About The Exhibition
Shadows, Strings & Other Things: The Enchanting Theatre of Puppets was an outstanding, temporary exhibition (May 16 – October 14, 2019), at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA), University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver, curated by Dr. Nicola Levell. Dramatically designed and installed in the 5880 sq. ft. Audain Gallery, this immensely popular exhibition explored the art of puppetry and storytelling across world cultures. It attracted a broad and culturally diverse audience. During its five-month lifespan, it drew in over 110,000 local, national, and international visitors.
Unique in scope, the exhibition consisted of over 230 hand-crafted puppets, from 13 different countries in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. The puppets ranged from a spectacular 12-foot tall Coast Salish rod puppet called Meh (with a mechanism
requiring five puppeteers to bring him to life) to a collection of delicate 5-inch high string puppets from China (toys belonging to an 800-year old tradition), and hundreds of more characters besides.
As the exhibition title intimates, the puppets were organized by typology: shadow, string, rod, hand, and stop motion. In the gallery, there were five large-scale, purpose-built theatrical stages; each stage was devoted to a specific puppet-type. The front stages depicted popular scenes from puppetry performances, plays and skits. The backstage settings took visitors ‘behind the scenes’ to storage spaces, displays and workshop settings, where puppets were gathered together in groups. Close to their related stages, in free-standing display cases, there was a captivating array of historical and contemporary puppets (dating from 19-century to 2019) from different places, cultures, and makers.
This beautifully designed and illustrated exhibition catalogue, Shadow, Strings & Other Things: Puppet Makers and Puppeteers (2019) was available in the gallery, with copies for visitors to take home, and is available for download.
The Canadian Museums Association (CMA) Awards Jury selected the University of British Columbia’s exhibition “Shadows, Strings and Other Things” as the recipient of the CMA Award of Outstanding Achievement in the Exhibition – Cultural Heritage (for museums with annual operating budgets over $1M) category. They "found that this project was nationally significant and exceeded the current standard of practice by going beyond the conventional approach." In describing the exhibit the CMA committee said that "The result was a thoroughly theatrical exhibit, both in the physical space and in the online version that is also cited in the award. The online exhibition has 3D photography and virtual reality, details of the puppet makers and puppeteers, educational resources and more." Dr. Levell also added that while the website serves a legacy for the exhibit “It’s not only a legacy, it’s a catalyst ... a catalyst for creating an awareness and interest in puppetry.”
Virtual Exhibition Team
Nicola Levell is an associate professor of museum & visual anthropology at UBC Vancouver and an independent curator. Her research focuses on exhibitions, public/performing art, and artists. She has curated exhibitions and art installations in the UK, Portugal, the USA, and Canada, including the award-winning, Shadows, Strings & Other Things: The Enchanting Theatre of Puppets (2019).
Anna Nielsen is soon to graduate from the University of British Columbia Faculty of Anthropology with a concentration in museum studies and is pursuing a Master of Management from Sauder and a Master of Museum Education at UBC. She has found her passion for increasing accessibility to all forms of arts and culture and Her most recent project involves developing the virtual exhibition Shadows Strings and Other things with Dr. Nicola Levell.
Erika Balcombe is a design educator at the Wilson School of Design and a PhD student at the University of British Columbia where she studies the intersection between design and anthropology. Her interests in design anthropology have guided her work on collaborative, interdisciplinary projects for diverse user groups including games companies, universities, Indigenous communities, and museums such as the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia, the Museum of Vancouver and the Museum of Anthropology.
Levell, Nicola. 2021. “Digital Atmospheres: Shadows, Strings and Other Things,” Puppetry International, Spring 049: 36-9.
Levell, Nicola. 2020. “Cloud Exhibitions”- Museums in the Pandemic: A Survey of Responses on the Current Crisis. Museum Worlds: Advances in Research, Volume 8(1): 111-134.
