Curatorial Thoughts on Puppet Power 2020

by Wendy Passmore-Godfrey, Puppet Power 2020 Curator

Many years ago, I saw the famous Pierrot scene by master marionette artist Philippe Genty. In the scene Pierrot comes alive. He rejoices. Then he realizes he is controlled by the black figure above him. He reacts by purposefully pulling his strings out until he collapses. He dies, in a heap on the stage. (Video)

In my view, it is the perfect metaphor for a moment of existential angst. It has inspired my thematic choice for WP Puppet Theatre’s next puppet power conference “Puppets go Existential”.

Against a backdrop of, hmmm – where to start? – mars exploration program, genetic engineering on mosquitos’, Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, nanotechnology, burning amazon jungles, banks paying people to borrow money, Greenland’s not for sale, the age of Anthropocene…

I wondered… what are other puppeteers around the world working on?

Like all artists, puppeteers – to paraphrase Bertolt Brecht – hold a mirror to reality, as well as a hammer to shape it. What better instrument to use for shaping reality, than a puppet? Writer Kenneth Gross, in his book Puppet – an Essay on Uncanny Life, explores the delight and fear that puppets create, an innocent child’s plaything or a tool of ritual magic. They may be creepy, secretive, inanimate while full of spirit, alive with gestures and voice. He contemplates the fascination of these unsettling objects – objects that are also actors and images of life.*

I felt it was appropriate for the year 2020, suggesting a special time for clarity, to have our conference examine three of the (many) existential concerns of our time – specifically Climate Action, Artificial Intelligence, and Culture and Identity.

I know this is ambitious – perhaps too much to bite off? We shall see. However, I’m confident that as we always do at Puppet Power, we’ll have some eureka moments, make some good connections and learn some new skills. And after all that, my final theme – Hope and Human Agency – will provide cause for celebration.

With themes this broad I’m gathering inspiration from everywhere and the real curatorial trick will be to hone it down. In addition to exciting presentation proposals (keep them coming – deadline Oct 31), our organizing committee has noted Ian McEwan’s book – Machines Like Me, and a wonderful little video about What makes a Hero; we’re having conversations with Climate Hub of Calgary, and Friends of Confederation Creek, and we have discovered the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, learned about Ecological Grief and much more.

Unlike Philippe’s Pierrot I don’t believe we have the option to pull the strings and collapse – to opt out. But I believe we do have the power and the responsibility to cut the strings and walk with compassion, empathy and intelligence.

It’s going to be an exciting Puppet Power 2020 – May 29-31.

* University of Chicago Press – back cover review


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