Sunday, September 4, 2011

Real Hyperreality

Thank you Umberto Eco for the word Hyperreality for this is what you experience when you watch this TED Talk. How some works of art can become larger and more "real" than the original.

Adrian Hohler and Basil Jones of Handspring Productions show us how to breathe life into a dead object - a puppet - so the character is larger than life.

They present two of their creations, both feats of "emotional engineering" - a puppet horse that has starring roles in the London and New York productions of War Horse and its ancestor, a hyena created for a 1995 Handspring production of "Faustus in Africa", to play draughts with Helen of Troy.

War Horse is a play based on a book of the same name by Michael Morpugo, about a young boy who falls in love with horse that is conscripted into World War I. He joins up to be reunited with his horse. On stage there are several horses, each with riders aboard, that collectively create the power and danger of a cavalry charge.

They explain that while "an actor struggles to die onstage", "a puppet has to struggle to live" and that this is "a metaphor for life".

Three puppeteers control the Joey the horse, two inside one who manipulates the tail and the other the breathing with his knees, and one who controls the head. All three puppeteers contribute to a whinny or other sounds the horse makes.

Joey's tail flicks, his ears point in different directions which is an emotional indicator of the horse, his chest heaves with breathing, he stamps his feet, gallops, rears up. It is all very convincing.

So here is a workshop to explore some of the issues Handspring raise:

1. In what ways is the hyena the ancestor of the horse? What could we learn from Handspring's process of invention/innovation?
2. If puppets are "emotional engineering" what are the features? How does the engineering relate to the emotions?
3. What is it about the horse puppet that is so mesmerizing?
4. Why do you think the puppeteers seem to disappear from view?
5. Choose from this list and describe how you might think like/act like it. Photon of light, the moon, a spider, an unborn baby, a neuron in your brain, an elephant, the wind, a cuckoo clock.
6. Make a list of unusual objects, people, creatures, etc. that it might be interesting thing to imagine thinking like/acting like. Choose one and describe how you would think or act if you were this.
7. Describe the differences between a puppet and a robot? A puppet and an animation.
8. What could it mean that "an actor struggles to die onstage, but a puppet has to struggle to live." And how is this a metaphor for life?
9. Explain how puppetry is a fusion of technology and art. What helps makes the horse puppets come alive? And how is this related to how artists interpret our world?
10. How could a horse puppet seem more real than real? How could we apply this to other human activities? e.g. product design, leadership .
11. What other art forms are a fusion of technology and art? Make a list of the tool that are used for example in opera, dance, or sculpture and then explain the rules of use of the tool e.g. chisel is used by a sculptor to remove excess stone to reveal a figure inside that previously only existed in the imagination.

Eco, U. (1967, 1986) Travels in Hyperreality. Orlando: Harcourt.

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