This year I am one of the keynote speakers at the 7th CONFIA conference on illustration and animation in Viana do Castelo in Portugal.
My presentation is about artists who make drawings in front of a live audience using projection technologies to illuminate their mark making process, work that complicates the boundaries between drawing, performance and animation. On my way to CONFIA very soon with Rose Bond. Excited and honoured to be doing a keynote. It includes historical contextualisation of Lightning Sketch artists (thanks to Malcolm Cook) and contemporary artists like Lisa Gornick, Harald Smykla, Bahman Panahi, Paul Sharits, Takahito Iiumura, Vicky Smith, Pierre Hébert, Kellie O’Dempsey and myself. Here is a link to the live stream video of the presentation from CONFIA’s Facebook page
My own practice is in expanded animation, in other words, I am interested in ways in which moving images can be used in contexts other than the single screen film. As an artist this has involved me creating works inspired by technologies from the origins of animation such as shadow puppets, silhouettes, optical illusions, trotting horse lamps, spirit photography, stage magic, Pepper’s Ghost and peepshows. Because of this, it was thrilling for me to go to the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum Archive as a Visiting Researcher. Looking through boxes from their extensive collection of pre-cinematic optical toys at close range, I was struck by how tactile and intimate the experience of looking at them was and how these early printed materials anticipated the depiction of ways of moving through space that are commonly used today in animation. These short sequences felt like precursors to the animated gifs we see on web pages, interfaces, digital signage and, of course, Instagram.
Optical toys have also been an inspiration to a group of contemporary animators from China who call themselves the Feinaki Animation Gang and are inspired by their study of the phenakistoscope to create amazing short micro-animations that are designed to continuously loop. The group first formed in 2015 to create inventive animated gifs that celebrate public holidays such as Valentine’s day. The artists include my former student, CAI Caibei, and other noted practitioners such as WEI Shilei, AMAO, CHEN Chen, CHEN Lianhua, InkeeWang, LUO Sijia, SANGSUN, SUN Xin,Toyoya, WANG Dan, XIANG Yao, YU Kun, ZHU Yantong. They have just exhibited their works at the Shanghai MoCA Pavilion in a show called Stroll the Line in May 2019. More info here: Stroll the Line exhibition.
Several media theorists have also made connections between early mechanical optical illusions and our contemporary digital media. Shane Denson and Julia Leyda describe the way that we view digital moving images on a variety of different devices as post-cinematic. No longer recorded through analogue celluloid and projected at cinemas, the moving images we consume today are ‘essentially digital, interactive, networked, ludic, miniaturized, mobile, social, processual, algorithmic, aggregative, environmental, or convergent’ (Denson & Leyda, 2016). Alongside a variety of new transmedia viewing platforms such as computers, phones, tablets, games consoles and even giant screens on the sides of skyscrapers, new forms of moving images have emerged to be displayed on them. Making a comparison between these and the early short films of silent cinema, Ruth Meyer considers that while early silent films were short because of technological restrictions, nowadays brevity is part of the digital media we consume – the short film, the tweet, the meme, the status update, the text message. Because of their shortness, she calls these ‘micro-narrative’ formats (Meyer, 2016).
Looking at the paper strips from Émile Reynauld’s Praxinoscope (1889) there are also short ‘micro-narratives’: series of images that animate scenes from the circus – tightrope walking, juggling knives or weights, acrobatics with horses or dogs; or scenes from children’s play – blowing bubbles, skipping, a girl fishing, a baby eating, a fancy cat plays double bass; and even scenes from everyday work, leisure and sports – swimming, horse riding, dancing, feeding chickens, pumping water, sawing and cooking meat on a spit. All of these sequences of images capture bodies and matter in motion through illustration, before the cinema had even been invented. They do not take the form of stories, but are more like circus acts or fairground attractions.
Not only are the movement sequences on these devices short, but they are designed to be repeated. Colourful patterns on spinning tops, for example, continue spinning to create an optical illusion of merged colours until the force of momentum runs out. Lev Manovich points out that pre-cinematic optical devices were based on manually constructed, hand-painted loops of repeated image sequences. He finds in these earliest animated pictures a precursor to contemporary digital media and also to computer programming that involves looped and iterative instructions. (Manovich, 2016). Building on Manovich’s ideas, Nicolas Dulac and André Gaudreault point out that optical toys are based on not only repetition and brevity, but also rotation. For them, the endless loops of these animated drawings have no sense of time, just endless presence. Like a cog in a machine, they have a mechanical rather than human sense of time (Dulac & Gaudreault, 2006).
