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Puppets, Marionettes, Mannequins and the Damaged Bodies: When an Object Becomes an Event

The panel investigates the function of an inanimate figure of a puppet, marionette, mannequin and the war-damaged body in modernist art, literature and film (other media also welcome). Many modernist artists and writers, such as Picasso, Marinetti, Fernand Leger, Oskar Schlemmer, Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, Jean Rhys, Giorgio de Chirico, Fritz Lang, David Bomberg, Mark Gertler, among many others, were fascinated and inspired by the very idea of the mechanical and fetishised body as an object which became an event. The passion for puppets and mannequins was located in the metaphor they served for dehumanisation technology could cause, an increased mechanization of life, instrumentalisation of the human body and growing impersonality and standardization. Modernist puppets were stripped of humanity just like machines in the industrial era and hence were increasingly appealing to the modernist mind. The simple body of a marionette suited modernist experiments with form and so puppet figures in art enhanced the artists’ departure from naturalism and representation. Mannequins as displayed in shop windows were not only everyday objects of flâneur’s desires but a quintessence of an ideal body which in fashion equalled the standardized mass-produced body with inter-changeable body parts. They became particularly apparent in the post-war city life in contrast, or perhaps as an analogy to war-cripples’ severely damaged bodies with artificial limbs which functioned as automatons. Indeed such an identification of human beings with machines had a much more profound meaning in the face of tragic fatalities of war. In the context of the Great War and the damage and havoc it brought on humanity and the human mind, mannequins and marionettes seemed to be an ideal metaphor that could be used to replace human beings, to go to the front instead of them, fight and kill without a blink of the eye, without any emotional damage to themselves referring to the popular image of the British Tommy often compared to “the mechanical dolls who grin and kill and grin” (Hynes 1990: 117). In this way the inanimate everyday object of a mannequin or a puppet became part of the traumatic event – the war. In art and literature there was an attempt to mechanize the human form, to prove it prone to deformation and hence to turn it into an appropriate material for modernist art – one that could deal with the materiality of people and things. The plasticity, flexibility and jerkiness of the puppet as well as an erasure of emotion intrinsic to mannequins was particularly appealing to the modernist artists. The panel invites paper proposals that are concerned with the modernists’ approach to a dehumanised and mechanical form as embodied in the mannequin, a marionette or a war cripple.
Send paper proposals by 10 March to

Conference Location: Brighton, UK
Conference Starts: August 29, 2013
Conference Ends: September 01, 2013

CFP Submission Deadline: March 10, 2013

For more information, contact: Dominika Buchowska