Sara Ahmed – An Affinity of Hammers

I loved this essay by Sara Ahmed about the  trans “debate” that is currently raging in the media. This part really struck me as so important

An existence can be nullified by the requirement than an existence be evidenced. The very requirement to testify to your existence can end up being the very point of your existence […] When you are asked to provide evidence for your existence, or when you are treated as evidence, your existence is negated. Transphobia and anti-trans statements should not be treated as just another viewpoint that we should be free to express at the happy table of diversity. There cannot  be dialogue when some at the table are in effect (or intent on) arguing for the elimination of others at the table.”

In the course of the essay she discusses the way that part of questioning trans people’s existence is doubting their very experiences. So people do not take seriously our demands that people gender us correctly or use our correct pronouns. Ash she says “some forms of violence are so often understoood as trivial, or not as violence at all. Violence is so often reproduced by not being understood as violence.”

Being trans gives me a different perspective from the world, I want to capture this in my final project and show at least a glimpse of this world to my peers:

“We learn about worlds when they do not accommodate us. Not being accommodated can be pedagogy. We generate ideas through the struggles we have to be in the world; we come to questions worlds when we are in question.”

 

 

Aldeburgh and the Britten-Pears Foundation

Our first project of the new term is a pitch for the English National Opera. I’ve chosen to work on Noye’s Fludde, an opera written for children by Benjamin Britten.

I immediately loved the idea of a medium that seems so inaccessible being opened up to primary school children and decided in my animation to focus on this aspect of the production.

To this end I went to the Benjamin Britten archive in Aldeburgh to see what I could dig up. I’d never been to an archive before and was nervous about how it all worked, but they were extremely friendly when I told them about my project and ended up bringing me all sorts of things that I didn’t even know I was looking for!

Original Ceri Richards designs for animal costumes:

 

Costumes from the original production, below a sheep headdress with my sketches of other costumes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Woodcut from the Benjamin Britten copy of the Chester Mystery Plays
Benjamin Britten’s original score of the storm

Patrick Heron

I was in St Ives on holiday and decided to pop in to see the Patrick Heron exhibition at the Tate. I didn’t know much about him but the moment I walked in and saw the huge brightly coloured canvases, I knew it would be a hit.

 

I loved the way he talks about shape and colour being the same thing in his paintings, the colour suggests the shape, the boundaries between shapes are made of colour. It made me feel quite giddy. I also love the way Patrick Heron explains his process:

“My fifteen foot canvases, involving sixty or more square feet of a signle colour, were painted [in oil paint] from end to end with small Japanese water-colour brushes. But one doesn’t hand-paint for the sake of the “hand-done”; one merely knows that the surfaces worked in this way can – in fact they must – register a different nuance of spatial evocation and movement in every single square millimetre” Patrick Heron 1970

My favourite painting in the exhibition was this one:

I love his wobbly line work and the way the colour doesn’t go quite up to the lines and it made me think I’d love to try making animation that looks like this….

Lee Bul

The Lee Bul exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, was an experience. Fractured mirror surfaces, bright colours and monstrous body parts surround me the moment I walk in. The transgression of boundaries is the theme that seems to tie these diverse pieces together, as the exhibition text states:

“much of Lee bull’s work is concerned with the way that idealism or the pursuit of perfection – bodily, political or aesthetic – might lead to failure, or disaster.”

I see this first in Civitas Solis II – inspired by a utopian text “City of the Sun” by Italian writer Tommaso Campanella:

The installation is both beautiful and apocalyptic, the mirrors that line the walls and floor disorientate the viewer and reflect the cold whiteness of the hanging sculpture infinitely. Nothing alive remains in this City, it reminded me of fossilised remains, what what might once have been the bustling utopia of its title.

Hanging from the ceiling of the exhibition space and in glass cases along the walls, made of a variety of materials – was Lee Bul’s Cyborg series. These pieces are inspired both by classical Greek and Roman statues and Japanese anime.  Lee Bul seems to glory in the melting of boundaries between past and present, human and machine:

“Lee Bul is interested in what the figure of the cyborg – a transhuman hybrid of flesh and machine – can tell us about desire, our relationship to technology and culture attitudes towards the female body.”

