Spasm Puppet

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Spasm puppet, as an interactive installation and performance art, discussed the topic of manipulation, ingratiation, and human initiative. The performer was dressed up as a puppet, and the audience was allowed to control her body by sending electric currents to the limbs.

The concept came from the sadness in comedy. Planned happiness and modified emotions endue comedian with contradiction and darkness, especially clown. As Andrew McConnell Stott says: “For every laugh he wrought from his audiences, the clown suffered commensurate pain.” Hence, puppet strings and forced smile devices became the main elements to deliver the concept of mask and manipulation.

The puppet strings were interpreted as wires connected from a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator device(TENS) to the puppet, which was hidden in a controller hanging above the frame. It connected to the performer’s body using four pairs of electrodes which stuck to the upper arms and thighs respectively. When the audience pressed the buttons, a micro controller switched on a 8-channel relay to send electric pulses and stimulate muscles and nerves. Therefore, the movement of the performer was manipulated by the audience. This interaction gave the audience the power to control another human being by shocking and torturing. It all represented the pressure of social expectation how it would influence and manipulate people’s actions in a violent way. Using TENS instead of traditional strings made the result unpredictable, intensified the sense of violence, and resulted in a stronger feedback from the audience.

The forced smile device on the head implied the concept of manipulation at a deeper level. Instead of being control by the audience directly, the performer had the control to her head. But when the head is raised, the string will stretch the mouth and force her to smile. The device made contradicted emotions on the performer’s face and created the feeling sadness and hopelessness. It revealed the ingratiation in human interaction: even though I have a choice, I choose to be manipulated.

Taking the control of one’s body away from the performer, it created a middle area between a human and an item, which questioned the initiative and existence as a human.

One goal of the project was to see people’s reaction, and “how far can people go” (Marina Abramovic). During the performance, it was clear to see the strong feedback from the audience both mentally and physically. At the moment of pressing the button, most of the audience spasm with the performer as if they suffered from the same pain.

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