Speculative worlds and speculative ideas with artistic director Sam Routledge


In February during Mona Foma, we hosted UK artist Tim Spooner for a second stage creative development of a new durational performance installation, Matter Era. Tim is a performer, maker and designer who works a lot with raw materials and objects, finding inspiration in their unique qualities and working with them onstage. He is an artist I would describe as working on the edge of puppetry. The work we are making together leans into a common pursuit, which is to disappear onstage, bringing focus to the materials and objects we are working with. Terrapin’s All Day Breakfast, which premiered in Mona Foma 2022, explored this by hiding a performer behind a wall, poking sticks through holes to make a full breakfast.


In Matter Era we take this idea to the next level, with performers working underneath a stage and operating the materials and objects above with magnets. During the performance, material lifeforms evolve and interact, perpetually combining and separating to form new beings. As audiences move around to view the work from all sides, these lifeforms combine into one alien mass that fills the 5m x 5m space.



When watching the materials and objects move by themselves on a terrestrial surface, it feels like you are simultaneously watching the formation of the universe and the evolution of new life. There is something about the undeniable physical movement of the materials and the fact that no part of any person can be seen near them that interrupts the everyday in the moment and changes your way of seeing. Puppetry is unique in its ability to do this: it’s the only performing art that can create a world that’s authentically alive but with no people in it.


As we start to talk about the work and what it’s about (perhaps the speculative evolution of post-human life?), one thing I know it will be is a radical ode to the physical. A reminder of the ability of the physical to generate wonder and shift reality in an authentic way that, when done well, eclipses the ability of the virtual to do the same.


This doesn’t mean that Terrapin has no interest in augmented or mixed reality as artforms that use the virtual to change reality in the moment. Rather, we’re focused on the opportunity these artforms may provide to Terrapin in the future due to our existing experience and knowledge of shifting realities with the physical. And if we can be true to the features of our artform, and harness technology to add to the authenticity of disrupting the ordinary, then sometime over the next few years, maybe we’ll see puppetry and AR combine in a really spectacular way.


Terrapin is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Cultural Diplomacy Grants Program. Matter Era is supported by Artsadmin.



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