Janie Geiser

Puppetry Heroes: Mentors, Influences, Inspiration, + Legends

In 2015, I was nominated for Ronnie Burkett’s Puppetry Heroes: Mentors, Influences, Inspirations and Legends Challenge… And so began five days of writing on instagram and facebook about artists like Nancy Andrews, Paul Mc Carthy, JoJo Baby + Greer Lankton, Janie Geiser, and the style of puppetry known as kuroko.

Day 4 – Janie Geiser

Images: courtesy Janie Geiser 

I first met Janie Geiser at a puppet festival in Chicago where she performed a walk-through series of dioramas showing a woman fleeing domestic violence while being chased for a crime she didn’t commit. I had never seen a performance where the audience moved from one station to the next. I was struck by the elegant look of her puppets, their economy of gestures, and dark adult subject matter. I was also intrigued by her art schoolgirl uniform (skirt over leggings or pants), which made an imprint on me.

We crossed paths again in Brooklyn while installing pieces at St Ann’s Warehouse. Before leaving home that day, I vowed to be prepared so much so that I would be available to help someone else, and Janie needed help with paintbrushes.

Later at an artist residency in Florida, where she was a master artist, I assisted her with an installation, Spiders Wheels. We researched optical affects like lenticular surfaces and built prototypes. We also cross-pollinated fashion and she loaned me some skirts.

She was so accessible, I decided be a part of her Puppetry Program. While visiting LA I saw the fully realized exhibition of Spiders Wheels. Afterwards, she summoned me to her Prius and quietly announced, “You know you can’t be wearing my clothes to school”. I guess your relationship with a mentor changes.

While at CalArts I produced two major shows. She really taught me to see the bigger picture from initial conception to touring, and we continued cross-pollinating ideas with live feed and kinograms.

Once I performed a disembodied foot pacing back and forth in one of her pieces. Afterwards she told me I was a “good actor”, which felt like the highest compliment, considering I was just performing a foot.

I have been following Janie’s career, witnessing two major shows at Automata, her art and performance space. Her work is sublime, nonlinear, dreamy, and speaks to subconscious states. Lately she’s more prolific than ever. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.