Surreally Human: Jan Švankmajer’s World of Self-Destructive Puppets
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This article explores the relation of Jan Švankmajer with the Czech puppet tradition, viewing his puppetry through a Surrealist prism and investigating the role of puppets in his work, as simultaneously inert objects and animated creatures that cross the dichotomous line between life and death, thereby raising questions in relation to human nature and identity. Jan Švankmajer is a leading Czech filmmaker and artist and a self-proclaimed militant surrealist. His work is characterised by a diversity of means and techniques, these include: live-action, puppets, clay modelling, traditional drawn animation, object collage, stop-frame special effects and stop-motion animation. Švankmajer’s fascination with the corporeality of an animated entity has been developed through a deep and strong affinity with traditional Czech theatre. His own professional background in the puppet theatres of Prague, the Theatre of Masks, the Black Theatre and the Laterna Magika Puppet Theatre has significantly influenced his work. Švankmajer’s work is the bearer of a magic function, revealing the marvellous through mystification. Švankmajer, like the alchemists of old, is continually distilling the water of his experiences so that through this process, the heavy water of knowledge, essential for the transmutation of life, begins to flow.
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