Friday, August 9, 2019

Garden make-over to create accessible garden

Garden makeover

A few images of the Before - and After of my garden transformation.
Trust me - there was an awful lot of 'in-between'

Must say, I am proud to have orchestrated this change and am very grateful for ALL the help received. Too many to mention all here, but you know who you are. My deepest gratitude.

I spend hours looking at images, making a scaled plan, designing layout and the corner seat. I watched garden programs on Netflix when I got frustrated that I couldn't actually do the work myself. The future (possible) need for wheelchair ramps from backdoor and into studio have been taken into account in my design.
A lot of materials, slabs from the garden, paint, plants etc were re-used, or moved.

A few more things to finish, like painting the house, some other walls to finish painting, cushion for seat etc. but my goodness, what a beautiful peaceful garden is has become. 
I can now go safely and easily around my garden on foot or in my wheelchair. There is a lot less actual gardening to do, and much more time to just rest and watch and listen to the birds.

spring 2019

(spring photo of a few years ago)

Trilled with ALL the help 

what it became,  summer 2019

Studio painted with a green 'wash' (left over bedroom paint)

My once very much beloved greenhouse had to go too. A big decision, but the space it created is just wonderful. It has gone to another good home.


Shed wall is a lot more pleasing on the eye too!

The icing on the cake - a wonderful corner seat where the bins used to be. Created by Joop and Adrian Duyn

view from my corner seat - and 'boardwalk'

 Even the garden entrance at side of house had a face lift. Amazing what can be achieved with a 'bit' of creative thinking, wood, bamboo and a pot of paint.


Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Arts & Disability Ireland 'Connect-Mentoring'

Sometimes life manages to join (all) the dots...
Póilin Puppet reading the Arts & Disability Ireland Connect  letter
Póilin reading the Arts and Disability Ireland
Connect letter

After a tough year of decline in health, and fighting the HSE (our national health service) to gain adequate support to be able to remain living at home, a very welcome large green envelope landed on my hall floor about a month ago. 
It was a letter from Arts & Disability Ireland with the amazing news that I was granted a Mentoring Bursary through the "Connect" scheme, to work with Dr. Emma Fisher, artistic director and puppeteer at 'Beyond the Bark'. Emma just completed her PhD in Puppetry and Disability.

I met Emma two years ago, when I was invited to give a talk at the first ever 'Broken Puppet Symposium on Puppetry, Disability and Health' organised by Emma. This event brought me into a whole 'new' astonishing world. A world I was part of but didn't know... Since this first encounter I have been invited to give talks in the UK, Cork, also via Skype in Brazil and Chile.  This mentoring opportunity is a beautiful continuation of the journey my puppets have brought me on... while hardly leaving my home.

While still in hospital in February, Emma and myself started thinking about the possibility to apply for this mentoring opportunity. Emma read the guidelines as at the time I was so unwell that I was unable to think straight. But the seed was planted.
Over the following 6 weeks or so, I carefully minded this precious seed. It grew. Writing the application, literally a few minutes at the time, helped me to 'find my brain' again. And to focus on something good, rather than the huge challenged my body bestowed on me.
Sending off the application was a triumph. I was grateful for having found that spark again. The spark in my creative brain. To having looked carefully at the application and to truly look my current state of health into the eyes. To find a way forward in my creative life. 
It ignited a spark of life, within my not so lively life...
To actually be awarded the bursary was/is a huge icing on the cake.
Thank you all at Arts & Disability Ireland for awarding me this great honour to explore what I can do with the puppets I have created over the years, but for which I have lost the ability to perform their stories.

We started the mentoring process last week with a Skype session. Tomorrow Emma will be in my house/studio. We are breaking down the meeting in very short sessions. The main objectives are to help me write a play or script for a film to tell the stories of my puppets/me. Also to explore alternative puppetry (from my usual puppets) for example shadow puppetry. For now I won't yet share the details of the themes which are emerging, but in a nutshell they will be about life with chronic illness/disability.

