Return to the Mound

Animating Infinite Potential in Clay, Food, and Compost

Authored by: Eleanor Margolies

The Routledge Companion to Puppetry and Material Performance

Print publication date:  July  2014
Online publication date:  July  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415705400
eBook ISBN: 9781315850115
Adobe ISBN: 9781317911722


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This chapter explores the live animation of food and clay in theatrical contexts, suggesting that “object animation” or “material animation” can help to dissolve the conceptual division between living and inert matter. Although this division appears to be one of the most fundamental concepts in everyday use, when we seek to understand processes such as the food cycle or the effect of radioactivity on genes, a more complex picture emerges. For example, a loaf of bread may appear to be an inert block of matter when sliding along a supermarket conveyor belt, but when it is eaten, its proteins, vitamins, and minerals interact with acids, enzymes, and bacteria in the body; the bread becomes integrated in the living body as well as fueling it. The science of the twentieth century opened up many new fields of study in which living and (apparently) inert matter interact. We are still digesting these concepts in the wider culture. Jane Bennett argues in Vibrant Matter (2010) that a rigid division between “matter” and “life” is partly to blame for our difficulties in conceiving of active interactions between substances, people, and animals. I will suggest that some contemporary puppetry succeeds in dramatizing the potential of matter to play an active part in life.

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