A Good Time Was Had by All!

By Ruth Lingford

Art and Animation, a weekend symposium and week of animation screenings organised by Jayne Pilling, was held at the ICA in February 1999. The programme was funded by the Arts Council, and by Channel 4 as part of its ongoing commitment to the British Animation Awards.

Despite some appalling cock-ups with advertising, the symposium was full almost to capacity, with an audience drawn from all over the country. A particularly keen group of students travelled each day from Portsmouth. This underlined how rare such events are. I can’t think of any other occasion where I have been in a large group of people talking and thinking seriously about animation over a whole weekend.

yuri-norstein.jpgYuri Norstein

The first event, on the Friday evening, and the best attended, was a talk by the great Russian animator Yuri Norstein. As evidenced by the scramble for tickets, Norstein is still a hugely influential figure, and it was a treat to hear him talking about some of his favourite subjects – the evidence of an animation sensibility throughout the history of art, a time-based reading of paintings, and his tantalisingly unfinished film of Gogol’s Overcoat.

Speakers over the weekend included Simon Pummell, who convincingly teased out a relationship between the work of Walt Disney and Francis Bacon, and Patrick Bokanowski on his emotionally charged use of customised lenses and computer distortions. Tim MacMillan, in his talk on his time-slice technique, showed a mixture of rather banal pop videos and really challenging gallery-based work. He was refreshingly unapologetic about his commercial projects, with a rare degree of integration and ownership of both these aspects of his work.

rainbow-dance-len-lye.jpgRainbow Dance, 1936

Christine Panushka talked about animation in terms of transcendence, and Erica Russell showed work by the choreographer Mats Ek and talked about its influence on her work.

The weekend showed a definite bias towards abstract animation, which is usually a neglected area. Bill Moritz presented a programme of work scratched and painted directly on film. This was very intense and hard to watch, but included a sublime piece by the Basque film-maker Sistiega. Joost Van Rekveld showed his new film to great acclaim. A panel discussion chaired by Al Rees pronounced abstract animation alive and well.

hedgehog-in-the-fog-yuri-norstein.jpgThe Hedgehog in the Fog, 1975

If the weekend had a fault, it was perhaps a slightly self-congratulatory flavour, the assumption that of course animation was worth valuing and discussing seriously. This was undermined by a provocative speech by Andrew Brighton, curator at the Tate Gallery, who denounced animation as a fascist art-form. Real art, he said, leaves a space for the viewer to have their own emotional response, while animation hits you over the head with over-statement and noise. Animators are not really worthy of the status of artists because, apart from exceptions like Len Lye, they tend not to branch into other art forms. He did not consider that animation had a role in a gallery setting. This stimulated a heated discussion in which everyone let off steam.

Born in 1953 in London, Ruth Lingford worked as an occupational therapist before studying Fine Art at Middlesex University and Animation at the Royal College of Art.