May 21, 2013 7:00 PM
Labyrinth of Darkness
An Exploration of the significant, deep and ongoing influence of Czech animation pioneers on International contemporary artists and filmmakers. Curated by Kim L. Pace. Free admission.
Curated by Kim L Pace, co-curated by Kristyna Milde
The film screening juxtapose a diverse selection of contemporary international artists’ film and video works, alongside significant examples of works by Czech animation pioneers.
Katerina Athanasopoulou, Jiri Barta, William Cobbing, Brothers Quay, James Lowne; Kim L Pace, Bretislav Pojar, Robert Morgan, Hiraki Sawa, Karen Yasinsky .
1) Jirí Barta, Zanikly Svet Rukavic [The Vanished World of Gloves], 1982, 16 mins
2) Robert Morgan, The Cat With Hands, 2001, 3 mins 30secs
3) William Cobbing, The Kiss, 2004, selected excerpt
4) Kim L Pace, Let it Out, 2011, 3 mins 30 secs
5) Karen Yasinsky,La Nuit, 2007, 6 mins
6) Bretislav Pojar, Night Angel, 1986, 19 mins
7) Hiraki Sawa, Eight Minutes, 2005, 8 mins 48 secs
8) Brothers Quay, The Phantom Museum, 2003, 11 mins 18 secs
9) Katerina Athanasopoulou, Engine Angelic, 2010, 2 mins 45 secs
10) James Lowne,Our Relationships Will Become Radiant, 2011, 8 mins 52 secs
11) Bretislav Pojar, Lev a Písnicka [The Lion and the Song], 1959, 15 mins 38 secs
Running time : 1 hr 37 mins
Works in the Screening:
Among the references to changing social climates, myths and legends, Barta’s ‘The Vanished World of Gloves’, 1982 is a wicked homage to various film genres. An abandoned 16mm film projects a series of shorts featuring gloves, from lengthy opera gloves to cute mittens, revelling in Valentino-tinged romance as rival gloves face off for the love of their lady. Barta has garnered critical acclaim and won many awards for his animated gothic worlds of horror and fantasy, which are infused with sublime humour and intense moral examinations. After the fall of the communist government in Czechoslovakia he was unable to release anything for about 15 years.
One of the giants of 20th century animation, Czech animator and director Bretislav Pojar studied architecture, then started his animation career in the early-1940s. He was among the first group of artists to work at the state-run Studio Bratri v triku in Prague. There, he met Jiri Trnka, and in the mid-1940s, he left with Trnka to start a new animation studio. Pojar’s 1959 short The Lion and the Song (Lev a písnicka) , which won the top prize at the very first Annecy animation festival held in 1960, is an allegorical tale about the struggle of art against power. In Nightangel (Romance z temnot, 1986) seamless blend of puppet animation and the pinscreen technique is used to tell an evocative, romantic story of a man’s obsession with a mysterious and benign spirit.
Working in a mixture of collage, stop motion and live action that owes something to surrealist cinematic and graphic traditions, the Quay brothers have been vanguard filmmakers for over three decades. Their inventive and distinctive mix of the erotic and the mystical has clear resonances with the Czech/ Eastern European sensibility associated with Svankmajer and Trnka. Their film ‘The Phantom Museum’ 2003, provides a random foray and idiosyncratic journey through the bizarre private medical collection of Sir Henry Wellcome. The film plays with an idea that all passionate museum visitors know to be true: that the objects become even more interesting after the last visitor has left the gallery.
Animator Katerina Athanasopoulou’s ‘Engine Angelic’ 2010 mixes beauty and brutality within an industrial dystopia. Her version of a disused gasworks yard in Athens transforms through digital manipulation into an infanticidal mother that ravages her offspring. The film re imagines an industrial space, as the machine transforms into an anthropomorphised, bodily creature, it’s pipes and tubes echo the internal workings of the body itself.
