American visual/theatre artist, puppeteer, experimental filmmaker, illustrator, director, educator. Janie Geiser studied visual art at the University of Georgia where she created her first puppets. After college, Geiser moved to Atlanta, where she saw a performance by Bruce Schwartz that inspired her to more seriously consider exploring puppetry and performance. With the encouragement of Vince Anthony at the Center for Puppetry Arts (Atlanta, Georgia), Janie Geiser began to create short experimental puppet shows, and, with composer Chip Epsten, she founded the Jottay Theatre in Atlanta in 1981. Productions included Little Eddie (1981), Sleep (1981), and Blue Night (1984), performed at the 1984 UNIMA 13th World Puppetry Festival in Dresden, German Democratic Republic. Other Jottay Theatre productions include The Glass Dream (1983, produced by the Center for Puppetry Arts), Hangman (1985), Burning in the Dark (1987), and Stories From Here (1989, Obie Award). Geiser collaborated as the set and puppet designer on the Center for Puppetry Arts’ production of Allegorey (1982, directed by Kent Stephens with glove puppets, rod puppets, and shadows).
In 1990, Janie Geiser moved to New York and continued to work as a puppeteer, filmmaker, and also as a freelance illustrator for The New York Times Book Review, The Village Voice, and other publications. She became involved in the vital puppetry community in Manhattan, and often worked with Trudi Cohen, Stephen Kaplin, John Bell and Dan Hurlin on various experimental puppetry works. Her original works created in New York include Half a World Away (1990, with composer Dick Connette), News Update (1991), When the Wind Blows (1992), Evidence of Floods (1994), Night Behind the Windows (1999). Several of these were presented at three Henson International Festivals of Puppet Theater in New York. In 1992, Geiser received a Guggenheim Fellowship, in recognition of her work in puppetry and interdisciplinary performance.
In 1997, as part of a Pew/TCG National Artist Residency at Arts at St. Ann’s in Brooklyn, Janie Geiser established a puppetry laboratory, to assist emerging and established artists to develop and refine new work. The Lab at St. Ann’s is still in operation today, currently under the direction of puppeteers Tom Lee and Matt Acheson.
In 1998, Janie Geiser was appointed to direct a new puppetry program – the Cotsen Center for Puppetry and the Arts – in the School of Theater at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts, Valencia, Southern California).
Geiser’s interest in film led her to begin to incorporate film into her performance work in 1990, and then to make films as an independent form. Films by Janie Geiser often use puppets, toys, and found objects. Titles include The Red Book (1994), The Secret Story (1996), Immer Zu (1997), The Fourth Watch (2000), Ultima Thule (2002), Ghost Algebra (2009), The Floor of the World (2010). Her film Arbor (2012) was selected for the 2012 Views from the Avant-garde (New York Film Festival) and London’s Experimenta (London International Film Festival). Her film The Red Book was selected in 2009 to be part of the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.
In 2004, Janie Geiser and Susan Simpson founded Automata, a Los Angeles nonprofit dedicated to the creation, incubation, representation, and preservation of experimental puppet theatre and experimental film. Automata productions have included Frankenstein (Mortal Toys) (2004-2008, collaboration with Susan Simpson), The Reptile Under the Flowers (2009-2011), and Clouded Sulphur (Death is a Knot Undone) (2012).
Janie Geiser’s performances have toured nationally and internationally, and her films have been screened at museums and festivals around the globe. Geiser has been recognized with a Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as funding from the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts), the Rockefeller Foundation, the Jim Henson Foundation, Creative Capital, Jerome Foundation, the Center for Cultural Innovation, MapFund, the Durfee Foundation, and others. She is the recipient of a 2011 California Community Foundation Fellowship for Visual Artists.
Janie Geiser’s work is often described as mysterious, dream-like and personal. She has cited artists as diverse as Man Ray, Paul Klee, Pina Bausch, Joseph Cornell, Marc Chagall, Alexander Calder and Frida Kahlo as influences. Her puppetry quickly evolved away from traditional methods of presentation. A number of her works appear as sequences of animated three-dimensional dioramas, which give them a voyeuristic quality. The movement and the puppets are deliberately stylized. The childlike roughness and simplicity of the visuals often give a touch of playfulness to her themes, which tend to be sophisticated, complex and dark.
(See United States of America.)
- Harris, Walter. The Puppetry of Janie Geiser. Atlanta (GA): Center for Puppetry Arts, 1990.