An artistic process in which a new work of art is created from the combination of found objects, applied to the construction of puppets. The idea is to create composite puppets, in the way the painter, Arcimboldo (1527-1593), sketched his “composed heads”, made up of flowers, fruits and vegetables. Various objects – manufactured objects, hardware, tools, kitchen utensils and natural elements, such as vegetables and fruit – are gathered in service of giving meaning to object theatre. All of these elements are articulated by links or hinges, or put together by diverse assemblage techniques that vary from one material to another: gluing, tying, fastening, nailing, using vises, soldering, etc.
One of the first puppeteers to use an assemblage of objects was the Hungarian Géza Blattner in his Arc-en-Ciel (Rainbow) Puppet Theatre, in Paris 1930: “The numbers were announced by a fantasy lecturer made up by Blattner, who had feet made of bicycle wheels, whose head was a radio antenna, whose ears were telephone earpieces, and who had a magnet in place of his heart” (André-Charles Gervais).
From 1919 to 1933, the Bauhaus, famous for their contributions to the fields of architecture and visual art, also engaged with theatre and puppetry, and featured an assemblage of shapes and geometric volumes in some of their work, notably Kurt Schmidt’s creations for Die Abenteuer des kleinen Buckligen (The Adventures of the Little Hunchback) or for Le Médecin et son valet (The Doctor and His Valet). In addition, Paul Klee assembled recycled materials into glove puppets for his son, Felix, some of which evoke African art.
The most surprising materials can find their way into assemblage puppets. Georges Tournaire and Bob Gouge combined pieces of clothing in Cravates circus (Necktie Circus). The animated images of the German Harry Kramer’s so-called mechanical theatre was a mix of unpredictable elements, reminiscent of primitive or surrealistic artworks. One of his characters was a form with two gaping holes for eyes, mounted on a spring, arms and legs of wire, and a rough body on a carriage with wheels. Between 1955 and 1959, in Paris, Harry Kramer gave a performance entitled Signaux de l’ombre (German: Signale im Schatten or Signals in the Shadows or Shadow Signals, 1959), with his Manifeste pour un théâtre de l’objet (Manifesto for a Theatre of the Object), using an assemblage of perforated wheels, embryonic sculptures on wheels, automatically guided, orchestrated with the precision of clockwork to “Konkreter Musik” (“concrete music”). It used lighting effects but there was no dialogue or concession that might give an allusion to the work of an actor.
The puppets of Vera Bródy for the operetta Sur Mars (On Mars), performed at the Állami Bábszínház (State Puppet Theatre) in Budapest, Hungary, in 1960, were made from boxes, tubes, metal balls, a propeller hat, hat pins, a fabric cloak, a muslin scarf, etc. In the show Mais, moi je préfère la charlotte à la framboise (But, I Prefer Apple-Charlotte to Raspberry, 1985), Marcel Violette used cake moulds to make a stick puppet, known as the Soldat Pâtissier (Pastry-Cook Soldier). A remarkable example is that of the painter Enrico Baj, who made the tabletop-operated puppets of Massimo Schuster’s Ubu roi (King Ubu, 1984) using principally metallic pieces of Meccano®. Finally, returning to Arcimboldo, the Compagnie de l’Échelle from Pau, France, used in their Opéra bouffe fruits, vegetables and other foodstuffs manipulated directly by hand, on a table.
(See also [lier]Construction, Theatre of Objects.)
- Gervais, André-Charles. Marionnettes et marionnettistes de France [Puppets and Puppeteers of France]. Paris: Bordas, 1947.