Leaky Boundaries: Transversing the Abject through Puppetry Performance
Plenary paper presented at American Society for Theatre Research Conference Trans-. Minneapolis, MN, US. 4 November 2016
In Wattle and Daub’s The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak, a reanimated corpse puppet leaks blood, excrement, and saliva on his journey through military torture, medical treatment, and morbid illness. In moments of memory, body parts of Snuff Puppets’ giant Everybody puppet detach from its dying body and secrete. Each of these moments unsettles the boundary between puppet and human body by transposing abjected materiality - decay, secretions - of human bodies on/into the puppet.
Recent scholarship draws on the puppet’s ability to transverse multiple sites and states through simultaneously occupying opposing binary positions: human/object, figure/material, alive/dead. This transverse positionality of the puppet has been rendered as an ability to ‘tug back’ on modernism (Bell 2014), to access the other through ambiguous co-presence (Piris 2014), to alert us to the lifecycles of materials (Margolies 2014, Sidirokastriti 2015), and, as abjected bodies/technologies, to challenge bodily norms (Parker-Starbuck 2011). What possibilities are revealed when the puppet transverses the abject itself as object performing human decay and secretion, abjected materiality that shores up the contours of the embodied human subject? What boundaries are crossed that reframe our relationship to both human and non-human materiality?
This paper analyzes these moments of transversing the abject in puppetry performances, a gesture that allows artists to deepen explorations of porous, ‘leaky’ boundaries of the body through material performance.