New York

Hanne Tierney

Rosa Esman Gallery

Marionettes, probably the most tradition-bound of the performance arts, were updated in this engaging display by Hanne Tierney. The gallery space was totally commandeered by the various-shaped puppets, which were supported by a fully visible system of strings and pulleys. These 3-D characters included not only organic, all-of-a-piece clothed figures, but also assemblages of things—a Venetian blind, ties on hangers, a pair of pants. Visitors were invited to interact with them, to make them move; and Tierney put on two performances in which the highly expressionistic marionettes played specific roles. The one seen by this reviewer was a sex-and-crime melodrama involving a Brooklyn policeman, and commenting on the alienated aspects of urban life.

Using only minimal audio effects, Tierney concentrates attention on the puppets’ gestural movements to create character and ambience. When so designated, the Venetian blind is really believable as a dog; and the floozie with the newspaper face is capable of taking on tragic proportions. Unlike the Muppets, where the detail of representation overwhelms, Tierney’s marionettes show and tell just enough about themselves, never too much. The viewer can become involved not only with their characters but also with them as form. The approach recalls the marionettes designed by early-20th-century avant-garde artists such as Alexandra Exter, who made a troupe of marionettes, including a policeman and sexy ladies, in the ’20s. But Tierney’s vision is contemporary, as well as being confrontational and strongly arresting.

Ronny H. Cohen