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Lutka Magazin


New technologies in contemporary puppetry
Autum 2019, No. 60, a trilingual magazine

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The puppet, freed of its own physicality and deterministic frames, transcends into an animated entity, an open medium of varied potentials. Through this transition into different phases of being and artistic forms, it represents a synthesis of diverse aesthetic approaches and technologies. Its essence lies in limitless potential, which can also be embodied in its relationship with modern technologies. This issue of LUTKA, the journal for puppet art and animated theatre, is themed around the influence of new technologies on the development and understanding of contemporary puppet art and the art of animated entities generally. Its goal is to present a range of interdisciplinary and hybrid forms of contemporary puppetry and to thematise the relevant issues.

LUTKA offers an academic look at contemporary puppetry, encompassing diverse theoretical approaches, perspectives, and descriptions of contemporary practices through articles written for this publication by relevant experts: Kalle Nio, Gabrielle Scarabino, Julie Sermon, Matthias Youchenko, Nenad Jelesijević, Tin Grabnar, Mojca Kumerdej, Nika Švab, Maša Jazbec and Maša Radi Buh.

It poses the fundamental questions of contemporary trends in puppet art: how the puppet can be defined and considered anew; to what extent the influence of new media can broaden its definition and influence the development of new puppet terminology; how contemporary practices establish an entirely new relationship with animators, materials, motions, objects, voice… And finally: does a puppet (or animated object) truly still need an animator, as it seems that, empowered with new technology, it is capable of coming to life entirely on its own?

The journal offers new connotations and insights with an emphasis on a broader perception of puppets in connection with new technologies. It demonstrates that puppets have not languished in their traditional form and shows how they reflect the world today and, through their aesthetic and thematic expressions, adapt and simultaneously represent the structures of modern society. With their inherent broadness and the possibility of a limitless creation from nothing, they can (if they have a sense for it) transform into a relevant form of art, open and inviting investigation. As a form of theatre, puppetry can utilise all forms of artistic expression and the newest technology and, with its multimedia nature, find its rightful place in the ever-growing opus of the performing arts. It provides starting points for theoretical discourse and enables discussions of philosophy, politics, sociology, and aesthetics.

The journal was edited by Tjaša Bertoncelj, Ajda Rooss, and Maša Jazbec, and designed by Ajda Schmidt. The designer received the award for excellent Slovenian design at the 9th Brumen Biennale for the magazine.

LUTKA Magazine was founded in 1966 by the Association of Cultural Organisations (today the Public Fund for Cultural Activities).

This issue is supported by the Europe-wide Numeric Art Puppetry Project (NAPP), which unites four notable European institutions with a rich heritage in puppetry. In addition to the Ljubljana Puppet Theatre, the project includes the Centre de la Marionnette de la Communauté Française in Belgium; the Teatrul Municipal Tony Bulandra in Romania; and the Action Culturelle du Val de Lorraine in France. The project places contemporary approaches to puppetry under the microscope, investigating their connections to digital art and understanding contemporary puppet art through the prism of vastly diverse, hybrid forms of the performing arts.

Gabrielle Scarabino

Setting puppet and robot in opposition, creating a space for thinking about the intersection of puppet art and digital art, reflecting critically on the social, but also economic and political, revolution that the digital has brought about—these are the themes of the article Meeting 3.0. If we define digital art as art, which poses questions about the digital, a puppet performance can show us what it means to be a subject in the digital age. A puppet that can turn a robot into its peer on stage is capable of transcending alienation to include the digital in the world of culture and meanings.

Mojca Kumerdej

Automata, automatic machines and devices have accompanied humanity since the 1st millennium B.C., when technologically advanced civilisations began producing them in different parts of the world. In the Middle Ages, the spread of Islam in the eastern Mediterranean and western Asia integrated the technical knowledge of different cultures and indirectly reached the Christian Europe. An apocryphal anecdote says that Descartes made a replica of his deceased daughter and talked to it in a similar way as we may now communicate with humanoid robot Erica made by Japanese engineer Hiroshi Ishiguro, whose androids also appear in theatre shows. Automata as well as robots, androids and artificial intelligence belong to the realm of the Unheimlich, which also includes puppets, toys and mythological creatures. As a mimesis of life, they spark fascination and wonder, but as soon as they surprise us or come too close to us, they stir discomfort, alarm and anxiety. But is fear of robots and artificial intelligence as one of the strongest tools developed by the humanity not actually the fear of culture, which should protect humanity against nature and regulate the relations of human beings among themselves, but does not seem very good at it?

