top of page



Dinaïg Stall is a theater director and puppeteer (performer and designer), and teaches the art of puppetry at the School of Theater (UQAM), where she directs the DESS in contemporary puppet theater.

After completing her studies at the National School of Puppet Arts, she founded the company Le bruit du frigo (France), of which she was artistic director for 11 years.

She has also worked with other artists such as Johanny Bert (France) or Jaime Lorca (Chile) and has had a fruitful artistic collaboration with Céline Garnavault (La Boîte à sel, France) since 2004.

Since her arrival in Quebec in 2014, she has collaborated with several creators: Sarianne Cormier (for her short film La Volupté), Marie-Eve Huot (Théâtre L’Ébouriffé and Le Carrousel) and Marie-Christine Lé-Huu (Théâtre de l’Avant-Pays), and has led creative research projects with the musicologist Catrina Flint (College Vanier) and Professor Mark Sussman (Concordia University).

She is a member of the research group PRint - Pratiques interartistiques et scènes contemporaine, of the IREF, and of the Réqef.

Her research-creation focuses on exploring the aesthetic and dramaturgical specificities of contemporary puppetry as a unique language, while working to integrate it with other art forms.

Since January 2019, she has been conducting a Doctoral project in Studies and Practices of the Arts (UQAM) that allows her to explore the potential of puppet figures and processes to develop feminist and queer representations.

A Taste for Clay - By and with Dinaïg Stall - Photos by Elena Sennéchael and Dinaïg Stall - 2021



In Emma Donoghue's narrative entitled "What Remains," I took the liberty of adapting the phrase "A Taste for Clay" for use in a performance installation. Donoghue, an Irish writer who has called Canada, specifically Ontario, home for several decades, is best known for her acclaimed novel "Room," which was later adapted into a film.


Reading this tale about a decade ago left a profound impact on me. Donoghue possesses a remarkable knack for excavating stories from historical archives, focusing on real individuals, and infusing them with her own perspective, akin to a literary ventriloquist.


The narrative delves into the lives of two American sculptors, Florence Wyle and Frances Loring, who made their home in Toronto. Devoting their entire careers to Canada, they played a pivotal role in establishing sculpture as a recognized art form in the country. Though it's probable they were a couple, this remains uncertain, as openly acknowledging such relationships was uncommon at the time. Nonetheless, they shared their lives and worked shoulder to shoulder in the same studio, never formalizing their relationship through marriage or children, until they passed away just three weeks apart.


Set towards the twilight of Florence and Frances's lives, the story unfolds as they find themselves confined to a nursing home. Through Florence's lens, we witness Frances's descent into dementia.


The central theme of erosion permeates this narrative: the erosion of memory, naturally; the gradual dissolution of the bond between the two women, as Frances fails to recognize Florence; and the erosion of their own physical forms. Moreover, most of their public works have vanished: statues either destroyed or relocated to less prominent sites, with only one enduring on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Although the Art Gallery of Ontario houses roughly 200 of their sculptures, none are displayed permanently. Like many female artists, their contributions have been largely disregarded.


However, it's worth noting that the women adhered to a sculptural style now deemed outdated, closely resembling neoclassicism. Personally, I find this aesthetic less compelling. What truly resonated with me was the dynamic between the two women and their relationship with art, poignantly conveyed by Donoghue.


The title "A Taste for Clay" draws inspiration from a poignant passage in the narrative:


"This month marks sixty years since we first met in that sculpture class in Chicago. She tall, me short. She beautiful, me not. Her family adored her, mine hardly noticed me. She was raised in Geneva, me in Waverly, Illinois. She thought she loved men, I thought I hated them. She believed in politics, I wrote poems about trees. She worked in bursts, me a little every day. The only bond we shared was our love for clay."

This passage strikes a chord with me as I, too, feel a connection to clay as a medium. Both of my parents were ceramicists, and I grew up surrounded by a studio brimming with clay in its myriad forms: wet, being recycled, stored in new sacks, at various stages of firing, or transformed into sculptures.


