Signs Of Life

Signs of Life is the name for an ongoing research project exploring perception and puppetry.

During 2017 Mervyn was Artist in Residence at the Centre for the History of Emotions at Queen Mary University of London. The residency was supported by the Leverhulme Trust.

Images shown from the workshop on 'Signs of Life' at the O'Neill National Puppetry Conference in Waterford CT in the summer of 2017.

He has been using the residency to learn more about how our brains respond to a situation where we believe something to be alive when it is not. When we are enjoying watching puppets, we playfully encounter this phenomenon like a viewer with a Necker Cube.

Mervyn has discussed this phenomenon and related experiences with leading researchers across the UK in a variety of fields including experimental psychologists, neurologists, social neuroscientists and philosophers. The Centre for the History of Emotions has provided a place to contextualise the findings and reflect on next steps.

As part of the project and to develop material, Mervyn led a workshop at the O'Neill National Puppetry Conference in Waterford, Connecticut. Participants in the workshop included: Brenda Abbandandolo, Daniel Adams, Felice Amato, Clayton Barry, Bob Bartlett, Karly Bergman, Kirk Bixby, Andrew Brown, Mery Cheung, Randi Edmundson, Marte Ekhougen, Michelle Finston, Kevin Hale, Cindy Hartigan, Shannon Iriarte, Sarah Olmsted Thomas, and Noel Williams. Many thanks to them and to the conference organisers.

In October 2017, Mervyn participated in a symposium at QMUL discussing themes raised in the study, along with some of the researchers he had contacted during the residency: Prof Emily Cross, Prof Matthew Longo, Dr Susanne Quadflieg, and Dr Joel Smith. They were chaired by Dr Tiffany Watt-Smith and supported by puppeteers David Emmings and Teele Uustani. The full symposium can be viewed here.

In May, he will give a seminar at Cambridge University as part of the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities and their ongoing project Things: Material Cultures.

In August 2018, he participated in a symposium and workshop at the Deutsche Figurentheaterkonferenz in Northeim, Germany with neurologists Prof Stefan Treue and Prof Gerald Huether.

It is possible that the Signs of Life project will result in a new theatre piece to do with perception. If you are interested in supporting or developing this idea, please get in touch!

During the residency Mervyn kept a blog here.

The lead contact at CHE was Dr Tiffany Watt-Smith.

Other correspondents include:

Dr Catharine Abell and Dr Joel Smith, Manchester University

Dr A P Atkinson and Dr Paddy Ross, Durham University

Dr Michael Banissy and Dr Guido Orgs, Goldsmiths University of London

Dr Lisa Bortolotti, Birmingham University

Dr Caroline Catmur and Dr Eamonn Walsh, Kings College University of London

Prof Emily Cross, Prof Paul Downing and Dr Kami Koldewyn, Bangor University

Dr Nikolaus Kriegeskorte, MRC-CBU Cambridge University

Prof Matthew Longo, Birkbeck University of London

Stephen Mottram, puppeteer

Dr Marta Ponari, University of Kent

Paul Piris, puppetry director and academic

Dr Susanne Quadflieg, University of Bristol

Yoav Segal animator and film-maker

Prof Susanna Siegel, Harvard University