Curating Exhibitions as Public Scholarship | On Museums & Community Collections | November 25, 2020 | UBC Public Humanities Hub
"The Linear, The Virtual, & The Game: Digital Exhibits”
Presenters: Nicola Levell & Anna Nielsen
With the advent of COVID-19 museums around the world, on lockdown, began expanding and fast-tracking their digital content in the hope of engaging audiences, retaining staff, and satisfying documented cravings for cultural nourishment. Digital exhibits were a large part of their new, online offerings. In our presentation, we asked: how effective have digital exhibits been, not just in attracting but also sustaining visitor engagement? What form might they take now, and in the future? We began by discussing three broad digital-exhibit types: the linear, the virtual, and the game. This typology, we explained, is unavoidably reductive in nature, but it provides a base for thinking critically about the possibilities—the scope and limitations—of these different digital iterations that have become increasingly visible online. The majority of digital exhibits we surveyed retain a documentary and didactic flavor with emphasis still resting on passive consumption (looking, listening, reading). Even virtual reality (VR) assets are largely replicating the “real” and not capitalizing on the hypermediated potential of the digital realm to capture the multidimensional facets of exhibition atmospheres. To seduce visitors, we argued, museums may need to reimagine the digital exhibit, creating an innovative and hybridized assemblage of activities, programs, conversations, talks, tours, and participatory events. To further conversation, we focused on our Shadows, Strings & Other Things virtual exhibit to explore the opportunities and challenges for diversifying content, expanding public accessibility, and engaging and satisfying audiences.
Collaboration, Digital Humanities Conference | Panel Digital Exhibitions | October 30th, 2020 | University of British Columbia
"Shadows, Strings, and Other Things: Digitizing and Extending the Exhibition Experience”
Presenters: Nicola Levell, Anna Nielsen & Erika Balcombe
How can we emulate the exploration of a museum exhibit through a digital site and how can we increase access to museums' educational resources? These questions were the drivers for the creation of the website and virtual exhibition experience for Shadows, Strings, and Other Things, an exhibition at UBC-V’s Museum of Anthropology. The global pandemic that closed museums and schools and kept families inside was the catalyst that both accelerated the timeline itself and signaled the need for this digital content. What started as an archival scan of an exhibition resulted in the base point for an innovative digital platform that allows virtual exploration, extends its longevity beyond the physical run, and contextualizes its knowledge. This paper explores the current field of virtual exhibits within museum studies and demonstrates their opportunities for public engagement and access while also discussing our own collaborative process and the myriad of challenges we faced.
Press & Media Coverage
In her article in The Globe and Mail (Saturday, June 1, 2019, R5), “A Hand in History: Vancouver Museum Examines the Role of Puppets in Culture,” Marsha Lederman writes,
“Shadows, Strings and Other Things: The Enchanting Theatre of Puppets, which opened at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) in Vancouver in May, is a spectacle and a contemplation. It is an aesthetic wonder, theatrical and whimsical—but also a study of how puppets have helped to interpret and sustain cultural traditions. If puppets are having a moment, the show’s curator, Nicola Levell—who appears to know more about puppets than anyone has the right to—suspects it may have something to do with digital fatigue, and a societal craving for something more material.”
Global News reported in "Museum of Anthropology Exhibit of Puppets from Around the World" that the exhibit "details the role that puppetry traditions play in handing down cultural knowledge, stories, and values from generation to generation." Sharon Bates also produced this video about the exhibit and public and educational programming at MOA for Global News.
For more articles check out the links below.
Want to learn more about the behind the scenes creation of the exhibition, check out our Podcast: Shadows, Strings & Other Things: Exhibition Conversations, where we - that’s Anna Nielsen, assistant curator of all things digital, and Nicola Levell, curator of all things material, take you behind the scenes to meet with the creative individuals who helped make the exhibition come to life. Explore the enchanting world of puppetry while listening to our interviews and conversations for the backstory of this incredible material and digital exhibition.
Public & Educational Programs
During the lifespan of the exhibition, there was a full calendar of culturally diverse public and school programs. These activities included curator’s tours (50+); a multicultural puppet extravaganza; the ground-breaking premiere of Our Creation Story, featuring the 12-foot tall Coast Salish puppet and Tsatsu Stalqayu (Coastal Wolf Pack), a multigenerational First Nations dance group; Indonesian performances with puppetry and gamelan orchestra; and a series of workshops with puppet makers, ventriloquists and puppeteers from different cultural traditions, including Dusty Hagerüd (Ktunaxa/Kinbasket Nations) who was puppet artist-in-residence.
