Essay from the catalgue of the Platform International Animation Festival, Portland, Oregon, USA June 2007

A Tension

Dryden Goodwin’s ‘Flight’: the search for a line

By Gareth Evans

I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
Or heard or felt came not but from myself;
And there I found myself more truly and more strange.

Wallace Stevens, From ‘Tea at the Palaz of Hoon’

For 15 years, and via film, video, the drawn and animated image and the gallery installation, British artist Dryden Goodwin has investigated the implications of sustained looking in a series of internationally noted works that have, with great beauty and formal poise, teased out the relationship between sight and place, between the gaze and the territories of the gaze.

His pieces take watching as an almost musical motif, to be re-scored for different surroundings, whether  the transit zones of airports, underground systems or motorway service stations. These spaces, however brutal their dimensions, nevertheless become the site of a significant, albeit passing intimacy, caught by his camera as it calmly investigates the surrounding topography.

‘Flight’, both as a single screen film and a gallery environment, consolidates his established concerns and leads them in intriguing new directions. Whether in its formal pairing of the moving image with its (animated and still) drawn counterpart or in its desire to move beyond the constraints of the urban, it suggests that Goodwin is, like the work’s anonymous protagonist, keen to re-imagine the possibilities of both his environment and, by extension, his practice and life.

What is also provocative about ‘Flight’ is the way it has - as an artefact, a process, an idea - itself migrated; its journey as a work mirroring its own content and themes. Seen initially in a televisual context as part of the British artists’ moving image project animate! (with its annual round of broadcast-commissioned short films; see elsewhere for more details on the scheme) and then in an inner-city London gallery, it now surfaces - or lands - in both a coastal location and a uniquely welcoming and wide-ranging animated context, one where its own promise, or hope, might perhaps come closest to realisation.

Such an implication feels important because, as noted above, more than much of Goodwin’s work, ‘Flight’ feels like a subtly embodied statement of closely held concerns and needs, a reading – from within – in interesting contrast to the gathered intimacies of the public realm that earlier pieces in his oeuvre sought. This declaration of the interior, heightened in charge because it is written almost in counterpoint, in lyric light across ever broadening vistas, finds its expressive signature in the drawn line, the mark that unites both the silent fugitive and the fellow travellers he encounters, or watches over.

That Goodwin takes Klee’s famous line for a walk – or rather, an ever more urgent excursion – through the mediated realm of the moving image is in itself a fascinating fusion of the traditional with the technological (Goodwin really is alone in British Art in his remarkable proficiency across established and new media, and in the thematic and representational outcomes that result).

What’s fascinating about ‘Flight’ is that Goodwin does not posit drawing and film-making as oppositional practices, with the usual clear delineation between their fixed and mobile qualities. Rather, both media here serve primarily as indices of process, of the gathering of experience rather than any fixed arrival. Further, it’s as if they have agreed, in advance, that they will divide his enquiries into space and time between them.

What grants the procedure emotional significance is that the artist, alighting in drawn tenderness with his ink, marks his own yearning, solitude and dislocation, through others, while not denying their own longings or loss. Remaining physically distant, he proceeds to extend the camera as a ghost hand by touching with animated ink those he watches. He traces their profiles, their portraits of isolation; a potent, coded gesture of solidarity with the strangers, the transit nighthawks – of the soul as much as the hour.

This is animation operating in its singular, necessary realm. Its magnificent paradox, its handmade wonder. How the artifice of the drawn line can bring us closer to the lived imperatives, to the real, to being and its pulse than the purely photographic or filmic. The trembling tension of a line seeking to navigate, as if it were the  contours and weather pressures as well as the walker, the concealed landscape of the human. Animation as the gentlest bridging of gulfs. A line like a swaying little bridge across a chasm. But one by which we can cross.

The line as a continuous path that seeks to unite all elements and intentions; thus the form of the journey becomes indecipherable from its voiced and unvoiced aims.

So this closest gesture, this gesture across our separateness, unites, even if briefly, on an aesthetic and emotional level. It is the thread weaving idea and execution together. But ultimately it seeks – calmly yet persistently, to make a larger claim. What is the impulse to art, to making, if it is not a desire to unmake the fragments, the fissures of self and society, the human and the ecological, the known and the felt? The move to a wholeness, however fleetingly, and even via the deployment of fragments, underpins all art worthy of the name and, in our troubled times, it becomes the valued metronome by which what is of worth can be measured.

In this sense, Goodwin’s line of flight becomes less an escape from pressures felt on and in the body, and much more an affirmative accleration into lasting priority, into the truly momentary – and therefore timeless – epiphany of the mark on the page, the image on screen, and finally, the light on the skin. A tension has become attention. Look closer. And from this, the real journey can begin.

Only connect! …Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted …Live in fragments no longer.
E.M. Forster, from ‘Howards End’

Gareth Evans is a writer and independent programmer. He works for animate! ( and edits the moving image journal Vertigo (