By Edwin Rostron
Karolina Glusiec is a Polish artist based in the UK. Her practice is rooted in drawing, which she has extended and expanded into a number of forms including animation, flipbooks, video and mechanised drawings. Her work suggests moments recalled, fragments of memories and dreams. It frequently addresses the inability of drawing to recreate reality, while at the same time capturing the hazy and uncertain qualities of remembered images and events. Her approach to animation is direct, instinctive and personal, and as she says in the interview below, her films avoid neat fictional narratives and characters in order to focus on ‘everyday life and everyday life activities, the general perception of how things are’. Karolina’s animated drawings convey the texture and feeling of these everyday moments as percieved through memory, articulating their ambiguity and incompleteness in wavering pencil or charcoal lines.
Velocity (2012) by Karolina Glusiec
Karolina’s RCA graduation film Velocity won the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2012, and has been screened in many festivals all over the world, recently earning her the best female director award at Vienna Independent Shorts. Her new piece Out of Sight, a co-commission by Animate Projects and PEER, can be seen at PEER in London from January 16 to March 8 2014.
EoF: Can you give a bit of biographical information about yourself?
KG: I was born in Lublin, Poland in 1986. I spent most of my life in Siennica Nadolna which is a small village in south-east of Poland. I studied Audiovisual Communication at the Graphic department of AHE in Łódź. I spent 6 months in Falmouth as a part of exchange scholarship programme and then went back to Poland again. A year later I moved to London and started an amazing period of random jobs in factories and restaurants and then studied at the RCA.
EoF: What does drawing mean to you? What led you to extend drawing into making animated films?
KG: Drawing can be very simple and very immediate, it helps me not to forget and helps me to get ideas and thoughts out of my head, it helps me to unwind and to communicate as well.
I’m not a very good speaker at all and when I want to talk about something, I hardly ever use any difficult words or sentences, I just cannot. So my drawing most of the time is very simple and immediate. I think that drawing is without a doubt what I love the most. I think I always drew a lot. I find it very natural and at the same time a very everyday, plain activity, just like cleaning your room or doing some physical excersise or going for a walk or going to do your grocery shopping. That’s what makes it fascinating, it’s just very simple.
Few Quiet People & MIllieu L’Acephale – Selected Works (Teaser, 2013) by Karolina Glusiec
I always wanted to make animated films but as I lived in a very small village that was a bit far away from everything, I thought that it would take me ages to ever get somewhere close to the point where I would be able to learn it, I wasn’t even thinking about applying to an animation course at all. It all seemed too far for me at that time. So, yeah, I thought that the best way for me would be to apply to the graphics course and do a lot of drawing. At the audiovisual communication course we were supposed to use cameras and make films. When it came to one of the first assignments I didn’t have anything to film with at all. I made some cut-out silhouettes and photographed some images of them with a digital still-frame camera, which I still use. I made a tripod by taping the camera to the pile of books and to my desk as well – it’s always good to have some tape handy. I thought that it would be something more like a draft but it turned out that I can make animated films that way, and then I realised that it is not that difficult, even though I hadn’t learned any animation techniques and principals then. So, I started drawing and photographing. Later on I encountered many people trying to encourage me to make films in a ‘proper’ way, using computers and digital stuff, which I did for a while but it’s simply not me.
I prefer to make films the same way as I draw, so what I animate looks more like an extended drawing, not like a film with a beginning and an end (even though I work on the film structure of my works too). I think that I tend to make stories without storytelling or films without any main characters, but I just find it more natural to work this way as it brings it closer to everyday life and everyday life activities, the general perception of how things are. I’d really like to be able to depict how things look like and how I see them. I’m fascinated with photography but my pictures are terrible. They look as if they were made by someone else when I view them, I cannot really explain it, but this is how it looks like. When I draw, I feel more in control of things and at the same time more at ease with the tools and the technique. It’s probably why I make animated films that are literally just moving drawings really.
I think that drawing reality is closer to the reality, the unstaged, than photographs sometimes. The unstaged and the mundane, the image that does not imitate another image but just is as it is. I think that animation and drawing make me feel close to depicting life and what I imagine as life drawing, which is not drawing a 30 minute pose which is staged and never really happens in a real life situation.
Stara Rzeka “Cień Chmury nad Ukrytym Polem” (album teaser, 2013) by Karolina Glusiec
EoF: A lot of your work seems to deal with the relationship between drawing and memory. What is it that interests you about this relationship?
