Cosmogonical Cinema – Animation as a Way to Weld New Worlds

by Matt Turner

This essay was commissioned for the Edge of Frame Weekend 2018 and was first published in the EoF2018 programme brochure.

Still from A Long Dream (2017) by Hoji Tsuchiya

Traditional filmmaking has a fundamental limitation. It must start with reality. The images that can be created begin with what can be observed and recorded; filmmakers must use the extant in order to create something new. In animation – regardless of the tools and techniques being used – no such restriction applies. Animation begins from nothing and can become anything; the only limitations present are those that artists impose upon themselves. As displayed across the films in this Edge of Frame weekender, this offers a distinct, dramatic opportunity to the artists who are bold and resourceful enough to utilise it, the chance to disregard the limitations of this world and fully engage with the imaginative possibilities of another. With pen, brush, finger, tablet, camera, torch, tongue, any tool available, in fact, the artist working with ‘animation’ – a term as evocative (animate, [verb]: to bring to life) as it is inadequate – can visualise the impossible, creating their own spaces or distorting existing ones until they are no longer recognisable.

Extrapolate (2017) by Johan Rijpma

This world-building materialises in different ways. Two particularly explosive examples of the transformative potential of animation are films about distortions of the body, artists exploring the worlds that live beneath the flesh. Johan Rijpma’s Extrapolate (2017) begins simply, a filmed hand tracing a line on a grid. As the dots are connected, the image drains colour, beginning a flabbergasting series of intricate pen-drawn line work evolutions that see the same hand rapidly but fluidly metamorphose; a chain of warping visions of fibrous musculature and intertwined skeletal systems that describe the interiority of the body in grotesque, alien detail. The most minor thing – once deconstructed and reimagined – contains infinite, impossible complexity, it seems.

Soft Body Goal (2017) by Jaakko Pallasvuo

Jaakko Pallasvuo’s Soft Body Goal (2017) also warps bodies, pushing the contortion further. Celebrating the “multiplicity of our new identities”, the film features a series of amorphous, almost aqueous 3D animated semi-human characters wobbling uncannily in suspended space whilst the artist narrates his vision. In this world, electronic entities are freed of attachment to the human body, or even to physical space. Real life is limiting; freedom can be found in the “infinite choices in the virtual.”

PathExtrude (2016) by Brenna Murphy

Other films visualise these virtual spaces, making the invisible digital world of dots and zeroes material. Brenna Murphy’s PathExtrude (2016) blends classically psychedelic influences with imagery familiar to an early-modern internet era, mapping brilliantly iridescent patterns over mutating computer-designed maze-like structures. Luminous and labyrinthian, it pairs well with Robert Darroll’s similarly ancient/futuristic medley, Feng Huang (1988). In it, a troupe of turquoise, green and blue hand-drawn cell-animated shapes, swirls and silhouettes dance against the electronic grid; transporting iconography from the real world into an imagined virtual dimension.

Feng Huang by Robert Darroll (1988)

Longueurs d’ondes (2013) by Sabrina Ratté

Equally mesmeric, Sabrina Ratté’s Longueurs d’ondes (2013) teleports a dancer’s recorded movements into a portal conjured from distorted video synthesisers; a pink figure pirouetting hypnotically alongside shimmering synth waves that illuminate the black void she lives in. Hold Me I’m Yours (2018) by Natalia Stuyk may be even more entrancing – a computer-garden of violet and lilac flora, spiralling and blooming in a soft, sonorous digital space.

Some artist’s create their own universes, showing almost hostile disregard for the laws of this one. In Ted Wiggin’s Lo (2017), pixelated lifeforms – glowing, opalescent animal entities that pop like chalkboard etchings against the black background – shift around space and time. The booming, droning accompaniment imbues a sense that the artist is delivering some important, unknowable message – an epiphany transplanted into a dream.

