As a Ru Paul fan, I was very excited for this bit of the term – it wasn’t quite as glamorous as I expected but I’m pretty pleased with my two pieces of lipsync:


Stuart Hall and Black Panther

Danai Gurira in Black Panther


Stuart Hall starts chapter one of Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices with the question:

How does the concept of representation connect meaning and language to culture? (p.15)

He begins by defining the concept of representation itself in its broadest sense: the use of one thing to stand for another. He argues that language is a primary example of this process where letters, which represent sounds, make up words, which represent things: both tangible and conceptual. One thing is not represented by the same word across languages and cultures, just as different languages and cultures have different collections of concepts and how to understand them. Because of this, representation can never be an exact science, one thing can never exactly map onto another without relying on context and the knowledge of both writer and reader, speaker and listener. Stuart Hall, therefore, emphasises the importance of recognising that language creates a constant “sliding of meaning” (p.33) where meaning is being determined by a combination of the writer’s intention, the reader’s understanding and the historical and cultural context in which the exchange is happening.

Hall breaks representation down as the process which links together THINGS (ie objects, people, animals), CONCEPTS (ie ideas, abstractions) and SIGNS (ie words, pictures, symbols) – concluding that:

“Representation is the production of meaning through language” p.28

So representation is a process, one in which meaning is constantly being negotiated in order to enable communication, however inexact it might be. BUT the slipperyness of language is not the only complication in this process, another huge factor is power.

Foucault argues that the way we interpret language is in fact based on “relations of power, not relations of meaning.” (quoted p.43). Hall explains that knowledge does not exist in a vaccuum, it is instrumentalised and the process by which this happens affects reality. He gives the example of crime: if you think crime is mainly a result of drugs and addiction, you use the police and prisons to come down hard on drug users and dealers, however if you think it is mainly a result of social and economic inequality you draft legislation to change these conditions and fund services that help to alleviate them. These two approaches will have very different results, even though they began as a response to the same problem. Crime itself is complicated by the fact that it is defined by law, which itself is written by those in power. In the past it has been legal for white people to own black slaves, if they tried to escape – this was a crime – now it is owning slaves that is considered a crime, and the law attempts to help free those in modern day slavery. The definition of a crime is dependant not only on historical context but also on who commits it, for example white drug users in the USA have historically received much lighter sentences than black drug users.

Therefore having control of knowledge, and it’s interpretation gives you a huge amount of power – and this creates what Foucault calls “regimes of truth“:

Each society has its regime of truth, it’s general politics of truth, that is, the type of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true. (quoted p.44)

Those who have power and social capital –  have a huge amount of control when it comes to making their own discourse “function as true” – from legislation, to control of the media, to education the “regime of truth” is consistently upheld. Richard Dyer, explores this further in Chapter Four. He describes how those in power can make their own values and beliefs appear as objective truth:

“The establishment of normalcy (ie what is accepted as “normal”) through social and stereotypes is one aspect of the habit of ruling groups… to attempt to fashion the whole of society according to their own world view, value system, sensibility and ideology. So right is this world view for the ruling groups that they make it appear (as it does to them) as “natural” and “inevitable” – for everyone – and in so far as they succeed, they establish their hegemony.” (quoted p.259)

The idea of what is “normal” or “natural” is such a huge part of our socialisation that it takes many of us years to question such concepts, and often only when we are forced to stand outside of them. This “normalcy” is hugely damaging to those who do not fit within it’s narrow parameters. Because to deprive a human of social recognition denies their existence. Judith Butler expresses this in Undoing Gender:

“If I am a certain gender, will I still be regarded as part of the human? Will the “human” expand to include me in it’s reach? If I desire in certain ways will I be able to live? Will there be a place for my life, and will it be recognizable to the others upon whom I depend for social existence?”

Without seeing ourselves in the society presented to us at school, on television, in books, by our families, how do we know we exist? And if we don’t how do we survive?

I was thinking about all of these ideas when I went to see Black Panther, the new blockbuster from Marvel, last night. There has been much hype in recent weeks about the representation of the black and african community in this film. Black Panther has an almost entirely black cast, there is not one but three powerful black female leads, the costumes are by black designers who have done huge amounts of research into the cultures from which they come, african rituals and ways of speaking are showcased and celebrated throughout the movie.

The film is set in the legendary country of Wakanda, an African nation that is the richest and most technologically advanced in the world but hides itself beneath the illusion of a third world country. The argument of the film is between those in Wakanda who wish to isolate themselves and remain safe in their comfort and riches and those who call upon a wider idea of pan-blackness in which they should not remain hidden while their communities outside Wakanda face ceaseless oppression. This complex representation of blackness, which covers many different cultures and communities across the globe is in stark contrast to the stereotyped usually lone black character in most mainstream hollywood releases.

This film reverses the assumptions of white supremacy – our society’s current “regime of truth” – in which African peoples are considered “backwards” or “primitive” and rely on the aid sent by “white” “advanced” countries. The film sets forth a different idea of “normalcy” one in which female warriors armed with spears defend technologically as yet unimagined, in which African tribespeople are the most powerful, rich and knowledgeable in the world, in which they have both the power and the weapons to overthrow and destroy their oppressors. Obviously, this is fantasy, Wakanda does not exist,  imagining it exposes the lies and stereotypes behind the “regime of truth” we are socialised into and that is consistently sold to us throughout our lives.

