[Still from Great by Bob Godfrey courtesy of the Bob Godfrey Collection, UCA Archives]
What makes us laugh at cartoons? What is it that makes something funny? Cartoon Animation: Satire and Subversion is a one-day conference on 17th Feb at UCA Farnham, Surrey, UK, inspired by the legacy of legendary British animator Bob Godfrey to explore the politics of comedy. The Keynote speakers are Steve Bell, Guardian cartoonist and Dr. Sharon Lockyer, Director of the Comedy Research Centre at Brunel University. The conference will be accompanied by the opening of Bob Godfrey, a Collaborative Act, an exhibition of rarely seen items from Bob Godfrey’s archive.
Leeds University’s Special Collections and Archives ran a ‘speculative lunch‘ on 6/2/2020 to gauge interest in the Leeds Animation Workshop‘s archives of materials from over 40 years of working collectively as a women’s animation coop. A number of feminist academics, archivists, film and animation historians from around the country gathered to discuss LAW’s legacy and who would benefit if Leeds University were to acquire the collection.
Sarah Prescott and Tim Proctor, Special Collections archivists, and Terry Wragg, original LAW member gave an overview of LAW and the materials in the collection. The well preserved records that LAW have kept of their activities cover not only the art work and storyboards from productions, but also the institutional documentation – business documents, minutes, financial documents, invoice books, press clipping, details of screenings they organised and their films were screened in. These all give a clear picture of the operational context and networks they worked in, thus contributing not only to animation history, but also to the history of women’s and LGBT liberation, activist filmmaking, the film workshop movement, film screenings in Leeds and trade unionism. For Terry Wragg, the most important thing is to record the history of women working in animation.
Indeed, the workshop also serves as a role model for alternative ways of producing animation and alternative markets for activist animations that were often commissioned for campaigns and for trade unions. Their working practices and productions are an example of intersectional and inclusive politics through which they lived and practised what they preached. Let’s hope Leeds University does take on this important archive and preserve a vibrant slice of the city’s heritage.
GEECT is the Eurpoean regional council for CILECT, the international association of Film and Television Schools. They held their first thematic meeting on research in Stockholm on 22/1/20. Having been lucky enough to attend this very thought provoking event, I am sharing my notes here for other researchers who were unable to go there in person.
NB. Disclaimer – these notes were taken for my own information and 100% accuracy of transcription is not guaranteed. In removing perspectival distortion from my photos of the screen, some inaccuracies were added to the reproduction of PowerPoint slides.
Stockholm Wednesday 22 January 2020
09.00-10.00 Registration, coffee and tea
The Reception area at the Film & Media department, Stockholm University of the Arts, Valhallavagen 189, 115 53 Stockholm
10.00-10.10 The Cinema: Welcome to the first GEECT Thematic Meeting! Eli Bø (Professor of Design for Film), the GEECT Board.
She begins by introducing the university. The Dept runs BA, MA, PHD. Tomorrow Stockholm Uni of Arts (SKH) will present a day of their own research events.
Today is the first thematic meeting for GEECT, it’s a pilot. Apologies as there was a technical problem and they didn’t receive the proposals for calls for papers for this event. However, they are pleased with the response to this one through the number of people who registered and they realise it’s a topic that attracts interest and they plan to run another such event.
10.10-10.20 The Cinema: Short introduction to Stockholm University of the Arts (SKH) Ellen Røed Professor of Film & Media for the Profile Area Art, Technology, Materiality “Teaching filmmakers how to become artistic researchers”
SKH work in performing arts and moving image. They have Degree awarding powers. In Sweden there is a long tradition of artistic research for knowledge production and well established doctoral programmes. Tension between practice and practice as research. Considering practice as a form of research encourages the making of film that forges new connections, is rooted in curiosity and has a dialogue with the discipline and also other disciplines. Encourages interdisciplinitarity and risk taking. Traditionally film courses served the industry with skilled craft people and didn’t extend the discipline. Research was often been thought of as only being done through writing. But many practitioners do not feel comfortable with writing: their expression is through through own practice. So at SKH they run workshops for doctoral and research staff on performative and practice-led research. Their disciplines are collaborative. Their artistic research manifests as art making, sometimes also as pedagogy. They work to develop confidence in uncertain outcomes, criticality and research. In collaborative seminars they work together on the research questions, sharing and methodology for individual projects. By the end the researcher has developed their project. Every week they hold an interdisciplinary research seminar. Colleagues share research in a non-hierarchical environment in which all disciplines are respected.
