Conversation with the dead object: an engagement with post-traditional puppetry, archive and practice

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Central Sch of Speech and Drama
Department Name: Faculty


This five-year, part-time Fellowship examines relationships between the 'live' and the 'non-alive' object or puppet in performance. The title refers to an immanent potential for animation within non-living objects and puppets, while 'intervention' is the interruption that an animator (human or otherwise) makes elicit an illusion of life. Exploring fundamental precepts of object animation, I look at memory, tradition, archiving and the threshold where the lifeless becomes animate in puppetry and object-theatre.

The central questions are: to what extent does

-an object or puppet have immanent characteristics that determine the animation (or 'life' of the object)?
-the animating force determine the animation?
-the context of the spectator determine what is experienced via the animation?

The general questions above will be addressed in the final phases of the Fellowship through three distinct and specific practice enquiries.

Phase 1: The late Joe Beeby and Punch and Judy

An investigation into Punch will form a case study of the relationship between tradition and contemporary practice (in animation) and between the puppet and puppeteer using a set of puppets from a deceased Punch and Judy practitioner named Joe Beeby. I intend to master a number of Punch routines and to uncover Joe Beeby's last year through work with photographer Rosy Martin.

Phase 2: Private Ritual

The goal of this phase is create a series of performative encounters that are 'private' (but observable via film/webcam link and streamed live) in order to analyse the role of audience as collaborator in the illusion of the puppet's 'life'. Drawing on Japanese ritual (which provides a specific model for the systematic manifestation of the private) and working with a colleague, Rachel Cooper, who has learning disabilities and does a great deal of 'private' artistic work, I will compare the public relationship of audience to puppet with the private one between animator and object.

Phase 3: Exhibiting the Dead Object

Supported by the Puppet Centre Trust, this phase looks at the threshold between 'liveness' and 'death' in relation to puppets and objects, when animation is absent. It will negotiate creating momentary fragmented memories of performance within the exhibition of figures and promote a notion of an 'active' archive: viewing the creation of an exhibition as a 'performative' act so that object placement is as important as the choice of objects. As curator I will ask: how do 'lifeless' figures hanging within a museum display honour memory of their past 'liveness'? And how does the implication of the puppet's death or 'deadness' bear upon our sense of its (previous) life?

I draw upon the approach of Bourriaud - particularly his assertion of the 'figures that oppose the 'universe of the root', most strongly, the nomad, the wanderer, the refugee.' Positioning this description alongside the figure of the puppeteer provokes questions of groundedness set alongside those of transience and (literally) animation. Puppetry thus becomes a field on which to negotiate wider concepts of manipulation, transformation, (re)presentation and performance

Planned Impact

The project will be disseminated to industry peers and the general public through performances, an exhibition, updates to professional magazines such as Animations Online and the final symposium in 2014.

Presentations of papers to bodies such as UNIMA, the international puppetry organisation, have already been confirmed in 2011. I will also be applying to present at the 21st UNIMA Congress and International Puppetry Festival in May/June 2012 in Chengdu, China. I am applying to present my work on Ephemeral Animation and a related performance piece, 'Conversation with an Umbrella', to the 21st UNIMA Congress and International Puppetry Festival in May/June 2012 in Chengdu, China. In addition I am hoping to run a Masterclass in Ephemeral Animation at Scenofest, the educational event run by OISTAT at the Prague Quadriennial in June 2011, and to participate in the National Puppetry Festival (Atlanta, 2013).

Planning is in progress for the exhibition in 2013 using puppets provided by the Puppet Centre Trust as part of their project partnership for the Fellowship. Venues under consideration include Camden Arts Centre (which normally prefers to curate its own exhibitions) and other gallery spaces in London. Additional external funding will be sought to attempt a larger, more ambitious exhibition that could tour to other cities. Peter Goschluter, deputy director of Museum Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (former head of exhibitions at Tate Liverpool) has suggested that there is a long-term possibility of interest in a major puppet exhibition on the artist and puppet theatre. 'Exhibiting the Dead Object' could serve as a pilot project or forerunner for this.

