John T. Bell presented at the Seminar in Modern Design History on Wednesday, February 16, 2022, at 12:15 pm. His talk is entitled “Puppets, Objects, and Modernity: ‘The Thing That Isn’t There’.”

This presentation will consider the power and agency of objects in modernist contexts—especially puppets, masks, and performing objects—and the difficulties modernity and modernism have had in recognizing and accepting such aspects of material culture. Looking at the history of material culture performance with the help of Bruno Latour and Jane Bennett, this talk will consider early twentieth-century avant-gardes from Symbolism to Futurism, Dada, and Bauhaus, as well as late twentieth- and early twenty first-century examples of material performance, and the persistent power of objects.

Puppeteer and theater historian John T. Bell is the Director of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry and an Associate Professor of Dramatic Arts, both at the University of Connecticut. He learned puppetry as a member of the Bread and Puppet Theater company from 1976 to 1986, and received his doctoral degree in theater history from Columbia University in 1993. He is the author of many books and articles about puppet theater, including American Puppet Modernism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) and Strings, Hands, Shadows: A Modern Puppet History (Detroit Institute of Arts, 2000). He edited Puppets, Masks, and Performing Objects (MIT Press, 2001), and with Dassia Posner and Claudia Orenstein edited The Routledge Companion to Puppetry and Material Performance (Routledge, 2014). He is an editor of Puppetry International, the publication of the U.S. branch of the Union Internationale de la Marionnette. John is a founding member of the Brooklyn-based theater collective Great Small Works; one of the creators of the Honk! Festival of Activist Street Bands; and a member of the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band.