Art Monthly
February 2006

‘The Animators’
Angel Row Gallery, Nottingham, UK
3 Dec 2005 to 4 Feb 2006

Reviewed by Sally O’Reilly

The great thing about animation is that it is purged of the constrictions of reality; it is naturally gravity-free and can overcome separations of time and space.  In contrast to live action film, the lead boots of physical forces, mortality and rationality have to be added deliberately in the animated realm. Moviemakers spend a lot of time, money and CGI developments on what an animator can achieve with a pencil, single-frame shutter release or rudimentary Flash software.

It seems odd, considering the possibilities that this represents, that there is so much film and video art around, but so little animation art.  ‘The Animators’ aims to spotlight the practice of artists whose media include digital animation alongside their perhaps better-known static work.  Paul Morrison, for instance, shows with his now predictable black-and-white graphic landscapes a video piece that, although also black and white, has a totally different painterly quality.  Unlike his schematic scalar shifts between dandelion heads and distant trees lining rolling hills, the film glides between visual languages.  Claustrophobic film footage of landscape foliage has been digitally manipulated: we follow the camera underwater as it breaks the surface with ripples and witness a minor magical light display.

Morrison’s short loop, of a little over a minute, suggests the time consuming frame-by-frame process of animation.  Simon Faithfull’s Dog Breathing, 2005, is a neat acknowledgement of this temporal concentration.  A drawing of a sleeping dog, in Faithfull’s signature pixelated Palm-Pilot style, gently respires through a short cycle, like breathing itself.  The life-sized dog, projected low against the wall as if it were ranging on the gallery floor, may not literally traverse the divide between reality and representation, but it hints at the possibility.

Katy Dove scans abstract drawings and watercolours and sets them in motion to music.  Dove’s musical taste is eclectic, yet her formal preferences remain fairly constant, favouring swirls, curlicues and parabolas that are organic, like bird flight, yet tinged with the synthetic psychosis of psychedelia.  At times the imagery seems a literal translation of the soundtrack – electronica crescendos are matched by a strobing visual equivalent – and occasionally the Flash technology leaves its inevitable fractal fingerprints, but on the whole Dove holds sight and sound in tension an in thrall so that we forget the  technology in favour of sensualism.  The curator, Angela Kingston, has augmented Dove’s videos with screenprints and paintings, as if to divulge the animator’s hand and make the raw stuff of the process apparent, but instead the alchemy of animation is compromised and the images reduced to storyboard status.
The distribution of numbers of works by each artist is curiously uneven – there seem to be dozens of pieces by Ann Course, from animated films to ceramics to screenprints to sculpture.  Course’s animations are made of crude line drawings depicting even cruder events.  Shagging stick men, explosions, knobs, knives, coffins, bouquets tied to a lamp post, people pissing and so on – the attitude is irritatingly cranked up to eleven. On the whole the animation is lamentable, although presumably this is the punky point, but Course does occasionally contrive well-observed moments: a woman in knickers lying on her back taps her foot, her thigh lovingly dimpled; a poised diver breathes heavily; a bum walks about on points, like a pair of compasses.  In the animation industry, observation and precision of movement are a source of joy and invention; most artists, however, don’t ever reach this sustained pitch of attentiveness.

The plethora of Course’s other work here, including painted and stained glass boots and buckets and a series of ceramic abstracted heads, has recourse to animation only in that it references a certain genre of cartoon imagery.  This representation of animation unfortunately sidelines a vast area of practice that comprises as many genres and traditions as film, from camp violence to magical realism to kitchen sink grit.  Stretching the definition of animation to an extent, Dryden Goodwin’s Two Thousand and Three, 2003, at least breaks through to realms of realism. The piece comprises 2003 photographs of individuals at an anti-war demonstration in London; as they run through a projector the single images become a transmutating stream, which at times looks as though it might be the morphing of a single figure – the prevalence of sunglasses acts a s a unifying force to create this illusion.  The stills are also laid out on a long lightbox with a loupe for individual viewing – an anthropological presentation that recalls 70s conceptual photography, in particular Douglas Huebler’s ludicrous attempt to photograph all the people alive in the world, although Goodwin reins his piece in with a firm bridle of morality that Huebler would never have desired or secured.

Vong Phaophanit and Claire Oboussier have worked together on a video and each show their own objects too.  Phaophanit’s long vitrine contains a number of ornaments dipped in sclerotic looking wax to become insipid blind homunculi.  Oboussier has bowdlerised a birdcage, opening up the metal bars so that it takes on insect connotations.  Both transformations are evocative, promising something like the potential of animation, yet once more we are limited to the schlock violence of mainstream cartoons.  In a collaborative video piece, Phaophanit and Oboussier have digitally removed the ball from a football match between England and Poland.  It may be simply that the digital removal of elements has been so repeatedly, doggedly and literally performed – for instance Nicky Coutt’s depopulated Bruegel paintings and Paul Pfeiffer’s basketball game with no ball, Fragment of a Crucifixion (After Francis Bacon),  1999 – that this work is so uncompelling.  Or perhaps it is simply because it is installed in the drafty stairwell outside the gallery proper.  In fact the whole show seems to be hovering on the wrong side of the threshold as far as animation is concerned.  There are a great many more artists animating now that computerisation has accelerated the process, and there are innumerable professional practitioners whose independent projects could be described as art.  Perhaps the curation of this show happened the wrong way round.  Instead of noticing something vague that a handful of artists have in common, it would be enlightening to research the medium along more oblique lines.