KG: As I have already mentioned in the previous paragraph, I am a terrible photographer, I hardly ever take photos and they look nothing like what I really see. It’s funny when I go somewhere, for instance, somewhere abroad and I never take pictures because I am very busy staring at things. Just looking, seeing, experiencing where you are. It’s interesting to think about what you saw some time ago and obviously have no photographic proof of, so you challenge yourself to draw it. It’s great. Sometimes or most of the time it’s a failure – creating an incomplete image of something that you saw, and at the same time it’s the image of what you saw and the proof that you really saw it. To me it seems that nowadays, when it’s so easy to take pictures with your phone or with your ipod or anything, you can always say ‘hey, I saw this and I will show you the picture in a minute, I need to find it, it’s in my cellphone…’
We’re grabbing pictures of things and taking them as our own, often not looking at them. It often happens that we don’t remember how the things we saw look like because we were so busy trying to photograph them and then rushing to photograph the new ones and the new ones. Looking and staring at things takes time. Recollecting these images takes time too. Drawing them sometimes takes time too. I don’t want to rush. I like to have time to look.
Another thing about photography is the realness – I wrote my disertation on portrait, erasing and family representation in photography – I think it’s a very fascinating subject, photographs in our family albums are made for showing. We all know that often some pictures we own are far from the ‘real’, everyday image of things, but they are often the only proof of someone’s existence or a proof of that something happened somewhere.
The relationship between drawing and memory is very related to this point of interest I think. I somehow always wanted to create the real image of things, how we see them at the moment or how we remember them at a particular moment. Try to draw a portrait of someone that you love now and tell me how it’s like – you may be seeing them every day but the picture may look rubbish and incomplete, but that’s how it really is – honest and true. This is what you own and this is the representation of memories that you own. Not a photograph that is a representation of the moment and the memories of the… camera lens probably.
December 2011 – December 2012 (13 drawings from the memory) by Karolina Glusiec
EoF: In Velocity the voiceover talks about the inability of a particular drawing of a memory to convey the memory to someone else. In Velocity and also the project ‘December 2011 – December 2012’, the addition of words or text gives context and significance to the images beyond what would be possible on their own. I wondered how you felt about using spoken or written words with your images.
KG: Adding the voice/text to the drawings in my films/works, it’s ‘labelling’ the images and just telling what the images really are – usually something really simple, no metaphor, no exaggerating, not showing off. It’s somehow what I want the drawings to be. I used to be very conscious about aesthetics and the look of the films or images but nowadays I’m against it. I don’t know if it’s because when I was working on Velocity I experienced quite big problems with my eyesight that led me to change my working process and stop using a lightbox for animating and seek alternate methods which would enable me to carry on animating. It all led me to coming back to the basics and doing things as you can do them at that moment, without overcomplicating anything. I think that using words helps me to get the images in order, to structure and show things how they are: ‘hey, this is not a metaphor for something, this is something very simple…’
EoF: I am interested in your decision to use a male English actor for the voiceover in Velocity. Can you say something about this decision and how you feel about the way it affects the film?
KG: OK. When I started working on Velocity I just wanted to draw. Draw, draw, draw. I could not wait. Just wanted to draw, not making any storyboards or animatics etc. Just draw. Had a tough summer before starting working on the film, so I just wanted to start drawing and forget about it all. We had a scriptwriting workshop at the RCA at the beginning of the first term and you can imagine how I felt about WRITING then. Oh man. What I wrote was a list of images that I wanted to draw, in a particular order, just as I wanted to show it all in the film. It was a list of mainly single words, like House. Grass. Railway track. Block of flats. Grass. Sky. Etc.
It all became my script, which was just the list of images I had in my mind. I tried to experiment with them; at the beginning I did not intend to use any narration at all, but I used a computer voice (like the applications that read the time to you out loud or the internet voice sythesizers, which are quite fun). Personally, I don’t like exaggeration in narration, I’m not into it at all. I wanted the voice to be as de-personalized and flat as possible, because I wanted the image to contain all the emotion and the essence of the film.
I was lucky to find Dougie Hastings and I was really impressed how he managed to work with this text. I just thought before that, that it would be a nightmare for anyone to read it all in such a flat manner and that he would find it unbearable, but he did great!
Etamski / Penkalla – The Slip (Music video , Latarnia Records 2013) by Karolina Glusiec
EoF: You seem to manage to extend the spontaneity and direct nature of drawing very successfully into the potentially laborious process of animating. Can you say a bit about why this is important to you and how you manage to do it? Can you describe your working process to create a film?
KG: I usually have some images and structure in my head when I start working, so I write down some little lists of what I want to draw, or most often I just draw some images on separate A4 papers and then, after a couple of days of drawing like that, I pick the particular drawings that I extend into shots or scenes. That’s how it is really. I’m really into making a short story short. I like to have multiple short sequences and play a bit with them, changing the order, the structure of the entire film or creating very short, sometimes couple of seconds long films that I may extend or I may not.
I like Wire and Guided by Voices because they are very prolific bands that created some records that contain tracks that are 20 seconds short and they are still great pieces of music. Also the records are often very rough-sounding but at the same time not over-complicated and can be a start of something rather than an end-result of something, yet you come up with a 40 minute album with 45 tracks, isn’t it great? It’s funny, but the way the music is composed and performed sometimes makes me think about something really true and sincere which I would like to express in my works. It’s more inspiring than any other piece of imagery I think. I’d like to make things like that. With no pretending at all.
