enter the weird and wonderful world of puppets with artist isabel alsina-reynolds

Currently working on a new show and a series of snake masks to boot (not to mention moonlighting as a model in her spare time) we talk to Isabel Alsina-Reynolds about raves, witches, and puppets.

by Tish Weinstock
30 May 2016, 3:08pm

Image via Instagram

With hair as blue as the ocean and eyebrows a spearmint green, you'd be forgiven for thinking Isabel Alsina-Reynolds was from somewhere else entirely, perhaps washed up from the lost city of Atlantis, where the merfolk live and strange creatures dwell. Born on this planet, however (Venezuela to be precise) Isabel is the 22-year-old artist with a unique penchant for puppetry. But not just any puppets; as one half of The Sloppy Puppet Company, the puppets she crafts with partner in crime, Katherine Illingsworth, are surreal, subversive, and totally sublime. Think elongated limbs and distorted faces, bulbous shapes and phallic forms. In other words, anything but Punch and Judy. 

Did you always want to be an artist?
I can't say I did. I don't have any stories of me drawing masterpieces at a young age or anything, but when I got to about 12 it seemed to be the only thing that didn't bore me so I stuck with it.

Who or what inspires you?
The number 3, clowns, Blue of Noon by Bataille, my witchy mother, and the UK rave scene.

What's the story behind The Sloppy Puppet Company?
The Sloppy Puppet Company is an ongoing collaboration between my fellow puppeteer, Katherine Illingworth, and I. In short we wanted to create our own special place where costume, performance, language and making art could all smash together in a chaotic sloppy world.

Where does your interest in puppetry come from?
For us puppetry is a natural progression of our work as we are both always referencing human nature and character. I think puppetry lends itself to the slightly more absurd and 'outsider' type art, which I know that I relate to. Kat had shown me some puppets she made a few years ago and at that time, I had started to make masks for characters I had written about. The slops were born!

How would you describe your creative process?
On my own I am quite an introverted maker, but when I am working on the puppets, Kat and I's creative process seems to be mostly talking like old women at each other until a puppet is born. I think we are an awesome team; we both have strengths in different things and together we are in synch and it's quite a cosmic experience. We sort of climb in each other's brains for a bit when we are making, and although that's intense, it's also crazy rewarding.

In what ways do you look to traditional puppetry to inform your work and in what ways do you subvert it?
We are very interested in trying to sort of mold and twist the traditions of puppetry. We keep the to the traditional marionette form of the puppet body, but stretch and abstract the limbs to create our own kind of puppet race. Which I think is beautiful in its own disgusting way.

How would you describe your overall aesthetic?
Clown goes to chippie.

What is it that you're trying to do with your work?
I think the world can be a bit crap so I'm just trying to carve out a space in it where I can explore the absurdity and extremity of it all in a strong, positive, and playful way that can hopefully be inclusive of all different types of people.

In what way is your work a commentary on the art world?
I think through the puppets we are trying to make something that can go far beyond a white cube setting; and by having our own moving touring anarchic puppet show, we can reach a lot more people and hopefully ignite a lot more people's brains with our ideas. For me art should always be for the masses and if they can't come to it, bring it to them. I see it as our duty!

Who is your typical audience?
It ranges from very confused tourists to equally as confused family members, with us telling people not to bring their children as the emotional scars will run deep if they do.

Does your gender affect your practice? Should it?
I think both Kat's work and mine has its roots in gender, and that is translated into the Sloppy Puppets. For us, gender affects both our practices, and we very much let it. We are interested in exploring the female psyche, especially that of the over-worked single mother. Being female puppeteers I think what we are doing is subversive, there is something quite masculine about our puppet show as it at points can be aggressively in your face, and I think that's interesting.

You also do a bit of modeling, can you talk a bit about that?
I see my work as a model as good practice in performing really; it's a good way to unlock a different part of myself and has given me some great opportunities along the way.

Do you see it as separate to your puppetry or are they part of the same creative outlet?
I think the puppeteer and model inside me live far away from each other -- but maybe they cross paths once in a while.

What are you working on at the moment?
A puppet show in Suffolk and a series of snake paintings complete with matching masks.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
To be able to make things wherever I may be, and to always drink enough water along the way.


Text Tish Weinstock
Images via Sloppy Puppets

isabel alsina-reynolds