Ephemeral Animation: Nenagh Watson

Nenagh Watson is a puppeteer currently researching into what she calls ephemeral animation. She is fascinated by objects that move without human control at the mercy of the elements. Consider the following umbrellas as they are carried by the wind. Their movement is created by natural forces rather than the hands of a puppeteer. Watson uses this motion to inspire works of puppetry:

Observing umbrellas, as well as her earlier work with Polish theatre director Tadeusz Kantor (whom she describes as having said that the umbrella’s metal skeleton explodes like fireworks) inspired Conversations with an Umbrella, a collaboration between Nenagh Watson and sound artist Kaffe Matthews.

Umbrellas, plastic bags, pieces of rope… all discarded items of human debris that fly in the wind or float in the water. From Watson’s Duchampian notion of ‘found’ movement that has been created by chance, she examines moments of tension and freedom, stillness and motion and uses these to inform her work in puppetry. She says her eyes have become opened to the world of random movement around her. For Watson, this is all part of making herself and her presence obsolete in the work, in striving to be without ego.

In her Plastic Bag Labyrinth, shown below, she uses her observation of how air fills discarded carrier bags to create an installation in which the bags are caused to move through the actions of visitors to the installation.

For more information about her working practices, see a review of Nenagh Watson’s Ephemeral Animation workshop at the Central School of Speech and Drama and another account of an earlier workshop.

This post was written in response to her presentation at the Talking Objects Symposium at Loughborough University on 9th March 2012.

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Recording the Trace of Movement: Norman McLaren

Scottish / Canadian animator, Norman McLaren, was an innovator who experimented with the technological processes of his time. McLaren’s film Pas de Deux from 1968 is clearly influenced by Etienne-Jules Marey’s chronophotography mentioned earlier. Using high contrast photography and optical printing, the flesh of McLaren’s dancers dissolve into outlines of light. The characters multiply across the image in the shape of the the movements that they dance.

As McLaren was born in the town of Stirling, there is an extensive archive about McLaren’s life and work at Stirling University.

Pas de deux from National Film Board of Canada on Vimeo.

Recording the Trace of Movement: Past and Present

In her current exhibition, Motion Capture Drawings, at London Gallery West (3rd February – 4th March 2012), artist Susan Morris has captured her own movements over a period of time in a motion capture studio and painstakingly converted the data via algorithms into lines, which are printed onto photographic paper. The images resemble a fragile, dense fog of movement.

Her work references Étienne-Jules Marey, born in France in 1830 and a pioneer of motion analysis through his work with chronophotography, which, unlike the sequential images of Eadweard Muybridge, used multiple exposures recorded and combined together in one photograph to analyse the trajectory of a movement. Here is a selection:

Marey’s work was a clear influence on the Futurists and other artists concerned with representing speed and motion in painting. Compare the image above, Etienne Jules Marey, Étude de l’homme, chronophotographie, 1887 with Marcel Duchamp’s iconic Nude Descending a Stair, 1912.

Beautiful as Morris’s images are, they bring to mind a tangled web of technological references to the history of motion analysis that she does not acknowledge. Capturing the trace of movement is the aim of contemporary motion capture technology, beautifully illustrated in Ghostcatching, 1999. In this digital dance piece shown below, movement data from choreographer and dancer, Bill T Jones, has been used by Bill Kaiser and Shelley Eshkar of the OpenEnded Group to create graphic lines. The data was not used ‘straight out of the tin’, but required extensive clean-up and artistic input from Kaiser and Eshkar.

Another example of graphic black and white linear imagery inspired by Marey’s motion analysis can be seen in Norman McLaren’s Pas de Deux.