This is Wire performing a song on a German TV show, I think the performance is about 30 seconds long itself, the lights are off most of the time, it’s incredible what they’re doing and yet it’s all very very simple, 3 or 4 chords.
EoF: Your work seems to be about exploring the process of drawing as much as anything else. The materials and methods of your process are not hidden and you have made some very interesting works using flipbooks (Separator) and a moving strip of tape (Tape Drawing 1) which seem to occupy a mid point between animation and drawing. Can you say a bit about these projects – how they came about, what they mean to you, how and where they have been shown.
KG: Yes, the drawing process is very important to me, I think drawing is a performing art and the process of drawing can be an integral part of the ‘finished thing’. The works that you mentioned are somthing like excercises for me as I would really like to make a film that would contain the record of the drawing/animation process in itself as an integral part of it.
Separator loop (2013) by Karolina Glusiec
I started working on Separator when I was travelling in February this year and did not really have any particular idea how this loop would start or how it would end. I didn’t make it as a one go, I was travelling and just making some flipbooks on the theme of being a little spaced-out as I was thinking about a lot of my experiences from the past. It ended up as a loop of unrelated to each other fragments of some events without much continuity within them, each of them not leading to anything in particular, but they are connected and repeating over and over again.
Tape Drawing 1 (2013) by Karolina Glusiec
The tape drawing is something that I had in mind for a while as I’m really interested in the idea of drawings as objects and ‘physically’ moving drawings. I think it’s a very naive approach that I had for a while, when I was very little and when I was trying to figure out how animated films are made.
EoF: Can you tell us about Out of Sight, your recent commission from Animate Projects and PEER, and any other new work you have on the way?
KG: The work that I made which was commissioned by PEER / Animate Projects comes from my fascination with photography and the nature of a photograph itself, which can become an image / an object = a talisman against the real. I was thinking of the photographs of Etienne Jules-Marey for quite a long time. They are very significant in relation to cinematography or animation. Just take a look at these:
Etienne Jules-Marey was a scientist studying blood circulation in the body. As he tried to develop new methods of analysing the movement of humans and animals, he invented a chronophotographic gun which allowed him to take 12 frames a second, that were, as a result, recorded on the same picture. His analysis of muscle movements, heartbeats and respiration with the use of precise measurements led to the creation of ‘animated photography’. He managed to capture animal and human locomotion in a very distinctive way by showing what is not really ‘visible’. None of us can split the movement of a horse into frames while we’re looking at it running, but for a brief moment it can have all its hooves above the ground. In another case, he constructed a very delicate artificial insect to then show that a figure 8 shape is produced by the movement of its wings. Basically his photographs can be read as a proof that most of the things that we look at contain the invisible – we cannot really register all that we see can we?
When I started to work on Out of Sight I tried to look at his photographs and remember them, which was new to me in terms of how I work normally – I hardly ever use references. Then, I came with some imaginary creatures that I wanted to analyse the movement of, making measurements and analysing rhythms. I created a couple of short sequences of the movement which is very slowed down – some sort of an anti-velocity which makes the flow of image ‘stutter’, so you look at moving images which are in fact very slow moving images or sort of still moving images.
Out of Sight is an excercise rather than a narrative work. It’s a compilation of rhythms in movement of different animals or abstract objects that is meant to be an infinite loop. It’s a kind of a memory-based study of the image that I saw, but the image was from somebody else in this case (inspired by Jules-Marey’s works). I really enjoyed the process of drawing this time, but, as I mentioned, the way I worked on it was new to me. I kind of had a lesson on being really patient and really careful when drawing from memory. Normally I’m very quick but this time I really had to challenge myself with what I really saw and took some time to draw my recollection of it.
At the moment I’m writing for a new animated piece which I think will consist of three parts. The working title is ‘The instrument, the fool and the landscape’ and it’s on naivety. I’m also trying to put together an observation on seeing and on the preception of things. I’m really fascinated with how we look at things. I would like to investigate this subject more and carry out some more little experiments. Last week I went to see the Warsaw Fotoplastikon with my brother (the stereoscopic Kaiserpanorama) and the pictures there were themed ‘Warsaw that you cannot see anymore’ – so obviously there were lots of pictures of ruins or things that existed and then disappeared forever (buildings, etc). So we saw a series of invisible images or impossible imagery and then went for a walk and passed some of these places that now are blank or empty spaces. The amount of empty space in Warsaw can be breathtaking when you realise what was there before and think about how it might have looked. You can be in the centre of the city surrounded by lots of stuff but you feel as if you were standing in the middle of a field.
See more of Karolina’s work at her website here
© Edwin Rostron 2014