The Maker’s Lab 2022/2023 Journal #1 – On Puppetry and Tactility

by fingerplayers

Daniel: Our third iteration of The Maker’s Lab begins with an exciting exploration by our Maker, Marilyn Ang, who dives into the theme of Puppetry and Tactility with her interests in digital technologies. The focus on tactility in this cycle drives us to continue experimenting in the many ways in which we bring the inanimate to life in puppetry. We ask ourselves – how can we physically feel and connect through technology in this undeniably digital world? As a programme, we also continue to refine the models of collaboration in puppetry, puppet design and making. In this iteration, we kickstart the devising process right at the beginning. While Marilyn explores in the workshop, co-creators, Myra Loke and Ellison Tan, will also work alongside to create the final creation. As such, we hope that the flow of creative energies cycling between the Designer-Maker, Director and Playwright will allow each one to push the work deeper and further. Do stay tuned for our monthly journals!

Experimenting with digital tactility

Hello everyone, I am Marilyn, this year’s maker for The Maker’s Lab. 👋🏽

I have been in the theatre scene for a while now and have always been motivated to work with my hands. I started out being a props intern and later moved onto different roles like stage management, and more recently, in the technical aspects of the industry. I have also been helping TFP and their makers in their recent projects by helping out in the workshop. 

For this year’s edition of The Maker’s Lab, we will be exploring the theme of Puppetry and Tactility. I will be working closely with Myra and Ellison (TFP’s Co-Artistic Directors) as well as Daniel (TML’s project manager and TFP’s core team member) to explore this theme. Both Myra and Ellison decided on two key words as a starting point, “Ephemerality” and “Tangibility”. Let’s begin by exploring the meaning of ephemerality and tangibility.

What is ephemerality?

It is something that lasts for a short period of time and can be described as transient or momentary. It could be something that does not exist when it is not around but only exist when it is perceived. For example, something that only grows during or above ground for a brief period of time and then dies; like plants, or a life cycle. 

Ephemerality can be understood as something that is shaped over time. Something that is ever changing can be considered ephemeral as each time it grows, or changes, it is not the same as it was previously. That change also indicates that it is ephemeral as the change only lasted for a short period of time. As such, we can then say that ephemerality is somewhat like the opposite of permanence. 

Does ephemerality only apply to nature or things that happen naturally? I would say no. For example, when we are talking on the phone to someone, it is something that is happening in the moment and happening for a short period of time. When you are done with the call, you have been affected by the conversation in that short period of time. 

With this understanding, we asked ourselves if the things that we experience or do in our daily lives, such as gaming, can that be considered ephemeral? What about FaceTiming or viewing a live stream and leaving a digital presence? How about Zoom meetings? Are things like the clothes we wear and the latest mobile gadgets that we have materially, also considered ephemeral?

What is tangibility?

The dictionary defines tangibility as something that is perceptible by touch, something that is real or actual, rather than imaginary or visionary. This would mean that anything existing in any form (not just visually or physically) can be considered tangible and that would include anything that is within our senses to perceive is real. These senses include but are not limited to sight, sound, taste, touch and smell

But what has ephemerality and tangibility to do with tactility?

The basis of tactility is the capability to be felt or touched. We don’t have to only use our sense of touch but we can use all our other senses to feel as well. Making the ephemeral tangible would essentially mean making something that exists only for a moment into something more permanent, via any of the senses we are able to perceive it in, and that in itself is tactility. 

Some examples of taking something ephemeral and making it tangible can be seen here:

Exploration and translation into puppetry

In our meetings, we discussed about the kind of ephemera we wanted to explore and decided on the idea of taking an ephemeral feeling and capturing it into something permanent. Some of the feelings we talked about exploring were wonderment, acceptance, excitement, and love. Furthermore, the exploration of feelings does not have to be just about one feeling, it can be an envelope of feelings. Or an experience. 

For this, I will need to explore the identifiers of said feelings (or how to describe a feeling) in order to transcribe the feelings into real life tangible feelings. For example, we may associate vibrations with excitement, warmth or brightness with being loved, darkness and the colour blue or waves could also be translated as sadness.

Personally, something i am interested in exploring is digital tactility. I would like to look into systems or technologies that process physical inputs into digital data, and then translating that digital date into a different form of physical output. To do so, I’ve decided that I would like to explore the use of sensors. There are many kinds of sensors and each type of sensor translates information into something that our senses can discern in different ways. 

Some examples of such sensors are: 

  • Temperature sensors: sensors which detect the temperature from a physical input (e.g. body heat or a heat lamp) and creates data into an output. 
  • Reflex sensors: sensors with a transmitter that emits a light beam so when an object is detected, the receiver captures the data and processes it as a signal for changeover. 
  • Light sensors: solar sensors are considered a type of light sensor, also known as a photovoltaic sensor. 
  • Proximity sensors: sensors which detect how close an object is and triggers a signal when the object is at a certain distance.

In puppetry, the sense of touch is one of the most important senses we use and that will be one of the essential senses I will incorporate. Besides touch, I would like to also explore other senses. Playing with sensors will allow me to create something sensory such as manipulating electronic signals to create a feeling via sound and touch. One such idea could be to manipulate a puppet and have it be able to create a auditory sensation akin to a feeling when they interact with something or someone.

Besides digital tactility, another idea I would like to explore is ephemerality in materials through decomposition. As time is a factor on what classifies as ephemeral, material decomposition would naturally seem like the next step to explore. Materials can undergo both natural and artificial decomposition. Natural decomposition occurs either through the degradation of material (e.g. natural fibres breaking) or under the influence of other natural processes (e.g. mould on bread). Artificial decomposition occurs when materials are broken down through human manipulation (e.g. through motion or touch such as someone stepping on leaves and crushing them or kinetic sand and slime being physically manipulated to lose their form). As such, I would like to explore the level and rates of naturally and artificially decomposing materials and how that affects our tactile experiences. 

Well, let the exploration begin! I will see you in journal #2…