How twin artists broke reality to create surreal new world

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In the lonely, windswept outskirts of the Docklands, a warehouse normally dedicated to the construction of boats is populated by colourful, half-formed creatures, neither human nor animal, that stare blankly at the ceiling.

Artists Pablo and Efrain Del Hierro have created a vibrant, puppet-filled hub for Night Trade as part of Rising Festival. Credit: Wayne Taylor

Hunks of foam litter the floor as though someone has had a violent argument with a mattress. Tins of paint sit opened and waiting. At the centre of this chaos, is a large green bus – or as Efrain and Pablo Del Hierro, the artists known collectively as Poncili Creacion, like to think of it, “a reality-breaker”.

“The idea behind reality-breaking is distorting the mundane,” explains Efrain. “The way we do this is through creating an elaborate machine that no one would expect to exist in reality.”

The artists, who are identical twins, have been creating reality-breaking objects, mostly through the medium of puppetry, for some years now – sometimes presenting their work in galleries and museums, but more often taking it to the streets, where it has the effect of being like “a colourful stain on grey reality”.

“We’re very interested in dreams and in the art of creating dreams,” says Pablo. “Once we stumbled into puppetry, it seemed like a beautiful way to make things come to life from a DIY perspective, in which not a lot of money and not a lot of production is needed.”

The bus has been gutted, its windows removed. Instead of ordinary passengers, it will soon be populated by a crew of fantastical puppets, parked in the grounds of St Paul’s Cathedral for the duration of the Rising festival and opened up to the public.

In the heart of the city, Poncili Creacion’s puppet bus invites visitors to come in and become part of the artwork. Credit: Wayne Taylor

“Basically what we have here is a large-scale kinetic sculpture operated by human power,” says Pablo. “In this iteration, we are allowing an opportunity to see the inner workings of the bus. There’ll be the possibility to go inside the bus and become an animator.”

This egalitarianism is central to their practice, which has developed alongside a distinctly anti-capitalist ethos and a love for creating art out of commonplace materials. They are interested in breaking down barriers between artist and audience as a means of promoting a radical kind of accessibility.

“Artwork, in general, is very one-sided,” says Efrain. “The artist provides from a pedestal and the people watch. A reversion of roles is very much necessary, and always accompanies our work, where people are treated as equal as the creator and as the artist.”

Rising co-artistic directors Hannah Fox and Gideon Obarzanek in the “Poncili world” created by the Del Hierro brothers.Credit: Wayne Taylor

For their Rising residency, the brothers have curated what they call “a Poncili world” in the festival’s Night Trade hub. Here, you can eat, drink, gather and socialise, surrounded by surreal installations created by Poncili Creacion and their collaborators, and soundtracked by a roster of DJs and performers.

Some evenings will also feature a live Poncili Creacion puppet show, with music by Dale Gorfinkel and Peter Farrar – but when asked to explain what the show will involve, the brothers become circumspect.

“It’s our set. Our Poncili set,” says Efrain.

“It’s a puppet show,” adds Pablo.

“Under the guise of a puppet show!” says Efrain.

“We don’t like to talk a lot about it,” says Pablo.

What they are willing to confirm is that like the puppet bus, the show will have little respect for the barrier between performer and audience.

“There is a splash zone, which is as close to the stage as you can get,” says Efrain. “In the splash zone, you will guaranteed be eaten or pooped on by a puppet.”

Though their metier may be puppetry, Poncili Creacion’s ambitions are more complicated than entertainment, more ambitious than art-making.

“Something very important about puppetry is that it can make things that are not real, possible. Because when you see a puppet, your imagination instantly gets activated,” explains Efrain. He compares their practice to something fundamental to life itself, like an atom or an organ – something both mysterious and essential.

“More than art, we produce cataclysms or energy forces. This is why we bring our work to the streets, to some person that never asked to see it. We don’t desire people to want to see it or to need to consume it.”

“This is not a product,” he continues. “This is the work of our life.”

Rising festival starts today and runs until June 18. Poncili Creacion perform their puppet show at 8pm on June 7, 9, 10, 14, 16 and 17 at Night Trade.

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