People responded to the story in personal ways, often sharing their own stories of objects in their lives and what they represented. Viewer surveys revealed that our viewership is young, artistic, godless, and queer. They are minorities rejected by their own minorities, with strong senses of humor.
It’s complicated – puppet-based performance art. It’s not simply form that occupies dimensional space, over time. Just like the particle/wave duality paradox found in quantum physics, puppetry is seeped in relationship with the witness who changes what they are observing by their very presence.
I’m indebted to my audiences for investing in the objects I have invested in for so long by choosing to believe they’re alive for just a few moments. Each collection of viewers shaped what they were seeing with their own distinct emotional charge. Over three weeks they convened in close quarters to consider the truth in the fictitious and the artifice of reality. While Automata’s capacity is limited to just 35, opportunities for one-on-one quality interactions seemed limitless. I wasn’t just crafting a puppet show, I was hosting an epic party – in twelve tiny manageable chunks as I tailored 278 individual impressions to imprint in each mind.
It really did feel like I was hijacking the term, ‘micro-influencer’ – reclaiming it from the advertisers and social media starlets who would short-circuit our brains with a FOMO on behalf of corporations peddling products. As an artist who re-contextualizes objects in puppet-based performance art, I *own* “micro-influencer”: I wield diminutive cardboard handmade things in intimate spaces to activate small groups in subtle ways with big ideas that may not immediately go viral, but are at least contagious.
But I wanted to gain insight into this unusual assortment of witness- participant/weirdos who (through their collective gasps, groans, chuckles, belly laughs, and moments of silent contemplation) co-created Andrea’s story by actively breathing life into it – while she was busy bleeding out on the sidewalk.
I owed it to them. I owed it to myself. After all, I spent weeks concocting ways to compete for their attention in the 24-hour news feed of an out-of-control world spinning off its axis. They left the comforts of home. They searched for parking in Chinatown’s congested arts district. They showed up. And they put down their phones for an hour.
A statistical demographic survey seems tricky, in a time of tribalism when so-called “leaders” divide us up into our own little groups pecking at each other over the appearance of the slightest nano-aggression in the outrage-industrial complex of social media.
Still, I wanted to figure out who was coming to see my work, but in a way that wasn’t so clinical or reductive – that didn’t force the audience into the little boxes of standardized component identities we have become accustomed to on government forms and impersonal job applications. Most of the questions were open-ended. I wanted to know how they defined themselves broadly. They could write whatever they wanted, i.d. with more than one group, or include nothing at all. Some even drew pictures.
The house distributed surveys and number 2 pencils to all 278 audience members. In the end we collected 125 finished surveys from 45% of the audience. I generated the following insights after sifting through their handwritten responses like a forensic archeologist, transferring results to spreadsheets, and piecing together commonalities I grouped into visible trend lines. Here’s what I learned…
My audience is young, artistic, godless, and queer. They’re minorities rejected by their own minorities, but still have a sense of humor. They’d rather tell you about their special abilities than their disabilities. They have a wide range of interests, but the majority are fans of art, performance, and puppetry. Many were new to my work, and the work presented at Automata.