In this she was inspired by Donna Harraway’s  1985 classic essay A Cyborg Manifesto, which is introduced by the author as “an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction.” We see this confusion of boundaries throughout Lee Bul’s work whether in the infinite reflections of a mirror maze or in a performance piece in which she wanders the city dressed in a monstrously androgynous costume of limbs.

As Donna Harraway goes on to argue:

“Work is being redefined as both literally female and feminized, whether performed by men or women. To be feminized means to be made extremely vulnerable; able to be disassembled, reassembled, exploited as a reserve labor force; seen less as workers than as servers; subjected to time arrangements on and of the paid job that make a mockery of a limited workday; leading an existence that always borders on being obscene, out of place, and reducible to sex.” (p38)

In a time of precarious (branded “flexible”) work and zero hour contracts, we see this dehumanisation of labour daily. But, can cyborg identities be an escape from the crushing force of capitalist white supremacist patriarchy?

Janelle Monae’s latest album, Dirty Computer, argues the case. In the dystopian world of her “Emotion Picture” – anyone who exists outside of the societal norms, – people she labels “free ass muthafuckers” are branded by the faceless officials as “dirty computers” who need to be “cleaned”. The cleaning involves having all memories of queerness, rebellion and joy drained out in order to make them into perfect, malleable workers. Monae celebrates the idea of being a dirty computer, of being gender non conformity, queerness, of black joy and of what she sings of as a “crazy classic life”. The album marks her explicit coming out as a  Dirty Computer herself, a queer black woman, who is going to fight back against the racist heteronormative american society she lives in.

But as well as anger the album is full of queer joy. At one point Janelle Monae dons a pair of vagina pants and has her girlfriend Tessa Thompson pose as her clitoris while she sings about the joys queer sex:

As Donna Harraway states: “Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves. This is a dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia.”(p.67)

 

Here are some more images from the Lee Bul exhibition:

 

 

 

 

 

*Haraway, Donna J.. Manifestly Haraway, University of Minnesota Press, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/warw/detail.action?docID=4392065. Created from warw on 2017-12-18 03:37:21.

Anemotions

In July, I worked with two children’s charities: the Ministry of Stories and Place2be to make a series of animated films with a group of nine to eleven year olds about feelings. I worked primarily with Michelle and Glerja who had lots of very strong ideas about their film. Together we worked to turn this flow of  “a girl with purple hair stuck in a box” and “and then she’s in Paris!” “Yeah and a crepe comes down from the sky!” “and there’s a dog!” “and they fall in love!” into a story board that we could work with. Over several workshops,  we finessed the story, wrote the script and designed the characters and backgrounds. It was really fun working with young people again, which is what I used to do before starting this masters, but it was difficult to marry the two worlds into one place. My instinct was to let the kids run wild with their imagination but simultaneously I am only too aware of my own limitations as an animator and was terrified of disappointing them.

Initial storyboard…

 

Script Editing…

Storyboard – second draft….

Background and character design

I’ll put the finished film up here as soon as it’s done!

Aaaaand I’m done!

I exported my children’s society project today, with animation, colour and sound – the full shebang! Although it’s definitely not a perfect film, it is the first one I’ve ever made so I’m feeling pretty proud.

Things I have learned about making a charcoal animation:

Mistakes are the best way to learn
Don’t be lazy, it’s always worth putting in that extra in-between
Don’t start colouring until you’ve decided how to do it, I ended up colouring a lot of shots twice 🙁
Don’t forget to check the frame rate in photoshop!
Use the resources around you, I got excellent advice from Steve, Shaun, Kimmo and Anita
Flying is much easier to animate than walking
I’m sure there’s more but that’s all I can think of for now!

 

Decolonising Drawing workshop

Two artists I really admire, Jacob V Joyce and Rudy Lowe, were running a workshop at the CSM library on decolonising drawing this week, so I went along. Jacob did a really interesting  presentation about their work which broke down some of the ways art can be used to decolonise, including:

  1. Reverse anthropology – for example their zine (above) describing and dissecting different types of white liberal
  2. Reclaiming repressed histories – telling stories that are purposefully ignored such as resistance to slavery, queer precolonial communities etc…
  3. Afro-futurism – imagining a different past and future. Things like Black Panther fit into this, i.e. what would Africa be like now if colonisation hadn’t happened.

