New Zealand artist
Born in Auckland 1964
Lives and works in Auckland
From the Italian Commedia dell Arte Polcinella to the English, Punch puppets are a cultural phenomena along with ice-cream cones, tricycles and the playground bully. Jenny Dolezel makes a game out of the games we play, both as children and as adults. Her cartoon-collage-dolls present deceptively two-dimensional faces. They sidle across the paper that is their stage without ever letting down their masks.
It is the mask, not necessarily the presence behind it, which is two-dimensional. Smiles are fixed, the actions of the puppets are grotesque – exaggerated but supremely deliberate. The games the puppets play are ones of let’s pretend. Whether it’s a Birthday Party or a Game of Love, there is always the suggestion of strings attached, sometimes even graphically present; an underlying ulterior motive.
Innocence is only ever a veneer and the biggest game is that of life and death, engagement to the former, courtship of the latter, every type of violent rakishness in between.
Is this fun? Are Punch and Judy fun?
The answer lies in the eyes and mind of the beholder and whether you enjoy the costumes and the play, or the life behind the scenes. The former is accessible, the latter can only be guessed at.
Dolezel and her creations are very aware of the presence of the audience. Space within the works is orchestrated like a stage, and the players address the art work’s audience rather than interact with each other.
lf this is a window on to an imaginary world, then it is a carefully framed window. As artist, Dolezel is director with access and power over both the work’s stage and, through it, the audience. The question then becomes whether the strings being pulled are those of the puppet characters or those of the art audience.