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CONTEMP ART ‘12

SUGGESTING AN APPROACH TO ANALYSIS OF THE ARTISTS ANIMATION: RE-LOOKING AT WILLIAM KENTRIDGE’S TIDE TABLE
 ONEIKA RUSSELL The Animation Fulcrum and the Experimental In the catalog to the Animated Painting exhibition, held in 2003, Animation Studies theorist Suzanne Buchan describes what she calls the ‘fulcrum of animation filmmaking’. The fulcrum is described as the point at which ‘the languages of art and film intersect and merge more completely’ than in other instances. Animation can therefore be seen as the most obvious of the meeting places of the processes and techniques of both Art and Film. To create an animation is to create a hybrid which is simultaneously both art and film. In accordance however with the path of most hybrid media, Animation has come to be classified as something separate from either of the two originating sources. It has been the focus of those in the field of Animation Studies to document, highlight and discuss the particular properties of Animation and to establish it as a field in its own right, on par with the status and cultural recognition that Film has achieved. Prior to this however, viewers also discerned for themselves that Animation was a special medium which allowed more
access to the forms and techniques of Art and the pleasure gained from the heightened sensory engagement which moving image technology allows. Animation via cartoons presented art that spoke, walked, told human stories and made the masses connect with it in a more fundamental way than they could with the often elusive and inaccessible work in art galleries. Aside from cartoons, animation-makers1 also explored the experimental aspects of the the hybrid media. Experimental Animation works have always acted as an alternative approach to the medium and have pushed the limits of what we understand the expressive potential of Animation to be. The pioneering publication Experimental Animation (Starr and Russett 1988) outlined some of the works and creators frequently discussed by animation theorists as classic Experimental Animation. The work of early experimental artists within animation such as Norman McLaren, Lottie Reiniger, Alexander Alexieff and Oskar Fischinger were documented concerning its process, technique and creative motivation. This publication set the tone for what we now understand to be experimental within animation. Animators/ Animation-makers, working before the digital age often created works that used technique and art to communicate narrative rather than the dialogue and linear progression of story. Music and sound were equally as experimental as both functioned to trigger sensory responses, 1 The phrase ʻanimation-makerʼ is coined in an attempt to distinguish between the classic idea of the animator trained in the craft and involved in the making of studio-style animated films and cartoons and the artist who has migrated to making of animation for purposes of film, media art, video-jockeying etc. The term seeks to include all who make animation but may not necessarily refer to themselves as animators as the latter term often signifies training, skill-level or a particular engagement with animation history.

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communicate emotion and harmonize with motion and drawing. The animations often explored uses of traditional media or invented media to create sound and image. Alexieff’s pinboard method of creating a monochrome rendered image and McLaren’s use of film celluloid to scratch out soundtracks are examples of such approaches. Experimental Animation works expanded from the cinema space to the gallery space as some of these animated films began to take other forms such as installation and the aesthetic began to merge in some ways with Video and Media Art. Now almost three decades later we can now look back and see the influence early experimental animation, as documented by Starr and Russett, had on some of the first fine artists who begin exhibiting animation in the art gallery in the West. Studying the Artist Animation When we think of animation exhibited in the gallery space we often think of William Kentridge for though he may not be the first, he certainly is the most celebrated and documented artist to do so. Kentridge’s work uses a very simple technique core to traditional methods of animation where making a drawing and changing it incrementally and then filming each change is used to create the perception of motion. By the time Kentridge began to work in this way in the 1980’s Animation had already long been thought of as a separate and specific creative discipline and thus his use of the techniques of animation to make narrative art seems to