A Taste for Clay - By and with Dinaïg Stall - Photos by Elena Sennéchael - 2021


It's intriguing to note that despite this familiarity, I didn't forge a genuine bond with the material for quite some time. My mother has recounted that as a child, I often played with clay. However, around the age of 4 or 5, it appears that I attempted to bring a specific idea swirling in my mind to fruition. Faced with my inability to immediately achieve the desired result, I abandoned the clay in a small pile, declaring, "This is your thing, not for me!"
Consequently, I had no contact with clay for at least 15 years. I resumed modelling at ESNAM in Charleville, but with intentions vastly different from those of my parents. I exclusively used air-drying clay to craft models, which were then cast in plaster and used to fashion puppets in various materials. The object was never intended for solitary contemplation; rather, it was crafted to be set in motion and observed from afar, upon the stage. This approach liberated me to sculpt, alleviating the pressure to produce a finalized piece. Modelling is a pursuit that ignites my passion and imparts a profound sense of serenity, yet I cannot view it as the creation of a work of art. To me, it's more akin to a phase in the process of animating an object through movement. The puppet afforded me the opportunity to delve into the realm of sculpture.
For a long time, I worked with the same clay ball, constantly recycling it. I sculpted hands and feet for puppets, casting them and then reusing the clay, always keeping the same piece. However, when I started working at UQAM, I had to confront the fact that I could no longer use this material. My available time to dedicate to my profession as a puppeteer is extremely limited. Even though I teach many apprentice puppeteers, I have very little time to practice on my own. This made it impossible for me to work with clay because, despite my attempts to keep it moist by wrapping it in fabric, it tended to dry out quickly without constant handling. As a result, I found myself having to use plasticine.
Now I can sculpt with this material, but initially, I detested it. It doesn't have the same consistency, its malleability is completely different, and even the temperature is different. Eventually, I learned to appreciate the possibilities offered by plasticine, but at first, it was a challenge.
Simultaneously, the rapid drying of clay, which made it impossible for me to use it daily, inspired me. After participating in a stop-motion animation workshop with Clyde Henry Productions through the Association Québécoise des Marionnettistes in 2016, I came up with the idea of making a stop-motion film with clay. It's obviously doomed to fail, as clay isn't suitable for stop motion, drying too quickly between shots. But that's what fascinated me: using the material's specificities in reverse, its physical properties, doing something it's not supposed to do, to address the theme of erosion, of this transformation to which we are all destined. We, too, wear away. Compared to stones, for example, human bodies wear away much, much more rapidly. I really like this quote from Rebecca Schneider: "Geological time is the time in which rocks live."


A Taste for Clay - By and with Dinaïg Stall - Photos by Elena Sennéchael - 2021

And suddenly, everything fell into place in my mind: the story, "What Remains," which I had read many years earlier, the stop-motion animation, and the clay. It all came together during the research-creation process; I abandoned the stop-motion, for various reasons. This process took time, nearly ten years, to be exact. I admit it was a rather peculiar period, marked by numerous losses and transformations due to the passage of time. After some apprehension about watching this project linger longer than usual, I realized that perhaps I, too, was experiencing a different sense of time - perhaps that of clay? - and that I should embrace it.


This shift in perspective also influenced how I shared the work with the audience. I yearned for an extended, unconventional time frame beyond the typical theatrical performance. A period of installation, with material activations. I found the idea of working with the transformation of the material fascinating - no longer against it, as when I struggled to mold with clay at the start of my new career as a teacher.


When clay works are destined for firing, specific guidelines must be followed to prevent cracks from forming during drying. However, I sought precisely the opposite: for cracks to emerge, for the material to yield. For example, in one of my installations, a sculpture depicts hands gripping real sculpting tools: a hammer and a chisel. The hands are crafted from raw clay. As they dry, with water evaporating, the clay loses mass. Consequently, the hands begin to crack, and over time, they crumble away, as the weighty tools drag them down.


This creative journey led me to reflect deeply on the story of Frances Loring, who was compelled to complete a larger-than-life stone lion sculpture by hand. She had enlisted the help of a stonecutter accustomed to using machinery, but he balked at taking direction from a woman and altered the design without her consent. Thus, Frances found herself obliged to finish the sculpture manually, working on a subpar stone during the harsh Ontario winter. One can only imagine the challenges she faced in completing this monumental task. The vivid description of Frances's hands as resembling claws once the work was finished left a lasting impression on me. This episode spurred me to contemplate the inherent properties of materials and to use raw clay to evoke this poignant narrative.


I find it incredibly impactful in puppetry performances that concepts don't necessarily need verbal expression because the materials themselves convey a message. The material itself carries narrative weight.