10.20 – 11.10 The Cinema: KEYNOTE
Andrea B. Braidt University of Vienna (Dept. of Theater, Film, and Media Studies), President of ELIA European League of the Institutes of the Arts
ELIA is a network of art universities in different disciplines and has been producing policy papers about artistic research. SHARE – ERASMUS strategic project between 40 EU universities, an artistic research working group that she is chair of. They worked on Florence principles. Her background is film and media studies.
Resistance to research in Film schools – people want to focus on the craft. So why is there such a research focus? The answer is the Bologna Declaration. Art schools gained the right to award doctoral degrees and to be considered as universities through signing up to this. Doctoral training is the advancement of knowledge through original knowledge. Supervision, interdisciplinarity and transferable skills are all crucial to this. Mobility became a key principle. Before this there was a system of powerful ‘father/mother’ supervisor figures who bestowed knowledge upon their students. Now this has changed and there is a more structural approach to research. Supervisors do not examine their own students.
In Austria there are 21 Universities, with 6 art universities. Staff are obliged to conduct artistic research as well as to teach as part of their contracts. They also have a ‘third mission’ to transfer the knowledge to society, a social responsibility.
So what constitutes art research?
Asks a research question
Uses specific methods
Results are disseminated to peers (who the discipine’s community has decided is the appropriate channels, other people who do artistic research)
Florence principles looked at Salzburg recommendations to see if they were relevant to art universities. The bottom line is that artistic research produces art and contains a reflexive, documentary and discursive component. In discussions there was a strong argument (from Sweden) that the research could be all in the practice. But the reflection can be documentary. Supervision is separated from assessment – important move from previous years when the supervisor awarded the PhD.
Frascati manual is for evaluation of research in maths and statistics. It gets updated every 10 years. So far artistic research is not considered to adhere for this which has implications for EU funding for research.
Three approaches to artistic research.
Critical. Annette Baldauf and Ana Hoffner argues that artistic research is fundamentally challenging to the field of science and the market. Perhaps their point is idealistic, and film/media has more connection to the industry than fine art.
2. Essentialist. Or perhaps artistic research is something completely different to other forms of research as defined by Florence principles. Perhaps intuition is involved rather than rationality. Intuition is based on experience. Art is self referential and Is situated within has gone before.
3. Pragmatic. Andrea personally takes a more pragmatic approach. It does meet the 5 core principles from Frascati. It is transdisciplinary like forms of scientific research that seeks to solve non-scientific research questions, like for example environmental questions.
CASE STUDY of practice-based research in Film – UNEARTHING- Belinda Kareem-Kaminski, 2018
Post colonial transdisciplinary methodology re-performance and re-examining of archival photographs. Summary of the methods and research design. Phd student Kareem-Kaminski is looking into what is suppressed, regimes of looking, the dialogic.
The talk ends on suggested topics to discuss in groups afterwards.
Artistic research as pedagogic approach, a strategy rather than a method: how can you teach curiosity and uncertainty? Creating a space for experimentation, where students go on a journey with you. How do you frame an enquiry? Criticality, reflexivity and reflection. Knowledge is situated and anchored by hegemonic frameworks. Epistemological approaches are situated in a canon. There needs to be an awareness of place, aesthetics and ethics and strategies of foregrounding the political choices of ethics and aesthetics. Why are you choosing this form of representation? She personally believes ‘never story’. What if we think about the image, start with the image as starting point rather than the centrality of story? Although we are in the business of vocational training, creating skills for industry – this is not actually contradicted by artistic research. For the last 3 years she has run a project in ‘BRIKS’ countries using the CILECT network to look at the cultural specificity of images. There is no shared semiotics. They used research strategies that were playful, problem solving and involved intuition to solve problems in the field with students and other filmmakers. The benefit of artistic research in film practice brings an energy. This is an energising practice that she finds exciting.
Introductory remarks. He is a documentary filmmaker (for BBC2 as well as in a gallery context). He is professor in documentary practice at LCC and responsible for REF. Explains the importance of this for UK Universities: funding, peer esteem and university rankings. LCC has recently joined CILECT. He is pleased to be back at SKH as he premiered one of his films here showed as part of the Inviting Invisible Evidence network. Asks the audience what labels they would be comfortable to use to describe what they do – filmmaker? Artist? Theorist? Educator?
