This presentation / lecture / infomercial examines the nature and implications of object performance both as a global cultural tradition and as a contemporary medium that dominates our culture. While performing objects traditionally include puppets, masks, icons, and other “things”, the more recent innovations of film, television, and the internet can also be seen as aspects of our need to play with stuff. In all cases, the central dynamic of this form involves a focus on the material world instead of humans. The talk is accompanied by images from 20th-century avant-garde film and performance work.
John Bell began his performance work with Bread and Puppet Theater, after which he earned a Ph.D. in theater history at Columbia University. He is a founding member of the award-winning Great Small Works theater company of Brooklyn, a fellow at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT, and Director of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at the University of Connecticut. This spring he will be directing a “Living Newspaper”-style production about the politics of global healthcare with MIT students. His latest book, American Puppet Modernism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), examines particular moments of puppet, mask, and object theater in the United States over the past 150 years. He is a trombonist with the Somerville-based Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band, and organizer of the upcoming October 12th HONK! Festival Parade from Davis Square to Harvard Square.