A Taste for Clay - By and with Dinaïg Stall - Photos by Elena Sennéchael - 2021


In presenting my research-creation work, I opted for an installation format - a journey with various stations where people could freely move, closely observe sculptures, and read brief story excerpts on panels. This was interwoven with a performance where certain text passages were recited in English. I acted as a bridge, translating some fragments into French and animating sculptures without physical contact. For example, in a passage where Florence recounts how Frances fails to recognize her when she speaks, I used sculpture wheels to depict this faltering communication, solely through rotating busts.
The installation showcased sculptures in clay, plaster, and hybrids of both. There was even a silicone sculpture for a trembling effect, though it felt a bit like cheating! It's part of the theatricality; we play with illusion. I employed varying levels of figuration, from realistic to abstract. Some sculptures portrayed the artists' faces, others were small busts, and some depicted work clothes submerged in slip and hardened by drying.
At the performance's climax, I projected a photo of the two young artists onto a canvas covered in cracked, dry slip. Passing my hand behind the canvas, I allowed pieces of dry slip to fall, momentarily obscuring parts of the image. Some viewers interpreted it as Florence, positioned on the right in the image, appearing to weep.
I must mention my collaboration with Cléa Minaker, who was instrumental in completing this initial project version. In June 2021, I had a week-long residency at MIAM, the Maison Internationale des Arts de la Marionnette. Then, in June 2023, I was fortunate to secure a three-week residency at OBORO, a centre for visual arts and media in Montreal. They generously provided me with an exhibition room for the entire residency period. This was immensely exciting, stepping out of the traditional theatre setting and into the gallery space, albeit with a highly performative and theatrical approach. I see my entire practice as interstitial, straddling the realms of performing and visual arts.
During rehearsals with Cléa, a stage element collapsed, and Frances's head fell to the ground, completely flattening on one side. I had to sculpt a new one. It was quite a peculiar situation because we were rehearsing a scene that precisely depicted the moment when Frances descends into senile dementia. It was at that very moment she literally lost her head. Of course, at the time, I wasn't thrilled about having to spend another four hours sculpting, but at the same time, I was moved. I'm not a believer, but I must admit I found that moment very significant. Perhaps Frances was sending me a small sign, beyond time and space, by letting this temporary incarnation of her face fall?


A Taste for Clay - By and with Dinaïg Stall - Photos by Elena Sennéchael - 2021


What remains? I think it's the traces, always the traces. Signs that allow others to grasp the stories, to interpret them. I believe this applies to everyone, but it's particularly true for women artists and even more so for queer women artists, as well as for queer individuals in general. Our traces in history are often made invisible or erased, homogenized. The oblivion of our works and our existence is constant.
We continue to rediscover, for example, lesbian artists. They are constantly erased and continually reappear. There's an author who describes this phenomenon as "the apparitional lesbian" (The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture, T. Castle, 1995). She suggests that this erasure also contributes to our strength because, although it's not the goal, it constantly brings us back, with each new generation of artists seeking the traces of their predecessors. Our presence has something intermittent or spectral about it, and my work has also been influenced by Jack Halberstam's proposition in The Queer Art of Failure that the spectral possesses a queer potential.
There's something spectral about these clay-infused blouses. Wearing one and making it walk blindly was both fun and deeply moving and powerful. Being inhabited by others is a very familiar experience for puppeteers, as is giving presence to others outside of oneself. This also raises many ethical questions and engages us in our responsibility: whom are we representing? Is it truly our task to represent these people? As puppeteers, I don't think we can represent everything, physically or ethically.
In this project, I consciously position myself within a lineage of lesbian-queer expression by weaving together the works of Loring-Wyle, Donoghue, and my own research-creation. I align with a mode of reinvention akin to that of Emma Donoghue, who mines the gaps in archival records to offer a unique interpretation of reality stemming from her own imagination and history of marginalization. Thus, like many predecessors, I draw inspiration from Monique Wittig's call in Les Guérillières:

“You claim there are no words to capture this moment, you insist it's beyond description, but remember, strive to recall, or if need be, imagine.”


A Taste for Clay - By and with Dinaïg Stall - Photos by Elena Sennéchael - 2021


A Taste for Clay - By and with Dinaïg Stall - Photos by Dinaïg Stall - 2021


At the outset of the performance, I address the audience directly, contextualizing the event within the framework of my artistic inquiry. I delve into the clay's origins, emphasizing its source from unceded Indigenous lands. It's crucial for me to underscore the clay's history, marked by the legacy of colonial violence. Indigenous peoples are the custodians of the lands and waters whence this clay originates, their stewardship preserving its existence despite centuries of colonial exploitation, which extends beyond land to encompass forests, subsoils, and more. Working with raw material prompts reflection on its ecological context.


Clay, I believe, encapsulates this narrative. It's prone to drying, erosion, and cracking, yet it's equally receptive to being rehydrated, reclaimed, and repurposed. What intrigues me most about this material is the dynamic interplay between erosion and persistence.


A Taste for Clay -  2021 -  Photo by Dinaïg Stall : "When I was in residence at OBORO in late spring and early summer, the forests blazed for days on end in Northern Quebec. The air in Montreal was regularly unbreathable, and the light had an orange hue that was as beautiful as it was toxic. This is what we can somewhat perceive in the photo with the small off-centered bust and the large orange-lit area. It was a very strange context, which underscored the urgency of completely changing direction collectively, in order to return to much more sustained forms of attention to the world and caring practices towards everything around us.."



bottom of page