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Puppet-A-Go-Go: New Stories In An ‘Old’ Medium

Puppet-A-Go-Go: New Stories In An ‘Old’ Medium

By Bart Gazzola

Tellingly, this is the second consecutive artist feature for The Sound that finds its genesis in last year’s In The Soil Arts Festival. At that time, Niagara Artists Centre’s [NAC]  Dennis Tourbin Gallery was occupied by Puppet A Go Go’s 1000 Finger Puppets Show.

When I posted images online of these unique and contemporary creations, several people were enchanted by the diversity. From “No Face / Kaonashi” from the anime Spirited Away / Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi, to all the ghosts from Pac Man, with delightful googly eyes, or several characters that I like to think reference The Cure, the Tourbin space was overwhelming, but also something you could get lost in, as you perused puppet “faces” both familiar and new.

Balancing this, were larger puppets “sitting” along the side, with faces / masks sculpted with a deliberate quality demonstrating these works are as worthy of the designation of Art as anything you see coming out of an art school sculpture studio. But the designations between art, fine art craft and works that straddle those spaces have always seemed artificial: and the puppets I’m referencing here, from the Tourbin exhibition, carved and rendered with heads of lions and elephants, antlered and painted, evoke the rich tradition of puppetry and the place it holds in storytelling and history (Punch and Judy or Brothers Quay, Jan Švankmajer or nomadic performers that trace their lineage back centuries in Western Europe and beyond. Wael Shawky’s Cabaret Crusades is something else that comes to mind, in this expressive medium).

Puppet – A – Go – Go formed about a year and a half ago, and comprises four members: Clelia Scala (who labels herself a ‘maskmaker’), Alexa Fraser (you’ve hopefully seen several of her works in a number of exhibitions in St. Catharines), Christine Cosby, and Trisha Lavoie (the latter three identify as textile artists, and the members are spread between Hamilton, St. Catharines and Toronto). All four are longtime STRUTT contributors (the wearable art show extravaganza that has been a highlight of St. Catharines art & culture for more than a decade, and that is taking on a new transformation – appropriately, you might say – this fall).

That’s a bit of background. Looking ahead, this fall features a series of installations by Puppet-A-Go-Go, that you can see literally at any time:

“[Our] upcoming exhibit mimics the summer outdoor theatre festival experience [with] a series of four “static performances” on a stage for an audience of enthralled puppets. The public is invited to peek into this world of puppets anytime night or day, through the windows of NAC’s Plate Glass Gallery. The outdoor theatre puppet diorama will [run] from September 23, 2016 through January 28, 2017. Viewers will be inspired to revisit the window diorama and use their imagination to interpret the “static performances”. Special puppet celebrity appearances are included in the festival line-up, and the audience is a wild assortment of colourful characters.”

You can see updates (of the tempting visual kind) here.

I look forward to seeing more of the playfulness, and collaboration that has defined Puppet-A-Go-Go’s activities (such as with the workshops they presented during In the Soil). Puppet-A-Go-Go is also focused on “adult puppetry”, as – like the anime I referenced with Spirited Away – the medium of puppetry is one that has adapted to ideas and concepts that are relevant to many ages. The next four months at the Plate Glass Gallery look to be entertaining ones, and that people walking down St. Paul can stop and peer into the tableaux at any hour, seeing the “characters” at play, is an exciting expansion of audience.

The first installment of Puppet-A-Go-Go in the park, at 354 St. Paul Street,by Clelia Scalia, is on display now.

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