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My essay “The Spatial Narrative: Animation and Art Installation” provides insight to my conceptual / historical influences. This was published in “Cartoon: The International Journal of Animation” Vol 1, Issue 1 in 2005.

The Spatial Narrative: Animation and Art Installation

All places exist somewhere between inside and outside views of them, the ways in which they compare to
and contrast with, other places. Lucy Lippard: 1997; p33 (1)

… But, if memory makes relative insides and outsides communicate like interiors and exteriors, an absolute
outside and inside must confront each other and be co-present. Gilles Deleuze, The Time-Image 1985 (2)

Historically, the re-working of cinematic practice and theory is a reoccurring act: tearing apart constructs in order to build them up again, and testing the definitions of time, duration, space, narrative structures and what it means to be a Spectator. This slippage between definitions is currently one of the most invigorating and exciting events happening in this century, as artists and theoreticians rise to examine the border- crossing potentials of time-based media. These recent decades have seen media artists re-defining their practices by taking on an interdisciplinary approach, and technology is the invigorating Deus ex Machina. Interdisciplinary work that coalesces both time-based media and fine art frequently evolves into the practice of installation or performance, the practical manifestation of concepts with spatial attitude and awareness. The theoretical and practical relationship of cinema to fine art has been long contested, but unfortunately, animation is infrequently considered in these debates. Rose Bond and Gregory Barsamian are two contemporary artists who alter the cinematic code of animation by moving out of the traditional frame and (re)joining it with fine art by utilizing installation/performance practices. Their works are fascinating examples of reviewing how space, time, duration and contextual relationships can challenge the ideologies of narrative structure and the experience of the Spectator as they navigate the potential options.

There is a long history of animation as being the root of cinema. The early 1800’s had the “user” physically interacting with openly mechanical optical toys such as the thaumatrope, zoetrope, phenakistoscope, and paraxinoscope. The animated images were hand drawn and cyclic in their looping gestural movement. The Lightning sketch artist of the early 1900’s, Stuart Blackton, (3) utilized animation films during live stage performances, interacting with the drawn images as if they were alive, but the mechanics were being hidden from view in order to preserve the “magical” quality of the animated movement. The beginning concepts of animation were entwined with user interactivity, but as mechanical invention intervened, animation as “cinema” was transferred to the performative gestures of drama and spectacle, and the audience began to be physically separated from the cinema screen. The Spectator’s body was being removed from the equation. The mechanics of cinema were becoming clouded and hidden as artifice, as art progressed through invention. But because of cinema’s early history, the cinema artists were thinking of the individual “frame” as crafted art, and cinematic results in relation to time, duration, and space were being explored.

Paraxinsocope image © Jack and Beverly Wilgus

Cinema is built upon a physical structure and process that predicates a separation of existence on many different levels. The gathering of individual frames onto the strip of celluloid or bits of code on a video/digital track, is the use of duration and space. This captured infinite moment is about dissolving that time-space relationship when projected at 24-30fps, where it purports to regain the illusion of life through the power of Time, Duration and Space. But Time and Duration do not share the same identity. Tony Conrad, video artist and musician, comments (Time) corresponds to the linear system of physics, clocks, and the calendar; duration addresses the subjective sense of extension over temporal intervals of greater or lesser size, referenced to the present moment.”(4) Time and duration cannot exist without Space within which to play out their respective qualities. The conflation of time, duration and space can be seen even in the earliest cave paintings, as events and movement become layered and compiled onto one ceiling or wall. “Spatial simultaneity” is a phrase that has been adopted amongst artists and theorists as a way to address Time related images existing contiguously in one immediate environment, one Space. This term is most likely best attributed to the inspiration of Henri Bergson, French social theorist.

Duration (thus) assumes the illusory form of a homogeneous medium, and the connecting link between these two terms, space and duration, is simultaneity, which might be defined as the intersection of time and space. (5)

“Portrait of Picasso” 1912, Juan Gris; Collection of Mrs. and Mrs. Leigh Block

Fine Artists in the early days of cinema were motivated into action by the newly curated sense of time and space. The infinite moment was introduced, where an intimate exploration of a subject could be done from various viewpoints over time. Cubism responded by shattering these multiple points of view into a single plane (6), while Vorticists and Dynamists layered multiple shards of expanded time into one flattened image, such as this portrait of Pablo Picasso executed by the Spanish artist, Juan Gris in 1912.(7)

Animation as a cinematic art form is created in a disjointed manner, time-wise and spatially. Time is separated and slowed down to an infinite moment, dissolving movement and meaning to individual statements as images are garnered on a microcosmic basis by the artist-filmmaker. It is in its own way, also an example of spatial simultaneity. Space shifts as the work-in-progress gains materiality and reaches eventual output, regardless of medium. The final output regains standard Time, running along in linearly observed cinematic motion. The pursuit of animation as cinema is, and has been, to give tangible life to the Imaginary in time. Whether the individual handcrafting of drawings upon paper, adjusting puppets, or applying scripted code to mathematically defined points in virtual space, an artist generates the work as an intimately crafted project coming from their own hands. Animation has an extraordinary ability to render the representation of abstract imagination as real, and this is precisely where emotional resonance lays in art; the ability to reach the unconscious response. The cultivation of this kind of cinematic abstraction at a handcrafted level is defining the relationship between cinema and art.