What is exciting for me is that a lot of my past creative work (some from before illness, which struck me 21 years ago)  my writing, my love of books, scribbles from years past, the need of solitude and meditation, a story I have 2/3 written, short videos I made of the puppets, notes I have gathered, the more recent challenges and 'rising from the ashes', all seems to be part of this new adventure. Life manages to 'join the dots'. 
During the past 2 weeks I started to compile scribbles and glue in images in a dedicated scrapbook. My 'storyboard'. 

Chuffed to have this opportunity to explore how I can bring my story out there through this exciting medium.

Stay tuned!

Further reading
There are many puppet related blog post on this Blog, including talks from Brazil and Chile,  and on my website

See Support video for application to introduce my puppets

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Power of the Puppet; Presentation on Puppetry, Disability and Health

Transcript of lecture given by Corina Duyn as part of Diplomado Muñecoterapia, Chile 11th May 2019.

It was a pleasure and honour to speak with the students via Skype; briefly before my Powerpoint presentation, which was translated and presented by Penelope Glasse, and afterward for a very interesting Question and Answer session. Thank you all.
(Spanish translation is available on request)

Thank you AndreMarkovits for inviting me to share my experience with you all. I had the pleasure of meeting Andrea at the first Broken Puppet Symposium on “Puppetry, Disability & Health in 2017 in Ireland. My name is Corina Duyn. I am a Dutch born artist, writer and puppet maker. I live in Ireland.

The Power of the Puppet

Puppetry, me and M.E.

I was born in the Netherlands (1962). Encouraged to be creative, I made my first rag doll at the age of ten, my first puppet at 15. The following decades I developed my own style of dolls and puppets, purely as a hobby. In the meantime I studied and worked as a palliative care nurse and social care worker while working in a nursing home, and group home for people with learning difficulties.

When I moved to Ireland in 1989 the people, the folklore and natural surroundings of my adopted country influenced my creations. Unintentionally I became a full time working artist. My Fantasy Folk Artist Dolls are in public and private collections in a great variety of countries. 
In 1998 I started to teach puppet making in a group home for teenagers. It was a wonderful experience to see how eager these young people were to work with me and to engage in this art form. I clearly remember one young man of about 13, full of mischief. Predictably his puppet was to be a clown. The sculpted head was gorgeous, open, and funny. But when it came to making the hands, he ended up making fists. 
It was a very powerful experience, and became the pivotal moment when I realized the power of art: especially the power of working with clay. The clay ‘does not lie’. The deepest fears, joy, wishes and challenges appear from our hearts, our minds, through our hands into the clay.

Unfortunately, I did not get to finish the project with the young people as I became very ill with the neurological illness M.E. (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) in the summer of 1998.
In a very short time I lost the ability to look after myself, to walk properly, to sit up and talk, to remember, to read, to write, to prepare my food, or do even such simple tasks as open a tube of toothpaste. In terms of my work, I lost all finer skills to hold my tools and to manipulate the clay. As a result my creative output changed dramatically both in substance and intensity. By conducting a dialogue with my body, I created a visual and written account of life with illness, and explored the accompanying emotion, physical challenges, sudden joys and moments of gratitude. 

One of the drawings was a connection to puppetry. The words in the drawing are:

 “A puppet, not a great drawing, but…the puppet is me with M.E., I have little or no control over my body. WHO is the hand who keeps me upright, make me walk, make me move gracefully, or let me stumble at times, makes me stand my full length or let me buckle at the knees, makes the arms move or leave them hang like useless objects. Who is the hand that has control 
What is the hand that holds the cross and moves 'my' strings at its will.  
Can I become the hand over M.E., have control over me?  
Hand, whatever you do, don't drop me altogether, hold on, but stop playing tricks…”

My creative work closely follows the journey through illness. The early years are documented in my book ‘Hatched, a Creative Journey Though M.E. (2006), which can be read for free on my website.  When, many years later I came to accept recovery was not possible, I fulfilled a long held dream to study. Attending Disability Studies made me step out of the disability box out of solitude and into the world with a new creative vision, through sculptures, my Artist Book Into the Light.  and back to puppetry. Armed with more conviction to tackle disability related issues through my work. As puppetry can break down the personal barriers, it gives us great scope to open up much needed conversations about disability, and other experiences of social disadvantage and oppression.