For the UK it’s a difficult political moment right now. In research there is a domination of the arts by a language inherited from the sciences and humanities. Interesting cultural moment right now to stand on the ground in practice. How do we articulate our practice as research, image as enquiry, what kind of question are we asking, that will lead to communication? Potential for robust research, but what we could do better for research literacy, is to be more authentic in their own terms. Some filmmakers will say the material they work with is another person, a subject working with a subject. What does that imply for the ethics of making, the social responsibilities, the ethics of documentary film practice. Who makes their living from this? Who benefits from this? UAL has setup a centre for creative computing. Artists need to have an intervention in coding, in the broader social agenda of who controls new developments in technology. UAL is very diverse in the student body, but progression is not equal. Something weird is going on. The role of research has to ask these specific questions. What kind of an environment are we creating in our universities? All staff sound liberal when you talk to them, but look at the results – differential discrimination. So important for us to link ethics and aesthetic – who are we choosing to portray and how do we show them? Traditional African story – ‘If the Hunter is always the storyteller we will never hear the lions story’. We have the chance to make a difference through research.
Andrea B – questions identity of whether we call ourselves artist, researcher, filmmaker etc – it’s about what we actually do that is important. It’s not weird that students are not progressing well in liberal institutions – these very places are institutionally racist, homophobic, classist etc. It’s nice that Pratap thinks research could be part of the solution, but it is also part of the problem because it perpetuates the status quo.
Manuel suggests as a starting question – Where does research take place in our institutions?
Michael from Belgium – all staff are supposed to be research active in his institution, but the problem is time. Because of amount of teaching hours. So the government has funding available to do research outside of teaching hours. But staff still find it problematic – they don’t know how to do research, how to get this funding.
Manuel – in order to have spaces for research, there needs to be funding, where does it come from?
Speaker from Helsinki – uncertainty challenges the tradition of education. He thinks this is a big challenge for staff who want safety.
Andrea B – perhaps there are different senses of uncertainty. In terms of Frascati- it is a type of research in which you are certain about the enquiry and methods, but not the outcome. How can you raise the level of uncertainty that is part of the artistic process. The EU Research Council, which is one of the core funding bodies for the EU, have a panel for artistic research. Artistic research experts can sit on the main EU panels if they have generated a critical body of research in their national context. This has important implications for national funding and the importance of support for research if your country wants a seat at this table.
Jyoti – legacy issues from previous centuries that artists have an emotional language and scientists have an imperical language. Artists have been always doing research. It’s about expressing it in terms of systemic procedures. We need to beware of thinking we don’t need to justify ourselves, we can just explain artistic research in terms of intuition.
Andrea – interesting exercise to look at historic works of art as artistic research, for example Mary Kelly’s ‘Post partum Document’ or
Pratap – Vertov is fascinating. He managed to keep working a bit longer in Stalin’s Russia by cannily appropriating the dominant language of the Communist party, although this work can be read in a number of rich and interesting ways. He managed to stay under the radar for a time, although subsequently fell out of favour and his later work was not seen for several generations..
Kerstin from SKH – the topic of vocational skills vs artistic research makes her think of research being done on Vertov’s wife and the underestimated importance of her editing. Filmmaking is a collaboration of practices, not necessarily about auteurs. The collaboration is between practices – the different disciplines that come together in a film. Filmmaking is not one practice but a collaboration of many practices. In SKH they are changing the film curriculum so that there is more of a collaboration between the different disciplines in coming up with the idea for the film, moving away from auteur centred approach to more of a devising model.
Someone else from SKH – research in filmmaking has been present right from the beginning -Melies and Lumière. Actually, any film has a period of research – preproduction, scriptwriting, what is the motivation, isn’t every film artistic research?
Andrea – looking at the field of music, research is said to be in the field of composition or conducting. Performing music is reproduction of sheet music made by someone else. In all fields, there is a difference between applied research (with a concrete aim, connected to an end product) vs ground or basic research (blue sky speculative research in which you don’t know what the outcome will be). Also, each piece of art may be original, but doesn’t necessarily have a research process behind it.
Speaker from SKH – questions that you have to answer when applying for a research grant are so similar to those you have to answer to investors. Getting a unique selling point in the film is the same as the novelty.
Andrea – the core difference is that funding for film production asks who is the core audience, this is not a research question from within the discipline itself. A research question is asked from within a disciplinary context. It’s not a commercial project aimed at entertaining an audience and making a profit.
Someone else from SKH who is a movies and neuroscience researcher. Cinematic and film research is different from artistic research. Innovation should be for the advancement of storytelling. He thinks that the innovation is happening in the Industry and not in universities. Can we learn from industry? Academic institutes are looking at the future, industry is looking at now (???). What are we actually advancing? Why is innovation happening more in industry rather than in education
Jasper from Belgium – there can only be artistic research if it is communicated and discussed afterwards. A PhD student in medicine does not just present the end result of experiments, but also the journey to get there.
