Sunday 1 May 2016

Puppet a-go-go

     As you look in the window of NAC, you see five enormous grotesque heads which seem to be made of painted papier-mâché.  Two are placed on the floor on either side of a rotating pole displaying the other three.  This gives you fair warning that tremendous effort and ingenuity has been expended and you are in for a surprise. 

     The participating artists do not tell you much about themselves.  No names are attached to the grotesques in the window and there is no indication of what they represent, what is meant by their huge size or what will happen to them once the show is taken down.  Visitors to the show are simply handed a little card informing them that four artists, Christine Cosby, Alexa Fraser, Trisha Lavoie and Clelia Scala, are responsible for the whole show, bringing together 1,000 finger puppets from far and wide in Canada and also showing an installation of four life size puppets, dressed but with animal heads.  They include a deer, a bear, a leopard and a lion.  There is also a crash derby featuring toy cars.

     No names of artists are attached to anything in the gallery anymore than to the heads in the window.  The participating artists are just out to have fun rather than to go down as movers and shakers in art history.  Making finger puppets is such a modest form of artistic activity that even children can join in and some of the finger puppets look as if they had been made by families for Halloween.  The grotesque heads in the window, now that I come to think of it, would be a good installation for a front garden for Halloween. 

     Ingenuity is on display and quite a few of the finger puppets are cunningly crafted in some detail.  I particularly noticed one set showing Little Red Riding Hood, her Grandmother, the Wolf and the Woodcutter.  A couple of other really striking sets were the Greek gods and the planets.  I also noticed the complete alphabet and a great many animals.  But what blew my mind was the sheer impact of the variety and quantity. 

     More and more artists are invited to join in, whether they think they are qualified artists or not, and free finger puppet workshops are being held throughout the "In the Soil" art show, which is running concurrently in downtown St. Catharines.  The organizers of this finger puppet show obviously feel that art is for the people and everyone should join in.  Too many people say "I have no artistic talent.  I can't even draw a straight line."  But if you are making finger puppets you don't have to draw straight lines - just lines that will fit over your fingers.  If you have fingers you can do it, and the organizing artists hope to set up an entire finger puppet festival in five years' time.  Good Luck to them!

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