Human Rights, Disability and Puppetry

Article 30(2) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: … ‘parties shall take appropriate measures to enable persons with disabilities to have the opportunity to develop and utilize their creative, artistic and intellectual potential, not only for their own benefit, but also for the enrichment of society.’  

This statement is important on many levels, including the right to have access to the arts like everyone else. We should also be encouraged and supported to explore and share our experiences with the wider community. At times I struggle, like many others, to get the practical support to continue with my work. As well as a right, for me creating is also a human need.
The creative process helped me to understand my illness. It made me appreciate the person I have become, despite illness/disability. Although a solitary journey, creativity and especially puppetry has given me contact with people all over the world. It made me stay visible in a world when I am rarely seen outside my door. And hopefully I have enriched society with my work in the process.

I also believe that as a person with a disability I have the right to be the facilitator of an art project, and not just a participant in projects led by able-bodied people for people with disabilities. As is often the case…  

Life Outside the Box, Disability Puppetry Project

While a member of the Irish Wheelchair Association (An organization in Ireland for people with physical disabilities, not just those using a wheelchair) the then Centre coordinator asked if I could facilitate a puppet-making project. We didn’t really know what that entailed, but after discussions with members and seeking financial assistance, we started our project in summer 2015. 

Our group consisted of about 12 people with a variety of disabilities: acquired brain injury, MS, polio, congenital birth defects, and M.E. Ages 27 to 72. Over the course of about eight months we created nine puppets, a very large ‘disability’ box, and a large hand to help us out of the box. To document our project we published a book and filmed our puppets stepping out the disability box. 

My goal was to make this project very person-centred by giving everybody a role in the project: Making the puppets, note taking, story development, decorating the large box, photography, book design, press coverage and talking at the public launch. 

As I knew the participants in advance of the project, I was able to adapt tools and work methods to suit their specific needs. I drew heavily on my personal experience on how creative obstacles can be overcome. 

For one young woman who has no lower arms I created a workstation so she could still sculpt most of the puppet’s head. I also adapted the mechanism so she could manipulate her beautiful puppet. A man with acquired brain injury felt uncomfortable to work in the large group, so I made sure he could work one to one on the large paper-maché hand. It was beautiful to see how he flourished. He linked this creative work with being a chef in his past. It breaks my heart that he is not encouraged to do more creative work. 

Participants were amazed by their hidden abilities and it was great to see how they came up with solutions themselves. For example one man with MS who has very little strength left in his hands, taped sandpaper to the table, so he could sand the clay shoe by rubbing them over the sandpaper, holding it with both hands. Skills were exchanged and as a result the group became more cohesive. The focus shifted from disability to ability. Each week the puppet’s personalities and stories became more profound. One participant said that his puppet took on its ultimate personality because of the obstacles he faced along the way. 

We all deal with vulnerability about our illness and disability. Being in this group, busy with our hands, there was a great sense of ease to talk about our lives, our challenges and hopes. It was a safe place. We certainly laughed a lot too, which was a great tonic. 
We all had staff members to support us with practical work, which also made it possible for me to teach again, after a 17 year gap. We broke many personal boundaries, but perhaps also changed social perception and allowing us to explore new grounds.

We filmed the puppets stepping out of the disability box in our local shopping centre. We choose this public place on purpose, seeking interaction with the public. We are more than just our disabilities. It worked. Puppets make for easy conversation. People engaged with us. They didn’t see wheelchairs anymore they saw us!

For me, the puppet project represents pride, inclusiveness, freedom and empowerment. The benefits went beyond the making: One member with acquired brain injury was not able to make the puppet himself, although involved in every step of the way. It is still his puppet. During the filming he walked around with his puppet. He was one with his puppet. Beautiful to see. 

Quote on Powerpoint slide:
 “…“Whilst the project was about puppets coming out of their box, in reality, it was the service users that also ‘came out of their box’ to realise they could do more than they thought they were capable of. It was the most inclusive project that we ever did.” 
Andrea Lloyd, Centre Coordinator at time of the project

Our project certainly caught the public’s eye. There were full spread articles in the local newspapers, and we had two well-attended launches at libraries. I was interviewed on radio on several occasions.  Our video has been shown at Disability Film Festivals in Canada and London, and in our local cinema. Every three months an adapted one-minute version is screened on Irish national television. We also hosted an exhibition with our puppets and other creative work by the group and individuals. We celebrated our Ability.  