Andrea – actually, medical universities have a big problem because often the end result is presented – a treatment, a medicine, etc – but the journey needs to be shown, to see if the results are reproducible. Issue with research in universities includes supervisory capacity. Many university lecturers do not have a teaching qualification, but are disciplinary experts. Challenging to know how to make and also how to teach. Even more so in PHDs where many supervisors do not have a supervision training, so they are trying to train supervisors. And in reply to an earlier point, there is no question about artistic research – the EU says it has to be done in universities.
Pratap – literature review – what is doctoral standards? Since centuries ago there has been a tradition for respectable universities to give PHDs in music on the basis of music alone. Practice-based PHDs have practice, reflection and a practice and literature review. It is up to us to reshape the future form of practice-based PHDs. .
Andrea – ELIA has SHARE handbook addressing this. Invites us all to download this and to join ELIA.
Jyoti – artistic research shouldn’t be regarded with suspicion, but as a space for incredible exploration. Embrace the potentiality rather than resistance. Don’t cling to labels like ‘filmmaker’, ‘artist’, ‘researcher’. Embrace speculation.
13.30 – 14.40 The Cinema:
13.30 – 13.50: Case study 1 LA FEMIS, France. Presenter Aube Rabourdin
“Artistic Research and Film Practice. Definitions, Approaches, Examples”
This lecture attempts a descriptive definition of artistic research with regard to film practice. We will look at various contexts for artistic research in terms of research strategy and politics, and open the discussion to how film universities can employ artistic research as a transdisciplinary field.
La Femis has been developing its research activity since 2014, notably thanks to its contribution to the artistic research PhD track “SACRe” together with other art schools which are part of PSL University (Paris Sciences & Lettres, an alliance of some 20 higher education and research institutions), and the development of its own research programs and numerous partnerships. The presentation will examine recent research projects: “Approaches to narrative in music composition and screenwriting” with Conservatoire de musique et de danse de Paris, “Cinema of autonomous struggles” with EHESS (School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences), « Bringing exoplanets to the screen” with Observatoire de Paris, as well as “Filmographies” and “Beauviatech” on the history of techniques with Cinémathèque française and Université Rennes.
Research they are doing:
Is part or SCARe – artistic doctoral programme of 6 French universities
55 PhD students
Each student has 2 practice and 1 Theory supervisors and a budget of €15,000 for a film
Examples of other projects they are doing include oral history and collaborations between scriptwriting and music composition, cinema of autonomous struggles (typo in ppt slide) which had 3 associated symposia. They have also been working with astrophysicists to visualise their findings, which cannot be photographed. The students were given information about the exoplanets and their names and made models/ vfx/ films to speculate on what they might look like. This benefits the scientists as they have no images to show when they disseminate their research.
13.55 – 14.15: Case study 2 Bilkent University, Dept. of Communication and Design, Ankara, Turkey. Presenter Funda Şenova Tunalı, PhD
In 2018, Bilkent University, Department of Communication and Design adopted a new core curriculum to offer its students innovative and coherent education where the boundaries between theory and practice dissolve through artistic practices and research. The BA graduation project courses (Visual Communication Project I-II), and the MFA program in Media and Design were at the center of this change to enhance artistic experience and research. COMD situates itself in the wider range of communications to acquire an interdisciplinary nature.
The idea for this was the gap between 1st and 4th years. The HOW was there, but the WHY was missing.
This university teaches in English. In order to be recognised they are bound by Bologna agreement. When developing the curriculum they wanted a mix of studio process and theory. This has resulted in more variety in the kind of film practice that comes out. More questioning about what they are doing, their choice of media.
14.20 – 14.40: Case study 3
Griffith Film School, Brisbane, Australia.
Presenter Professor Herman van Eyken
Their institution seems a young institution as the film school has just broken away from the art school. They have a DVA qualification – doctor of visual art. From now on they have to organise doctoral study in moving image independently from the art school. How can they boost their research agenda? In 2016 they hosted a conference on Ethics and Aesthetics. Shows a video of live mo cap with a female performer operating a CGI character in a red dress who satirises female performative tropes while lipsynching to ‘She’s not there’. The She’s Not There project opened the Griffith Film School’s hosting of the CILECT congress in Brisbane, 2016; conceived and directed by Griffith Film School staff, the utilisation of a virtual camera to re-present a pre-rendered animated performance for presentation alongside a live orchestra was unique in its mixing of media and modes of delivery. New research opportunities for the film school have emerged thanks to this project
Collaboration with Asian studies – they worked on a performance for opera in Hong Kong Arts Festival. 4 singers who will be transferred into animals, appear and disappear. Staff run the project, but students can work on it.
They have a course called Screen Futures – AI etc – which is part of the MA. They can get state funding in this area.
