Interview with Mandy McIntosh
We spoke to Mandy about how animation became part of her artistic practice, and the influences behind the two films, Oompie ka Doompie and The Animal Riot, showing on animateprojects.org from June 2011.
You have a background in fashion design, and craft is a strong element of your art work, particularly with the materiality and texture you bring to the images. I wondered if there was a connection between design, and the way you assemble different kinds of material - found footage, live action, drawing and 3D animation - in your work?
There is a strong design element in my work: it comes from my very first creative impulse which was to make my own clothes when I was about fourteen. I was very design conscious, I saw clothes as total sites of transformation. Personal manifestos.
I formalised that by studying knitwear design at Trent Polytechnic and then I was offered a studio design job at Kenzo in Paris. Working at Kenzo was really powerful because I was really looking at assemblage and juxtaposition there. Kenzo Takada was really noticed in the 70s and 80s for his combinations of colour, print and texture, he developed this really amazing combo of whacky prÍt-ŗ-porter teamed with a real Japanese aesthetic sensibility in terms of nuance and fabric. I completely drunk all that in and developed a new maturity in how I saw and executed material.
Then I left there and travelled for a bit and did a Masters in Design at Glasgow School of Art which helped to refine that and also introduced me to new context and form. Thatís how I encountered moving image as an area I could work in.
You use computer 3D animation software, but the work retains an emphatic sense of the handmade - as in the way you layer drawings on to 3D models in The Animal Riot. So you seem to use 3D software almost in defiance of the realism that this software is designed to achieve - or is it to you just another tool to experiment with?
What I do with 3D software is really feral and definitely primitive. I use the 3D environment like a woodworking shop, turning and sculpting forms to make puppets. The puppets I make are very reduced and simple forms because aesthetically, thatís where Iím at.
Iím really influenced by Dick Bruna (creator of the Miffy childrenís books), in how he illustrates and communicates in circles and squares and primary colour. Itís a real aesthetic bias towards that simplicity, and the software is just a tool towards that look.
For The Animal Riot, I wanted the puppets to feel archaic and timeless, so they could stand against these anarchic drawings the primates had made and feel right. I would hate the work to have any kind of reference to software in terms of the Ďcutting edgeí, Iím deeply ambivalent about that and it shows. The puppets are aesthetically very considered but then also a reflection of how little I know about 3D computer modeling, which is limited.
Iím not that tuned into realism in terms of 3D capability, I appreciate the skill involved and the capability of the software but for me its an experimental tool to create sculptural objects. Its juxtaposition again, the handmade and the plastic. The way the puppets move is a very basic language, my palette is totally reduced in 3D because Iím not trained in any way, so I work with limited capability but thatís often where really interesting things happen. Zeena described the movement as percussive and that inspired her approach to the score.
How and why did you first come to make first animation?
When I was at Glasgow School of Art, a guy in my year came into the studio one day and said, ďMandy, I had this dream last night, I dreamt that you were making an animated film, you had this board of coloured beads that you could change colour by turning each bead individually and you had made this animation of a girl riding a bike.Ē And I could see it as he described it, I could see it in my mind and a switch came on. I was totally convinced.
At the same time, I was looking at the work of young filmmakers in my city, people making films through the First Reels scheme which was run then by Scottish Screen and Scottish Television. I went to a screening of about eight short films - drama, documentary and some stop motion animation - and thought, ďright ok, I want to do thisĒ. And I did. I made two experimental films through that scheme.
I didnít actually animate though until I did In an Empty, a documentary for Channel 4 about teenage sexuality and wanted to articulate text through a lot of really crude and obscene graffiti. The producer put me in touch with John Butler and I sat with him for a week making garlands of spinning cocks and creating a scene about a boy losing his virginity, from drawings young people had made, culled graffiti and some of Johnís 3D furniture. It was working with him that gave me a basic insight into 3D.
Then I made I am Boy, working with John again. Oompie ka Doompie was when I first embarked on a formal animated film by myself. Before that I had done projects in flash, like Weightless Animals and animated in 2D, like Electronic Fabric Film, but Oompie ka Doompie was more ambitious technically.
In Oompie ka Doompie you explored your own sort of political realisation, and The Animal Riot is explicitly political - is politics something drives you to make work - is the purpose fundamental to why you make art?
I make art because I deeply love working with material, texture and form. If that was enough for me though, Iíd still be at Kenzo churning out the womenswear designs. It wasnít enough to simply design commodity and the reason it wasnít is because I have a social conscience. So when I harnessed all that aesthetic joy and pleasure to the political, thatís when I really felt like I was getting somewhere, that it wasnít just gratuitous making, there was a potential to say something. I guess also the design background really tethers me to the notion of functionality, that work can be a container filled with meaning and commitment to social justice.