I believed, and still believe, that the project broke many boundaries, and had great potential to be used further as communication tools about disability, for example in schools. It saddens me that these educational opportunities noted by the then Centre coordinator are not followed up by the person now in charge. 

On a personal note, I am proud that as a person with a disability I was able to facilitate a project for and with other people with disabilities. There were so many astonishing and beautiful moments where believes of inability were overcome and became sources of inspiration; where characters appeared from under our hands – seemingly with fierce determination to be ‘born’ with their own story to tell. 

Life Outside the Box. video, approx 4 min.

As I began to struggle more and more with the way we, the members, were being treated as if we were children, and not valuable members of society with our lived experiences, I had to stop going to the weekly meetings. I must say I miss meeting my fellow members, but I needed to protect my own mental wellbeing from the institutionalized ethos of the disability organization as a whole and the degrading treatment at the centre.

However, the Life Outside the Box project lives on. Emma Fisher and Laura Purcell-Gates referenced it in their research paper “Puppetry as reinforcement or rupture of cultural perceptions of the disabled body”.  Create/Irish Arts Council, funders of the project, published a case study. Further details are on the Puppet Blog.
The project also let to the invitation by Emma Fisher to give a talk at the first Broken Puppet Symposium (2017) in Cork, Ireland. This was followed by invitations in 2018 to give the Key Note at the Broken Puppet 2 in Bath, UK, as well talks in Nottingham, Bristol, Brazil, Cork and Canada. Some in person, others via Skype or by pre-recorded video. I suddenly found myself in a world I did not know I was part of. How beautiful. 

Since the project I have taught puppet making in my home studio (See Nationwide TV program) but currently only teach via distant learning. Some students have disabilities, or work with people with disabilities. Others simply like to enjoy learning a new art form, or use learned skills in their therapeutic practises. The distant learning course allows me to be able to teach while not restricted by my illness. In all cases, I am not overly concerned how beautiful the puppet is going to be. What I am most interested in to see is what stories the puppet has to tell. I encourage the student to truly engage with their work and explore the issues, thoughts, or desires, which might come to light. Puppets can go where people are afraid to go.

Puppetry and the Embodiment of Disability  

Two great puppeteers who don't shy away from portraying the disabled body in their work are Emma Fisher and Nikki Charlesworth. Emma is an Irish puppet designer, puppeteer, Artistic Director of Beyond the Bark, an inclusive puppet and installation theatre and recently finished her PhD in Puppetry and Disability. Her Pupa production starts with the story of a puppet girl who is struggling with her disability, splits herself in two, casts off her disabled arm and banishes it to the room of forgotten limbs... Emma uses an exo-skeleton devise designed by Ivan Owen to animate her disabled arm in the production of Pupa. Disability becomes the story. 

Recent graduate Nikki Charlesworth (UK) creates powerful work with one clear goal: the embodiment of disability. She beautifully explores the challenges of life with Cerebral Palsy through her autobiographical puppet. She animates with incredible accurate movements the many private and social situations she and others have encountered. 

My own tentative depiction of disability through puppetry comes in the form of The Reflections Girls. A few years ago I walked into a dance studio using my walking sticks. I know how I walk, but seeing myself being surrounded by mirrors was a rather sobering experience. I turned away from the mirrors and sat down looking out the window and started writing in my diary. When brave enough I stood up and looked at my reflection in the mirror: What do I truly see? How does it feel? Do my thoughts change when I move the sticks behind my back? Are what I see and what I think the same? 
I am hoping to tell their story properly on film, for now here is a very short abstract.

The Reflection Girls video, approx 2 min. 

