Space to Animate

By Ruth Lingford


Across the Field, 1992 Jerzy Kucia

To mark Art and Animation 2002 at Tate Modern and the National Film Theatre, Vertigo is printing an edited excerpt from a conversation between Gareth Evans – a journalist specialising in innovative and experimental media practice; Gary Thomas – Visual Arts Officer at the Arts Council of England, responsible for Film & Video, including the Animate! scheme; Dick Arnall – Finetake Productions, producers of Animate! for the Arts Council of England and Channel 4 Television; and Ruth Lingford, – filmmaker and member of the Vertigo editorial board.

Gareth Evans: ... in the larger view, these days, it’s very hard to make an experimental film as a filmmaker. If you call yourself an artist, it’s considerably easier to get funding to make a piece of filmic work. And an animator falls between these two positions. Gary, would you say in which way they're more clearly seen as going towards visual art as opposed to film?

Gary Thomas: It depends who you are, I think, though Animate! tends to support people to whom both the terms ‘artist’ and ‘filmmaker’ can be applied. Even if they're making commercials in the daytime, when they're making their Animate! film it’s a visual arts practice generally, rather than a commercial / industrial practice.

GE: Look at the Brothers Quay, who've straddled all three of these art/animation/filmmaking divides, but who can’t get money for their second feature. But then there’s American artist Matthew Barney, with his films in the Cremaster Series, one of which was feature length, on 35mm. with incredibly high production values. But he’s always been seen as an artist.

GT: It’s a film, but it’s not packaged or distributed like films. You have to pay a huge amount of money to show that in a cinema – and it’s a limited rubber-packed edition, which sells for a lot more. Artists like Steve McQueen, who’s making 5-10 minute films which are only shown as gallery installations and which exist as editions...


Tuning Instruments, 2000 Jerzy Kuci

GE: But that idea of the pressure to commodify... With film that becomes, obviously, very difficult... because the nature of editions is not endemic to the work at all.

Ruth Lingford: It’s hard to get your head round how you sell something. And to most animators, maybe because of the amount of work they put in, the whole point is for as many people as possible to see their work, and to maximise that. The idea of a limited edition, if it means actually restricting who sees it, is complete anathema.

GT: I think the pursuit of an audience through television or festivals or cinemas is really admirable. Limited editions are something else to engage with, and it must be a dilemma for people.

RL: Yes. But it does seem that the television outlet is closing off to independent animators making one-off, short films, so galleries might be another possibility to explore...

GT: It’s not necessarily an independent choice, I guess. You know, it’s your job. You go where the work is.

GE: DVD might open up a new space: the whole idea of it being a director’s medium because the studios want an audio or visual commentary, extra scenes, etc. so you build all this supporting evidence around the original artefact. Perhaps there’s a space that animation could occupy there too, showing the work in process, the studio hours, a contextualising documentary, and perhaps that could be sold. That’s a way of, hopefully, still reaching a large audience without cutting off the revenue supply; the two would go together.

GT: All animation is, anyway, a process-based practice, inevitably, and the process is interesting.

Dick Arnall: But this gallery world, the ‘artists’ world, is a novel dimension for animation, something that animation hasn’t really been exposed to or part of. It’s a curious quirk of history that it’s grown up with the apparatus of cinema and then television...

GT: Look how long it took for galleries to show film...

DA: A Shoreditch gallery called me yesterday about a big exhibition they're doing by an artist called Brian Griffiths about heroes... Griffiths thought it would be nice to have animation surrounding it... So the gallery thinks it’s the hot thing to do... like some sort of hot envelope.

GT: Well, William Kentridge kind of helps that, doesn’t he?

RL: That was extraordinary, his exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery. The reactions there... It was like going into a church...the sort of concentration – people holding their breath while they looked at things. It was very heartening...

GE: As they do with the piece he’s got at Tate Modern.

GT: There aren’t many live artists in Tate Modern, anyway. So for animation it’s probably quite a good hit rate.

This was originally recorded for the Animate! website

Art and Animation takes place on Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th March, 2002.

Ruth Lingford is an award winning animator who teaches at the Royal College of Art and the National Film and Television School.