ITHACA, N.Y.—On Sept. 30, a procession of dancers, performers, mojigangas (giant puppets) and two colorful, hand-painted armadillos and a giant beach ball will travel across Cornell University’s campus to Ho Plaza.
This procession is part of a project that Juan Manuel Aldape, a migrant and performance studies scholar at Cornell, has been working on, and will signify migration and climate change and how they interface. The project is also part of the 2022 Cornell Biennial, with a theme of “Futurities, Uncertain” this year.
Aldape first became aware of local artists Lily Gershon and Marietta Synodis’ work with large puppet after attending a Lilypad Puppet Theatre show. After that, the three began to work together on various projects, and the armadillos and mojigangas are the latest installment.
The project has two components designed by Aldape: the armadillos represent the animal’s move further north as a result of climate change, and the caravan of performers and mojigangas represents migrant workers from Central America who have traveled to areas, like Tompkins County and upstate New York, for work in new environments.
Synodis’ armadillo came first, and was designed to be wearable, complete with a body and helmet shaped like an armadillo head and body (pictured left), complete with a fabric tail and opening in the front for the wearer’s hands to pop out.
Synodis said that even from the initial discussion of the porject, she imaged a helmet made of paper mache to make up the armadillo’s head, with a snow sled as the shell of the costume.
“It felt really clear for this particular one — I’m not sure what kind of movement the dancer intends to do, but access to being on hands and feet was important,” she said.
The larger armadillo was designed to be interactive, measured in at 12’ by 7’ by 5’, the structure was shaped over top of a camping tent and reinforced with fabric mache, chicken wire and exterior house paint to make it more sturdy and even lightly weather resistant so that it can hold up to the 24 hours that it will be displayed outdoors.
Both projects took a significant amount of time. The larger armadillo took several months to complete — well over 100 hours of work in total, and Synodis’, the smaller of the two, took about 70 hours of work. The two mojigangas were made for a prior project and will be reused for this installment by Synodis.
“It’s just fun, creating something that’s going to go out into the world, people are going to interact with it, play with it,” Gershon said. “We’re going to make some friends, we’re going to pull people in, people are gonna be like, How’d you make this? And we’ll be like, like this, you can do it too.”
Inside the armadillo will be a bed, pillow and relaxing music, with a six-and-a-half-minute–long soundtrack “that is the average time it takes a dairy worker to milk a cow,” according to Aldape, who added that the length is a nod to the 625,000 of dairy cows in New York State.
“There are going to be lights inside of milk cartons, a white bed and pillow, so people can think about [the project] and also get to rest. I liked that idea, I didn’t want to use images of people overburdened because I think that can be negative representations, and I want to emphasize relaxation as a way to relate to the desire for people to enjoy it,” Aldape said.
On a more logistical note, the armadillos and mojigangas will be transported from the studios where they were created to the Cornell campus in a U-Haul truck. Aldape said that to him, figuring out how to move the large creations “kind of parallels the type of work that we need to do for system change and social justice. It’s a small gesture, but even thinking about structure helps us imagine new ways for more equity in a justice-driven world.”
The performances will occur Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, both beginning at 12:30 p.m. on Cornell University Ho Plaza.
Correction: This article previously did not mention the 2022 Cornell Biennial.