondering that if the puppet hadn’t appeared in the show, would all those people out there simply buy puppets of Buffy, Angel, Spike and the rest of them? I have my doubts that they would have been so popular as the Angel one. The Christian Ministry puppets is an interesting one, although I can find lots of Christian Puppet Ministry sites out there, most of which include great resources to make your own puppets as well as buy ones premade, I can’t find anywhere a place that talks about WHY puppets are used in Christian Ministry.

I know that kids love puppets, I’ve seen that in my classroom as well as on tv. What I want to know is WHY children love puppets so much. For that matter, why do adults love puppetry as much as they seem to do? What is it about puppets that capture people’s imaginations and hearts?

That’s my current quest. To try and find these things out. Who is out there making puppets, apart from puppet companies and parents. Does anyone else make them? Who owns puppets? Again, is it just the companies and the families? A friend of mine went to Bali and bought me back some beautifully painted shadow puppets and another friend went to China and bought me back a dragon marionette, so people must be out there buying them, for decoration? For interior design? Does the general public have a use for puppets? And if so, what is it?

Lots and lots of questions to hunt out the answers for…


old style puppets and performers

An old man called Norman Brown came to perform at our school the other day. He told jokes, juggled, could play a massive variety of instruments (including a bass oboe and a keyed bugle which was 200 years old and made before they’d invented trumpets) and he also had a bunch of trick marionettes and a ventriloquist dummy that he’s clearly been using for a long time.

The trick marionettes were fantastic to watch. I’ve read about old style trick marionettes in books and online but this was the first time I’ve ever seen them in use. There was a sausage dog that ran all over the kids and then balanced a bone on it’s nose, there was a clown that walked up to a acrobat bar, hung from it and flipped around (imagine a puppet with strings to a controller doing that!) and there was a skeleton who danced around and then came apart to all the separate bones.

Although I’m pretty good at looking at something and figuring out how it’s been built, I was completely stumped by these guys. Partly because they were always moving and jittering around, but partly because there were so many strings and I have no idea how they were all attached.

I made a marionette once, from instructions that appear to no longer be on the net, and she was beautiful and I was really happy with her, but she was really very simple. These marionettes were really complicated and I’m still in awe at the craftsmanship.

The other puppet he had in his repertoire was a ventriloquist dummy called Monty. The kids were delighted with Monty, they loved him. He, again, was an old fashioned and very complicated puppet. His eyes moved independently of each other, he could wink and blink, his arm and his tie lifted up, his bottom jaw moved up and down and at the end he was prompted to smile by Norman which involved his top lip lifting up to show his top teeth. Just incredible. The kids were delighted and after the show kept calling for “the man in the box” (he’d come out of a suitcase). When he first appeared, Norman had asked all the kids to shout WAKE UP MONTY to start the show. Later I found one of the Prep students standing by Monty’s suitcase whispering to it. When I asked her what she was doing, she said that Monty was still asleep in his box and that he couldn’t hear her, but if all the children shouted WAKE UP MONTY again, that he would wake up and POP out of his box to talk to them again. As she said ‘POP’ she jumped up in the air and had the most hopeful smile on her face.

Later in class they were all trying to figure out how Monty worked. They knew he wasn’t real, but with their hearts I think they still hoped. They referred to him as the real pretend man, and they thought maybe he was a robot with a soundtrack inside.

It was incredible to see just how much their hearts and imagination were captured by the puppets that Norman performed, and it again makes me think that puppets are such an incredible resource in the classroom.

And I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have seen these old style of puppets, puppets I’ve only ever read about, in use.

Sammy J and Randy in Ricketts Lane

Terrible Comfort heartily endorses this show:

Winner, Age Critics’ Award 2008 Melbourne Comedy Festival

Barry (Best Show) Nominee 2008 Melbourne Comedy Festival

Oh my gosh! It’s the brand new show from the creators of the smash-hit Sammy J in the
Forest of Dreams! Join Sammy J (skinny man) and Randy (purple puppet) as they navigate everyday life in a share house. Drive straight past Boringville, chuck a left on Goodtime Avenue, and you’ll find yourself in Ricketts Lane.

Sammy J and puppeteer Heath McIvor’s previous collaboration went on to win the hearts and minds of comedy audiences around the world. It was nominated for Best Show of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, scored five-star reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe, and went on to sell-out seasons in London’s West End.

“Sammy J and Heath McIvor are fiendishly talented writers and performers.” The Scotsman

Directed by Alan Brough

Sammy J in The Forest of Dreams DVD on sale March 2010

Dates: 25 March – 14 April
Times: Tue-Sat 7pm, Sun 6pm
Venue: Victoria Hotel – Banquet Room Wheelchair access
215 Lt Collins St, Melbourne

Tickets: Full Fri & Sat $28.95
Concession Fri & Sat $25.90
Full Wed-Thu & Sun $25
Concession Wed-Thu & Sun $22
Group (6 or more) $22
Laugh Pack $20
Tightarse Tuesday $18

Dispatch by Barking Spider Visual Theatre

Terrible Comfort heartily encourages you to go see this show:

“From nothingness we come, by nothingness we are sustained, to nothingness we return.”
Hindu philosophy

Dispatch is contemporary visual and puppet theatre at its most delightful. Beautifully created and performed by Penelope Bartlau from Barking Spider Visual Theatre, Dispatch is enthralling, ethereal and timeless.

A fascinating visual and theatrical poem, Dispatch follows puppet character ‘Sorrel’, a young girl who journeys alone in a leaky boat, arriving at “the Middle place“, a nowhere-land island in the middle of an ocean.

Writer/Director: Penelope Bartlau
Performers: Penelope Bartlau& Justine Warner
Dramaturge: GillyMcInnes
AV Design: Edward Dowling
Lighting Design: Damien MacLean
Sound Design: Angie Grant
Puppet Design: Annie Forbes
Set Design & Build: Tim Denton & Danielle Goronszy
Producer: Laura Milke Garner

Tue 2 Feb 10 to Sun 7 Feb 10 at Fourtyfivedownstairs
times: Nightly at 8pm
ticket price: $25 Full
$20 concession
(03) 9662 9966
book online

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