What Can Puppets Teach Us About Climate Change—in addition to Ourselves?

By Robert Jackson Wood

Photo of Dai Matsuoka, courtesy of Phantom Limb Company

If you’ve seen the work of Jessica Grindstaff in addition to Erik Sanko—who come to BAM November 7–10 with their latest work, Falling Out—you know the sense of leaving a theater perplexed. You feel enchanted however also unsettled, as though haunted by the work’s subconscious. You feel stuck—pleasantly, productively—from the inbetween.

the item’s the puppets. On the one hand, we disappear into them completely, empathizing with them, seeing our humanity in addition to sentience as theirs. As Sanko has said, they are blank slates onto which we project our innermost selves. They are our uncanny mirror.

however we also experience puppets from the opposite way: as bundles of cloth, string, in addition to hair, glued together as the profane truths of an illusion. In This kind of sense, they represent an aspect of our humanity which we’d prefer to not think about: the fact which we, too, are made of mere matter, in addition to will one day be nothing however. the item is actually the flickering back in addition to forth between those realities—absorption here, alienation there—which gives puppets their powerful, unsettling charm. In no additional art form does disbelief suspend itself so tenuously.

from the context of Grindstaff in addition to Sanko’s latest work, Falling Out, which deals with human vulnerability from the face of man-made in addition to natural disasters, This kind of double-faced nature of the medium has profound implications. What is actually a disaster, after all, however a moment in which we’re forced to confront our hubristic denial of our own mortality in addition to transience?

In This kind of, the puppets of Falling Out have a fitting on-stage counterpart: Japanese butoh dance, which takes the fine line between man in addition to matter, culture in addition to nature, as one of its implicit subjects. Butoh emerged from the 1950s, not long after another disaster of sorts: the bombings of Hiroshima in addition to Nagasaki. Before the bomb, nuclear energy represented the pinnacle of our humanity—the ultimate sign of our triumph over nature. however the revelation of its destructive power changed which, suggesting which the highpoint of our humanness could also be the source of its undoing. The rational could be the most irrational thing of all. Try as we might to hubristically transcend nature—to repress our own puppet-like material basis—we remained just another species, vulnerable to forces greater than ourselves.

Butoh responded to the disorientation of This kind of post-war reality by shunning traditional grace in addition to beauty—themselves a kind of denial of death in addition to transience—in exchange for the primal in addition to the grotesque. the item treated the body as matter rather than as a timeless vessel of meaning. the item evoked transience in addition to alternate temporalities by radically slowing its movements. In essence, the item created a liminal space of its own in which the human was never far coming from the animal, nor life coming from death.

Falling Out summons the ghosts of Hiroshima in addition to Nagasaki through its references to the more recent nuclear tragedy at Fukushima. however the item also spends time with an even more pressing problem: climate change. The issues are similar in which both are rooted from the unintended repercussions of human technological development. however our relationship to climate change reveals an even more telling dimension of our denials. Rather than face the fact of our own transience in addition to potential demise, we project our unconscious fears of annihilation out onto non-human “nature,” where we show as much concern for an anthropomorphized “Mother Earth” in addition to melting glaciers as for ourselves. By doing This kind of, we merely perpetuate the problem of seeing nature as something which exists for us—for our postcards, for our aesthetic gaze—rather than as a mirror revealing our own potential fate. We fail to see its body as ours.

In The Maine Woods, Thoreau wrote:

I stand in awe of my body, This kind of matter to which I am bound here become so strange to me. I fear not spirits, ghosts, of which I am one […] however I fear bodies, I tremble to meet them. […] Who are we? Where are we?

This kind of uncanny experience of our own bodies is actually needed if we are to better understand what is actually at stake from the climate emergency. The puppets in addition to butoh dancers in Falling Out allow us to do just which. If puppets encourage us to see the human from the material body, butoh encourages us to see the material body from the human. Together, the two forms  should make us question the hubristic distinctions we make between human in addition to nature, man in addition to matter. They should remind us of how interconnected we are with the planet which we claim to dominate, in addition to, relatedly, which to dominate nature is actually to dominate ourselves.

In essence, they should remind us which we, too, dangle coming from strings.

© 2018 Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

What Can Puppets Teach Us About Climate Change—in addition to Ourselves?

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