By Paul Taberham
I first came to know Dana’s work through his flicker films Wind, Power and Bicycle, all of which ingeniously create the impression of objects in motion through a flicker effect. On further exploration, I discovered Sink was not a one-trick pony. While his work features a defined style, he continues to push boundaries within it with quasi-narratives and an eccentric, deadpan humour. A distinctive balance is played between the formalistic and the personal/ autobiographical in his work.
Sink is the rarest of things: an experimental animator who doesn’t make creative compromises, but whose work appeals not only to those who are art-literate, but also to small children and undergraduates who are unversed in in the avant-garde. Testament to his broad appeal, Sink’s films have been screened at festivals across the North and South America, Russia, Europe and Asia, they have featured as official selections and competitions. His shorts have also been official Staff Picks on Vimeo, and have been seen on MTV and MSNBC.
Power (2017) by Dana Sink
PT: There is a lightness, restfulness and even a wholesome quality to your work which is quite unusual for experimental animation. Is that intentional?
DS: I am trying to hold on to my childhood or at least the innocent parts of it. I never really consider(ed) my work experimental animation, this category helps other people digest my art. I am thankful for this categorization, because I appreciate having a platform to share my vision. Additionally, it helps me explain what I am doing to help set the expectation. When I started on this artistic journey, I noticed that there was something slightly different about my work. I am trying to create something that holds little to no bias and I try to create something that doesn’t promote bias. That’s why I typically don’t show humans in most of my art.
PT: Can you expand on that a little? Including humans promotes bias in your art?
DS: I have always been hyper-aware of unintentional narratives when presenting art. But this risk is not even completely eliminated when I use balls to represent people. If I show a pink ball, someone could easily say, “Oh, that’s a female ball because it’s pink.” Regardless of what my intention is or isn’t, that’s a narrative that I should be at least a little aware of, as well as its possible impact on the piece of art.
PT: Some of your films feature narratives in an oblique way such as the Love Ball Trilogy, and Beyond the Ball. Can you say anything about how you approach storytelling?
DS: When I was a child hearing a story, whether it was animation, a movie, or a book, I always wanted to know what the story was leading up to the story, and what was the story leading up to that story, and so on. And then what happens after that story. Richard Linklater was always great at conveying the idea that a story never truly begins or ends, it’s just a portion of the bigger picture. The ball series has become something that is reflective of a particular time in my life. Perhaps a way of me working through emotions and/or anxieties.
Love Ball (2013) by Dana Sink
PT: Love Ball seems to mark a turning point in the evolution of your style. It is the first time you hit upon the white background with the enigmatic objects placed across the screen, which seem to serve some function, though it’s not always clear to what end. What led you to develop that approach?
DS: My paintings were very much about spatial relations, the golden ratio, and creating something that would be in sync with nature. While I wanted to create a sense of space and depth, I wanted to do that in a way that was different from my paintings. The idea of a space without boundaries ties very much into my interest in dropping the viewer into the middle of a story. Imagine pulling back a camera into an infinite landscape.
PT: Tell me more about the importance of the golden ratio, mathematics and nature in your animation and paintings.
DS: The golden ratio is something that have studied and something that has informed my work for 25 years. It’s interesting because I don’t represent figures very often in my art and my paintings are so mathematically and spatially oriented, that, in my opinion, they take on an interesting mechanical feel. Perhaps I am trying to create a less emotive experience for the viewer and trying to create the feeling that the viewer is a small, albeit important, piece in the bigger picture of life or the universe. The golden ratio is mathematically sequenced to tie all of nature together and is undeniable. It is the kind of thing that once you learn about it, you see it everywhere, so it is almost impossible for it to not sneak into my art. This could include the placement and angle of objects, as well this knowledge influencing the narrative.
Composition in Red and Green (2010) by Dana Sink. Oil on Panel, 70 x 76 cm
Locus Magnus (2010) by Dana Sink. Oil on Panel, 109 x 122 cm
Untitled (2009) by Dana Sink. Oil on Panel, 61 x 122 cm
PT: You describe your animations as “allegorical” on your website. Could you explain that?
DS: The ball series has become something that is reflective of a particular time in my life. A timeline and perhaps a way of me working through emotions. Love Ball was about finding my wife, Love Ball, Part 2 was about having a kid, Love Ball: Ball on Fire was the anxiety of ever losing my wife and daughter. Ball of Life is reflecting on what life would be like for my daughter without us or my life without my own parents. Wonder Ball is the discovery of how all things are connected, and Beyond the Ball is about how things aren’t always how they seem. I am in the process of fleshing out the next part of the story.
Love Ball: Ball on Fire (2014) by Dana Sink
PT: How important is it to you that the viewers interpret these stories as you conceived them, since they could otherwise be missed? Do you think viewers still might understand the idea on a deeper, unconscious level?
DS: I have no interest in people understanding anything more than an enjoyable experience. For those who want to take the time to pull back layers, there are many layers and symbols within each story. My first and foremost goal is to create a piece of art that is moderately engaging on any level, even on the simple level of “that was pretty cool.” I have faith in people to reflect and connect.
