medieval art history, navel gazing, horizon scanning
Sunday, June 24, 2012
TIYDK#2 - Melchior Marionettes
Ah, Paris. Its cabarets, its street life, its corn fields... No, wait, I'm back in Indiana, and fully immersed (instantly, absolutely) in the many projects of family and the ambitions of my children. Approaching St. Fiacre eco-critically seems a distant echo, but returning to that good work is what Monday is all about. So for now: the week-end. Not one, but two grandmothers in town, and our list of The Indiana You Don't Know places to go bright and shiny. While I was away, Mac and the kids went to our local organic farmer (a site I realize we now visit frequently - see you at the corn maze in the fall!) and the 19th-century village of Conner Prairie (I love that it is billed as an "interactive history park" - Oliver's favorite part was a shop-keep's denial of knowledge of toothpaste). My last day in Paris was (really) all about the 19th century's fervent, systematic re-assembly of France's patrimoine (the Cluny museum and its current exhibition's stunning recreation of the shattered inner portal at Cluny; the Cité du patrimoine et de l'architecture's playground of plaster casts and re-creations - a drive so insistent it carries over to the 20th century and I marveled to find myself walking within an apartment of Le Corbusier's Marseilles housing). And so we all had thoughts of this moment in recent history when, seemingly, all history could be recaptured, reassembled, and reanimated (and I think, deeply moved by Jeffrey Cohen's essay on grey ecology, of the fears and desires that motivate this reanimation of history: not just remembering it, but making it "come alive" again).
A biniou in Indiana?
And so marionettes - yes! Marionettes and their long, strange, slightly renegade history (the medieval connection (here it is!) in the name itself, "marionette" being a "little Mary," the Virgin Mary being one of the first figures re-animated by the art). Marionettes and their "potentially creepy" (to quote Oliver) presence. Marionettes and their secondary street status compared to theater (this, learned from its still-rebellious defenders in the Czech Republic, still resentful of the German hold on, well, everything for a while there, but especially high theater culture). Marionettes and their mechanisms' links to blinking and weeping crucifixes. Marionettes with a theater in Nashville, IN with cool old image boards and broadsheets proclaiming the evil (and thus fining) of marionette performances. And it was the kind of performance where the mover of the marionettes was right there on stage with them and so the wonder became to forget that she was there and to think that the dragon really was coming towards you, and that the opera singer really was straining to reach that last note, and that the monkey on the trapeze really was tremendously pleased with himself at having somersaulted in the air, free of all those strings. Iris asked about magnets and suction mechanisms, looking for the machine within. Oliver duly noted the subtle aesthetic line between "creepy" and "cool." Eleanor wanted to know more about the lives of can-can dancers. Slipping in and out of the uncanny with that one gesture that made them believable as bodies and characters, and that other gesture that relegated them to the slightly ridiculous, jerky world of willful manipulation, the marionettes danced and pranked and made me think of gestural verisimilitude, and "low" culture rippling beneath history, and all the ways we play to animate a vibrant matter that animates us: the block of wood, the stuff of history.