Digitalis: heart medicine for the mind by Emma Geliot


'Dreams - the subconscious and 'what if?'s - are fertile ground for the animator.'


There’s something special about moving image presented for the intimacy of online viewing. In the cinema or gallery there’s an emotional shared experience. But squatting over the computer screen, pixels dancing into your eyes - and your eyes only, it seems - there’s a direct one-to-one conversation. And the selected entries from the Animate OPEN have resulted in some surprising dialogues.

The call for works wasn’t restricted by theme, simply inviting submissions that were designed to embrace or challenge digital technologies. This made for a richly diverse selection of offerings. From Heaven and Hell to a lemon with legs; from stop-frame to 3D and 3D rendering; hi-tech, lo-tech; gentle observation to full-on mutilation; gloss and grain; poetry and prose; sonic thrum to stretched cassette tape organ playing. It’s all in the mix of this baker’s dozen (well... 11 and a diptych).

An Open exhibition is, by definition, not a curated selection, but in watching this selection with a view to try to assess what they might say about animation, they can be clustered into loose thematic bundles.

Dreams; memory; streams of consciousness; flights of fancy

Dreams - the subconscious and 'what if?'s - are fertile ground for the animator. Edwin Rostron’s Visions of the Invertebrate falls into the stream-of-consciousness camp. A deceptively simple line and colour animation, with a muted voiceover, it’s like snatches of a dream. Noriko Okaku’s Allegory of Mrs. Triangle nods to Max Ernst and to Terry Gilliam’s early Monty Python animations, on its strange and colourful story-less journey. Someone behind the door knocks at irregular intervals, by James Lowne conversely creates threads of narrative without words. In using 3D rendering Lowne deliberately subverts the potential perfection of that process, introducing a drawn element that matches the dream-like sequences and music.

The past, the future

A 15 minute animation of a cassette player, running a stretched tape of organ music, doesn’t sound promising. But Joe Hardy’s Cassette Tape: Side A is strangely compelling as the animated tape counter rolls in real-time. Background, domestic noises add to the sense that this is a real experience. Hand-drawn in loving monochromatic detail, it provokes wistfulness. David Theobold’s Workers’ Playtime, featuring the BBC tune used to galvanise the factory workforces of the 40s and 50s, rethinks the world of work. Theobold has re-imagined those 1950s factory workers as a solitary robot, playing keepy-uppy with three balloons (keep an eye on the blue one).

Life, the Universe and Everything

The beginning of the World and subsequent events, is told in a perfect conjunction of image, poetry and music in Tony Comley’s ‘VERSE. And at the end of the world, a lemon with legs, half a cat and a short-lived onion are the survivors of Armageddon in Rob Munday’s Teddy Goldblatt. Their increasingly bizarre story is narrated in a reassuring voice that is somewhere between Oliver Postgate and a 1970s public information film.

Max Hattler goes beyond the world with twin pieces, 1923 aka Heaven and 1925 aka Hell, using outsider artist Augustin Lesage’s paintings A symbolic Composition of the Spiritual World,(1923 and 1925) as their starting point. However, the technically polished, mirror animations seem worlds away from the visionary artist’s obsessively detailed paintings. On the small screen 1925 aka Hell seems to be more Dante’s circles of Hell-ish, than 1923 aka Heaven is Heavenly, but a big screen might change this. Phil Coy’s eleven seconds of paradise (2010) is a re-examination of the images thrown up in a web search of the term 'paradise', first explored in 2000. 275 images flash by at 25fps, creating a strange subliminal after burn.

Guns and Gore

Now, some of the above works stray into this category too – both Lowne and Okaku’s films feature axes – but the weaponry isn’t wielded. Nor is it in AL and AL’s 3D Anaglyph Avatar loops, where guns and grenades spin harmlessly, glossily, like new cars at a motor show, while a skeletal biped is showered by pink triangles. So far, so miles away from computer game gore fests. However, for the squeamish and easily-upsettable, Kristian de la Riva’s CUT is possibly the most disturbing of all. As the lone, line-drawn character (repeat while watching: “it’s just a line, it’s just a line”) carries out acts of extreme self-harm, a feeling of distress at this dispassionate damage translates into the unanswerable question: “Why?”

And what does this Animation OPEN selection tell us about the current state of animation in a digital age? That the hand-drawn/handmade is still alive and well, and that digital technologies can be exploited and subverted to make creative conversations. And that these conversations can happen online.


Emma Geliot is a freelance arts journalist, deputy editor of blown magazine and blogs about contemporary art in Wales at and at