A long, long time ago, in a desert far, far away…
I designed a project as part of my year 12 drama/theatre studies.
It involved shadow puppetry.
It wasn’t something anyone else in my cohort was really interested in. They all had TVs at home, so their cultural influences looked very, very different from a weirdo like me. So it was mainly a solo project… Two of my fellow students helped out in the performance of it (and I’m eternally grateful to them) but I made all the puppets, screen, chose the music etc. etc.
It was a jungle story where um… a bunch of animals ate each other… and as a narrative, it was not well thought out. To quote Marcel Dorney, the thing was ‘prehistoric’ and never made it to the insta-vim-tub virality that is available to current 17 year-olds. I’m quite glad no document of it exists.
Gee I loved the medium, though.
I still do.
The years passed and theatre generally, as well as music took over most of my artistic endeavours. Poetry played a greater role than visual arts for a long time too. But flash forward, to a far more advanced technological age and, via ‘The You – Tubes’ I discovered a variety of animations, which spoke to me and reminded me of my earlier obsessions.
One was a bunch of lullabies from around the world. You can go here to start finding them. I find them so very beautiful.
Much more recently I’ve found the story of Lotte Reiniger, which you may, or may not, know much about. I was already aware of her in a general way, hence my interest in shadow puppetry, and had seen some stills of her films – but I had no access, then, to the actual animations. Enjoy tracking her down.
And then, in the mid-2000s, I came across (as did the rest of the world) the viral vid of the hyper-talented Kseniya Simonova, who won (of all things) ‘Ukraine’s Got Talent’. [Side note: any iteration of ‘Got Talent’ is… er… problematic for me. I am very much not a fan of competitive art practices.] Yet, her work connected to something fundamental in me. Her performative storytelling using visual art was able to combine all of the good stuff all at once, as far as I was concerned, in a wonderfully theatrical way.
You can find many other examples of this technique of live illustration using sand and projection art here. And here. And here. And here. And…
None of this is what I do.
The examples I have given above all require a combination of glass tables, lighting source, camera, projector and projection surface – a pretty complicated setup, therefore, and one that is definitely not portable. Or affordable and therefore … limited, to my mind.
But they did remind me of my own relationship with over-head projectors., a technology which has been superceded in education settings. And I’d experienced for myself the attraction they had, and still have, in a dark room.
There is something about this one-armed one-eyed beast, which invites people to get close. Like a campfire in the desert, it is an open welcome. I have very strong memories of cold, dark, morning classrooms and students huddling around the projector for warmth and comfort and focused conversation.
Now, nearly all of them have become just another pocket of real estate in the landfill dotting our landscape. Or perhaps have been melted down for their metal. Or both.
So, firstly, repurposing one makes sense to me in ways equally driven by logic and sentiment.
Secondly, I’ve been influenced by images used by Paolo Freire in his culture circles in order to begin and prompt discussion for adult literacy, also using the shared event of an image projected onto a screen.
Then there are the works of the various charcoal and print artists who I grew up with and was surrounded by, including Käthe Kollwitz, and A. Paul Weber (if you are happy to read German you can find more images here. I especially love his jesters and fools). The monochrome of many of the works of Maurits Cornelis Escher was a huge influence, as was Wilhelm Busch, the grandfather of modern cartooning, and many, many more illustrators of Märchen and folk-tales around the world who worked in ink, water-colour, woodblock printing, etchings…
So many of the images of my childhood were black and white, whether book, film or television. And there is a particular depth, shape and texture in the world of black, grey and white, which still attracts and which colour distracts from. At least, that was my experience.
Lastly, if you have never met her before, let me introduce you to the singularly innovative Caroline Leaf:
She has created – throughout her career – dynamic, grounded and unique animations, using a staggering array of techniques, including scratching images directly onto film stock. Her sand projection work The Owl who Married the Goose is charming, sweet, comically tragic and wryly humorous. It was created in collaboration with Inuit artists and is in the Inuktitut language. If I can create a work that rings with the palpable authenticity she taps into, even if only for a single moment, I will consider myself satisfied.
This, then, is the path so far.
Please let me know if you think there are any signposts or landmarks or memorable giants or fellow travellers I have forgotten or overlooked, or whose work I should meet. I would, in either case, be very, very grateful.
In the meantime, may you travel joyfully across the landscapes beneath your feet.
Share your bit of the map sometime, yeah?