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Ayşenur Arslanoğlu - Puppets

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About handmade puppet

Please tell us about yourself. 

I took up sewing after I studied economy at university. Although I was expected to jump into the corporate world, I had already started thinking about other things. My decision was not received well. And yet I had built so many connections. I believe that what a person does should matter; life itself should be about choices. As I sewed, I felt that costumes could also bring opportunities, and I began to focus on costumes. On this journey, I came across many different things, even muppets. There are so many interesting things to sew. Therefore I tend to get distracted. Perhaps it is a result of what I read and what I touch because issues like humanity, society, and nature, etc., affect me. For instance, I am among the people that think food is a political issue. I am deeply connected to the slow food movement. I am an activist, and what I eat every day is important.

Do you design the muppets based on a concept? What is the design and creation process like? How do you select the materials?

I don’t make the muppets as products. Orders based on a concept or projects take me on a journey. Sometimes, I bring a designed character to life, other times I have an idea, and dive right in. For instance the muppets Ömür Kökeş and I made together were the creation of muppet characters that Ömür designed for a brand commercial. Working together with Ömür, we can see how the muppet functions. The character is completed as we go along. But that is not always the case. 

Sometimes people come to me with only an idea, like they want a penguin muppet. Then it is up to me to figure out the process and “what kind of” penguin it should be. I collaborate with others for the dimensions and patterns, and do the sewing myself. Materials are another issue. For commercials, where brand colors, etc. are important, art directors, agencies, production can be binding. In personal projects, artists may wish to use the fabric in their dreams, or choose materials they have tried before. When the decision is left to me, I proceed taking into account the duration that the muppet will be used, and the requirements of the form. So sometimes the design dictates the materials, and sometimes it’s he other way around. As you can see, every job is a different combination. 

What are your sources of inspirations? 

I don’t know how exactly I can describe this process. The various disciplines in my life influence me of course. Before I know it, everything connects in my head. So everyone I know or observe is actually involved. It is like a dialectic dance. I must of course mention Jim Henson. He was very important to me, not only for Kermit, but also with his adventure that reflected on his doodles. In the production process, I can get lost in every single detail, from the wings of a bird to the muscle movements in the jaw of a person sitting opposite me. It’s as if my eyes are trying to solve the puzzle of how to combine and how to sew pieces together. Long periods of concentrated work can do that to a person. But I view the world from a perspective of what I can do, so I draw inspiration from everything I see. 



What is Terzihane? 

It’s an alternative sewing atelier. I was inspired by the short-term training I had at the costume atelier of a theater in Seattle. I wanted to pursue it when I returned here but there were no costume/sewing ateliers that functioned similarly. So I thought, I could create such a meeting point, and then reach out to creative teams. And this is exactly how it worked out. First I was the tailor there. After a four-year adventure, it will start to operate more comprehensively this September. We will also offer an alternative sewing atelier program. There will be a virtual booth where the joint works of the tailor and the collaborating artists will be sold. But the real dream of poking my nose into everything that can be sewn for the movies and the theater plays will continue. 

Did you train for muppet making? Can you easily find muppet materials in Turkey?

No I did not. Actually the plan was to make a jacket for Ömür’s muppet. Then Ömür linked my sewing skills to muppet making. Interestingly, I happened upon the best time in Turkey in terms of muppet jobs, and I kept working with fleece and sponge. Speaking of fleece and sponge, the professional materials produced or recommended specifically for muppet making are not available here. If we want to utilize some of the technical advantages of fleece in particular, we order from abroad. But we use the resources available and our creativity as well because there are equivalents. 

Do you design the characters of the muppets as well?

My portfolio, for the most part, consists of works produced in collaboration with character designers and artistic teams. Meaning, projects that I am involved in as producer/maker. And no, I have not designed any characters yet. Character design is not something that I would take on, but when it comes to muppet making, things can be rather mixed. Sometimes I can’t differentiate the processes from one another because they tend to intersect. On the other hand, my adventure with the muppets is a long one, I dream of making my own muppets, sewing them, making them talk. It’s still brewing, and it will eventually emerge so until then I respect the masters.

Were you involved in other animation projects besides the “Rimolar ve Zimolar” film? What can you tell us about the experience? 

As a muppet movie, no. I worked with Nermin Er for the ‘Rimolar ve Zimolar’ project. Starting with Nermin designing and modeling all those characters to sewing each one in fleece by hand in the heat of the summer, and giving them life in the hands of legendary puppeteers like Sinan, Şevket and Emrah, it was an indescribable experience, and a very long marathon. We made enough muppets to fill two villages, what else can one want? Seriously, I don’t think there are so many muppet characters in one project in the world muppet history. In fact I may not wish to see them all together on my own. Kidding aside, Nermin’s characters have a special technique. Her muppets really act differently, and come to life differently. Of course Şevket and Sinan are very skilled puppeteers too but in terms of mouth functions there are certain determinants. Observing them all in all its intensity was a great joy. It was an independent entrance to the humor, technique and art of muppets.

How would you compare the first muppets you made and the latest creations? 

I can really make them talk now, I mean really… But when they are in my hands, I can’t keep myself from making them talk. Joking aside, the new muppets are more able. As I get to know the materials, and observe the productions, I can make more comfortable toys for the puppeteer. This is important in terms of supporting the performances. Meeting with different designers, and coming across new stories, I find the chance to notice different functions, and observe their techniques. So I acquire serious experience. The older ones are not bad in terms of sewing, but as I become more experienced each outcome seems cooler than the earlier one. 

What are your most recent projects? 

We are embarking on a new adventure involving a muppet character for a commercial. There is also a special order by a very dynamic young team. With all the workshops I want to attend about puppetry and video shooting this winter, my boy will have to wait a bit longer. And then there is a small project involving Terzihane, some interactive works. All nice stuff…

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