‘Polyphysiognomical Portrait of Umberto Bocciono’ 1913 (left) and Schiafo (right) by Anton Giulio and Arturo Bragaglia

Traditional Cinematic narrative relies upon causal effect progressions and the thoughtful juxtapositioning of shots and sequences, and it does so by using linear time, duration and space. Editing strategies survive upon one temporary shot replacing the next, itself then being replaced, and so on, until the replacement progression creates a temporal and emotional shift of awareness, as cause-and-effect lead the viewer thru a pre-determined exercise. Experimental media artists might disrupt narrative flow by placing excessive space and time between successive shots. The viewer’s mind is unable to maintain a cohesive relationship between shots in this context, and the ideal narrative is challenged. Even though, it is nearly impossible for a screened film’s individual shot to have a recognizable quality of existing individually and tangibly. Narrative experience is maintained inside of the covert linear movements of the projected film, and no matter how many times one may observe this film, it will always run the same sequence of events. Any change of representation or perception of the film will be achieved only by the individual Spectator themselves.

A perception which can be eliminated by an action is recognized as exterior. Jean Louis Baudry (8)

The general Spectator will say that the ideal cinematic experience is the ability to “disappear” into the film’s world, the screen melting away as the film becomes combined with the Spectator’s unconscious, opening to what is tantamount to a waking dream. When a Spectator is required to consciously interact with media in order to have a complete delivery of information, that Spectator becomes an active User with agency, and the illusionistic space of the waking dream disappears. The cinematic moment becomes “exterior” to the individual Spectator. History includes artists that saw the ideal experience in the “disappearing,” as well as those that wished to expose the long ago hidden mechanics of cinematic artifice.

The contemporary urban artist is digital media savvy and ìnter-disciplinary, focusing on the experience of the digital media User, accessing a digital “database” which stores media data that can be brought together to (re)construct “narrative” in a variety of ways. The User consciously applies choice, generally using a computer screen interface that doubles for the traditional movie screen. In this scenario, (the) individual self-navigates toward his or her own reception.9 However, narrative fragmentation frequently occurs, obscuring meaning and preventing a feeling of structural “flow.” Unconscious immersion does not occur because of the conscious and overt activity that is limited to the literal “screen interaction.”

We experience not only with our minds, but with our bodies as well. Traversing through space invites sensorial expectation and creates an immersive and seductive state of presence and connectedness that we absorb in an unconscious reverie. She who wanders through a building or a site acts precisely like a film spectator absorbing and connecting visual spaces. The changing position of a body in space creates architectural and cinematic grounds. The consumer of architectural (viewing) space is the prototype of the film spectator. Giuliana Bruno, “Site-seeing” (2000)10. Movement through space also invites discovery and creation of memory as we wend our way along a path in linear time. We are altered with the moments of finding something new around the corner as we move towards our destination: a stairwell infused with a lingering smell of perfume, a winter trail that is unmarked, retracing a lonely highway that we use to reach a lover. The capacity to use our bodies to navigate meaning is woven into our daily lives.

If we ponder upon how narrative might be experienced as spatially simultaneous and contextual, we can look to architecture as a guiding principle. That is, by using actual space experienced in time. Disassembling and reassembling the building blocks of a narrative experience, architecture’s vocabulary would introduce ideas such as physical placement and proximity, scale and proportions, color, texture, temperature, patterns, light and shadow, entrance and exit, rhythm of passage, destination and arrival, interior and exterior, and auditory response. By incorporating animation as the cinematic media, we reinvigorate a fine art thread.

Rose Bond is a Canadian born media artist living and teaching in Portland, Oregon. Her pursuit of animation as art has developed into utilizing the architectural edifice as her locus for media installation. This is particularly well suited to her goals as she examines the meeting point of public art in her private work. Bond’s most recent installations, Illumination #1 (2003, 2004,) and Gates of Light (2004) were each animated narratives installed in city buildings, intended to be experienced from the vantage point of the surrounding streets. The practical set-up is the same in each, with up to six video projectors placed inside the building space, casting illuminated 12 minute animation loops upon the inside surfaces of building windows. Audio speakers are positioned externally, creating an aural atmosphere of voices, effects and music. Viewers are street pedestrians and residents in surrounding buildings, and sometimes residents of the streets.

