The KOLK 17 collection depot is well hidden on the south-eastern outskirts of Lübeck. This is where KOLK 17’s collection is kept. For over two years, this has been my central workplace where I research, document and conduct research. Always in close proximity to the collection objects. (Contributing photo: Çağlar Yiğitoğulları and Antonia Napp setting up the setting © KOLK 17 2021)
We made it possible for the participants in the exhibition and research project “Who’s Talking?” to encounter the puppets and other objects in the KOLK 17 Collection on site and be able to work with them. Consequently we invited six international artists to delve into the collection.
We were able to welcome Çağlar Yiğitoğulları, Momo Ekissi, Irina Demina and Jessica Nupen live on site. They had previously only known the collection objects from photos and descriptions, but now they had the chance to experience them up close. The impressions and results of their engagement with the collection will be presented from the end of July in the virtual exhibition “Who’s Talking? Six artistic perspectives on the KOLK 17 collection”.
Puppets become actors
Hamburg-based actor and performer Çağlar Yiğitoğulları was the first person from the project to visit us. He was very clear in his mind from the outset on the concept for his performance. It was important to him to arrange the puppets in the collection (from all over the world) as a counterpart to himself. For us, this meant unpacking and setting up as many puppets as possible.
Normally we unpack and arrange puppets on tables for visual appraisal, this time however, the tables were only briefly used to set up the puppets for the respective setting. This time the puppets did not lie on tables as objects to look at and talk about – but became actors themselves.
On the day of the film shoot, I almost didn’t dare to enter the archive! It was pitch black when I entered. Slowly and quietly I felt my way forward into the depths of the archive and noticed that the filming had already started. Only when the detail shots of the puppets were being filmed did I join them. Some of the puppets I recognised, but in the spotlight they suddenly looked very different.
A marketplace in the archive
Momo Ekissi travelled from Freiburg im Breisgau and was our guest at the archive for eight days with his team. He is not only a dramatist, director, actor and puppeteer, but also a storyteller and instrumentalist – and a very patient person. He had to change his project idea several times and reschedule his journey and team composition many times (due to the pandemic). But thanks to his calm manner, he managed to stage a play together with Teresa Habla, Stéphane Zamblé and Silke Technau.
In the space we normally use to view collection objects, a marketplace was quickly set up as the setting for the play. In “The Meeting of the Ancestors”, Momo Ekissi’s puppets (from Mali) meet puppets from the KOLK 17 collection. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the play could not be publicly performed. Only an internal performance in the archive was possible which will however be shown online as part of the virtual exhibition.
Admittedly, we were not in a marketplace on the Ivory Coast or in Mali, and the depot as a closed space has nothing to do with the original performance locations of the characters. Nevertheless, something happened in the days of Momo Ekissi’s visit that gave the puppets a completely new brilliance and presence. Through the music and singing, a new kind of communication took place.
For me, this part of the archive will always be ‘the marketplace’ from now on.
Over two days, Irina Demina continued her artistic work in parallel with the rehearsal work on stage – one floor above. Indian shadow puppets and their movements play an important role in her project. The choreographer and dancer from Berlin is particularly interested in the puppet of the Monkey King (Hanuman).
She also had to adapt her work a little. For it turned out that the physical state of the puppet, which came to her attention in the 2009 collection catalogue, was unfortunately too fragile to work with. We quickly made her a list of all the other potential Hanuman figures in the collection, from which Irina Demina chose three.
The moment when we lifted the puppets out of their boxes together was a very special one. I myself had seen some of the Indian shadow puppets before, but this time they seemed much more vivid. Irina Demina also explored the puppets from all sides.
Then we made some of the puppets move. It was not so much animating as ‘activating’. Exploring the various movements Irina Demina recorded them with a motion-capture programme.
Choreographer Jessica Nupen asked us not to change or prepare anything in the archive before her visit, as she sought to know and capture the essence of the space as authentically as possible in its original working atmosphere. When asked if she would be interested in certain figures from the KOLK 17 collection, she replied: “Collection objects of African and unknown origin”.
I spoke to her about the almost 300 puppets that had been attributed to the continent of ‘Africa’ during the course of a digital photographic survey in 2010, and that in the case of very few of them do we know whether they can actually be attributed to regions of the African continent – and of even fewer can we say where they actually came from along with how and when they entered the collection.
In a sense, most of the non-European objects in the collection are in a way – ‘of unknown origin’. Neither the people who made them are known, nor the ways in which these objects came into the collection. Tracking down these missing histories; – that is precisely the idea of the “Who’s Talking?” project.
Jessica Nupen looked around very curiously on her first visit to the archive. Just before she left, she asked me if she could take some of the bubble wrap. “Of course!”, I replied, wondering a little, but saying nothing. You can imagine my surprise when, on her second visit, she appeared with a costume for the singer Caroline Nkwe made of bubble wrap and a hair covering made of tissue paper.
Research has always been a creative activity for me. However, being able to witness the way in which the invited artists read and explore the etymology in the KOLK 17 collection was a completely new and very enriching experience.
I am very happy to have been able to get to know these multifaceted projects – and above all the people behind them.
I owe it to the encounters of the last weeks and months to be able to greet the puppets anew.