The school programming, Shadows + Strings Puppet Festival, was a phenomenal success and a superb example of outreach and diffusion. This 3-week-long festival entertained 620 students, grades K-12, from 19 different schools. It consisted of performances from different cultural traditions, a hands-on workshop and mini-tours of the exhibition with puppeteers from Canadian, European, and Asian traditions.
Check out our YouTube for a chance to watch the videos from the exhibition and enjoy our 5-Minute curator-led mini-tours. In the Strings stage and playlist, you can watch footage of a Tamil dancer in action with her puppeteer, listen to the words of the Portuguese puppet-maker Jorge Cerqueira, or watch the bloodthirsty Opera dei Pupi fighting hard, and more. The Hands video clips feature a behind the scenes Punch and Judy show. Watch the crocodile stealing the sausages with puppeteer Professor Richard Coombs, hilarious scenes from Guignol, or a mini-clip of the Taiwanese puppet festival at MOA, and more. Rods stage videos offer wonderful videos of Vietnamese water puppets, in action and being made, and were generously provided by Mudfish Portraits and Gary Friedman productions. There are Shadows video clips featuring the Lu family of China making shadow puppets from scratch, a hilarious episode from Karagoz and Hacivat, and a documentary short of the Javanese wayang kulit maker, Sagio. You can also check out the Stop Motion films Biidaaban and Four Faces of the Moon by Amanda Strong and Spotted Fawn Productions in their entirety.
To the artists and puppet makers whose works are featured in this exhibition:
Brian and Alison Davey
Lu Fuzeng, Zu Xishu, and Lu Tianxiang
Dario, Davide, and Giuseppe Napoli
Mortal Coil Performance Society: Marietta Kozak, Peter Hall, Michael Che Campbell, Barbara Clayden, Peter Hall,
Elia Kirby, Frank Rader
Iona Paul and Alec Dan
Amanda Strong and Spotted Fawn Productions: Femke van Delft, Danny Guay, Lydia Brown, Dora Cepic,
Suna Galay, Raven John, Cat Hayes, Dusty Hagerud, Maia Derrick-Tremblay, Peter Allen, Erin Ross,
Chloe Mustooch, Terrance Azzuolo, Marcus Kliewer
Tom Patch Wamiss
I Wayan Nartha
To the puppeteers, artists, knowledge holders, elders, and researchers who shared their expertise, knowledgeand enthusiasm:
Rosalie and Willem Stronck
Tsatsu Stalqayu (Coastal Wolf Pack)
To the exhibition team:
Nicola Levell, Guest Curator
Skooker Broome, Exhibition Design
Cody Rocko, Graphic Design
Kate Melkert, Fabrication Coordinator
Gerry Lawson, Media
Erika Balcombe, Illustrator and Curatorial Research Assistant
Stuart Ward, HFour, Video Projection
Karen Duffek, Proofreader
Heidi Swierenga, Conservation
Nancy Bruegeman, Collections Manager
Teija Dedi, Loans
Jill Baird, Education
Marie Wustner, Public Programming
Moya Waters, Project Manager
Anna Pappalardo, Finance
Bonnie Sun, Marketing
Sharon Haswell, Shop Manager
To the fabrication crew:
To the MOA crew:
To the individuals and institutions that helped along the way:
Italian Consulate in Vancouver: Massimiliano Lacchini, Consul General, Gianluca Biscardi, Cultural Attaché, and Luigi Sarno
Sophia Chiu, Emmy Ting-Chen Yang, Ivy Tseng, Taiwan Academy in Los Angeles
College of Punch and Judy Professors
Kim Siebert, Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
Guy Levell, Digital Enterprise and Solution Architecture
To the photographers and filmmakers:
Philip Adolphe Klier
Lionel Baillemont, Ophelia Film
Franz Berniche, Théâtre de Guignol
Davide Dominici and Desy Octavia,
Mudfish Portraits www.mudfishportraits.com
The Fedora Group,
The Punch & Judy College of Professors
Gary Friedman, Gary Friedman Productions
Fratelli Napoli and Fabrizio Soldano
Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen
Annie Katsura Rollins
Cengiz Özek, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cengizozek, Instagram: @karagozek
P Manuada Mersana Surya
Sulochana Dissanayake, Power of Play PVT LTD and the Saranga Puppet Troupe
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
Ray Van Eng, Inukshuk Entertainment Ltd