PT: To give readers a sense of how your work can be interpreted, could you pick out some particular freeze frames and explain the symbolism of the objects and events you had in mind?
DS: Image one shows a screen capture of Love Ball: Ball on Fire. This image is illustrating a grouping of balls, two adult balls and a child ball. In this animation the claw or jaw is the antagonist representing my anxiety.
Image One from Love Ball: Ball on Fire
Image two shows something tragic that has happened. The yellow ball and pink ball are destroyed, leaving the orange ball behind. In this animation the claw is the protagonist representing hope.
Image Two from Ball of Life
Image three shows a yellow and pink balloon floating upward while the orange ball passes them on mechanical device. In this scene the balloons represent the death of the yellow and pink balls and their ascension to the afterlife
Image Three from Ball of Life
PT: You show a willingness to drop (or ‘kill off’, as it were) objects and then start following others along the way. In Wonder Ball we begin by following a bubble that eventually pops, and then we follow a paper airplane that burns, and then a balloon that bursts, and so on. Beyond the Ball begins with one submarine-like object on a journey, which is completed by another submarine. Can you comment on this?
DS: Tragedy and loss are part of every day. But just because something is lost or dies on doesn’t mean the story ends.
GIF from Beyond the Ball (2017) by Dana Sink
PT: Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s film Der Lauf der Dinge (The Way Things Go) and the board game Mousetrap spring to mind when watching your ball films. Did they inform your style at all?
DS: Mousetrap was such a big part of my childhood. The concept of a Rube Goldberg type device has always been very present in my life. The idea of an unnecessary process to communicate something seemingly simple is such a grand metaphor for all the time we exhaust trying to do simple tasks. Humans love creating hoops to jump through.
Mouse Trap board game
Professor Butts and the Self-Operating Napkin (1931) by Rube Goldberg
PT: Do you think of the rolling balls and whimsical objects in your films as being in a universe of their own? Or placed there by humans? An abstract representation on human themes? Something else?
DS: In the very first animation in the ball series, Love Ball, a human hand comes in and drops a ball and starts off the entire ball series. And at the end of Love Ball: Part Two a baby/toddler hand drops the smaller ball in. The smaller ball represents a baby ball. It’s the baby ball that grows up and continues throughout the rest of the ball series.
Keeping the context of a human hand dropping the ball in, I feel as though the universe exists somewhere between on its own and being put there by something/someone else.
GIF from Ball of Life (2015) by Dana Sink
PT: How did becoming a parent change your artistic practice? It says on your website you create films now that your young daughter can relate to.
DS: Being a parent has made me more aware of my legacy and also the legacy I leave my family. I have always created art that I feel is accessible for anyone. Having a child next to me while I am creating inspired me to create something that could entertain at any age, and still fulfill me. After my daughter was born, I specifically transitioned into animation from painting as a way to keep my daughter away from harmful chemicals and pigments that I used while painting. Additionally, the chemicals were causing health issues for me, breathing specifically.
Abstract Animals (2020) by Dana Sink and Ivica Širanović
PT: Let’s discuss your flicker films. How did the flicker effect applied in WIND, Power and Bicycle come to you? Were you drawn to the idea of an audience wondering what they are looking at and why, and then having an audible “ahhh!” moment of revelation?
DS: I was sitting on my couch with my daughter watching Sesame Street and the theme was bicycle. I wanted to see if I could come up with an idea efficiently that consisted of a full, high, and complete concept, told very succinctly with a punch. There is this interesting British sensibility that I have fallen in love with. I feel like it’s born out of the Royal College of Art. There is this raw, pure, honest feeling. Right off the top of my head I think of Lizzy Hobbs and Peter Millard. Some of the artistic quirkiness that I see come from UK helped inspire this, I really started to push and explore the theme and concept with Power and more so with WIND. Each one is a building block to the next, which is really how all my art is.
PT: WIND seems to be motivated by the enigmatic idea that there is somehow a connection between wind and ballerina dancing. Could you comment on this?
DS: People connecting to the term wind (as to blow) likely has to do with the energy that wind creates compared to the energy of a dancer’s graceful, flowing movement. Like wind blowing, the dancer is invisible, but slowly forms in front of the viewers eyes not unlike wind blowing leaves in a whirl.
To be honest, part of my thought process was that, wouldn’t it be confusing to call something WIND. There are two pronunciations. One represents air moving and the other represents a dial turning or winding. Both of these ideas are very present in my animation WIND. The wind is blowing the flags and the dial is tuning (or winding) the radio noise at the end. It is mostly society that has connected this with the WIND of air moving. I am fine with this.
WIND (2019) by Dana Sink
PT: Your soundtracks are appealingly sparse. There will be pauses between sounds, without trying to fill the silence. Big, loud sounds rarely feature, they are normally small and modest. Is there something about the sounds that recur in your work like squeaks, pops, scrapes and tapping sounds which speak to you in a special way?
DS: They are sounds from my childhood, whether it’s the creaky playground, or bicycle, or the wind blowing, toys popping, I hope they bring memories and sparks of joy every time the ball pops out and surprises the viewer.