function as an appropriated technique which could convey his drawings with greater effect in the gallery space. At this point certain issues concerning the Artist Animation and its labelling as such are mainly linked to how creators classify themselves and in which sphere of the arts industry they base themselves. When I had the chance to question Kentridge at a workshop he gave in connection with the Kyoto Prize he was awarded in 2010, he stressed that his artistic home and reference point was the Fine Arts and therefore he labelled himself as an ‘artist’ rather than an ‘animator’, ‘director’, ‘actor’ etc. In his work he often borrows elements from other creative media or areas to produce work that heavily references the theatre, opera, puppetry, animation, cinema etc. in a way which produces what is sometimes referred to as a hybrid art form. The 2010 Kyoto Prize program featured an essay introducing the artist’s work titled, An Artist Who Has Created an Original Art by Fusing Traditional Drawings with Animation and Other Media. His work is most often read as a borrowing of other media and technique and re-using them for his own narrative purpose within the art/ gallery space rather than conversely as an animator, actor or performer who has chosen to exhibit within the norms of the art/gallery space2. This distinction becomes important when we consider that with noteworthy exhibitions like Animated Painting (SFMOMA/US/2008), Momentary Momentum:Animated Drawings (Parasol Unit/UK/2007) and Shudder (The Drawing Room/UK/2010), the incidence of contemporary fine artists using Animation as an approach, technique or reference point for work intended to be exhibited solely 2 The terms ʻartʼ or ʻgallery spaceʼ while technically used to refer to a more conventional physical space such as galleries, museums and other exhibition spaces it is also used to refer to other types of spaces which become contextualized by the exhibition of various types of artwork.

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within the art space has increased in the last 20 years. Though Kentridge’s acclaim and oeuvre have surely made it accessible and perhaps fashionable to make what has recently come to be referred to as Artist Animation, the varying and increasing ways artists are finding to converge their previous output with animation, as well as experimenting with how the resulting work is exhibited, indicates a phenomenon that resembles the development of a genre. In Paul Wells’ publication ‘Re-Imagining Animation’ of 2008, he speaks about the use of the term ‘Artist Animation’ by the art world as being ‘a potentially divisive and elitist term, coined in arts cultures, which effectively denies the recognition of an artist working in traditional, especially cartoon forms.’ To study or highlight the development of the Artist Animation as another branch may be seen as separatist particularly since prior focus within Animation Studies has been to solidify, document and promote the importance and impact Animation has had in cultural pursuit. Conversely however, the study of specialization, hybridization and subcategories could be seen to be the ultimate evidence of diversity and range within the field. The question at hand seems to be whether work that takes the shape and form of animation should be classified as a separate element only because it is exhibited in a gallery or created by the fine artist. Does the use of the term by the Art-world, signify that animators exhibiting exclusively in the cinema space or made for film, web and television media are not creating works that are equally as artistic as the Artist Animation? If we think back to the usage of various media borrowed from other industries, fields or disciplines and used in subversive or alternate ways by fine artists such as reproductive printing, publishing, and cinema, the result work has been given terms such as ‘the artists book’, ‘the artists film’ and ‘the artists print’. The term for the new work has been less about subtly indicating that the original media were less than artistic in their own creative languages but more of an attempt to signal that the way the media is being used for the purpose of the contemporary art spectrum has been modified and departs from the forms and intent of original more established usages. A considered study of the way artists utilize another media in the context of art spaces serves to look specifically at what properties the media possess and how its hybridized form functions in relation to the original and in the context of Art history. While the artists book is still a book, it is a specialized branch of book and publishing history and also merges with other media histories such as that of Paintings and Fibre Arts. A study of the Artist Animation should include consideration of the fact that it is in the grand scheme a meeting of animation and other art media and approaches, just as Buchan reminds us of the birth of animation from film and art. If we are therefore to discuss and analyze the hybrid genre that the Artist Animation is then it is important to consider the kind of hybrid form it is. If we use, one of Kentridge’s work from what we may call his ‘golden era’, Tide Table, as an example, we will see that he has certainly taken advantage of the flexibility of the animation medium and processes as he has exhibited it in varying ways such as in film festivals and in exhibitions as video installations alongside the drawings used to create the video. As a piece of creative work it functions as a film, a drawing, an installation and an animation at the same time among other things. Animation Studies, Film Studies and Art Theory should therefore be consulted for appropriate 73


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methods of analysis. Attempting analysis in this way we can perhaps discover what unique properties the developing genre might possess. Introducing the Narrative of Felix and Soho Kentridge from his earliest efforts to combine his interests in theatre with his artistic practice produced a series of 9 drawings for projection in 1989. Within the series Kentridge’s animation technique and the narrative outline changed and developed over a 14 years span. The first of the films, ‘Johannesburg, 2nd greatest city after Paris’, featured the characters of Soho Ecktstein, a financial and industrial tycoon, and Felix Teitlebaum, described as a man of romantic and artistic sensitivity. In later films the appearance of both characters began to merge and more obviously resemble the artist. Mark Rosenthal in his essay ‘Soho and Felix’ in the catalogue for Kentridge’s retrospective held at SFMOMA, speaks about the relationship between the artist and his characters thus allowing us to understand the narrative of the works: ‘If Soho and Felix are effectively two halves of the same character, intimately intertwined with each other and with their creator and his family, then the drama is very complex indeed‘. Tide Table If we now turn our focus to Tide Table as a highly documented and discussed example of the Artist Animation, we can observe how it has been discussed and analyzed in three different contexts and perspectives. The animation and the drawings have been shown in numerous exhibitions and retrospectives internationally and has been written about critically since the mid 2000’s. What now becomes a point of interest is how the work has been written: ...In the Context of Art Criticism UK art critic Adrian Searle, in a review of the show Momentary Momentum for British newspaper,The Guardian, provides an example of arts writing about Artist Animation and specifically Tide Table. He opens the paragraphs on Tide Table by referencing the media the artist uses and then settles on the style, imagery and process of the drawings. He then moves on to speak about the various figures and motifs while describing the plot or story of each scene. In the descriptions of the forms Kentridge uses in the drawings, Searle provides an art historical context with references to shapes resembling certain sculptures by Henry Moore and the Rembrandt’s imagery. Further on he discusses his interpretation of one of the central characters in the work, Soho Eckstein. In Kentridge’s Tide Table from 2003, charcoal waves crash in a jumbled scribble, the surf erased, redrawn, erased and drawn again. Here is the character Eckstein on the beach, overweight and pin-striped, sunk in his deckchair, concentrating on his newspaper, the ups and downs of the new South Africa. A black man carts his dying friend to the shore in a wheelbarrow to bathe him. The beach is a sort of metaphoric hinterland. A cow is borne ashore in the waves, a herd dies on the sand, leaving only bones. Eckstein daydreams. Strung up like Rembrandt’s famous carcass, a bull hangs in a bathing hut, a temporary abattoir. Then the beach hut becomes a hospice ward, the dying resembling the shelter-dwellers in a Henry Moore drawing from the London 74


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blitz. All this made possible in the gritty, smudged fluidity of Kentridge’s drawing.
What Tide Table means, exactly, is less clear. Aids in South Africa is less a metaphor, more a constant presence here. Eckstein the industrialist (who has appeared time and again in Kentridge’s work) is a hangover from the apartheid days; washed-up, sweating in his suit, he is spied on by generals with binoculars. Somehow, one feels sorry for the old monster.
- Adrian Searle, The Arts,The Guardian, Mar 06 2007 Searle’s approach to the narrative is sequential in that he focuses on the metamorphoses and transitions of scenes in the order they appear in the work. In the piece, he treats Kentridge’s work as though it were a series of still drawings only with the capacity to morph into each other. In looking at Tide Table, I find that there is however something more than the story sequence that can be said about the work. The format of a weekly arts review column allows little time or space to discuss the full complexities of each piece but my query is with the focus of much of the writing about Artist Animation being on plot lines and the materiality of the images. In the catalog for the first major exhibition of Kentridge’s work held in Japan in 2009, William Kentridge-What We See & What We Know:Thinking About history While Walking and Thus the Drawings Began to Move..., South African art critic , Jane Taylor, devotes a significant portion of her essay to discussing Tide Table. She precedes the discussion of the work by talking about Kentridge’s link to the gestural, hand-crafted and expressive tendencies within Eastern European practices of animation rather than the mimetic and hi-technology of the main markets of animation in the West. She then leads to tracing the link between this concern with the presence of the artist’s hand and the erasure/redraw technique with which Kentridge makes his animated films. Later on she discusses how the drawing process becomes part of the narrative of the work and later gives descriptions of the story and events of each scene. The interesting thing taken from Taylor’s manner of writing about Tide Table, is that she at times refers to the animation as though it were no different from a series of drawings hung on a gallery wall: ‘Then the scene shifts to a large drawing of the man, still in his business suit but now alternately sleeping and reading a newspaper at the water’s edge in a deck chair(fig.1). The drawing is folded into a series of images that provide a visual meditation on time’s passage, on industry, on idleness. For example, in another drawing, three uniformed army generals standing on a hotel balcony observe the action on the beach through binoculars, providing an image of military surveillance (fig.2).’ (pg 15) Though writers of articles for periodicals and newspapers are no doubt speaking to specific audiences and are also working with tight restrictions, writing about Artist Animation, a media which is new, exciting and has the potential for raising nuanced discussions about contemporary art, the trend is to discuss it using the critical methodology developed for traditional art forms. In speaking about one or two elements of the new genre we fail to address and convey the complexity of this particular approach to art-making. Perhaps because the art critic/ writer is accustomed and specialized in writing about art in its traditional forms the tendency is to view all art practices in the same way. If we look at how Tide Table is discussed 75


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by film critics perhaps other aspects of the work can be highlighted which may sometimes fall outside the focus of the art critic/ theorist. ...In the Context of Film Criticism Essayist, Stephen Vincent in his writings about Tide Table, compares it side by side to Al
Gore’s environmental documentary-style film, An Inconvenient Truth for the reasons that both films were viewed in the same period of time and both involve the sea and the landscape as bold imagery. In his article he ranks Tide Table above An Inconvenient Truth due to his prognosis that the visual content was stronger than that of the overly romanticized popular film. An Inconvenient Truth was critiqued in the article based on the quality of Gore’s ideas, namely his old-fashioned vision of the future. The segments in the article devoted to discussing Tide Table however moved through a descriptive listing of the happenings of each of the main scenes. In other words the kind of discussion of the film-documentary dwelt on the film’s political message, the type of film and its place within the political debate while the attention to Tide Table focused on describing a story with a summation that ‘Kentridge clearly knows his Hogarth’. Vincent did highlight later however that Tide Table’s ability to entertain while producing discomfort in viewers contributes to the success of the work. What I wish to focus on here, is the unevenness of the way we view the artist animation when compared with film. Film as a medium and as a focal point of critical discussion and writing has undoubtedly been longer than that of Animation and even less so for the Artist Animation meaning that the practice in discussing the nuances of the medium in general is admittedly less. Vincent seeks to acknowledge the difference in both works but as a result avoids a more dimensional look at Tide Table. Conversely and a bit ironically, David Brody, in a lengthy article on Kentridge’s work for Art Critical Magazine discusses mise-en-scène, cinematic mood, montage technique and laments that much has not been discussed in the way of ‘the integral contributions of montage and sound to Kentridge’s cinematic oeuvre’. ...In the Context of Animation Studies In the same article, Brody compares Kentridge’s animation to the masters of Experimental Animation such as McLaren, Fischinger, Alexieff, John Hubley, Caroline Leaf and Len Lye and compares the drawings to the great painters and draughtsmen of Art History such as Goya, Giacommetti, Kollwitz, Guston and Picasso. Brody is making an effort to judge each of Kentridge’s outputs on a level