My Last Heather and Ivan Morison Puppet Show

As part of their exhibition, Anna, at The Hepworth Wakefield, Heather and Ivan Morison asked a number of Visitor Services Assistants to enact their (the artists’) interpretation of the novel Ice by Anna Kavan (following strict instructions) using specially created puppets. The show was 22 minutes long and took place every Saturday and Wednesday at 3.00. An audio track of narration by three characters from the story – The Girl, The Warden and The Child – played throughout the show, so that the puppets’ “voices” reverberated around the gallery providing the audience with the characters’ perspectives and conversations with each other. You can hear some of the audio track here.

The puppets were difficult to manipulate at first, even after we had had training from master puppeteer Owen Glynne Davies and Ivan Morison. Gradually, however, as we became more and more familiar with The Girl (Anna) and The Warden and their idiosyncrasies, it became a little easier to control their movements.

I felt an attachment to them – despite my initial reservations. Both puppets are pretty creepy-looking and I think some of the younger visitors may be having puppet-themed nightmares for a few years to come. Nevertheless, as we (the VSAs) developed our own daft stories about their lives (The Warden likes to moonwalk and eat Cadbury’s chocolate fingers; Anna’s looking for a good deal on a spray tan in time for summer), they seemed to take on new personae; to become less intimidating. I projected aspects from my world – the mundane, everyday world of eating chocolate biscuits in the staff room and reading Heat magazine when no one’s looking – onto the puppets, which created humour (well I laughed anyway) through bathos: the sublime to the ridiculous.

I suppose this is appropriate in a way as the Morison’s state that ‘Anna considers our understanding of the world through myth, and how meaning comes to us through storytelling’. These objects – these articulated, carved, wooden puppets with their wiry horsehair and unnervingly realistic glass eyes – became elements in our stories as well as featuring in that iterative performance of the “official” narrative created by the Morison’s, which was itself adapted from Anna Kavan.

As I controlled the puppet (we took it in turns to play Anna and The Warden), I sometimes wondered if Heather and Ivan were having a bit of a laugh at our expense – they controlled our movements from afar: even in their absence, every Wednesday and Saturday at 3.00, we would take to the stage (Gallery 10) and act out the same story. We became their puppets.

Anyone seen Being John Malkovich?!

Here are some photographs of my last ever performance with The Girl and The Warden. I will be sad to see them go.

There is another performance of the puppet show, the final one, this Saturday at 3.00 in Gallery 10. The temporary exhibitions (Galleries 7-10) will close on Sunday so that we can install the next exhibition, which features Richard Long and Luke Fowler.

Goodbye you little wooden buggers. You will be sorely missed.

You can see some more of my photographs of the puppets here.


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