Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Picture Held Us Captive

Last night I attended a lecture at SVA presented by the upcoming (Fall 2012) "MA Critical Theory and the Arts" Department:  Peter Eleey:  A Picture Held Us Captive.  The description reads: MoMA PS1 curator Peter Eleey discusses the challenges posed to art by the image culture of the post-9/11 era and how he sought to navigate some of these challenges in organizing “September 11,” an exhibition at MoMA PS1 marking the tenth anniversary of the attacks.

I was not familiar with Peter Eleey before this lecture, and what struck me most about him was his contemplative way of speaking.  Every word was intentional; carefully picked as he fiddled with the mic stand, eyes drifting up towards the ceiling as if his word bank could be found there.  I mention this because there was an incredible amount of thought put into this exhibition - the pieces chosen received all the meditation and deliberation as the words he chose to explain them.

In this hour-long lecture, Peter showed photos from 9/11 as well as from the exhibition, carrying us through his inspiration for the show then his reasoning and philosophy behind his curatorial decisions.  As for reasons for the exhibition, he cited a desire to work with "temporal specificity instead of site specificity."  Over the years, Peter has noticed some divine coincidences between exhibitions and the major historical events that transpired during their runs.  One example being Saddam Hussein's execution occuring during the MOMA's show, "Manet and The Execution of Maximilian."  He wanted to create a show with that sort of historical counterpart, but without being able to see the future, his options were limited to recurrences rather an occurrences.  I'm not sure how many options he entertained before landing on 9/11;  maybe it was obvious.  I got the feeling it was...

His first challenge was finding art that he felt would be fitting for the exhibition.  With the exception of a few pieces, he hasn't felt that there has been any contemporary works that really speak to his proposed post-9/11 image culture.  In fact, one piece that he felt did was unveiled one year after the attacks, causing public outrage and was subsequently removed.  It is Eric Fischl's Tumbling Woman (2001/02):

The outcry was that is was "wrong", arguing that since it was in a public space (Rockefeller Center), it could not be avoided.  Like the photo The Falling Man, it demonstrated the seemingly unanimous feeling that representing the victims was an abuse of the image, and served as a precursor to the censor placed on future images of that nature (for example, the coffins of fallen soldiers from the upcoming Iraq War).  The intensity of their protest was, to Peter, a testament to the power of the image.  To take it a step further, the power of images that, regardless of their historical context and proximity to 9/11, would illicit strong emotions when seen through the frame of 9/11.  This was the thesis that Peter Eleey went on to explore then employ when putting together September 11.

At one point, Peter said that as long as he chose well, then 9/11 feelings would be projected onto all of the work.  Citing visitor reactions to pieces like a Modrian memorial (installation across the street on the sidewalk) and Janet Cardiff's "The 40 Part Motet", he felt as though he accomplished that.

Thomas Hirschhorn. Mondrian Altar. 1997. During installation, an onlooker asked if the person had been killed in 9/11.   
Janet Cardiff, The 40 Part Motet. 2001.  At the opening, a visitor complemented Peter on his representation of the Pennsylvania flight with this piece.  There were 40 people onboard.

One criticism of the show is that Eleey is changing the meaning of the work by placing it out of its original context and into an exhibition explicitly about September 11th.  In his own defense, Eleey pointed out that a museum can provide a caption but that doesn't dictate/change the way the viewer experiences the art.  I think the point is also that it's not his exhibition that is dictating or changing the meaning of the pieces contained in it, but rather 9/11 itself. 

9/11, temporally transfixed as an event and by our referral to it by its date, nonetheless marks the start of something:  a period in American history that to this day has not ended.  Many people, myself included, suppose that we are the makers of meaning.  Peter Eleey proposes that 9/11 proves that history can, and is currently, making meaning out of us.  He further cited the historical regression he has observed in America over the past 10 years.  Bush, again.  Iraq, again.  An increase in remakes and attempts to "keep" live performances.  He sees us as trying to look back into our history in order to understand, citing "the violent dejavu" of the attacks as a major cause.  When the first plane hit, we were all wondering what happened - was it an accident?  Human error?  Then the second plane hit, making it clear that it was a deliberate attack and forever changing the historical recollection of the event.  The sheer trauma of that day, coupled with the deluge of images that pervaded our media, has had an ongoing effect on the American people.  Our struggle to understand, the subsequent backslide, and the perceived meaning and also censorship surrounding images post-9/11 all add to the "captivity" placed upon us by 9/11.  This, Peter Eleey proposes, is the post 9/11 image culture.  His exhibition is a discussion of that culture that he offers without reservation, but rather, with honesty and grace.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Douglas Gordon's "Play Dead"

I had never heard of Douglas Gordon before stumbling upon his show at the MOMA in 2006. It was one of the first video installations I had ever been to, and it was the first time that video in the fine art setting felt really accessible to me. I haven't been nearly as affected by a single other video as I was when turning the corner and coming face to face with his piece, "Play Dead."

Projected onto two massive screens, it literally took my breath away. It's the first time I can remember ever feeling confronted by art. A silent film shot from a low angle, it centers on an elephant and is set in an empty gallery (the Gagosian, to be exact). The camera circles the elephant as it is prompted to lay down, then sit, then stand again. When talking about the project, Gordon said, "...one of the beautiful things with film and video is that it can imbue a sense or sensibility that doesn't actually physically exist." Looking back at it, that is exactly what gave me pause when entering the space. The elephant on the screen was seemingly to scale; impressive, majestic and powerful on screens that offered the only source of light in the giant space that contained them. The animal felt present.

