Part One - Emotional baggage.
My shop evolved from a habitual hoarding of things, which took over every
space I lived. Robert Frost wrote: “One man’s floor is another man’s ceiling” –
well, in my topsy-turvy world viewed in a biscuit-tin lid mirror on the floor life
was multi-dimensional, whichever way I chose to look at it. I came to believe
that there are no situations, only points of view. Constantly moving from
place to place throughout my childhood, I was compelled initially to save
things as memorabilia / ersatz companions, compensating tangibly for lost
acquaintances – I kept ornaments also for rainy days (not just distraction
from boredom, but also as an investment in case of poverty). Isolated by
circumstances and sensitivity, objects were familiar, yet exciting - catalysts of
change, passport to a fantasy world.
The proverbial kitchen sink accompanied me wherever I went and so people
always said: “You’re a real bag lady”. Finally I realised I was indeed The Bag
Lady, and joined “Clowns International” as a rather posh personality with
handbags and a lot of emotional baggage represented by clutter and colourful
characters in my excess luggage. Performing with these props engages the
audience sympathetically so as well as being entertaining, the manipulation of
objects and playful transformations can be cathartic. Magical manifestations
and philosophical fun release what William Blake referred to as “mind-forg’d
manacles” and “cleanse the doors of perception”.
Myself, I’ve been on a phenomenal journey literally and metaphorically –
recurrent nightmares of trunks led to my spontaneous accumulation of a
collection of them. These are now containers for my puppets and stories;
worlds-within-worlds, Pandora’s boxes in which I continually look for the
philosopher’s stone. In fact it is possible to turn base things into gold – by
selling them, of course (at first “fly-pitching” at Camden Lock market back in
1982, now as a retailer in my shop “Puppet Planet”). This is my experience of
alchemy, and an affirmation that commerce needn’t be mercenary – after all,
Mercury is the god of communication.
Having co-founded Brixton Art Gallery in two railway arches with glass fronts,
I organised a performance festival there in 1983, where performers situated
the audience inside the gallery and painted voyeurs peering in on the window
or improvised music to the rhythm of passers-by. I love the shop front
interface, and am currently finishing a pilot film using Puppet Planet as the
location for a Bagpuss-meets-Mr.Ben series which is a reversal of the
traditional Pinocchio story. Representing things, places, ideas, people is a way
of freeing them from possession. Sharing a vision, recreating experience
synaesthetically – for me film is the ideal medium for vividly reproducing the
immediacy of performance in a way that can transcend merely recording an
event.Absence of things - space, light and time – intoxicates me. To stay sober I
therefore anchor myself to objects, but I’m not a collector - I animate things
and tell their tales. This takes time – which would be the ultimate
commodity, together with love – but both are ephemeral, not paraphernalia.
For me the 4 th dimension is best described by Zeno’s paradox where within
finite measurements marking time or distance there is an infinity of divisions.
These are the rhythmic spaces of music, staving off death and forming an
eternal place for the muse to live so that minds can meet across the centuries
(Von Kleist: “If I could take what’s in my heart and put it in yours, I would
not need to write poetry”). As a human being, I do yearn for concrete
meaning, but try to develop what Keats described as “negative capability” –
the capacity to embrace ambiguity and paradox in life.
When enlightened, objects can be crystallised imagination and energy.
Otherwise they may be reduced to fossilised sentiment. On reflection, I
opened my first museum at the age of 8, displaying spiral fossils on a
makeshift table I made. A spiral of light has come to symbolise for me a
human revolution where human beings fulfil their potential. I consider
Shakyamuni Buddha to be the first life coach, and am inspired to do reiki
training and life coaching to promote wisdom, courage and compassion.
James Thurber’s cynical comment: “Reality is the common consensus”
describes society well, but luckily there will always be a child who will point
out that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. For me, clowning epitomises
an absurdly optimistic view of the world where I can change my mind, and
hopefully, my world. Old, atrophied attitudes can be shown to be nonsense
and together with the audience metaphysical moments happen where
something is created out of nothing. New forms are invented and other ways-
of-seeing cultivated. The trick is knowing when to stop – whether it’s cutting
up clothes and curtains to make a quilt, or pulling the rug from beneath
Puppet Planet can be a window on the world, at other times a mask. In my
work as a clown I flirt with ideas (and people!) In a recent talk on masks and
puppets I gave to tutors and post-grads at The Slade I arranged for an actor
to stand-in as me before revealing the deception in order to show rather than
just tell how identity itself can be manufactured. I then got everyone present
to wear the smallest mask in the world – the clown’s nose. I agree with Josef
Beuys that “everyone’s an artist” and “criminality is negative creativity”.
Puppet Planet is a counter-cultural enterprise, encouraging individuals to
focus on expressing themselves rather than impressing others. Currently I’m
getting the show on the road – commissioning a trompe l’oeil version of
Puppet Planet to tour.
Watch this space!
©2007 Lesley Butler, all rights reserved.