Multidisciplinary artist Kaspar Schmidt Mumm’s first major gallery exhibition, 'ROCKAMORA', uses a giant puppet head to encourage empathy with bullies.
Beat the bully with love
Kaspar Schmidt Mumm is newly returned from Berlin, where he is currently studying a master’s degree focussed on the intersection of contemporary art and social work at the city’s Universität Der Künste.
While there, the contemporary-artist-slash-musician began work on the narrative for his latest iteration of ROCKAMORA – a giant puppet head that audiences can interact with in a nurturing way.
Kaspar wants audiences to understand that the best way to beat a bully is through non-violence, and recognise that the perpetrator is experiencing their own problems.
Hence, he encourages the audience to perform nurturing actions – feeding, ear-cleaning and brushing the puppet’s teeth – each cued by pieces of music.
“The usual story for overcoming an antagonist is to get a weapon and defeat them,” Kaspar explains. “But this story argues a different, more vulnerable [resolution].
“It forces us to listen to Rockamora and understand what’s wrong, and find a middle ground and help each other.”
Kaspar is passionate about the rehabilitative qualities of art. His mother is an arts facilitator in hospitals, aged care and disability organisations and he has worked with her his whole life.
This project is supported by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body, and the South Australian Government through Arts South Australia.
“I’m really interested to bring some of those contexts into contemporary art and use art in a different way to explain how we can care for people and figure out our own cultural identity in Australia,” says German-born Kaspar, who has a Pakistani/Indian, Colombian and Canadian migratory history, and has lived in South Australia for most of his life.
“The puppet is a medium between different demographics of people to communicate in a really imaginative way.
“When you control a puppet, there’s this massive act of empathy and impersonation involved in the process, and there’s an autonomy that’s created for that object.
“When you give people an opportunity to interact with something like that, and actually control it themselves, they have to take themselves out of their body and put themselves in another thing, or another person’s shoes.”
Context is an important part of the build. Kaspar has previously held community workshops at Carclew and in Streaky Bay using earlier iterations of ROCKAMORA.
“This is the fifth head we’ve built,” he says. “But we’ve also built large sharks, garfish, cuttlefish and slugs – lots of different, multi-person, long, sculptural animals that people can get inside.” New here? Sign up to receive the latest happenings from around our city, sent every Thursday afternoon.
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Worn outside in the public realm, these sculptures give their wearers “licence to take over their town”.
The current ROCKAMORA employs electronics to enable more autonomy for the audience in interacting with the puppet, while six-piece ensemble Slowmango (of which Kaspar is one) provides the music cues, SFX and voice acting.
Over the course of the exhibition, which opens on Saturday, 10 June at Adelaide Contemporary Experimental (ACE), Kaspar will collaborate with Slowmango and performance art collective The Bait Fridge to create space for public events that blur the lines of community gathering, ceremony and protest.
This includes a day each week where the artist and his collaborators will perform with the sculpture – something Kaspar describes as “an interactive endurance performance”.
Kaspar is the 2023 recipient of the Porter Street Commission, ACE’s annual award supporting a major new artwork commission by a South Australian artist.
Open-call applications for the 2023 Commission were considered by a selection panel composed of ACE artistic director Patrice Sharkey; Palais de Tokyo, Paris senior curator Daria de Beauvais; and Sydney Opera House curator of contemporary art Micheal Do.
Patrice says the Porter Street Commission, which is in its third year, exemplifies the gallery’s commitment to providing South Australian artists with opportunities to amplify their practice.
“We are driven by the question ‘What is urgent to discuss today and who should be telling these stories?’” Patrice says.
“ACE’s program continues to explore many timely issues. Kaspar’s motivation to make art stems from his experience of cultural displacement, with ROCKAMORA providing a fantastical counter to lived experiences of harassment and discrimination.
“As a panel, we were especially taken by Kaspar’s absurdist, comical approach to art making, widely drawing connections to the art of puppetry, human rituals and online avatars.”
For Patrice, Kaspar’s work provides “an utterly original, joyful opportunity” to bring live art programming into ACE’s gallery.
“By inviting audiences of all ages to animate and care for ROCKAMORA, we hope audiences will leave the gallery with greater empathy, compassion and understanding of others,” she says.