Lo (2017) by Ted Wiggin

Animals appear too in Julian Gallese’s comforting creature-feature Menagerie (2014), in which richly detailed panoramic scenes scrawled in black fineliner slide one into another, and a beast-world is imagined as a global community of anthropomorphic friends. Also in Steve Reinke and Jessie Mott’s utterly bizarre animal nightmare Eat Your Secrets (2017), where strangely scribbled critters talk mystically about “the horrors of being alive” over psychotropic backgrounds that blur and transmogrify. A world of pure, unchained chaos. Animation as an apparition implanted in the audience’s collective unconscious.

Menagerie (2014) by Julian Gallese

Yet many films retain a sense of this world, either by depicting it within a realm of familiarity, or by using earthly materials or resources as the basis for their creations. In the poetic memory-segments that make up Mehdi Shiri’s Still Life (2016), foregrounded familiar objects shift beyond recognisability, whilst a colour popping digi-painted cubist canvas mutates behind them. Jane Aaron’s Set in Motion (1986) sees the artist wrapping domestic objects in pastel coloured paper to add a joviality to the ordinary. As dancing furniture makes visual music, the most rudimentary static scene is converted into something more magically elastic.

Still Life (2016) by Mehdi Shiri

Set in Motion (1986) by Jane Aaron

Ben Rivers’ Things (2014) achieves the same in a different way. In the film, a hodgepodge of personal possessions (objects, sounds, clips, photographs, readings, recordings and other miscellanea that the artist calls “clues to a life”) are snapped-clicked together in a schizo-associative montage that creates both juxtapositions and synergies; before a likeness of the artist’s home is rendered as a CG environment, placing these materials within their context and showing how a whole world can easily be found in the small things.

Hoji Tsuchiya’s stunning, hyper-vibrant A Long Dream (2017) is as labelled – an extended reverie of balletic wide-panel stop-frame scenarios, a multivariate, multi-format collage of composite characters competing for screen-space amongst the elaborate, imaginative canvases that burst into being. Paper plastered over paper to make myriad somethings out of nothing, transitions that travel through time; in this film as much as in Georges Schwizgebel’s Jeu (2006), the artist’s hand remains very much present – a materiality of scratches, scribbles and scrawls, the instrument as element. Jeu starts straightforwardly, with a countdown where each number morphs into the next. From here, a series of transmutations of increasing complexity unfold, Schwizgebel’s helter-skelter landscape paintings expanding and contracting into endlessly shapeshifting Russian Doll patterns, a gyrating jigsaw demonstrating the interconnectedness of all things.

A Long Dream (2017) by Hoji Tsuchiya

Less grounded, other artists favour the creation of entirely abstract realms. Sophie Michael’s beguiling, deeply satisfying 99 Clerkenwell Road (2010) consists entirely of coloured circles floating against a thick black. Dilating with soft-diffused multicolour light, they could be a hanging mobile as seen by a new born baby, or as the planets looked at through a telescope. Laura Kraning’s peculiar Meridian Plain (2017) produces a similar effect, repurposing found imagery (of origin that is not immediately revealed) and editing it in such a manner that the contrasts produce specific rhythms, accumulatively dislocating and electrifying. In the film, a strange new world—one that’s remote and rarely seen—is reinterpreted onscreen.

Excerpt from Meridian Plain (2017) by Laura Kraning

Lauren Cook’s Trans/Figure/Ground (2016) is more abstract still. Described by the artist as “a film about uncanny valleys and the space between”, it features cycles of painted 16mm film, scratchy, melting magma-red patterns that have been further distorted with digital glitching. As the images flash by – instantaneous underworldly mirages much like the spacescapes of Meridian Plain – the screen appears genuinely ablaze. It is an elemental film, igneous even, a whole world made from nothing but paint and pixel. Animation begins from nothing and can become anything.

Trans/Figure/Ground (2016) by Lauren Cook

© 2018 Matt Turner

Matt Turner is a writer and programmer based in London. He has written for outlets such as MUBI Notebook, Sight & Sound, Little White Lies, Variety, BOMB Magazine and The Brooklyn Rail, works for Open City Documentary Festival, and runs the experimental film screening series LOST FUTURES.