The symposium in 2014 will be an international event publicised through the Puppet Centre Trust and CROPT (Central), who have extensive databases of contacts for puppetry professionals and academics in related fields. The indicative list of organisations and speakers who will be approached includes: THEMAA (Charleville-Mezieres, France), UNIMA, the Paul Klee Institute, Geoff Felix (Punch and Judy performer and archivist), Dan Watt (Loughborough), Deborah Levy (AHRC Creative Fellow at Royal College of Art), Jill Fell (Associate Research Fellow, Birkbeck) and Melisa Trimingham (University of Kent).

As a result of the Fellowship I have forged links with the Henry Moore Foundation and intend to seek extra support via an application for a 6-week research fellowship there. This would be complementary to my part-time Fellowship and enable me to utilize the archive of the Foundation to explore the visual language of puppet theatre within the context of sculpture and performance.


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Title A Stain On Joe's Tie 
Description Recording of the placing of a stain on Joe's tie as part of a 'private' performance within a public space, The Punch & Judy Fellowship celebratory dinner for Mr Punch's 350th Birthday. The Strand Palace Hotel London. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact An archival creative activity which draws on memory and homage which will make a significant contribution to the archive collections of Punch & Judy memorabilia. It was an artistic response to archive and began my curatorial journey in terms of my response to the legacy of Joe Beeby. 
Title The Boxing Routine 
Description Punch & Judy Maye Fayre Covent Garden London May 13th 2012. Performed 5 Boxing Routines in persona of Joe Beeby at Maye Fayre with Sylvia Hallett on accordion. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact This routine began my engagement with the Post Traditional Puppetry movement as l am taking a very traditional routine and completely expanding it. 
Description Two main areas of research. 'Every good wish - Joe' working with archival Punch & Judy figures of the late Punch Professor Joe Beeby.
Key findings were related to embodied engagement with the past via photo therapy, literally re-living the past to inform the future. Key findings linked to gender and male representation are being utilised within a projected PhD with supervision by Professor Isacc Cohen (subject to funding)

'DEADpuppet' was a major exhibition of archival puppets held within the galleries of Z-arts Manchestr Nov/Dec 2013. Key findings concern the collaboration with lighting designer Justin Farndale who re-animated the static puppets via lighting and projection, pneumatic engineering by Paul Zacharek and commissioned stands from blacksmith/artist Graham Burell. All achieved a sense of re-animation as the archival puppets were placed to enhance the arrested movement and provoke an uncanny frision of life/death.
Exploitation Route Dr Beccy Kennedy

Birgitta Hosea
Sectors Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Ephemeral Animation referenced within Puppetry in Dementia Care: Connecting Through Creativity and Joy Marshall, Karrie
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Education,Healthcare
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description 'Unexpected Objects' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Wellcome Trust In conversation series. My research on Ephemeral Animation was presentated for 'Unexpected Objects' at Wellcome Trust - in discussion with neuroscientist Frank E Pollick Professor

Ephemeral Animation presentation for 'Unexpected Objects' at Wellcome Trust in discussion with neuroscientist Frank E Pollick Professor Psychology at Glasgow University. The event was chaired by Timandra Harkness
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
Description Creative Banter - directing for puppet theatre 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Creative Banter/discussion with John Mowart talking about directing puppetry - held as part of Accidental Festival.Roundhouse London

Extending the reach of Puppet Performances presented as part of Accidental Festival & the International Student Puppet Festival.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description Ephemeral Animation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Paper & workshop as part of The Object Theatre Network Nottingham University.

A three day event focus pedagogy of object theatre - I presented on 2nd day.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
Description Subversive Symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A CROPP/Research event organised by myself, major achievement in securing Amber West from USA. Amber spoke about Charlotte Charke, Jill Fell about Alfred Jarry, Glyn Edwards about Punch and myself about my work with Joe Beeby's Punch puppets. This enabled a wide look at Mr Punch and was a valuable contribution to my on-going research.

A symposium to make a public contribution to The Big Grin celebrations for 350th Birthday of Mr Punch.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012