The kind of puppets this Blog will be primarily concerned with are fancy pieces of work like this Dragon-Fly:
These little Personas are Specialist-Collectors Artforms: the processes required to create them are varied, attention must be focussed closely, the application of attention to detail requires refined sensibilities and workmanship. They deserve to be respected.
In the photographs of the puppets here their shadow is not visible unfortunately, but in reality the shadow of each puppet is a very present part of their contribution to the space in which they hang or are suspended from the wall; here’s one good example:
The basic concept of these puppets came from Shadow Puppetry with which I have had a variety of experience, the medium being extremely versatile especially for India and communication about ecology.
The Shadow Puppets are rough and ready tools used to communicate at school and village level in the backwoods of Tamil Nadu. Whereas the Soft Sculptures are of an entirely different order. Although these are technically ‘puppets’, the description ‘soft sculpture’ functions effectively to specify the preciousness of what they are, as you can see from some examples here:
These were initially created overlooking Wollumbin – a sacred Mountain in northern NSW Australia, from where they journeyed to come into full bloom by another sacred mountain – my adopted home: Annamalai in Tamil Nadu.
These soft sculptures are extremely sturdy: suspended above riotous life they live on probably well beyond human life expectancy, just so long as they are not handled more than necessary and even then by respectful fingers please.
The silk comes from the Kanchipuram district, not far from Annamalai mountain in South India. It needs to be washed carefully in hot water and ironed before it is ready to cut for application of the cartoons. These need to be ironed to set, before the silk is stretched onto a frame for application of inks. The two faces of the finished product need to be painted; I work in batches and estimate usually two to three frames can be painted in a full day. At the end of a batch of some thirty ink applications, these are rolled in paper and steamed for an hour or two to fix the colours, and rinsed in a couple of applications, and then ironed before stitching. Hand stitching is necessary at first to perfectly match both sides of the puppet, and then machine stitching very intricately around the contours. Little ‘v’s’ are cut around the outside of the stitching – an arduous job, before the puppet is ready to be turned inside out before being filled with silk cotton, after which the puppet is a kind of pupae, ready for transformation. From then on it needs application of fabric paint, stitching with embroidery thread, attachment of other bodily or silk cloth accessories, jewellery, musical instruments, weapons or tools, vehicles, receptacles, utensils, etc.. Lots of individual attention is required, and lots of drying and waiting time – I would estimate probably four days for each puppet… at a minimum.
The making up of individual attachments, like instruments, little boats and tubs and other ‘hard’ additions and so on, also take a great deal of time and attention. For example, the musical instruments like Guitars and Lyres, here is what is involved in these: first good wood is chosen from the sawmill after which it is cut and planed. The wood comes home then to be marked and returned to town the master jigsaw man, who cuts out the little instruments or bows or oars, or whatever. Then they return home to be sanded, the the little silk pieces are fitted and glued, the gold gutta applied, and then each side is varnished and dried twice, before the little strings are attached to the instruments, the pieces of brass cut and sanded and attached, before white gutta for the string tension is applied, and then the little instrument is ready for applying to the puppet.
One of the very most pleasing aspect of this work was that many of the accessories were made for me by Master craftsmen in the town. Here are some photos to liven up this Blog:
As anyone can see, making these puppets in India was great fun. There is only one image taken of me during this time; although it is small, it conveys the way we were all surrounded by puppets at this time:
Dragonfly and several companions are occupying space in Vasiliy’s Garden now, which suits them well; I am very relieved to liberate them from stuffy Art spaces, they are much more at home in a plant nursery like Vasiliy’s:
My workspace is taken up in Coburg now, not far from Vasiliy’s garden, in a very calm, pleasant old house:
The workspace grows increasingly riotous in front of the goddess: