The ’father’ of animation—Emile Cohl—formed the historical starting point for the exhibition. Cohl used the apparently simple and absurd iconography of film trickery to provide incisive commentaries on society, and on the art world in particular. With Borderline Behaviour, TENT focused on this anarchic use of film and media technology. The exhibition drew a line from the ‘ecriture automatique’ of the surrealists to the contemporary visual and digital artists who propagate an exceptional freedom of thought and action. Borderline Behaviour was conceived as a meeting ground for film and video projections, drawings, installations, sculptures, murals, and photography.
Art after Animation, curatorial statement by Edwin Carels
Animation and art are often discussed ‘art and animation’, that is as both together and apart. But when was the last time that anyone spoke of ‘art and sculpture’ or ‘art and painting’? The term ‘art and animation’ suggests a kind of uncertainty, a hesitation about the status of animation as a real art form. Can we even talk about animation in such general terms? Surely it is far too rich and complex a territory to treat as separate genre, and it is not a genre but an art form in its own right? Just as cinema is not an art by definition, nor is animation. The underlying question of ’art and animation’ is probably for many consciously or unconsciously: how to define which animated film is art and which is not. That is a very complicated affair; it is a matter of context, of certain (and uncertain) criteria and mostly: of authoritative voices.
Would, say, the Quay Brothers ever be nominated for the Turner Prize and why didn’t the critics welcome Martin Creed’s Turner prize-winning ‘Work No. 227: The lights going on and off’ as a form of expanded animation? In the past, some artists found their way out of the animation ghetto and into the art world quite spontaneously. Cinema is being reinvented by young artists who often don’t really know much about the past and the same goes for animation: it is considered hip, as long as it is young and fresh.
Animation is the art of the interval. It all depends upon the eyes and the open mind of the viewer, the participation of each individual in the audience. It is a matter of spectatorship. Norman McLaren is most often cited for his motto: ‘animation is not the art of drawings that move, but the art of movements that are drawn. What happens between each frame is much more important than what exists on each frame. Animation is therefore the art of manipulating the invisible interstices that lie between the frames.’ That is what McLaren thought was ‘the philosophy behind his machine, the rostrum camera.’ Animation is thus according to him, the art of the invisible becoming visible in the mind, and that is something quite different to blatantly referencing existing art works and other art forms.
McLaren wanted his dictum to be understood not only in a technical, but also in a metaphorical way. An animated film activates a whole mental framework, maybe as many as 24 frameworks a second. Animation, better than live action, demonstrates how film works, but also: how our mind works, how it processes images and ideas. Animation functions as multiplication of stimuli: visual, perceptive, cognitive, art historical, technological, emotional, physical, social, economical, racial, gender-based, psychological, biographical, religious, gastronomical… to name but a few. For several decades, film theory has demonstrated how many factors come into play when we try to gather meaning from a film. But it’s only recently that some of this thinking has come to be applied to animated films.
Jean-Luc Godard famously proclaimed that cinema is the truth, 24 times a second. Paraphrasing McLaren, one could say: animation is the dark interval, 25 times a second. Many artists are hard to situate in the interval between live action and animation, between animation and the visual arts, between animation and illustration even though the art world has been more open towards ’multi-media’ work. Maybe it’s better not to speak about animation as such anymore. Look at how video art is largely disappeared as a term, but at the same time as a medium is being used now more than ever. Animation is above all the art of the in-between, of the interval, of the beholder, of the mental movement, the stream of consciousness, the free flow of associations. It is the art of reading between the lines. It is not about the art that is on the image, but about the art that emerges between the images. A multiplication of impressions on the mind.
(Adapted fragment from the essay ’Animation = a multiplication of artforms?’ by Edwin Carels, published in‘The Animate!’ Book: Rethinking Animation. London: Lux, 2006)