Puppet Show

The game is up for Birmingham’s Eastside Projects arts centre. After years of pretence, we’re told that from this Friday, the space is to reveal its true colours – unveiling that it is, in fact, a Puppet State, run by a cast of ‘impersonators, imposters and transvestites’.

Simon Starling, The Expedition, 2011 (detail)
Simon Starling, The Expedition, 2011 (detail)

This motley crew- united in using their appearance to deceive  – will collectively act as the voices of others, speaking their own truths to ‘debase, mock, undermine and protest’, we’re told.

A Puppet State (or Marionette Government) is one that is effectively controlled by a foreign power – maintaining a premise of independence through paraphernalia such as flags, mottoes and anthems but is really simple a device through which another state wields its power.

Heather and Ivan Morison (Professor Morello) I Hate Her. I Hate Her. 2009
Heather and Ivan Morison (Professor Morello) I Hate Her. I Hate Her. 2009

Among its most famous incarnations were the puppet states controlled by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy during World War II, but now a rather less sombre version is coming to Digbeth, Birmingham. And – thankfully – it’s puppets of the small, handcrafted variety, rather than dictators, that will be wielding the power.

Puppet Show, curated by artists Tom Bloor and Céline Condorelli, will look to ‘reverse the role of puppet and puppeteer’, says Eastside Projects, which says the space itself will be used to ‘speak what cannot be said through the mouthpiece of its puppet population.’

Simon Starling, The Expedition, 2011 (detail)
Simon Starling, The Expedition, 2011 (detail)

Among the works on show that look to fulfill this strange and ambitious objective are Edwina Ashton’s destructive beasties – a troupe of ‘dour, gormless’ creatures who will be seeking to devastate the venue from the inside, says Eastside Projects.

Elsewhere, artist Geoffrey Farmer – whose equally unnerving exhibition The Surgeon and the Photographer opens at the Barbican next week – will be showing a similarly destruction–centric work based on puppets staging a rebellion in an abandoned institution; and Turner Prize finalist Spartacus Chetwynd has created what the gallery describes as ‘a critique of wilderness versus civilisation’. This is no bash-on-the-head Punch and Judy show, then.

Heather and Ivan Morison (Sorry) I Hate Her. I Hate Her. 2009
Heather and Ivan Morison (Sorry) I Hate Her. I Hate Her. 2009

As well as the rather disquieting display of puppets, the second gallery is to house the While It Lasts section of the show, featuring moving-image works by artists including David Raymond Conroy, Benedict Drew, and Matthew Noel-Tod.

Heather and Ivan Morison (The Egyptian) I Hate Her. I Hate Her. 2009
Heather and Ivan Morison (The Egyptian) I Hate Her. I Hate Her. 2009

Friday’s opening night on 22 March will feature a puppet performance with participants including Chetwynd, Farmer, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Simon Starling and Edwina Ashton.

Puppet Show runs from 23 March – 18 May at Eastside Projects, 86 Heath Mill Lane, Birmingham B9

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