PT: While your films feature a clear, discernible style, there is also a flexibility between works. There’s a poem read out loud in Kepler’s Law. Some films feature music and others don’t. Beyond the Ball plays out like a video game. Abstract Animals is in stop-motion instead of 2D animation. Some are monochromatic, and others are colourful. Can you comment on the quest for variety within your defined aesthetic?
DS: I like the idea of someone recognizing my work. Style is an interesting term, word, and concept. Perhaps too abstract in concept. Trademark, maybe. The quiver in my line is like the stripe on the back of a zebra – meaning everyone has their own mark when they draw. So much of what I do is just what feels right. I feel as though I have three bodies of work happening simultaneously: one body of work would be the ball series, another is the flicker series, and the third is the more traditional (albeit unusual) humanistic stories. At times, I am not sure that the ball series and the flicker series are completely separate.
My quest for variety within my aesthetic has very much to do with there being a million answers to the same concept. I also really enjoy mentally being in these vast landscapes sprinkled with my invented doohickeys. It’s the lens I like viewing the world through.
Kepler’s Law (2018) by Dana Sink
PT: While there is a definite style which most viewers would associate with your work, there is no single ‘house style’ on your Vimeo page. Feets on Vacation isn’t an animation. NYC Trip is an animated documentary/ home video. Do you think of your films as one large oeuvre, or do you think of some works as being “serious” and others “for fun”?
DS: Good question. When I express myself, it’s a serious act of expression. They are not always 100% successful, sometimes they could be stronger, and sometimes they are silly and sometimes they aren’t. My drive to be creative is as great as my drive to breathe. I am very serious about breathing. I am also able to laugh while breathing. All of my art marks a specific moment of time, some and many of these themes I have returned to and will continue to return to.
PT: How did the dialogue for My Dog come about?
DS: It was a very freeform stream of conscious process. It really became a testing ground for some of the visual ideas and techniques behind Grandma. I made the piece on a weekend.
My Dog (2016) by Dana Sink
PT: Tell me about the context in which you made Grandma.
DS: Grandma was a product of some self-reflecting and the fact that other than a bunch of abstract ball animations, there was nothing for my daughter that conveyed how I felt about life. I kept having thoughts that would fill me with emotion. While thinking about these things I would start to cry, so I started writing them down. The entire process was filled with insecurity. Not only was I emotionally exposing myself, but I was getting ready to embark on my largest animated project. I also didn’t want it to be overly preachy, I also didn’t want it to be too sweet. I want a realness to everything. I wanted it to feel edgy enough that it still engaged my daughter and perhaps other people. So I really made it as a way to leave my daughter something that gave her insight on my view on life with the underlining message being the importance of love and patience.
Grandma (2019) by Dana Sink
PT: There is something very moving about the fact you used your relationship with your grandma as a catalyst by which to offer a broader theory of life. You touch on life’s big themes – love, death and mourning, kindness and cruelty, God, art, human fallibility. While the story is told in first person by you, your grandma (or rather, your relationship with her) remains the anchor that gives the film its roots, instead of making yourself the axis on which the film turns.
DS: Just to clarify, while the character shares a resemblance to me and even though it’s told in a first-person point of view, this story is not actually biographical. It is about messages I wanted to give my daughter, messages that I felt were important. There are parts of my life that are embedded in the story. I was picked on as kid/teenager and my relationship with my own grandma was rather complex. All the feelings and thoughts that I share are very real, but many of the circumstances that I present are fictional.
I show most of the characters face on, like they are reflecting the image of the viewer. Maybe to help solicit the thoughts we have while looking in the mirror.
The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is fascinating and complex. It’s the intersecting point of one person winding down their life adventure and another person just beginning theirs. If there is one scene that summarizes the short for me, It’s the scene of the vulture. The idea of someone running toward death (the dead deer), but then when life (the vulture) pops out, the main character runs away. Sadly, we tend to run away from life instead of confronting it. Part of confronting life for me is using mistakes as fertile ground for growth.
PT: Finally, who are your creative influences, in any medium?
DS: MC Escher’s interest in space and illusion of space.
Dr. Seuss’s interest in message and imagination.
Martha Colburn’s beautifully relentless vision.
Lee Krasner’s stolen vision.
Abramovic’s performance art.
Silvia Plath’s reflective poetry.
Alexander Calder’s playful mobiles and stabiles.
Brancusi’s sculptural shape simplification.
Renaissance painting and their interest in exploring space and perspective.
Hieronymus Bosch’s allegorically accurate depictions of society.
The Dada movement as a whole.
Hans Richter’s paintings and films.
My wife and daughter for providing solicited (and unsolicited) feedback.
Ellsworth Kelly and his shaped canvas paintings.
Harmony Korine and his just make it attitude.
Richard Linklater and his interest in showing how epic daily life is and showing us the story never ends.
Basquiat’s ability to turn urban life into painted jazz.
Lizzy Hobbs’ ability to express herself confidently and uninhibitedly.
Peter Millard’s ability to express himself seriously, while understanding life’s humor.
GIF from Power (2017) by Dana Sink
Dana Sink on the web:
©2020 Paul Taberham