Like these toys, the earliest silent films were also built on short acts, gags, tricks or views from everyday life. Connecting them with the ‘attractions’ on show at the fairground, the circus and the music hall, Tom Gunning has named the earliest silent films (pre-1908) ‘the cinema of attractions’: a cinema concerned with spectacle, exhibitionism and quick thrills rather than storytelling (Gunning, 2006). Whereas this period of film history is related by Gunning to popular performing arts, Dulac and Gaudreault argue that optical toys from 1830-1900 are another form of media that pre-date cinema and should also take their place as a key influence on the cinema of attractions (Dulac & Gaudreault, 2006). While this may seem an obvious connection to make, surprisingly enough, in his extensive research on the origins of animation in the UK, Malcom Cook has not found any direct evidence to connect the type of animated pictures seen in optical toys with early animation (Cook, 2018).
While this may be the case, what I personally found fascinating about having the chance to examine the collection of optical toys at the Bill Douglas Cinema History Archive at first hand, was how the types of motion represented anticipated the kinds of ways in which we animate today. I was also struck by the manner in which movement was depicted in a static printed form. Consequently, I devised a workshop called ‘Animated Loops: From Print to Instagram’ for BA Illustration and Animation students at the University for the Creative Arts, Canterbury, who work in both design for print and animation. It was part of a First Year unit, led by artist and animator Molly Okell to introduce students to animation. We began with a lecture showing photos and discussing my findings from the research at the Bill Douglas Cinema Archive, in which I identified the following types of animation:
Panning (in which the eye travels across a scene, usually a landscape): panorama, myriorama;
Light change: diorama;
Exploring three-dimensional space: peepshow, stereoscopic photography, peep eggs;
Transformation (using rotation or flipping to produce metamorphosis through substitution): printed adverts and toys;
Illusion of movement (through sequential images): flick books, phenakistoscope, zoetrope, praxinoscope,filoscope, kinora, mutascope, kinetoscope.
After the lecture, we went into the computer lab for a practical workshop about how to make animation in Photoshop and produce a short animation that could be put on Instagram. We only had a limited amount of time, but the students all produced sequences of animation by the end of the day.
Cook, Malcolm. Early British Animation: From Page and Stage to Cinema Screens. Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.
Denson, Shane, and Julia Leyda. “Perspectives on Post-Cinema: An Introduction.” In Post-Cinema: Theorizing 21st-Century Film. Falmer: REFRAME Books, 2016.
Dulac, Nicolas, and André Gaudreault. “Circularity and Repetition at the Heart of the Attraction: Optical Toys and the Emergence of a New Cultural Series.” In The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded, edited by Wanda Strauven. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2006.
Gunning, Tom. “The Cinema of Attraction[s]: Early Film, Its Spectator and the Avant-Garde.” In The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded, edited by Wanda Strauven. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2006.
Manovich, Lev. “What Is Digital Cinema?” In Post-Cinema: Theorizing 21st-Century Film, edited by Shane Denson and Julia Leyda. Falmer: REFRAME Books, 2016.
Meyer, Ruth. “Early/Post-Cinema: The Short Form, 1900/2000.” In Post-Cinema: Theorizing 21st-Century Film, edited by Shane Denson and Julia Leyda. Falmer: REFRAME Books, 2016.
The chapter I wrote (7) was inspired by my female students, their resurgence of interest in feminism and their general (of course there are exceptions) lack of interest in engaging with technology. I wanted to provide some role models of intersectional women artists experimenting with the digital as I do think it’s vital that our technologies are developed by a cross section of people and not a small, limited group whose biases come through. So I tried to uncover historical traces of feminist experimental computer animation. It was very hard to find examples and I was dispirited at times. I have probably missed a lot and I feel I just started on something that other researchers can take up and go into in more detail (thanks to Chunning Guo for taking up this challenge!). Its taken a few years. I first presented an early version of this at the Society for Animation Studies conference in 2017 in Padua. So thanks to everyone who supported me on the way when I nearly gave up on it, particularly the editors Miriam Harris, Lilly Husbands and Paul Taberham. Congratulations to the other authors and artists interviewed.
MOVING POPULATIONS, SCANT RESOURCES, CHANGING COMMUNITIES: with this one-day symposium we want to have some dialogue about artistic practice that engages with radical and mobile approaches to geography that could include gentrification, colonialism or environmentalism.
Here is the call for papers.
SPATIAL MUTUALITY SYMPOSIUM: ARTISTS and MIGRATION, MATERIALS and URBAN CHANGE
Date: Thursday 23rd May 2019
Location: University for the Creative Arts, Falkner Road, Farnham, Surrey, GU9 7DS
Times: 10:00 – 19:00
Call for papers: SPATIAL MUTUALITY SYMPOSIUM – ARTISTS and MIGRATION, MATERIALS and URBAN CHANGE
Date: Thursday 23rd May 2019
Location: University for the Creative Arts, Falkner Road, Farnham, Surrey, GU9 7DS
Times: 10:00 – 19:00
Spatial mobilities of people and materials are emerging as important political and cultural issues (of our time). These mobilities may be related to conflicts, urbanisation, material resource extraction and the pressure of economic inequalities of North and South (all of or in any combination of the above). The work of artists in researching and collecting narratives and accounts of migration, uncovering material processes, and charting urban change is crucial in making our world of spatial mutuality visible.