Illuminations #1, street shot © Rose Bond

Illumination #1 is an exploration of Portland’s historical identity, covering 120 years in 12 minutes.11 Bond chose the historic Portland Seamen’s Bethel corner building for its relationship to a wide history of transitory groups and cultures, people who otherwise are forgotten, have no voice in history.12 It is the specific use of animation that brings unique warmth and a sense of collective memory to this project, with the hand drawn forms vibrating lightly in their silhouettes, and indicating another individual’s care and action in bringing them back to life. The use of the building invites the evocation of the simulacra, the building as reawakened arbiter of history. It is also the breaking of the cinematic screen as an invisible mirror, insisting upon its own existence. This narrative requires close observation, because some imagery will appear monstrously large, passing as if behind the entire building’s wall, seen only in pieces through the windows. Other imagery is recreated to be window specific, as human habitations were rendered. Spectators as active participants must position themselves to find their favored view of the building’s events, and to affect reception of the audio in which street traffic and pedestrian murmurings become intertwined. The Spectator’s actions evolve a relationship with the physical presence of the narrative and the building as Narrator. The narrative structure is a montage, in that a linear dispersal of the history is both accumulated and filtered by the physical building, the presence and path taken by the Spectator, the randomizing element of traffic at large, and the authorial control of Bond as director.

from The Scream, © 1997 Gregory Barsamian
Die Falle, © 1998 Gregory Barsamian
Collection of Howard Tullman

Gregory Barsamian is a kinetic sculpture artist living and working in Brooklyn, NY, whose work has been collected internationally by museums and foundations. Barsamian uses replacement animation sculpture and persistence of vision techniques, the work enabled by whirling motor- driven cages which support cascading animated sculptures lit by synchronized strobing lights. The work is displayed in darkened, closed rooms in which the Spectator encounters floating phantasms repeating dream-like looping gestures. Barsamian employs changing the scale of the whirling cage to determine the length of the animation; the larger the diameter of cage, the longer the animation can be, the average being 3 seconds. His largest animation to date is 15 feet tall, allowing 6 seconds of animation. Because of the short loop, the length of narrative is minimalized considerably. The endless cycling nature of this work is utilized by Barsamian to underscore the existential quality of these narratives: the Sisyphean-like nature of the task of living.

Barsamian employs surreal dream imagery that includes disembodied arms waving, cherubs turning into helicopters, books swallowing hands, and figures rising from sleeping heads. The narrative experience requires the Spectator to navigate an extremely sensorially awakened space, moving amongst the animated works. The images exist in real time and viewers are able to share the same space with them. The conflict between sensory information and logic creates the state of dream reality.13 The Spectator is enveloped not only within the visual stimuli but also within the aural drone of whirring motors, breezes that are generated from flying and whirling sculpture, vibrations through floors and walls, strobing lights, moving shadows thrust against every surface, and the presence of other Spectators.

The higher meaning of the architectural site is inconsequential in this work, but physical architectural space is essential and irrevocably linked to the physical and spatially simultaneous existence of the narrative. The use of persistence of vision, animation technique and handcrafted sculpture installation create a stunning hybrid of fine art and cinema. The interaction finds the Spectator located within the narrative, immersed in reconstructing a personal relationship and understanding of the looping stories that Barsamian provides as fodder.

The capacity to engage with the cinematic experience as spatial, contextual and immersive can be found in the relationships created through media installation. History has shown that it has always been possible, and that it has been technology that has seduced us away, encouraging us to hide the artifice and to assume that abandoning true space and the body was the only way to bridge the gap to the unconscious. Our bodies consume experience and make it exist wholly within us. They are our immediate relationships to space and time relationships, allowing an unconscious conduit through which narratives can communicate through art and cinema.

Essay by Lorelei M. Pepi Lorelei is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Visual and Environmental Studies Program and a Film Study Center Fellow, both at Harvard University where she teaches animation filmmaking. © Lorelei M. Pepi 2005

1. Lippard. Lucy (1997) The Lure of the Local: senses of place in a multi-centered society, New Press, p. 33
2. Deleuze, Gilles (1985) Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta, Althone Press
3. Stuart Blackton (d 1941) was most well known for Humorous Phases of Funny Faces, 1906, which used stop-motion,
stick puppetry and drawn animation.
4. Tony Conrad, Oct 2004; http://tonyconrad.net/duration.htm online journal essay
5. Bergson, Henri “Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness” Chapter 2: The
Multiplicity of Conscious States; The Idea of Duration; translated by F.L. Pogson, M.A. London: George Allen and
Unwin (1889, trans. 1910)
6. An example of Cubist painting is provided in Juan Gris’ “Portrait of Picasso” (1912); Collection of Mrs. and Mrs.
Leigh Block, Art Institute of Chicago
7. An example of Dynamism is seen in the photography work of the Italian Bragaglia brothers. The image provided is
by Anton Giulio and Arturo Bragaglia, ‘Polyphysiognomical Portrait of Umberto Bocciono’, 1913
8. Baudry, Jean Loius, The Apparatus, Camera Obscura No. 1 (Fall 1976), p. 115
9. Tafler, David I. (XXXX) When Analog Cinema Becomes Digital memory, p. 187
10. Bruno, Giuliana (2000) Site-seeing: Architecture and the Moving Image, p.
11. Quote provided by Rose Bond in writing about her own work. http://www.rosebond.net
12. Quote from pesonal interview with Rose Bond, 2005, Ottawa, Canada
13. Quote provided by Gregory Barsamian, in writing about his own work. http://www.gregorybarsamian.com