971 Horses + 4 Zebras by Lilly Husbands
'Something different is on offer in the lived experience of a medley whose complexity ends up clamouring for space in one’s mind and memory.'
‘A multiplicity has neither subject nor object, only determinations, magnitudes, and dimensions that cannot increase in number without the multiplicity changing in nature... Multiplicities are defined by the outside: by the abstract line, the line of flight or deterritorialization according to which they change in nature and connect with other multiplicities.’ Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
Animation as an art form exists now more than ever as a multiplicity whose heterogeneity is especially pronounced in contemporary experimental practice, as more and more artists are engaging with animation in highly individual and conceptually driven ways. A multi-artist exhibition like 971 Horses + 4 Zebras (curated by Jordan Baseman and Gary Thomas), composed of an eclectic array of contemporary conceptual animated artworks from around the world, is by necessity a subset, in itself multitudinous, of an actually overwhelming profusion of instantiations. Indeed, contemporary experimental animation encompasses such a wide range of aesthetic and conceptual approaches, styles, techniques, materials and media as to dilute the term’s descriptive precision.
Criticism and analysis employ myriad defences against this dilution, each in its way a form of organisation. One defence is specificity, focusing on what is singular to individual artists and their use of animation to approach particular problems or ideas in their works; another creates and defines aesthetic, material or technical categories across a broad spectrum of moving image art works; yet another traces historical lineages to map out developmental progressions over time.
These defences, among others, are essential and productive in any effort to draw meaning from the irrepressible flow of artistic production, and in actuality they are never mutually exclusive. They often work together to form evolutionary (arboreal) structures that narrativise what would otherwise seem a bit like chaos. These soothing stories exist largely in the realms of the monograph, the history, the survey, and the treatise. Something altogether different is on offer in the lived experience of a medley whose vociferous complexity ends up clamouring for space in one’s mind and memory during a finite amount of time (eg a screening, a looped sequence, a gallery visit). In these instances, surrendering to and celebrating multiplicity can also be a productive means of making meaning.
Indeed, the beauty of an exhibition like 971 Horses + 4 Zebras, as a conceptual and literal assemblage, is that it generates the potential for unexpected interconnections to come forth through a sort of rhizomatic logic of association. To offer but a few examples: the time-lapse animation of unpeopled landscapes, rendered strange in Emily Richardson’s Cobra Mist, is mirrored, refracted, and inverted in Inger Lise Hansen’s Proximity. Hansen’s inverted landscape imagery adds perceptual significance to the upturned photographs slowly appearing in David Theobald’s computer-generated Walking Holiday in Grundelwald. As a formal technique, time-lapse manifests itself in numerous works as an animation of omission (besides Cobra Mist and Proximity, there is Kit Wise’s Explosion [Geranium] and Tadasu Takamine’s God Bless America), which speaks in an intriguingly oblique way to Katie Goodwin’s extended focus on excised film sequences in In Between Inception [1 and 2].
The photographic abstraction of Goodwin’s imagery can be rediscovered in Jordan Baseman’s Nasty Piece of Stuff. The pristine illusionism in Theobald’s Walking Holiday in Grundelwald highlights the intentional crudity of James Lowne’s computer animated imagery in Our relationships will become radiant, whilst Theobald’s use of found internet images also connects his work to Yu Araki’s 971 Horses + 4 Zebras. Araki’s immediately identifiable allusion to Eadweard Muybridge’s proto-cinematic animations creates a notable contrast to Geraint Evans’s much less recognisable historical reference to the 18th century phenomenon of the ornamental hermit in Notes to self: How to be an Ornamental Hermit. And so on, indefinitely.
Meanings established through analysis of a work’s place in its maker’s oeuvre, or in the history of moving images, or its technical or material particularities will not disappear. (Nor should they.) Viewers will continue to sift the exhibition’s contents according to various criteria: authorial, aesthetic, formal, tonal, conceptual, etc. However, within the matrix of such a collection, these meanings can be deterritorialised, built upon and transcended. Their boundaries can become diaphanous, and each individual work is revealed to be a multitude in itself, composed of potential ‘lines of flight’ that either connect with or bypass the multiplicities that make up the other works in the exhibition. The potential interconnections (illuminating and trivial) are countless, and viewers who perceive this complexity are responding to animation’s actual splendid variegation.
A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, translated by Brian Massumi (London: Continuum, 2004), pages 9-10.
Lilly Husbands is a doctorate candidate in Film Studies at King’s College London. Her research is concerned with closely investigating contemporary North American and British works of experimental animation, focusing particularly on the varieties of non-normative aesthetic experience that such works offer spectators. She received her BA in Comparative Literature from Brown University in 2003 and completed her Film Studies Master’s Degree at KCL in 2008 and her Critical Methodologies Master’s Degree at KCL in 2009. Her interests include experimental cinema, animation and special effects, film aesthetics, film philosophy, spectatorship, and film music.