James Lowne is interested in the computer’s ability to very quickly explore what effects a camera can have over a subject and how the subject has been posed, capturing gestures from different angles. In ‘Our Relationships Will Become Radiant’, 2011, three narratives unfold together. Inside a vast nature reserve sits a solitary building - a café, where an important meeting is taking place, being held by executives. Meanwhile outside in the park, the ‘collective singular’ relaxes and unwinds, wearing fancy garments. Images are exchanged, participation simulated: the interminable present. Meanwhile, the dormant wildlife fades away.
Kim L Pace
Kim L Pace’s highly idiosyncratic installations and drawings depict subtly ominous ‘micro-worlds’ that explore transformation in relation to identity.
Underpinned by concepts drawn from psychology, the characters - whilst often 'cartoon' in depiction, convey complex emotions. Embodying hybrid states of the in-between, the ambiguous, and the composite, the works articulate non-specific yet inhabitable spaces where characters appear as on ‘stage’, and where the seemingly commonplace becomes dark and distressing. ‘Let It Out’ 1&2 features a creature - struggling physically and seemingly psychologically - responding to the words of a moralizing narrator, whose tone is distinctly motivational.
Karen Yasinsky is an artist working primarily in animation and drawing. Her films explore issues of manipulation, compassion and desire in a style that can venture into the surreal. She starts with scenes from well-known films or sometimes just a still, or a
soundtrack with which she obsesses. From that starting point, Yasinsky builds a structure and oblique narrative, redrawing and re- imagining it obsessively to create a new work borne from the process. Using hand-made dolls, sets and stop-action animation she creates a surreal yet somewhat familiar environment where figures explore the everyday 'nothingness' of domestic life, desire and relationships.
The shifting alluvial mask that obscures two heads in The Kiss, 2004, Cobbing’s film of the eponymous action, materialises the look of love into a tactile mass, a cloggy marl that hands knead, model, smear and spread noisily, glutinously and messily. Cobbing’s performance/ films convey a dream-life - its incongruities and ludicrousness, those irrational connections that play out seamlessly in the demented narrative from which the sleeper awakes momentarily confused and distressed.
There is a fantastic dream-like quality about Hiraki Sawa’s films. Rocking horses swim in the bath, while line-drawn horses and camels canter across the walls. Elsewhere goats rise up from drawings on the floor and walk off across the carpet. ‘8 Minutes’ offers a magical transformation of an ordinary domestic space, and introduces surreal but characteristically serene elements.
Critical Reflections: Reclaiming the Animated Body Through Metaphor and Process.
Essay by Sonia Friel
The Czech Republic has an impressive, celebrated history of animation, the visual aesthetic of which has been considerably shaped by the region’s centuries-old traditional folk arts of puppet carving and marionette theatre. Many Czech pioneers of the form worked on animated films and marionette productions simultaneously, and both industries received substantial state funding under Socialism on account of their association with Czechoslovakia’s rich cultural heritage. Although marionette performances were customarily aimed at an audience of all ages, as animated film production gained momentum within Czechoslovakia, government officials increasingly categorized the works created as children’s entertainment. Given that the content of films was strictly monitored and controlled until after the Velvet Revolution of 1989, this placed animation studios in the enviable position of being able to use generous funding, facilities and distribution opportunities to create films that inhabited the outer reaches of the government radar. Under the cover of metaphor and allegory, animation could criticize social realities in a manner that was difficult to locate precisely and condemn. Thus, seemingly benign fables often harbored veiled indictments of the state, quietly unifying an audience accustomed to reading between the lines.
By juxtaposing Czechoslovakian animations produced under these circumstances and a range of more contemporary and international short films, this screening aims to accentuate a similarly potent ambivalence between the familiar and the hidden within a diverse range of national and historical contexts. Virtually all of the films selected incorporate animation - a technique that can perhaps be best understood as the manipulation of an object or image by hand, frame by frame. Etymologically, the term suggests a mystical procedure in which the spirit (anima) is conjured from the motionless or the lifeless. In practice, this illusion is a trick of the eye; we watch a series of static images, but the spaces between each frame remain imperceptible, allowing for the intervention of an unseen hand. As objects or drawings appear to move of their own accord and can violate physical laws, animation arguably provides a particularly potent medium for the combined representation of the material world and a concurrent, non-realist alternative.