Collaboration with GOM gallery and Asian Pacific triennale. Making a virtual reality avatar – took a 60 year old immigrant from Italy telling of his experiences to his grandchildren and he was made into a synthesbian avatar. They hosted SIGGRAPH conference on VR and are researching into high res photoreal synthesbian.
14.40 – 15.00: COFFEE BREAK
15.00 – 15.50 Studio D1 – Debate and Q&A
Guido Lukoschek, the GEECT Board –
Not possible to wrap up everything completely, but final discussion with 3 presenters.
Kerstin from SKH – how open can you be with these big commissioned projects? How prescribed is the outcome?
Herman from Griffiths – for Hong Kong Arts Festival it was open and exploratory.
Guido – did the project generate income for the university?
Herman – yes, the curator was an alumni. Good funding from Queensland available. External funding is needed when you get a big project like
Aube from la Fémis – they just had a meeting with Netflix, they have had to look at private funding.
Herman – they have been offered funding from Google. Support in kind – use of google facilities.
Funda – Bilkent – there is some funding for artistic research from state, but difficult, easier if they can cooperate with engineers
Herman – most funded research at their institution goes to written academic research.
Someone from Netherlands Film Akademie – question they are often asked is how relevant is research to the students, how does it filter into the curriculum? Also, a problem is that there is no money for students who experiment when they graduate. They fall between art and film funding and can’t get either. She feels a responsibility for putting these students out into the world.
Pratap – we need to work at the connective tissue, connections between film and research. Wider student curriculum needs to benefit from staff research. 2 of his PhD students are looking at re-examining the colonial archive. Who does it benefit? This is essential.
Herman – when they were part of the art school they had a research unit, but it was cut. It was not communicating with teaching at all. Too isolated. More interdisciplinarity needed. They took all the research funding.
Funda – Research needs to be built into the curriculum to give a new mode of thinking, more critical and questioning. More responsible for what they produce.
Someone from Film Akademie – their promise to students is to learn through practice. They are not a university, but a film school. His background was film theory. He had problems with explaining Film analysis to production students whose only aim is to become practitioners not to become intellectuals. They are discussing it a lot, haven’t come up with a solution.
Elli – SKH – wants to focus on film as a process not simply a product. Research is to go into the process of filmmaking and experiment. Applied research is different from artistic research, but film schools can practice in different fields.
Pratap – hold open the space for the difference of pure and applied research to be rethought. Can be a useful distinction but these labels can also be cages – can’t there be a new model?
Guido – in ‘proper’ films all scripts start with ‘what ifs’. You could argue that most films and at least all documentaries are research based. Do you try to relabel existing practice as research? What is to the benefit of students?
Maria – SKH – PhD students are at the cutting edge, trying to find something new, but we must also take care of and acknowledge what we already do, some of which could be considered as a research project and is innovative, aiming to get students to extend their thinking.
Guido – we should all be documenting this better. Film research is not all based on intuition, but we need to be able to prove the process, what has been done.
Kerstin – SKH – film industry has commercial side, you need money to provide a product, but looking over past years there are less examples of big commercial players who are likely to take a risk. They are less and less likely to fund anything experimental. Film schools need to be a place where future industry players are able to experiment. How can the film schools support experiments after the PhD – through post docs or artist in residence schemes?
Someone from the audience objects to practice based PHDs. Why should people pay for them? She finds it abominable that artists living a precarious existence have to then pay to do a PHD and then what is there for them when they finish.
Manuel – on the idea of transdisciplinarity, asks Aube from La Femis, the project with the Paris observatory – is transdisciplinarity a rule for all their projects?
Aube – no. Was mutually beneficial for both the artistic researchers and scientists, but they do different kinds of projects. It is a practice based school. Students don’t enter Into the school to think about their work. They just want to make films. To counter this they have workshops where students have to think outside cinema.
Pratap – at UAL they are thinking about what PHDs are. They are thinking about what doctoral qualities look like for practice.
Someone from Estonia – many different words for practice. We discuss after – praxis – putting theory into action; Christopher Frayling – Research for / in / about practice and Raymond Williams Keywords.
Guido – how did people think about having a 1 day thematic meeting.the board were aware of climate issues of people flying in, but thought it was well attended and useful
Someone from audience thought we lost the track of applying research in education
Someone else – suggested topic for future GEECT event – would be helpful if someone took an overview of the whole day, was hard to remember all the issues raised. Perhaps there could be a reading list to read up beforehand?
Eli thought that at the next event another institution will pick up the baton and run it how they choose.
15.50 – 16.00 – Summing up, thank you and goodbye!