How can we use our art to decolonise rather than embed current racist, imperialist systems? Jacob and Rudy describe the tools of decolonisation as:

  1. Representation: We need to show people who are not part of the mainstream, not as objectified tokens but as the heroes and tellers of their own narratives
  2. Research: we need to find out the histories that have been hidden from us and make the visible.
  3. Weaponise: not just to attack the status quo, although that is important but also to nourish and empower those whose voices need to be lifted up.

After the talks they got us to find images in the library that we wanted to decolonise and each of us made a zine responding to that image. I found the task difficult, but interesting as it forced me to ask myself some complicated questions that I as a white artist, need to be thinking about in all my work (and life in general actually).

This was the image I chose.  I think there were a few things that interested me. The whiteness and thinness of the bodies pictured is extreme, almost unreal. The covering up of genitals as androgyny or prudishness? Whose hands? Why are they there? What does the nail varnish do to make these hands more/less threatening? What is being shown and what hidden?

 

I decided to think about what it means to cover up sex markers, such as genitals in an image and how does the effect vary depending on what kind of hands, and what kind of bodies are being used to do it. So i cut lots of different hands from magazine and placed them on more found cut out bodies:

One image I found that was particularly disturbing was this photoshoot of a father and daughter at a purity ball, so i decided to show it being used to shake heteropatriarchal white supremacy over the cartoon people huddling below.

The final page of my zine was bodies free from the hands and the poisonous rain, I guess as a hopeful note:

The nightmare walk

So I decided the last scene of my short film would be a shot of my main character walking down a street from the back until he finally (almost) disappears into the distance but actually takes off superman style…

This proved so so much harder than I had envisioned and so I thought I’d log a few of my different attempts here to remind myself to never ever try this again…

I tried multiple times trying everything from tracing paper guides and mathematical formulas.

Here is my first finished attempt:

My second:

and third

Still not quite right but probably as good as I’m going to get it this time.  I actually managed this by watching this film again and again to catch the sequence where he walks into the park.

So turns out cheating is the answer?

 

More animating

So work on the Children’s society project goes on, I’m deep into the animating now and am finally getting the hang of the charcoal process, although I  definitely still have a long way to go. Things I have learned about charcoal animation:

  • Patience patience patience patience. Sometimes you have to do a shot four times, sometimes it doesn’t look any better on the fourth, do it again.
  • Using tracing paper and a lightbox as guides is extremely useful when animating straightforward, sometimes it is impossible without.
  • Walking sequences are a nightmare, why I have three in my film I’ll never know.
  • Soft charcoal, soft paper and soft putty rubber, all work a lot better than the harder alternatives.
  • Try to make the background boil consistently as you animate, otherwise it looks a bit weird.
  • It doesnt matter if the character doesn’t stay consistently the same size and volume but it does matter that he doesn’t look stiff, so remember to keep the lines fluid and not be too lazy to do an extra frame if that is whats needed.
  • Sometimes fill works better than lines, especially for transformations, metamorphoses.
  • A lot is forgiven when the animation is beautiful
  • Nothing else is noticed when it’s not
  • Give characters time to stop and think between movements

Here’s a not very good quality video of one of my favourite shots so far…

Queer theory at Camden Arts Centre

The Camden Arts Centre is currently hosting an exhibition by Sadie Benning, one of the founding members of the riot girl band Le Tigre. Alongside the exhibition they not only ran a three part queer theory evening course but also offered a bursary to go,  so I jumped at the chance.

The course was run by the amazing artist, author and educator Linda Stupart, who I have admired from afar for sometime, so I was excited to go meet them in person.  Linda started off by giving us a slide show about a huge variety of queer artists whose work involved collage. We talked about how collage itself was a queer medium because of the way it takes images out of their original context and often places them where they are not expected. With collage it is easy and accessible to create new bodies, new worlds and new realities. Some artists whose work Linda showed us:

    • Claude Cahun

  • Hannah Hoch

      • Wangechi Mutu

We talked about how queerness is realising the strangeness of the everyday. For example zebras in a zoo stand out, but in the wild they vanish into their natural habitat. Queers also are very visible on the street, but in the gay club they disappear. Whose camouflage then is the street, the everyday world we live in?

Then Linda gave us each a piece of queer theory to read, some essays, some articles, some short stories and some poems and asked us to make a collaged zine that responded to the piece.

I made this: