By Edwin Rostron
We Are Having A Personal Experience (2014) by Ashley Wick
Ashley Wick is an artist who makes vivid, heartfelt and joyfully strange animations that celebrate the unconscious and find the metaphysical intertwined with the absurd. Her films are short and usually presented as loops within her installations, often in conjunction with sculpture, painting and performance. Poetic narratives and rhythmic language underpin her animations, in the form of songs or spoken texts. She combines poetry and painting to articulate themes of vulnerability, love, longing, natural phenomena, and fear, with a predilection for disembodied body parts, animals, and insects.
Currently based in Alaska, Ashley has exhibited throughout Philadelphia and New York in venues such as Fleisher Ollman Gallery, Marginal Utility, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Museum, NADA NY, SPRING/BREAK Art Show, Kunstraum LLC, and Bull and Ram Gallery. Ashley was a recipient of the Fleisher Wind Challenge, the Linda Lee Alter Award for painting, and an emerging artist grant from the John Anson Kittridge Fund.
OH MY Goat (2017) by Ashley Wick
EoF: Can you give a bit of biographical background about yourself?
AW: I am originally from Nebraska. I attended the Kansas City Art Institute (BFA 2009), The New York Studio School (2008), and The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (2013). I did not grow up in an artistic household, but my family always supported my endeavors by taking me to art museums locally and while traveling. I’ve always identified as an artist and it makes me very happy that I’ve been able to spend my life surrounded by artists, and creative thinkers. I can’t imagine life any other way.
Safe In My Cave (2015) by Ashley Wick
EoF: How did you begin working with animation?
AW: I began working with animation while working on my undergraduate degree. I started out in painting and I would dream of my paintings and drawings moving and talking. While I would work on my paintings, I would imagine the conversations, grunts, twitches, and sounds that my characters would make and I found that much more interesting than the painting process and final product. I became uninterested and frustrated with presenting stand alone images because I always envisioned a backstory and a future to the images. And so, I began to make cut paper and pen and ink animations. A couple years later, when I first started graduate school, I began experimenting with painted animation.
TO GET RID OF THE LINE OF INFLUENCE (2014) by Ashley Wick
EoF: What is it about the medium of animation which attracts you?
AW: I love how animation explores the passage of time and how stop-motion animation specifically reveals the inherent awkwardness present in all life through fluid yet slightly jittery and clumsy movement. There is truth within vulnerable movements and moments that I am attracted to and am always thinking about. I also love how animation can push the boundaries of reality and explore the absurd. With animation, the absurd can be described through visual metaphor which is the most compelling for me. In my own animation I explore themes of vulnerability, love, longing, natural phenomena, and fear – all facets of life that I believe are best represented within a metaphorical context.
Installation shot from I Lost My Head by Ashley Wick at Marginal Utility, Philadelphia, 2015
EoF: How do you feel your animations fit within your wider practice of sculpture, installation, sound and other forms?
AW: By creating installation and sculpture, it allows me to bring the animations into an immersive space. My goal is to bridge reality and the psyche within an installation. It often gets weird, and I like it like that because it reflects the strangeness of life. It is strange to think of life on a micro and macro level. We are on a giant spinning orb in the middle of nowhere and we are also giving birth, loving, dying, crying, etc…
Ear God (2015) by Ashley Wick
EoF: How might you describe your animation process, the journey from initial idea to end result, in terms of the processes you employ and the way you develop and plan (or not) the work? How does this fit into the development of an installation that might feature the film?
AW: I don’t have a direct process for creating my animations. Sometimes they start with an image, and other times start with a sound. In my sketchbooks I keep track of words or phrases that hook me and translate into a visual form and from there the birth of an animation begins. I love exploring words and the relationships they have with language, sound, and the people who make them. I think the way our lips purse and swivel to make words and sound is often more evocative than the meaning of the words. Humans create languages as a form of communication based on specific structures, and often our innate abilities to create non-verbal language through pure non-associative sounds and movements is seem as primitive. Humans are very concerned with making sense but I think we have a lot to learn about ourselves from from our instinctual motions, sounds, and non-sense.
Installation shot from Things Are Risky, Baby by Ashley Wick. Photo Credit: Samuel Morgan Photography for Spring/Break Art Show
EoF: Do you see your films primarily as works in their own right or as parts of an installation while you are making them? How important is it to you that people experience your films within the context of the installation / gallery?
AW: Good question, and one that I am always thinking about. Creating sculptures and installations allows me to fulfil my need to play with scale, tactility, and immersion in a way that animation does not. However, the two can (and have) existed on their own. Usually, the sculptures that I create have a performative quality to them. They are meant to invite the viewer into them / onto them / around them, thus becoming the performer that animates the space. I think that a lot of people are uninterested by video work when they see it in a gallery, or they are afraid of the time commitment or they are self conscious about watching the entire video or not. In creating an immersive space, my intentions are to lure the viewer into the space, and pull them in with just enough interest that they become willing to put on some headphones and give the animations a shot.
Installation shot from Nature Is Natural by Ashley Wick, an Installation of painted animations embedded in papier mache sculptures at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 2013.
EoF: Can you talk a bit about the role of voiceover in your work, and the relationship of your words to the images in your work? Do you write outside of your visual art – as an end in itself? Are you interested in poetry – if so which poets’ work do you find an affinity with?
AW: I am very interested in words as sounds and how the sounds recycle back into the meaning. I am interested in the way our bodies and lips move when we make sounds and how they generate meaning in spoken language paired with body language. I do not consider myself a poet or writer, but I am always writing and thinking about words. I try to be very direct, intentional, and straight-forward with the words that I use in my animations, similar to the way a child might use words. I believe children are wizards of communication and language and their modes of expression are full of so much wonderment and rawness that is immensely honest and mystical.
I usually don’t write as a means to an end itself, but I am starting to experiment with this a little more. I’ve made some small books with words and pictures, and I am trying to build up the confidence to explore writing as a means to an end and not always reliant on visual accompaniment.
My animations are structured in short loops, which are dependent on cadence, sound, and structure. They are composed of repeating phrases or words that develop new meaning with each cycle. Applying a poetic and often metaphorical language to my animations, the variable nature of meaning is probed through repetition and rhythm.
All of my voiceovers are my own recorded voice that I modify by either slightly slowing down or speeding up. The voice ends having a veil that tilts it from recognition of coming from a specific person or place.
Writers that I look to for inspiration are Italo Calvino, Julio Cortazar, Michael Bulgakov, and William Blake. I am inspired by the absurd, whimsical, magical realistic qualities of these writers. I am also deeply influenced by music and the marriage between language and instrumentation an rhythm.
Eyeballs and Aeroplanes (2014) by Ashley Wick
EoF: Have any other animators’ work inspired or influenced your own?
AW: I love the works of animators Nathalie Djurberg, Kirsten Lepore, Jennifer Levonian, Jan Švankmajer, the Brothers Quay, William Kentridge, René Laloux (Fantastic Planet, Les Escargot, Gandahar), Gerald Potterton (Heavy Metal). I love these particular animators because they explore the qualities of animation that I love best – transforming and bending structures of reality, and using animation as a means to explore the psyche through of stream of consciousness storytelling.
Surface Tension (2014) by Ashley Wick
EoF: Are you working on any new projects at the moment?
AW: I recently moved to a small community on the Bering Sea in Alaska, and I’ve been spending my time out in the wilderness recording my voice and writing while I pick berries. Usually I work on writing and animation simultaneously, but I’m taking a different approach because I am trying to soak up the dwindling daylight hours by being as present and focused as I can be. I’ve been very inspired by my new community and landscape and I am relishing in these moments of intensity and newness and am not yet sure how these experiences will synthesize into new projects.
The World Is Dead (2015) by Ashley Wick
© Edwin Rostron 2017