With Oompie ka Doompie you draw on your own experience and with The Animal Riot and other works such as Session, you are offering up the viewpoints of others. Is narrative always a starting point?
Yes, there is always a narrative, a text, a thing to say or a political or social context, and the work grows out of that.
Do you think of your work as documentary?
I do think of my work as documentary. As a document rooted in reality.
You used primate drawings in The Animal Riot - and I wondered what it was about them that made you want to include them?
Initially it was simply the action painting aspect of them, what appeared as abandon, and the random beauty of that abandon. The intrigue of the animal, the metaphor, a notion of brotherhood and solidarity between us and them.
But when I saw primatologist Marina Vancatovaís collection and discussed it with her, I realised that what I was looking at was way more sophisticated than that. And this was down to the fact that as a scientist, she was giving the apes specific visual objects, diagonal lines, dots, squares, horizontal linesÖ to react to. She needed to gauge their reactions to these empirical shapes to assess patterns of response which would equate to conscious visual decision making, i.e. intelligence.
And I saw the marks the apes made in reaction to these Ďcivilisedí forms as embodying the spirit of revolution. That was very exciting, I got engrossed in the ape work and I could start to see real individual traits. Beautiful lyrical marks. And the scientific marks made in black magic marker pen came to represent architecture, farm buildings, Mankind.
How did your collaboration with Zeena Parkins on the soundtrack for The Animal Riot come about?
I met Zeena through sound artist Kaffe Matthews and we three embarked on a collaboration called Weightless Animals - sonic space cartoons made from conversations with astronauts about a soundtrack for space: what music they took with them, what the ambient sound was like up there.
I then asked Zeena to score Oompie ka Doompie because I had really enjoyed particular pieces she had developed through that space collaboration. And Oompie ka Doompie was such a joy to work with her on, she just brought so much to the piece through a really creative but concentrated approach that I definitely wanted to work with her again.
So I invited her to score The Animal Riot and again was completely floored by her ability to ďdig deepĒ as she would say, to really assess what is taking place visually and tease that out even further with such incredible gestures and musicianship. I felt incredibly supported creatively by her; she is a very generous artist.
Youíve also made work collaboratively with the public Ė with members of the International Guild of Knot Tyers, and for Session (for Picture This) exploring black mental health, with the Two Way Street project in Bristol. How different is your approach to that kind of project to the way you tackle animation or knitting?
The approach is always the same, itís always about context and a response to that. When I work with members of the public, often Iím trying to formulate a situation where what they make and what I make can co-exist without any form of hierarchy.
The Two Way street project is a good example of that. The work was really the situation, it was a series of workshops with tangible outcomes, content, objects, sounds, that I then made a home for through the film. I framed what had been produced, and what was produced was the result of a scheme which explored history, racism in the past, racism now and the potential for reconciliation through exposure and discourse.
I read on your website that youíve recently been working with Kaffe Matthews on a Star Gazing Shelter in Galloway Forest Park, could you tell us more about it?
And are there any animated works in the pipeline?
Iím working on a new project with Kaffe Matthews in Galloway Forest which is a dark sky park and one of the best places in Europe to look at the night sky with zero light pollution. Itís based on the bothy principle: a free space to sleep in, a shelter in the wilderness, and it relates to our Weightless Animals project.
We spoke to people who had been to outer space and now we are looking at earth-based space age contemplation. Itís very primal. Itís about a deep relationship to nature and a kind of surrender to the profundity of the universe. That vast black space punctuated by volatile inhuman activity in the form of stars, nebula and galaxies that we have no current way of experiencing.
Interestingly, lots of what Iím looking at is the artificial colouration and kind of contrived Ďpersonalityí we give these objects in order to try and reconcile our relationship to them. Itís like modern myth making. These dimensions and distances are so huge they become almost like folk tales.
We are also making another album of songs. We made a picture disk with Weightless Animals and we are going to make another.
The project is called Yird Muin Starn. Earth Moon Star in Old Scots. Itís a space age hearth, a communal oven to heat you as you contemplate our neighbouring furnaces.
In terms of animation, Iím really keen to explore more theory through practice. I want to embark on a body of research around aesthetics and their relationship to fact. Yes, I want to make more animated films.
Do you still knit?
I do! I just finished knitting a tank top! And Iím about to release some new knit kits.
Itís all knitting though really, the films are totally knitted.