As the elephant shifted, preparing to sit, or rolled on its side, trying to get up, the lack of sound gave it a feeling of weightlessness. The omission of this very important quality (sound) is to intentionally leave out one of the most important characteristics of any video that seeks to ground itself in "reality". So to omit sound is, in a way, to do away with showcasing elephant the animal, and to offer elephant the image. The sense of the elephant.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Recreating RSA Animate

I've recently been approached with a request to make a "RSA Animate"-type short. In my meeting last night, the client showed this example:

I'm fascinated by stop-motion/digital hybrids, and trying to figure out what is "faked" and what is real. This one for sure has me scratching my head. Is it a real whiteboard? How did they light it? Is it done in sections or as a whole with a camera moving as he drew? Is it all digital and they fake the drop shadow? Does any of this matter as long as my solution gets them the same end result? That seems to be the point, ultimately. Get them the result, stay on budget.
I'm going to do some tests over this weekend, with the goal to be to post my process here. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Caricature of me by Bill

I just finished representing two of Bill's films at two festivals and he asked me to share my experiences on Scribble Junkies, so I thought I'd also re-post here.

First up was "Guard Dog Global Jam" at the Ottawa International Film Festival. It was my first time at OIAF and I have to say it was everything I hoped for and more. I won't say that I loved every film that I saw, but being immersed in a community of animators for five days far outweighed any distaste I may have had for certain program selections. I will also say there is merit to exploring what you do not like as much as there is indulging in what you do like. Here are some highlights from the shorts competitions:

I wasn't one for abstract animation until this film. I also love that Steven is holding it down with ink on paper.

As for this one, I just love how smooth the animation is, the timing, and the music paired with it.

This undergrad thesis film played in the same block as GDGJ, so I was lucky to sit on a Q&A panel with Caleb the next morning. He is bright, thoughtful, and is really engaged with the process of making hand-drawn animation.

Also, a welcomed moment of levity from Danny Dresden.

This past weekend I accompanied "The Flying House" at The Hamptons International Film Festival. Centered around East Hampton, the festival boasts multiple red carpets, complimentary hor d'oeuvres and glasses of wine, and programming that couldn't have been any more different than Ottawa. Not that I expected them to be at all similar, and also not that I've been to so many festivals as to be able to draw comparisons, so instead I'd like to discuss the matter of shorts: live action vs. animation.

After attending a block of shorts, it seemed to me that (at least in the case of this program) the filmmakers all dealt with "real life" situations to match their "real life" mode of visual storytelling. With the exception of the one animated piece, they all dealt with the themes of parenting, morality, and youth. Each story was uniquely executed, and very much had an individual style, genre and "voice", but it left me wondering if an animated short would ever be "popular" with the same content. I'm not saying that it should or should not, but more so thinking about the inherent differences in the mediums leading to differences in the end products.

I think one attraction towards live action is that the director is not representing people going through life, the actors are people going through life (as far as the audience is concerned). This allows them to be more immediately accessible so the writer can just "dive right in". Animation offers a limitless playground, where anything from complete control or lack of control can be employed to provide a more expressive representational approach to the same themes. As animated filmmakers, we have to work to engineer the suspension of disbelief, whereas live action can easily be accepted as "real." This, to me, can be sighted as a reason (amongst many that I won't go into here) for the difference in content that I experienced between Ottawa and the Hamptons.

I had trouble hunting down videos of the shorts, but the program I'm referring to can be found here.

I would like to thank both festivals and their wonderful staff members for their generous hospitality and for offering films that, like it or not, showcase how we continue to address the world with our visual storytelling.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Shower Compositions

Having some adoration for my new shower head...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fire Escape

micron marker, micron pen and prismacolor marker

One of my favorite things to do in the summer is sit on my fire escape, right outside the living room window that opens up to it. When my neighbors are out and about I enjoy watching them come and go, sometimes giving a whistle and a wave if I'm feeling social. What I like more so, though, is letting my brain have it's tangential way through my day and, with enough time, life. I've reached many moments of clarity and inspiration while in that spot. What you see above is the result of one such session.

I didn't take the time to test makers and make a proper palette, and as a result I feel it's a bit haphazard. I do like, however, that I managed to stay loose and take a few hours to explore the page with different colors and size pens. Starting with marker and blocking in color, I was able to experiment with building the volume of the tree's leaves and creating depth. As a study, I really like it, and imagine I'll revisit this composition, this time with a stricter palette and taking greater care to compose the page.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


sketch I did of the main character on my way home
micron on paper, digital color

Last night I went to see the premier of "Bellflower" at the SVA theater in Chelsea. I was very curious about the film having stumbled upon the trailer last week:

Described as a fusion of John Hughes and Mad Max, the film got a lot of positive attention from its run at Sundance, and I have to say deservedly so. Not only were 2 out of the 3 cameras used to shoot the film built by the director himself, he also built the car, the flamethrower, wrote the screenplay, starred in it, and it's his feature film debut. Also, the movie was made for around $17,000. Working full-time in an indie studio myself, it is really encouraging to see a movie made on a such a small budget, but not only that, one that can hold it's own with movies with ten times that budget.

In a Q&A with the writer/director/star, Evan Glodell, he spoke about how much of the film was a community effort. People pitched in cash as they had it, as Evan built the cameras on the empty floorspace of whatever living room/extra bedroom he was staying it at the time. Scraping by over the 3+ years it took to complete the film, he has emerged as a sought-after filmmaker and getting a lot of buzz. I am so refreshed and proud to see super low budget indie making a splash.