One of the challenges I faced during the past few years is that I don’t have the strength to hold the cross of my marionettes. I explored alternatives. Póilin is the result. I needed a puppet which I could animate from my wheelchair. Throughout this process I was very aware of my physical boundaries, and at the same time valued my ability. 
The often overlooked therapeutic benefit of creating new work is that the brain is fully engaged. Waking up in the morning with the thought: “how could I make the puppet’s head move...”, takes the focus away from a painful or uncooperative body. Instead the focus is on something fun and productive. The therapeutic value is also in engaging with the finished puppet, and watch them come to life. Póilin certainly has taken on a personality of her own and in a way embodies my story. 

During the past year I have been working on a new puppet project ‘Miracle. Miracle.’ Exploring Prejudice of chronic illness/disability. The story so far: At first glance you see a woman in a wheelchair. Covered in a blanket, she looks helpless. It evokes pity. When she removes her blanket, you see that she is wearing a miniskirt, kneepads, and a leather jacket. She challenges the perception of how a disabled person should dress and act. She stands up. Like me.  
It confuses people when I step out of my wheelchair. I don’t fulfill the image the spectator has in her or his mind of a person in a wheelchair. I challenge their perception and prejudice.
Of course, a puppet can do anything – even roller skating. She takes her walking sticks from the back of her chair and proceeds to ‘ski’ on her roller blades. 

I hope to tackle further social issues with this piece, for example gender identity and social class. Maybe a wheelchair pusher is a funky, gay teenager of colour with a radio on her shoulder... who knows!

I might not have the physical ability to be a puppet show performer, but I have every intention to continue making puppets and to tell my story through giving talks, teaching, and by writing and directing puppet films. 

The Power of the Puppet

Puppetry is an incredible powerful medium to tell a story and to provoke empathy. It gives us scope to open up much needed conversations about disability, and other experiences of social disadvantage and oppression. Their imagery is provocative for use in protests. To finish, I believe that Puppetry is a wonderful healing and transformative art-form for the maker as well as the spectator.

Many thanks for your interest in my work.


Please take time to consider the topics for discussion. These are only guidelines, so please feel free to discus your own thoughts and issues which may have arisen. 
I will answer any questions later via our Skype meeting, and gladly communicate via email at a later stage. 

students at Diplomado Muñecoterapia, Chile and Corina Duyn via Skype
Students and Andrea Markovits at Diplomado Muñecoterapia, Chile, 
and Corina via Skype from Ireland
students at Diplomado Muñecoterapia, Chile

Abstracts of this paper may be quoted. Please reference Corina Duyn, “The Power of the Puppet”, Presentation on Puppetry, Disability and Health, by Corina Duyn, at Diplomado Muñecoterapia, 11 May 2019.

Further reading/viewing:

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Nottingham Puppet Festival Talk on Puppetry, Disability & Health

Today exactly a year ago I gave a talk at the Nottingham Puppet Festival at Nottingham Trent University.

The Dance of Life- Talk at Nottingham Puppet Festival - Corina Duyn

I was able to travel there because of the support and kindness of friends, family and strangers.
Again, my deepest gratitude

At the time I was asked to keep you all informed on the travels, the experiences, links to my talks etc. But the one month long journey was a lot, a lot harder than I had dared to even imagine. Still so glad I did it, but my physical health certainly did suffer.
So Exactly one year on I would like to share with you a recording of my talk, which I called "The Dance of Life".
I must admit I was rather nervous at the start ... but I think I was ok once I got going. I must admit too that I have not yet listened, or looked back to the full talk. So, it is a premiere for all of us.

The talk follows my creative journey from the first doll made at the age of ten, to the creation of many Fantasy Folk figures; How teaching puppet making with young people informed my own creative adventures through twenty years of illness. All leading to exploring Puppetry in relation to Disability and Health.

Watch the talk here (YouTube)

Thanks to Sean Myatt Senior Lecturer Design for Performance, 
School of Art & Design, Nottingham Trent University, for the invitation. 
And Jane Jermyn for recording and being my PA during that week.

(The sound is not brilliant and as the Questions at the end were not audible, I did not include them in this video.)

Corina Duyn and Kerrie Marshall, at Nottingham Puppetry Festival March 2018
Myself and Kerrie Marshall, my co-speaker, after our talks at
Nottingham Puppetry Festival March 2018 talk
(And Póilin in the middle)

Further viewing
  • Like to make your own puppet? See introduction video HERE  and contact me to sign up for the Distant Learning Puppet Making Course
  • Póilin's view of our adventure, see HERE

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A year of contrast

Dear friends

It is that time of year again. Christmas is on its way.
The New Year looming.
As usual it got me by surprise. Suddenly it is December. Mid December. My heart and mind are far, far behind.