Manuel Jose Damasio, Chair of GEECT
Manuel closing comments – positive that lots of questions were raised. Main objective was to test the format, so now they will send out a call for schools to host future thematic events. Next conference will be hosted at Westminster about archives, a specific slot will be about how this fits into teaching. After Oslo Nov 2020 they will put out a call for future thematic meetings. One possibility is to record the event and transcribe it afterwards. Following suggestions this morning they will launch a call for papers about artistic research for a special edition of the journal so papers can be published and discussed. Papers can include attached media. Frascati discussions will be announced in a new Vienna declaration on artistic research later this year. In the area of film we can add a lot to the discussion on collaboration. Also, how can Film schools offer supervision that is efficient and appropriate in our field. Another topic is works that are commissioned, how can you pick out original knowledge in projects with industry. How can we get money for this. Very complex. Took computing 20 years to get there. He also wants to invite people to submit papers to the Oslo conference.
Eli – tomorrow will present Research projects from SKH.
Manuel – thanks to SKH etc.
Stockholm University of the Arts,
The Film and Media Department, Valhallavägen 189, 115 53 Stockholm
Ecstatic Truth V: The Age of the Absurd 27-28th April 2020 (in conjunction with Under_the_Radar, Vienna)
plus 29th April – Under_the_Radar symposium, Vienna
Call for papers deadline: 16th February 2020
Ecstatic Truth is an annual symposium that explores issues arising from the interface between animation (in all its forms) and documentary (conceptualised very broadly as non-fiction), with a particular interest in the questions raised by experimental and practitioner perspectives. According to Werner Herzog, mere facts constitute an accountant’s reality, but it is the ecstatic truth (a poetic reality) that can capture more faithfully the nuances and depths of human experiences. Given that animation (or manipulated moving image in all of its expanded forms) has the freedom to represent, stylize or reimagine the world, it lends itself well to this aspirational form of documentary filmmaking.
For this, our 5th symposium, held in collaboration with the Under_the_Radar Festival, Vienna, our theme is the Absurd. George Monbiot has described our contemporary age of increasing social and economic inequality, mass extinction and impending climate breakdown as deliberate disaster capitalism in which the ultra-rich benefit as institutions, systems of taxation and democratic processes implode. Everywhere the killer clowns and kleptocrats are taking over, he argues, with ludicrous strongmen dominating nations that would once have laughed them off stage. Absurdity is what they seek in order to take advantage. Chaos becomes the profit multiplier for the disaster capitalism on which they thrive. Every rupture is used to seize more of the assets on which our lives depend.
So how can we imaginatively and creatively respond to these killer clowns and the absurdity of a world being run to continuously make profit regardless of its sustainability? What is there to stand for if the world is perceived as meaningless and how to fight this complacency ? Can we use animation for activism, to re-animate our conscience? How can we creatively challenge all this doom and gloom, and use our creative practice to navigate and challenge the absurd of our everyday lives? What is the role of humour, surrealism, the historic strategies of the Absurd and Central European Existentialism? Why does animation matter?
We invite speakers to respond to these ideas in order to reflect, speculate and imagine how the animated (or expanded manipulated image) form might elicit different facets of poetic truth through its unique language. We welcome proposals for 20-minute presentations, speculations, poetic reflections, rigorous questioning, even fierce creative opposition from both academic and practitioner-led perspectives. Selected papers will be published in a themed issue of the International Journal of Film and Media Arts.
Further details of the Under_the_Radar Festival 2020 will be released in January.
Call for papers deadline: 16th February 2020
Ecstatic Truth is organised by: Birgitta Hosea, Animation Research Centre, UCA Farnham, UK; Pedro Serrazina, Universidade Lusófona, Lisbon, Portugal; Tereza Stehlikova, CREAM, University of Westminster, UK
With thanks to Under_the_Radar: Barnaby Dicker, Martina Tritthart, Holger Lang
[Image: George Grosz, ‘The Voice of the People is the Voice of God from The Face of the Ruling Class’ (1920)]
 George Monbiot, ‘From Trump to Johnson, nationalists are the rise – backed by billionaire oligarchs’, The. Guardian, 26/07/19
Fifty years ago (in 1969) Oscar winning animator, Bob Godfrey, established the Animation course at UCA, which was the first Higher Education animation course in the UK and his archive is held at UCA. As well as his work in teaching, Godfrey served as mentor and employer to many budding animators and is revered as an iconic figure in British animation. Although popularly known for his children’s TV series, such as Roobarb and Custard and The Do-It-Yourself Animation Show, Godfrey also created a number of more experimental and adult works that drew upon traditions of British satire, DADA and Situationism.
