Clothing as Puppetry

Something that brought me creative joy during lockdown last year has been the opening of my eyes to the puppet theater world, thanks to the residents of my ongoing puppet lab residency I am apart of at St. Ann's Warehouse. Through the utter resilience and necessity to keep creating, artists kept creating - which meant I had the joy of tuning into toy puppet theater from around the world, virtual performances (Poncili Creación and Bill's 44th by Andy and Dorothy), and even live shows: A water puppet theatre show in Hanoi early in the year when I got to travel, Robin Frohardt's "The Plastic Bag Store", Derek Fordjour and Nick Lehane's Flyaway

For the residency, I'm currently working on a few wearable and nonwearable garment sculptures that I'm thinking of as little movement poems or vignettes. I've always felt of clothing as being alive and emotive and enjoyed the idea of garments that inspire movement, that in a sense puppeteer the human. I wanted these pieces to imbue my feelings of 2020: out-of-body, up-side-down, interiority, absence and presence, repetition, and general absurdity. A lot of my process  has been to keep iterating and creating and experimenting. I feel that all of these experiments are as much apart of the work as any final creations.

puppet plants jenny lai
 Puppet plants made of miscellaneous materials, part of an earlier project.
Plant therapy group
Stop motion experiment of a therapy session, part of an earlier project. Miniature plant vases came from curtain blind cord tassels.
puppet experiment

Playing with outdoor see-saw movement with my patternmaking ruler.


opera mom puppet

"Opera mom" puppet in lovingly draped dress, part of an earlier project.

studio experirments jenny lai

Playing with symmetry with different garment shapes.


puppet food

Building a foot structure out of paper coin tubes.

flattened garment prototypePrototype of flattened starch jacket

SketchesSketches of absurd garments

sitting puppet experimentPrototype of inside-out sitting coat puppet

starch experiments

Experiments with fabric starch

box experiments jenny lai puppet lab small mockups of ideas around opening boxes as primary movement

 mesh armatures in studioAluminum wire mesh structure and net tulle pants in progress

cardboard body structure

Initial body structure for sitting coat puppet that I tried to use as base for paper mache.

sitting coat puppetI admit, I was amused to have this fellow sitting on my Juki table.

sewing layers of tulleSewing many many many layers of tulle netting.

15 person pant15-person pant gingerly standing upright in the studio.

mary ellen beaudreau sculpture playExperimenting with Mary Ellen Beaudreau in Central Park with the 15-person pant.

Muslin experimentsExperimenting with shapes inspired by wind toys.

small sewing testSmall sewing test of layers of "tree trunk" body

strips of fabric

Cutting 50 strips of various fabrics for concentric loops.

layers of fabric strips in progress sewing


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