A Quick Tour

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...I finally finished the film-with-the-clockwork-man-in, which is now called Tour. (Pause for existential moment - did I have trouble naming this because I don't really know what it's about?) (No, OK good) Usefully, tour is (in French) a masculine noun meaning a tour or a circling, and a feminine noun meaning a tower. So if anyone happened to know that small fact it would be very appropriate. Mind you, I watched a film in some festival or other, marvelling at the irony of entitling such a dark and apocalyptic image "Gift" and constructing a bridge of meaning before realising it was the German gift - poison. (In my defence it was by an English filmmaker). Fortunately, even in English, it will still mean tour.
There has also been a flurry of festival submissions, (speculative, hopeful) and now I am looking at some randomly assorted possible projects; possible book illustrations , a probable animations, a piece of glasswork I am mildly terrified by the scale of. But this year, for the first time ever, I actually do feel like hibernating instead. It is shriekingly cold, and the house is too comfortable. The workshop shed would be far too cold, even if the electrics hadn't died in there. The downside of having the studio(s; I have the luxury of a clean room for animation/ computer stuff and a dirty room for glass, sanding, glue...) at home is that its too easy to sit down to work in Pyjamas, or get distracted by home things like shopping online or sorting Christmas. Also, there is the temptation to want the studio room to be comfortable...tidy because it is part of a house, and you don't want to clart up the walls with oilpaint or walk chips of glass all over the house. Or annoy the neighbours with incessant drilling... But I have become very disciplined, determined and tried to develop the ability to focus tightly - to concentrate on the screen or the worktable and not notice that other stuff. To be completely immersed in the work to the point of tunnel vision. But it makes me think about the importance of the room we work in, the studio. Woolf's Room of one's own.
workspace at Kingston Art Group

Last weekend was the annual open studios in Newcastle, a chance to take a tour not only of the work people are up to 12 months on, but also the way that they are using their spaces. Some huge and spare like Mervyn Peake's raft of floorboards. Some insanely small, but with an excellent light. Some cosy with armchairs, music and kettles. and some with a very jealous-making array of shelves, custom shaped for the collection of tools and materials kept there... Many artists "when they get to my age" head for the home studio as it is warm, convenient, paid for...and you dont have to put up with all the bullshit studio politics that some places have. It's accessible, open 24/7, and never creepy if you are working at 2 am. The obvious downsides are the lack of community and feedback...but also the lack of edge. Edge flavoured with the filthy, tumbledown, cheap, and repurposed; riotous with activity ...except when tumbleweed is blowing through the studio corridors and everyone is working at their "other" job. Tense with the opposition of immersion and hyper-self-awareness. And this year, I found the work overall less edgy, more design-y...less experimental...well, we all need to make a living and some of the artists had queues for the credit card machine. While others...were not there. The edgy stuff that doesn't sell is not helped by open studios - but then how do we get to see it? I don't want a tour of studios to be a retail experience but a chance to understand and enjoy ideas, work in progress, the process of the practice. For me it's a gallery, or maybe a show-and-tell; something very hard to do in a home studio where the intimacy and domesticity is a tangible barrier for visitors.


Feed your Head - with Animation

I love film festivals. And Aesthetica/ASFF & Manchester/MAF give you 2 in one week which tends to make your head rather full. Also, strangely, it tends to give you a sense of existential crisis. (This film festival is full of film students. Only film students. We are making movies in order to train people to make movies. My life is pointless. sort of thing). Once again I was amused to hear some informed scoffing (Huh, its just a one-character shot. Too easy) and relieved to hear other people voicing my own confusion. There is always at least one film I get to the end of thinking "What? WTAF? I don't get it"... but sadly not in a good, "ooh this really challenges your assumptions and makes you think" kind of way but more in a "either I am really dense or this animator is just failing to communicate, and why the hell do ALL of these animations have funny little firefly things in" kind of way.  There was one which featured fireflies as protagonists, and one in which they were the metaphor that carried the plot...but about 8 more in which I just felt like animators were afraid of stillness so there had to be some kind of random movement in the background. Or, ooh, maybe fireflies are this year's big trend. And I've missed it. Again.

There were some fabulous films, my favourite from MAF was probably Lucrece Andreae's Pepe le Morse /Grandpa Walrus (the story, the drawings, the believability of the characters) but there was also some really effective mixing of media/ style/ scene in Daisy Jacob's the Full Story - mixing drawn and painted images seamlessly with pixillation...(and that was something else besides bugs that was very big this year, live action pixillated)and Carlos Gomez Salamanca's Lupus, a kind of animated documentry/ reflection.
ASFF seemed to have more stuff that was visually dark and highly textured, but also with - well - JOY. The biggest hit with the audiences seemed to be Jack Bennett's Not the End of the World, because it captured so accurately the excruciating intensity of teenage first crushes and confusion. Once again the programmers appeared not to have anticipated that anyone might want to see all the animation programmes (rather than pick-and-mix through experimental, music videos and a bit of thriller, say) so trying to see them all meant travelling down on two separate days and a killer sunday schedule. Thank goodness for the nice warm teabar at City Screen.
And once again MAF co-incided with the latenight xmas market, so enabling shameless retail interludes in the gaps between my selected programmes. This enabled me to empty my head (aw look, baby penguin xmas baubles) before filling it again with ideas, questions, inspirations and enthusiasm for my next animation experiment. Hoorah!