The late Doreen Massey contended that space is constructed by narrative and the unfolding of personal and community identity. She suggested work foregrounding spatiality and mobility offers new frameworks for understanding the social world and the financial and political forces that shape it. The narrative and analytical potentiality of mobility and our material environment have been particularly of interest to lens based practitioners and those working with socially engaged practice. More recent analyses have explored data and material constitution of spatiality. (cf Faizal & Weizmann 2017, Harvey 2012, Kurgan 2013, Paglen 2018) Artists have used all these approaches and more in their work.
This one day symposium at UCA seeks 20 minute contributions from artists responding to these broad themes of migration, materials and urban change in three panels, with an emphasis on exploring identity and spatiality. We are seeking those working in a diversity of socially engaged practices, contexts and broadly using lens and auditory based media forms. We encourage a diversity of practitioners and presentation forms.
The three panels of this symposium are:
MIGRATION – artists working with themes of dislocation and place; the dislocation of narratives; and participatory practice.
MATERIALS / RESOURCES – artists working with the movement and use of materials in the global economy; issues of resource exploitation; waste; toxicity; exploitation of labour; de/re-colonisation.
COMMUNITY CHANGE – artists working with gentrification; social and spatial segregation.
Christine Molloy, Desperate Optimists
Professor Alison Blunt & Dr Olivia Sheringham, Queen Mary University of London
Call for papers:
This one-day symposium at UCA seeks 20-minute contributions from artists and filmmakers responding to the above broad panel themes. We encourage a diversity of practices and presentation forms.
If you would like to present at this symposium, please send abstracts of 250 words maximum for 20-minute presentations; a biography of 100 words maximum; and any technical requirements for the presentation to:
6-8pm Thursday 17th January 2019
Cello Factory, 33-34 Cornwall Road, Waterloo, London SE1 8TJ
New performance as part of the opening of In the Dark, an experimental show by the London Group, the Computer Arts Society and the Lumen prize
dotdot dash is a participatory light action with laser pointers and voice directed by Birgitta Hosea. The performance is orchestrated around a chance-based score made through walking with paint-covered feet over musical paper. Coming together in a choral collaboration, participants are directed to explore the colours and mark making possibilities made by drawing with laser pointers and to accompany this with the sounds of their own voices. The effect is a live audio visual performance of animated lines in red, green and purple reminiscent of a scratched-on film, abstract animation such as those made by Len Lye.
Although many other artists such as Pika Pika and even Picasso have done light painting before, this is not the same. It is not a set up to be recorded on a slow exposure for a photograph, but a live animation of lights and sound that is created communally and experienced in the present moment.
dotdot dash was originally commissioned in 2018 for the Night Walking North Kent festival by InspiralLondon, a collaborative artists’ project led by Charlie Fox of Counterproductions. The project is based on a 300-mile walking trail around London in the shape of a spiral created by Charlie Fox and divided into 36 sections.
Determining a route by chance through this drawing of a line means that the walk cuts through many unpredictable parts of London. dotdot dash was created to be experienced by walkers as part of a series of site specific artworks at the end of the trail in Gravesend. My intention was to create a work of animation that could be made collectively by the participants on the walk; that was mobile and would not involve carrying any heavy equipment.
Additionally, following discussions with the InspiralLondon group about privilege and who is able to walk around freely in the dark at night, dotdot dash is a collective action to reclaim the night through light and noise for people who may not normally feel safe to walk at night in the city.
The route involved going through light industrial areas that are desolate and deserted at night, walking through a caged walk way over a sheer drop to a chalk pit, through bushes and undergrowth, past burnt out motor bikes, across another caged walkway over a railway line and then to a tunnel through a disused chalk pit near Ebbsfleet International station. Everyone on the walk was given two laser pens and with around 30 people present together we created a live performance of animation. With the help of brass megaphone, I gave instructions as to what colors and types of marks they should make. With the excellent acoustics provided by the tunnel, I encouraged people to sing along with the instructions too.
The work was repeated in a tunnel on the Regents Canal at Kings Cross, London for another InspiralLondon night walk for the London as Park City Festival, Friday 20th July 2018. A different group of walkers participated in the work. The addition of the water going through the tunnel added an extra element of bounced light and reflection to the mark making possibilities.
Chance-based score made by walking, Birgitta Hosea, 2018
The same score interpreted by participants with lasers!