Anyway, there are a few things I’d like share with you.

First of all, it has been a year full of contrasts.

On the good end of the spectrum are my continued create explorations which has led to being in touch with people far beyond the walls of my house, even my studio. I was invited to give talks about Puppetry and Disability in Ireland, the UK, Canada and Brazil. The latter two via pre-recorded message, and Skype. The talks and research opportunity in the UK were kindly sponsored by many of you. Thank you so much for making that trip happen. 
I also now teach puppet making via distant learning, which dissolves any borders.
And the women of Bantry shop Forest & Flock have been amazing in bringing my work out to places way beyond my dreams.

My health was not the best during these memorable UK adventure, and still isn’t, but meeting like-minded creatives and researchers, was a logical next step in my own (creative) development. It is just beautiful to be welcomed into this intriguing world of puppetry and have my experiences of illness/disability and my creative life taken serious. To be asked to contribute to the research; to have people learning from my story.

At Cork Puppetry Festival 2018

Puppetry – a sense of movement in my work - which I had believed to be a reflection on me ‘dancing’ again, was actually a ‘dance with society’. Not a physical dance, as I have become less mobile again.

On the other end of the spectrum is the now almost one year long battle with the HSE (our national health service) in trying to “persuade” the Disability Support Services, that indeed I have a disability. In a peculiar, and rather difficult to understand mindset, my local office cannot assess me for Personal Assistant (PA) support as my diagnosis is not on their approved list of disabilities. I kid you not. Not to mind that I am disabled for every other part of the HSE, and society at large. Long story, and if you really want to know, please see this link.

Life with ME continues to be a journey of discovery.

These two extremes require a daily battle to finding and keeping a peaceful mind. Finding ways to stay with my believes, my hopes and dreams. To not sink with the pressure and heartache of dealing with a health ‘service’ which in many cases do not see me as a person, but as a number, a statistic.

Friends, as always have been a source of support, including my fellow members of ME Advocates Ireland. My deepest gratitude for sticking it out with me.

Creatively, I am at a crossroads too. Again.

I had to acknowledge that I cannot do my work the way I had become accustomed to: To spend daily about half hour in the studio; to teach puppet making in my studio; to spend time on the computer working on the next book. 
As ever there is no shortage of ideas, just a shortage of energy and physical ability.

I hope that by the time the New Year shows its face, I will have mastered to create a new balance. To have a care package in place in which I have enough support, and a continuation of support. To hopefully have a say in how this support package is being handled.
To be able to be in my studio and start writing again. 
To find ways to not have to travel (abroad) to give talks, but to learn how to pre-record talks on video, which can be shown instead.
I also hope to come to terms in a spiritual sense and make sense of where I am at in health and illness.

Letting go of the old – to make room for the new.

With all this in mind, I am hosting an Open Studio Event on Sunday 16th December, 1-4 pm. (or any day by appointment).
  • This gives me an opportunity to meet with you during a time when I find myself more and more housebound.
    The proceeds of selling of my books, cards, prints, (some) puppets, sculptures and tapestries; will go towards paying for a (creative) PA.
    This way I can continue to create new work, and/or writing. Or to have support if I am invited to give talks more locally.
  • Apart from the Open Studio, my books, prints, cards etc. can also be purchased from my website 
  • Some of the artwork can be viewed on my blog
  • And as I am not up for teaching puppet making in my studio, I have set up a Distant Learning Course. See a short video  and please contact me for details, or keep an eye out for my blog.

Wishing you a Wonder - Full Christmas
and a Peaceful New Year

Last but not least.

I would like to wish you a wonderful   
Christmas and a healthy and peaceful year ahead.

As it is very unlikely I will be getting Christmas cards or presents sorted, 
please be assured that you are in my thoughts. 
And as I read somewhere on social media – 
your friendship membership has been renewed for another year.

Much, much love to you and all