ground. Drawing is discussed in the context of other drawing within Art History and the animation is discussed within the context of its closest relative Experimental Animation. Due to this the drawings come out as better in his estimation because they display the technical rigor and finesse which the animation lacks. It begs the question as to whether Kentridge’s body of work should be judged solely by comparing it to other genres and disciplines or should we be looking at it, considering its own properties in segments, within the context of various derivative media. The work being done within Animation Studies indicates that perhaps it is a viable option to highlight the particular properties of the new media in discussion rather than to dissect a work into its various parts. Segregation of media as a critical tool can surely be insightful as occurs in Brody’s article but it surely cannot be an ending point if we are to find out what the Artist Animation is and what it achieves and how it sits within 76


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contemporary art. Philippe Moins, deeply entrenched in the context of Animation cultures, as codirector of the Animation Festival of Brussels, proclaimed that Kentridge’s work is ‘Quite the Opposite of Cartoons’ in his 1998 article of the same name. The article doesn’t seek to comparatively address the differences between Kentridge’s work and the popular form of animation, Cartoons. He however speaks about how Kentridge make his films and how the process writes itself unto the film and how the frame by frame technique become the concept of passing time that Kentridge actively evokes. In closing the article, Moins concludes that Kentridge’s recognition is late in coming from the Animation community while on the other hand he has been well acknowledged by the Art and Theatre community by receiving various awards. This could be due to the fact that the Art communities do seek to classify Kentridge’s work as art-produce and that Kentridge himself chooses to exhibit within the art space. As for the Theatre, many fine artists have applied their visual language to the theatrical stage, such as David Hockney and Laylah Ali therefore making it a more established connection. Moins links this separation in how the work is appreciated by various communities to the artists lack of concern and sometimes disregard for established animation technique, stating that Kentridge is ‘not even filming with a true animation stand’. This focus on drawing and the process of making his films which Moins likens to ‘animated drawings’ more than film, becomes the aspect that he feels makes Kentridge’s work seem to be conflicted between understanding it as a medium and allowing itself to be classified as ‘Animation’. Kentridge’s disconnection with animation as a technical framework and his often self- acknowledged ‘stone age filmmaking’ method are the very traits that are recognized as innovation and inventiveness by The Kyoto Prize’s Inamori Foundation. Moins writes: ‘It also permits him to reinvent, with all sincerity, techniques discovered by the first animators at the beginning of this century. In this sense, animation is only a process of unveiling the act of drawing, and can become a part of a greater whole. One can sometimes see his hand or his entire body appear in certain films.’ Consensus Based on the discussion and seeing how one main example of Artists Animation has been discussed by writers, critics and theorists from varying disciplines the genre reveals itself to be problematic as all new and emerging media do. There are two issues that surface: ●How How we identify, classify and subsequently frame our discussion of the ‘Artist Animation’ when we analyze examples such as Tide Table. ●How we regard, read and critique the animation that artists working within the contemporary art cultures are now producing and exhibiting. The viewpoints discussed from the various fields shed light on aspects of Tide Table and Kentridge’s work that would have been missed or neglected if we identified the work solely as film, or solely as animation or a collection of drawings for example. There are points that we can take note of and try to use when thinking about the Artist Animation that include all the above approaches as well as incorporate other considerations. If we wish to analyze an example of Artist Animation that considers the work as 77


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a hybrid of Animation, Film, Fine Art and New Media there are then various aspects relevant to the discussion. In reviewing Animation, elements such as narrative, motion, sound, style and media becomes an important consideration; for Film, elements such as imagery and motif, narrative, sound mise-en-scene, editing, genre and theme are often the focus of discussion; with Art, the media and discipline of a work as well as installation choices, scale, content, historical or theoretical framework are also used in discussion; and with New Media analysis often raises points such as interactivity and audience relationship, installation, connection with media theory, exhibition space, interface and usage of technology. So while these various areas do have overlapping elements in common, critical work in each area has generated specific ways that can be applied to the work in this field of the Arts & Media. For a more comprehensive approach to reviewing Tide Table and other works I would seek to think about: Motion: The ways in which motion is achieved and how the incremental changes to
the drawings convey the idea of the work. The differences between the motion of the characters and scenery and the transitions used between scenes.