This process of construction of animation readily suggests a simple visual metaphor with which to express this dichotomy, for, as films like Trnka’s Ruka demonstrate, the simple inclusion of a gloved hand into the frame can powerfully evoke either the creator or the oppressor. In many of the films in the screenings, hands convey compelling emotions and personalities while remaining disembodied and anonymous (in this respect, the gesticulations of Morgan’s ‘cat’ seem particularly unnerving). Not only does the incorporation of the bodily reveal a broad, dormant subjectivity within a seemingly objective world, but it also indicates the hidden processes behind each animation, in which every gesture and touch is significant.
Indeed, for most of the artists screened here, an ongoing, tactile experimentation with materials is crucial. In Cobbing’s The Kiss (the only film within this selection not to incorporate animation) creative process arguably becomes subject as the films’ two anonymous figures desperately grasp, mold and reconstitute one another. The halting movements of Yaskinsky’s La Nuit, or the finger marks on the surface of Pace’s models in Let it Out, reassert the presence of the artist and evidence the lost fragments of space and time that exist between each frame. In films that incorporate digital animation, a similar emphasis on human unpredictability creates self-referential, hybrid spaces. When making Engine Angelic, for instance, Athanasopoulou filmed without a storyboard before ‘collaging’ digital materials intuitively; for Our Relationships Will Become Radiant, Lowne applied drawing techniques through an interface in order to rupture an established visual language in unpredictable ways.
With the advent of new digital and interactive technologies, innovative usages of animation are becoming increasingly influential, subtly transforming the way in which the majority of us interact with online content or spend our leisure time. However, all too often, these exciting new terrains are discussed using sensationalist hyperbole, while animated film is dismissed as an outdated, childish film genre, as though it were incapable of conceptual sophistication. The complex and interesting debates still to be had around the diverse usages and effects of contemporary animation are consequently reduced to isolated generalizations in which animation merely evokes the unfamiliar and elsewhere - the half-remembered cartoons of childhood, or an uncertain digital future. The films shown here constitute a brief introduction to the form’s ambivalent modes of representation, or the negotiation of uncertain political and social landscapes through metaphor and self-reflexivity. Yet, in a world in which representation is becoming increasingly fractured and fragile, they hopefully demonstrate animation’s potential to offer an alternative, more holistic perspective.
About the curator, Kim L Pace:
Kim L Pace is a visual artist, based in the UK, from Czech lineage.Her work has a strong affinity with and for the Czech animation tradition, and indeed the puppetry tradition that informs it. Amongst other concerns, Pace explores the dialogue between artistic and curatorial practice. Her Hayward Gallery exhibition ‘Cult Fiction’ brought together works from contemporary art and comic art to develop a long-held fascination with the relationship between the two. She has also curated a national touring exhibition of drawings from Europe & South East Asia, and a contemporary drawing conference at Tate Britain.
Kim L Pace has exhibited extensively in solo & group shows in the UK, USA, Ireland, Australia, Japan, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy & Norway. Commissions include: Hayward Gallery, London; Sheffield Museums & Galleries Trust; Limerick City Art Gallery, Ireland and English Heritage. She has held artist residencies in the UK, USA and Norway, and has been the recipient of several fellowships and awards - most recently, The Berwick Gymnasium Fellowship (2008-09); an Arts Council Award (2011) and an Arts Council-funded Research Commission (2013).
Recent selected exhibitions, presentations/screenings include: Gallery North, Newcastle (2010); Cine City Film Festival (2011), Salisbury Arts Centre, Wiltshire (2011); Collective Gallery, Edinburgh (2011); The Horse Hospital, London (2011); The Henry Moore Institute, Leeds (2011); Palazzo Delle Esposizioni, Rome (2012); Casa del Cinema, Villa Borghese, Rome (2012) Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich (2012); Space Station 65, London (2013); Towner Art Museum, UK (2013).
321 East 73rd Street
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May 21, 2013 7:00 PM