To mark the Golden Jubilee of animation at UCA, celebrate the irreverent and anarchic humour of Bob Godfrey and re-launch the Animation Research Centre at UCA, we are running a symposium in our new Film building at Farnham, that will be accompanied by an exhibition of items from Godfrey’s archive.
While the main focus of our symposium is on animation, we warmly invite interdisciplinary perspectives by scholars from other disciplines such as film, performance, illustration, comics, philosophy, psychology, queer and gender studies, etc. Our Keynote speakers are Steve Bell, Guardian cartoonist and Dr Sharon Lockyer, Director of the Centre for Comedy Studies Research, Brunel University.
For its themes, the symposium draws upon Bob Godfrey’s archive to call for papers that engage with the following questions:
Politics and propaganda from print to the pixel. How have traditions of print cartooning from Hogarth and Punch influenced animation?
Laughing in the face of adversity. Is humour a form of survival strategy? What is funny for those who are historically the focus of caricature and the butt of jokes based on stereotypes? What is the comedy of the oppressed? What is satire for the subaltern? How are hegemonic discourses around colonialism, class, race, gender and regional identity resisted through laughter?
Dream Girls Funny or pathetic? How do we deal with historic cartoon versions of male sexual fantasy? What do they say about masculinity? Are they due for a feminist re-evaluation? Could they be read as a critique of patriarchy? Are humorous films about sexuality made by women different in any way?
It ain’t half hot, Mum How do we discuss racial stereotyping and caricature in historical animation? What is the relationship between iconic cartoon characters and minstrelsy? Are there arguments for re-evaluating controversial works such as those made by the Fleischer brothers or Ralph Baksche?
What are we going to do now? What were the influence of traumatic circumstances such as war and PTSD on animators during and after the two World Wars of the 20th Century?
Arty Farty Is there a relationship between comic animation and post-war art movements such as DADA, situationist and theatre of the absurd?
Vader his dolly buns: subculture, sexuality and comic codes How does insider knowledge of shared cultural conventions, such as camp, gender parody and ‘secret languages’ like Polari, slip undetected into mainstream animation? How has theatricality and performativity effected animation?
What’s up, Doc? What is it that is just so funny about the cartoon character whose impossible, plasmatic body defies all the limits of the physical world and all social taboos about abjection?
Organising committee: This conference is organised by Birgitta Hosea, Emma Reyes, Jim Walker (Animation Research Centre)
Exhibition curated by Jim Walker
Supported by Felicity Croydon, UCA Archivist, and Lesley Adams, Programme Director for Animation, UCA.
Peer Review Committee: Birgitta Hosea, Chris Pallant, Caroline Ruddell, Jim Walker, Paul Ward.
Selected conference papers will be included in a proposal for an anthology, Cartoon Animation: Satire and Subversion, to Palgrave MacMillan.
A StoryFutures event for anyone interested in immersive storytelling. In my talk, I will be reflecting on the spatial experience of animated installation (from my chapter in the Experimental and Expanded Animation book) and comparing that with examples of contemporary Virtual Reality artworks.
Here is the text of a presentation I gave at the Expanded Animation symposium about the judging process for the Computer Animation category at Prix Ars Electronica this year.
Introducing the jury
I’m here on behalf of the 2019 Prix Ars Electronica Computer Animation jury – Ferdi Alici, Ina Conradi, Nobuaki Doi, Birgitta Hosea, Alex Verhaest.
We come from Turkey, Singapore, Japan, UK and Belgium. Our joint expertise ranges from artist, animator, curator to animation theorist and most of us are involved in a mixture of all of those activities.
I thought I’d start off by talking about how the judging process works. It was actually very difficult.
The judging process
There were (I believe) 828 entries in the Computer Animation category this year including 5 nominations by each of the jury members. The type of work varied enormously from very slick CGI productions by professional top-end agencies to less polished works from students and emerging artists. It was thrilling to watch the variety on offer and we really felt like we were getting a snapshot of what is cutting edge in computer animation in 2019.
The process of selection takes several stages. Before the judging starts in Linz, each juror watches films at home in order to get familiar with the entries. After the initial preselection, there are three full days of further discussion and voting by the jury. The idea is to first narrow down the entries under consideration and then to select the final fifteen. Sometimes there was a consensus of opinions while we were doing this and we were in total agreement and at other times we had quite heated disagreements. When this happened, decisions were taken by majority vote. At all times, the jury was very mindful of the impact and exposure that winning an award can have on the recipient’s profile and future career. It could change someone’s life. Because of this, we tried to recognise independent artists and small studios over major industry players.