• Sound: The emotional perception of the sound in the work and its role in the narrative of the work. How and when instrumental music, choral singing and naturalistic/ diegetic sound effect is used separately and jointly to indicate narrative and symbolic elements which advance a political reading of the work. • Editing: The tempo and pace of the editing of the work to build sequences of reflection, protagonistic empathy, tension and foreboding. The choices in editing and the preference and interplay of cuts, zooming and panning in particular sequences and its role in the narrative. • Installation: How the work sits within the gallery space and how this contributes to content and the way the audience responds to this in the exhibition. The way the work is projected in the space and how the viewer is asked to interact with it
Themes, Imagery and Motif: How imagery used in the work such as cattle, faceless African nannies, charts and tables and military figures indicate, reinforce and convey Kentridge’s politics ad creative voice. • Historical and Theoretical Framework: To consider the moment in history that the work addresses and when it was produced. The tone the work takes in reflecting on ‘guilt’, ‘implication’, confused and layered identities and dualisms within society, can be discussed within the context of the work’s creation approximately ten years after the ending of Apartheid in South Africa. • Narrative: The story that can be discerned from the work and its subsequent readings become a support for agenda or message of the work. The works ‘aboutness’ is drawn
not only from the story but from images and sound. While they work together to convey
the content of the work, the story can often seem more elusive or subtle. It is through the recurring motifs, sounds and imagery that we begin to construct a story of privilege and
class existing beside stories of illness and suffering, and of memories of a connection between a black nanny and a white boy. Granted, it is being overly idealistic to think that every article regardless of word and time limits can devote significant focus on all these aspects of the work. Considering the work in its varied and combined forms can help us understand it 78


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more wholistically. Tide Table as historic and cultural document; as fine art-produce; as story and as moving image can be further understood if there are efforts to at least highlight and discuss a variety of like elements within the work. In thinking about a work such as Tide Table, using the consensus of critical approaches to analysis in the varying fields from which the hybrid is derived will lead to a more diverse and multi-faceted discussion. This method can hopefully yield beneficial discussion and thought about the particular characteristics of what the work is and new methods of creative practice. As a working artist myself, making work that can be classified as Artist Animation, it also becomes important to understand how the elements within the work function and can be read. In this way we can begin to understand how artists from within, outside and on the peripheries of the focus of Western Art History and its art capitals are utilizing animation within the changing contemporary art environment and what is being conveyed. Bibliography 
Buchan, Suzan, Bettie-Sue Hertz and Lev Manovich, ed., Animated Painting. San Diego: San Diego Museum of Art, 2007. Brody, David, Taking the World by Drawing: William Kentridge and Animation, Art Critical Magazine, Wednesday June 16, 2010 Kohmoto, Shinji, Jane Taylor and Yukie Kamiya. cont., What we see and What we know: Thinking
About History While Walking, and Thus the Drawings Began to Move... Catalogue for exhibition. Tokyo/ Hiroshima/ Kyoto : The National Museum of Modern Art ,Kyoto/Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art/ The National Museum of Modern Art ,Tokyo, 2009-10. Moins, Philippe, William Kentridge: Quite the Opposite of Cartoons, Animation World Network Magazine, Issue 3.7, October 1998 Rosenthal, Mark. ed., William Kentridge: Five Themes. California: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art/ Norton Museum of Art/ Yale University Press, 2009. Searle, Adrian, Dirty Gritty Things, The Guardian, Tuesday 6 March, 2007 StephenVincent.net. Last Modified June 11, 2006. “An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore and Tide Table by William Kentridge”, http://stephenvincent.net/blog/?p=172 Wells. Paul, Re-Imagining Animation: The Changing Face of the Moving Image, Singapore: AVA Publishing, 2008

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SUGGESTING AN APPROACH TO ANALYSIS OF THE ARTISTS ANIMATION _ RE-LOOKING