Nika Švab

The paper presents four examples of good practice in robotics and mechatronics in contemporary performing arts. These are Michaël Cros and the Méta-Carpe group, Louis-Philippe Demers, Israeli interdisciplinary artist Amit Drori and the MKF – Meinhardt-Krauss-Feigl collective. Their works introduce robotic practices in different ways: in contemporary dance, animated objects theatre and installations. The authors mentioned above are analysed through the prism of Karl Čapek and his definitions of robots, but of course, the relationship and working approach to robotics is different in each of the analysed creators as well as in Čapek. The works of the authors question the relationship between a robot and a human, or between man and the Other, as well as exploring the robot's image and activity that results from anthropomorphism or zootrophy; their perception is not speciesist and they seek ways of coexistence of different beings.

The encounter of art, philosophy and digital presumption

Interview with Matthias Youchenko
Maša Jazbec

“According to Dewey's proposal, the emergence of the modern and digital technology itself would by no means be sufficient for the emergence of a new form of art, which is supposed to be called digital art. Not only must digital artists emerge; their works, too, must successfully discover a new field of artistic expression in the digital substance. In the context of these analyses we could ask the question about the category of digital art in order to finally find out whether the category is the one on which the new art field depends, experienced as such by artists, or whether it is a category that is a consequence of the technophilic way of life of the society or a consequence of the cultural world that considers it merely an expression. This question should be posed to artists. Do they consider digital art an effective category in which they classify themselves, or is it a definition to which they subscribe because they fail to find financial support?”

Meta-technological, performative, spectacular, schizophrenic, and trans-situational connotations of the puppet-body
Nenad Jelesijević

We speak of puppets in the broad sense: puppets which both are and are not puppets, which are more than a technologically animated and aestheticized zoomorphic object. We emphasise the absence of a boundary between living and unliving, or rather the superfluous nature of such a distinction. The meta-technological, performative, and spectacular connotations of the puppet are linked to Deleuze and Guattari's concept of the movement-image and the body without organs. We demonstrate that limitlessness is inherent to the puppet-body. His/her highly schizophrenic nature enables him/her to co-create trans-situations: the meta-gendered, dis-identified puppet-body inscribes performances in space-time as lines of discourse and as experimental acts of its own emancipation, without fearing collisions with other bodies. We contextualise the puppet-body as a radical actor that aspires towards protagonism. It is capable of animating itself in its own anima, which is here used as another word for potentiated sensory phenomena. We, ourselves, are the idol we want to have. We have the possibility of limitless animation of function and situated context.

Tin Grabnar

An individualistic way of living in contemporary society is also evident in the theatre. There are probably as many reasons why today's authors create theatre works as there are authors themselves. Some attempt to provoke political commitment in their audience, others aim at arousing a reflection on important social issues, while still others intend to sharpen the sensibility of their audience. All of them, however, maintain communication with audience. This relationship is essential in the theatre. The audience is, namely, the final addressee for which a theatre event is intended. An increasingly frequent occurrence is, however, that authors neglect these relationships for several reasons, placing other motives of their creation in the forefront. It happens rather quickly that research of a technological innovation prevails over the contents brought by such innovation. The author's creative impulse is not intended for the audience but for satisfying the author's own needs. Such theatre events make an impression of self-sufficiency. They fail at establishing communication with the audience.

Kalle Nio

Magician, film maker and visual artist Kalle Nio reflects his artistic approach to using projections as a part of performing arts.

The history of using projections as a part of a stage performances is longer than the history of cinema as an individual art form, so perhaps there is no reason to draw clear line between these art forms. Cinema and projections as a part of performing arts is such a powerful tool that it is something that should be taken into consideration as an elemental way of stage expression. The moving image can also be used as a tool of creation and artistic research. With all the new technological inventions and artistic approaches, cinema is also constantly transforming. The performing arts can be a leader in finding these new forms of cinema.

Maša Radi Buh

The paper focuses on selected shows of authors and dance-based choreographers who introduce into their works an idea that a well-placed/choreographed body and its movement are strong enough media for narration. In addition, their experience in contemporary dance also brings different views on the relationships between various elements of the performance. Thus, these artists, perhaps completely unintentionally, challenge some classical roles or positions within puppet theatre; the consequences of this are, for example, the decentralisation of the view, or transition of the body between the scene, the character and the animation. In the performances Number One: Porshia, Invisible Lands, Kiss and Cry, Cold Blood and Untitled, the selected authors show, by stepping away from conventions and by establishing a different relationship among various elements, that the transformation of the staging format does not necessarily involve the introduction of a new technology or the change of the external image of these various elements; instead, the primary importance is on their role within the play and the purpose they serve.

Maša Jazbec

Nowadays we speak of transcending interdisciplinariness in the fields of human endeavour. Contemporary forms of puppet art and their creators are also increasingly incorporating modern technology, in the widest sense, in their works. The article focuses on the work of the versatile French artist Renaud Herbin, who successfully combined artistic and scientific disciplines within the scope of the Strasbourg-based TJP Centre. The article introduces his work and considers the concepts which are characteristic of it: body, object, image. A crucial concept that arises from the relationship of technology and puppet art in his work is the plurality of gazes.