Thoughts about Artist Books and Animation
I have been revisiting one of my hand-made books called Question of Practice. It was made in a time of transition when I started to reflect on time-based media and the performative quality of the moving image, especially the technique of stop-frame animation I was exploring at the time.
As a visual artist my main medium was drawing, and to keep in line with gallery standards I accepted the essential professional benchmark which calls for the work to be framed. Nevertheless I felt increasingly frustrated by the finitude of framed pictures. Even worse, when the colour of the frame was dictated by tradition, and nothing more than the residue of a radical wave of a once prominent artist community in the 60’s. ‘It’s got to be white’, so I was told by a gallery owner. Maybe these distinct take-away ‘frameworks’ – those white frames are a trademark, made the wild energy and colourful landscape of West Penwith more portable.
I arrived at stop-frame animation by chance, when I took photos to record the multiple stages of a drawing for an artist book and observed its movement through time. Artists books were indeed my first attempt to ‘de-frame’ an image, to take the picture off the gallery wall, out of a frame and closer to the viewer.
Like my predecessors and fellow contemporary artists I felt drawn to the energy of West Penwith. I wanted to convey the physical presence of the place, something everyone could sense beyond light, colour, texture, the sea and blue sky – an energy that moves, transforms, carries us.
The slim volume Question of Practice was an artist book turned guide book for transient times, mainly written for and to myself. I traversed an internal landscape akin to the symbolic turning of the page, the moment when drawing came to life. The roots of the word animation, the latin animare, suggest the ‘action of imparting life’, to ‘give breath to’ from anima ‘life, breath’.
Mapping the shift in perception
I display a map of things that happen, things of importance, events, ideas, influences, thoughts, phrases and writings, (my own and quotes I read), photos of work, loosely connected and bound together into a sequence, into a larger picture, into a map, into a book (Loose sheets of paper notoriously go astray, and so do thoughts.)
I like maps. I like their non-hierarchical structure. No pathway is more important than another. All routes are connected, some remain undiscovered, or unsuitable, some turn out to be dead-end routes.
In this sense the book is a map – or a section of a map, or the mapping of the mind. I don’t know the larger picture myself at the moment. I don’t know if the map is coherent, or how accessible the landscape is. That’s for the traveler to decide. (Prologue from Question of Practice)
Of course the map is not the territory but remains an image with a potential for movement and different possibilities to approach a chosen destination. You get an idea of the terrain. You discover unknown places, possible points of departure and arrival. You make hypothetical connections waiting to be explored for real.
I needed to go a step further to really inhabit the significance of animation and ‘imparting life’. I was wrestling with the technique of animation when another set of questions came into focus. It started with the simple request to get an animation off the computer screen and to give it a physical presence. Although the logistical problems involved hours of moving a projector round the studio, I was actually curious about projection as a signifier. An extract from an essay by George Quasha and Charles Stein on the work of the artist Gary Hill: Projection – A Pace of Great Happening offered an interesting proposition: a formula with the visible surface line together with three possible implications.
Projection is what makes reality
- Is the projector, lens or surface (artist, film, recording medium) a neutral receiver, a kind of silver screen receiving a reality that is cast upon (thrown forth as the word project might suggest?
- Is the projection a boundary, a membrane that holds back reality. Therefore the projector is the spur that cuts through the surface, the artist as liberator, or agent of release.
- Is the surface liminal to both of these, the cultivation of the ambi-valent between ? the medium as middle and the edge of interactivity? Then the graphic formulation stands for one’s presence, ‘ the view of the view of the viewers view is the interspace of the great happening that is the release of what is normally held from us’.
Quasha and Stein’s proposition acknowledged the presence of a different reality outside the artist’s mind. What seemed like an eye-opener to me at the time, has long been in existence in non-western philosophy. Nature is regarded as being alive, and geographic features, plants, rocks, water, etc have a soul, consciousness, an inner life.
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