Coming up with judging criteria
At all times we felt a very strong sense of responsibility about who would be chosen and why. We wanted to be very fair. Although you could argue that all animation, however it is made, is computer animation these days, we particularly wanted to make a strong statement about what we thought the Computer Animation category at Ars Electronica in its 40th anniversary should represent. We realised that computer animation encompasses many different forms. It is no longer simply a category for short films. It can be installation, It can be VR, AR, MR. It might be sculpture. it might be on the web. It might be software or a game or a visualisation of data.
We mainly watched the entries on screen, but we also spent time experiencing immersive works from inside VR headsets. Since computer animation can take so many different forms, we were very concerned that our selection would represent the variety of different approaches that animation can take. That was something we talked about a lot. We thought a lot about how people are playing games, how people are communicating through animation, how animation can visualise ecological issues, gender issues, all kind of different social and political themes. And how this can be communicated to the viewer.
In our judgements we really wanted to reward works that weren’t just dealing with aesthetics or form, or clever new techniques. We wanted to see ideas, thinking and investigation, so we selected works that demonstrated individual authorship, independence of vision and thoughtfulness. Even more than technical prowess, we valued meaning, daring and emotional risk.
We had to make some very difficult choices. For example, there were some very accomplished traditionally made animations that we rated highly as animated films, but we did not think they fitted a category called ‘Computer Animation’. There were some technically brilliant examples of animation techniques that we greatly admired, but lacked content and we just did not feel moved by. And there were also examples of very innovative and engaging cutting edge short films that we just could not consider as being examples of animation.
Trends we saw this year
As I said earlier, seeing the range of selections is like watching a software fashion show. Technical trends that we observed included processes such as algorithmic generation; point clouds that present a machine view of the world; artful photographic manipulation with Touch Designer; impossible Octane objects that show cartoon reality in CGI rather than the known laws of the physical universe; stylish graphic combinations of 3d mo-cap and 2D rendering; machinima animations that use existing game engines and various inventive methods to render live data. Common themes in terms of content that emerged from the works included personal issues – such as gender, sexuality, relationships, social inclusion, body image and mental health – as well as wider social and geo-political issues – such as migration, the impact of mass communication networks, ecological devastation and impending extinction.
The VR entries become more sophisticated year upon year. We noted how this year’s entries really play with point of view, misdirection, voyeurism and empathy to enhance storytelling and emotional affect. In addition, some of the entries played particular attention to the viewers experience in the world outside the headset by creating sensory experiences in the physical environments in which the VR was encountered that complemented the effect of the work.
Before introducing you to the winner and the two special mentions, I just wanted to end on a few concluding thoughts:
As animators we can conjure powerful visions through our fingertips and we must take responsibility for the messages we portray. We should be careful to avoid becoming totally absorbed by the technology and to remember that we are communicating ideas to an audience, not just showcasing the latest clever techniques. As a jury, we hope to continue to see animation that does more than technically innovate, but has the vision and bravery to engage with the complexity of topical issues in contemporary society and the sensitivity to portray intimate, personal, human experience.
Juergen Hagler presents the Expanded Animation book.
Mental illness is too often a shameful and misunderstood topic that people do not want to talk about in public. It can be hard to understand if you have not personally experienced it. Although we were not without cynicism for the cliché of VR as an empathy machine, as several jury members had personal knowledge of friends or family with a bipolar disorder, we found it moving to be taken through the experiences of the filmmaker’s brother and sister and to hear them talk about it through first-hand accounts left as messages on her voicemail. Scenarios such as being trapped in a small room and then flying through the ceiling to touch the stars served as a metaphor for the rush of mania after a depressive episode. Above all, we applauded the work’s ambition to use expanded animation technology to seek understanding for a debilitating condition.
With a clever script that mixes chat messaging with programming language in a nostalgic retro gaming aesthetic, Strings addresses online gaming and the loneliness of remote communication. Chasing ghostly algorithms within a discarded game, the narrator searches through data banks for traces of a lost cyber, femme fatale who has once caressed him pixel by pixel, but can no longer be found. The jury was enamoured with the highly poetic treatment of this story of lost love and the loneliness of social media. They also found the idea of a lost world of forgotten games to be moving and thought provoking.
Inspired by her love for the famous soccer player Renaldo, in this installation the artist Cindy Coutant has created a virtual character with whom she can have a deep personal relationship. Undershoot pays tribute to the deeply personal need to connect through all of the senses – sound, touch, and smell – with the image on the screen and real person. The animation is emotionally charged and enhanced by the physical installation. The jury was moved by the honesty of the piece. Undershoot provokes the social, cultural, and ethical standards of the current technology, screen-based and social media infatuation. We are in constant communication with everything around us through machines. As such, it is a tribute to lost emotional connection, intimacy, and materiality.
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.