Could representations of other worlds, of other ways of living and being create a possibility for a broader definition of what it means to be human and how we live in the world? Imagining these possibilities seems, perhaps, a good place to start.

*Quotes from Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, Edited by Steven Hall, Open University, 1997

Green Screen Workshop

Video I made yesterday in our green screen compositing workshop, had a lot of fun doing this, even though there are a hundred things I want to change and add and do differently, but I guess that’s all part of it!

Please notice the subtle sparkling of the stars – that took me aaaaages!

Claymation aka most fun ever

Here’s a couple of takes of the same scene where I was working on facial acting. I kind of wish I could merge the two together as there are bits I like from both, but sadly that’s not how stop motion works, so I’ll put them both up for now!

Here’s a new version with some added after effects and hand drawn background:


January round up

Blogging has been a bit lax in 2018 so far; January, as everyone knows, is a tough nut and I’m very glad it’s over. That said I did do some pretty cool things last month that I’ve been wanting to blog about, so here goes.

Modigliani exhibition at the Tate Modern

I went on a Friday afternoon and it was PACKED, I thought for a minute of turning around and leaving again but I persevered. Once I got out my little sketchbook and started drawing, the crowds seemed to melt away a little and I was able to get a good look at the paintings. It was particularly interesting to see these after having done a lot of life drawing recently because I could really see how Modigliani was tackling the problems that beset me every Thursday night in life class. Thinking about the ways he keeps the proportions and creates volume while also capturing the aliveness and individuality of the model was really useful. One of my favourite paintings was Caryatid 1913-14  see below for the original and my sketch of it, I love the simplicity of the hands and feet and how he conveys volume and shading using the width of the line.

I also loved his portraits of Jean Cocteau and Barnowski – my copies below. The androgynous dandyism particularly drew me and made me think about how lines express gender – what signifyers are we looking for when we state, “that is a man” or “that is a woman”? And what are we missing?

While I was drawing the nude below I enjoyed listening to two older women having a conversation about the fact he had painted her pubic hair and the various ways in which they like to maintain their own bushes. Eavesdropping on conversations while drawing, and writing down the juicy bits is one of my favourite things to do.



Peeping Tom: Moeder – London International Mime Festival

The other day, I was describing what it’s like to do animation to my friend Sara: how you start by observing a movement, watching it again and again, how you break it down into it’s constitutent parts and exaggerate each one before putting it back together again to create the illusion of action or feeeling. She immediately said, it’s just like mime! Sara went to mime school for two years, so I trust her. We decided to go see some together and her mime friends recommended Peeping Tom, a Belgian dance company that happened to be performing at the Barbican for the London International Mime Festival.

The show was in the biggest Barbican theatre and it was almost sold out, I had no idea that mime was so popular! In his Guardian review Matt Trueman describes Moeder (Mother) as follows:

Paintings swallow people whole. Sketches bleed. Sculptures spring to life. On the gallery walls, madonnas routinely disappear, replaced by self-portraits of men. Art has a life of its own. […] Set in a shifting, amorphous art gallery with white walls and windowed rooms, it shows us a strange spectrum of motherhood. Pregnant women flail around in high heels. Cleaners splosh in flooded rooms. A coffee machine becomes a lover and a child lives her whole life in an incubator. All the way through, birth jostles with death; illness with care; machines with human creation.

The movement in Moeder was disturbing, characters constantly flailed and fell, tipping over on their insanely flexible limbs, unable to stand. Sometimes characters convulsed for minutes at a time while live sound effects of smashing glass were amplifed throughout the huge theatre. We were in the top seats of the upper circle (the only affordable ones) and I longed to be a little nearer the action to see how they were doing these things with their bodies, but at the same time I wanted to run away from the horror and pain that they were embodying. It made me think about how in animation we so often fall back on movement cliches (sadness is curled up in a ball, happiness arms wide), so seeing something totally new: grief forcing people into near impossible backbends like in Moeder – it hits you so much more forcefully and effectively than if they had curled forward. I want to start thinking about this more when I am animating.

Philip Glass’ Satyagraha at the English National Opera

As part of the ENO project that the second years did in the autumn term, we got free tickets to go and see the dress rehearsal of Philip Glass’ Satyagraha. It started at 9.30 am and so it was a bit of a jolt out of my normal routine to sit down for three hours of opera on a weekday morning, (to be honest, opera is outside of my routine at pretty much anytime.) I learnt as the show started that modern opera is not the dramatic arias and solos that the genre brings to mind but rather the music is a constant that washes over you blending from one piece into another without any seeming break. This really pulls you into the show’s world, in this case a world of corrugated iron and newspaper puppets where everyone moved very slowly and you were never entirely sure what was going on. The opera seemed to be a procession of ‘Great Men’ including Tolstoy, Ghandi and Martin Luther King who seemed to fade in and out of each other’s stories with no clear reason. That said the set, puppets and staging were beautiful and the slow exaggerated poses again made me think about new ways to build on my characters’ body language in my animation.


Finally, and hands down the best thing I saw in January was Coco, Pixar’s new animated feature film about a little boy in Mexico who goes to the land of the dead in search of his great great grandfather’s blessing to become a musician.

The story is beautifully constructed so that even though it sometimes gets devilishly complicated it never leaves you behind. The colours are just so so beautiful, the land of the dead is entirely neon, which makes me ridiculously happy:

And of course, in classic Pixar fashion, Coco pulls at your heart strings, with it’s themes of death and grief, family and friendship – and I was loudly sobbing by the end. Finally I love the face of the great great grandma: