High definition CGI is not a common presence in the fine art world, and I was surprised to see images of a digitally rendered human figure so prominently displayed at one of the the most important contemporary art galleries in Britain. The troublesome looking young man is an avatar modeled on Ed Atkins, the artist himself. Ed Atkins had somehow slipped my radar, but the more I’ve learned about him the more intrigued I’ve become with his work. His multi-channel installation Ribbons (2014) occupies several spaces and screens in the Serpentine Sackler Gallery until 25 August. The video follows the protagonist as he drinks, smokes, swears, mutters, gets naked, tries his luck with a glory hole. It is accompanied by large boards bearing blocks of texts with scribbled-in margins, and disturbingly realistic human skins, or UV maps of the avatar, on display like scientific specimens or conquests.
Atkins is skilled in coding, and creating 3D animation, though he did solicit the help of an expert to produce elements like the astoundingly hyper-real render of a whiskey glass that appears in the video. He pushes CGI far enough to remind the viewer that its’ most prized achievement, hyper-realism, undoes itself as, no matter how close the image gets to looking real, it will forever fall short of life. The avatar is so meticulously rendered, and yet so vapid, vacant—he is but a shell of code, stretched over an artificial structure.We see ourselves reflected in him, and but that which becomes apparent is our comparative physicality, flesh and mortality.
Ed Atkins is heavily influenced by literature and poetry and the written word play an important part in his creative process. Here is a beautiful performance of a piece called Depression from last year. If you happen to be in London definitely check out the exhibition, and I’d recommend reading some interviews with him, he is a fascinating artist. Here is a good audio interview recorded at Chisenhale Gallery in 2012.
I’m always on the lookout for new music I can do work to. It’s got to have enough energy to keep me going but that doesn’t take my focus away from the task at hand. Preferably, there’ll be moments where I can sneak in a few dance moves to give my hunched back a good stretch. I recently discovered Sisyphus‘ outstanding eponymous album (collaboration between Sufjan Stevens, Serengeti, and Son Lux) and have since played it about a hundred thousand times. This sounds like an exaggeration, but I am not so sure!
While I have been giving that album a rest, Sylvan Esso has been filling the gap. A debut by a duo made up of Nick Sanborn from Megafaun and Amelia Meath, who is a third of Mountain Man. I was really excited to check out the album when I found this out—Mountain Man has been a favourite since they released Made the Harbor back in 2010. The one album they’ve released gained much critical acclaim for their haunting folk harmonies, recalling pastoral hymns of another time. Sylvan Esso is a completely different story. It’s a fun mix of electro-pop tracks, and though Meath’s vocals retain a tinge of wistful nostalgia, with tracks like Hey Mami and Come Down sounding particularly folky, it’s a light, breezy album overall. I find it difficult to invest too much into most of the songs and they are perfectly suited as a backdrop to social gathering (the topic of many of the tracks), especially H.S.K.T, and Play It Right and Could I Be, which will get hips swaying.
My personal favourite is Coffee, I think that it gathers all the best bits of Sylvan Esso into one track. The video celebrates the joy of dancing in several forms, from a dance at the local hall to a house party. There’s a good live performance you can watch here, if you too are susceptible to replaying the same thing over and over! They are touring the U.S until the end of July, in support of the wonderful tUnE-yArDs. More info here.
Here is something I came across recently that I have since re-watched again and again. This is a launch film for Matthew Wilcock’s debut EP FMK/Floating Metal Key. The film may only be just under two minutes long, but it sure packs a punch with the content. Seven separate fragments of shorts have been included, each correlating with a track on the EP. What a great way to introduce the album, and set the right mood for the listener!
Each of the snippets have been created by different teams of people, which is impressive, considering the smooth transitions between each segment. The film feels cohesive and succeeds in drawing viewer into a dark, unsettling space. The overall aesthetic is brooding and grungy, and I love the intermittent glitchy moments and the scattered typography. Some very interesting things grow and unfold in most of the segments, but it seems that, as soon as you focus in on something, the whole thing gives you a big jerk and you are onto the next one. Hence the repeated plays!
The director of the film in its entirety is Dan Kokatajlo, an up-and-coming English director who has moved into film from a fine art background. You see more of his work here and give Matthew Wilcock’s full EP a listen via various channels by visiting his blog.
When I first heard about Schulz’s ‘Peanuts’ getting a 3D animated feature makeover I got excited and worried at the same time. Now the first teaser trailer is out and from what I see, this is looking very promising.
Most concerns have been put to rest when I heard producer Craig Schultz (the son of Charles Schultz, creator of the original comic strips) insists on handling the legacy with respect and creating something timeless that is true to the original generations have grew up on in the US. Snoopy won’t start talking and Charley Brown won’t be Facebook chatting on an iPad.
From what I can see in the trailer, the visual style got an elegant 3D makeover that does not go overboard. The characters look exactly as you remember them, the animation style follows the jagged movements of the old cartoons and they kept textures to a minimum. Incredible restraint and a refined approach get the concept exactly right. We also have comic strip style hand-drawn movement indicator lines and circles added, which I find clever and cute.
I am excited to see how the story and the characters will turn out. The premier is a long time away, the Peanuts movie will open November 6, 2015.
Source: FOX Family Entertainment
This darkly poignant but beautiful short film is by Natasha Belle, who recently completed a Graduate Diploma of Creative Technologies at Media Design School. The animation tells a tragic tale of a young bear, captured by poachers as a cub and forever-fated to perform in a circus. There has been a lot of media around orcas held in captivity lately, with SeaWorld getting an increasingly bad rep after the brilliant documentary Blackfish was released in 2013. Free is yet another example, albeit fictional in this particular case, of the cruelty of keeping wild animals in captivity for entertainment. The simple but effective story tracks the experience of a bear who is being treated meanly in a circus, as he recalls the pleasant memories of being out in the wild with his mother, and the moment he was captured. Finally, he has enough, attacking his keeper in a final attempt at regaining freedom.
The animation is rendered in lovely, soft watercolour hues when our protagonist drifts into a reverie, with grungier, darker textures illustrating the unsavory circus environment. There are some gorgeous moments set in the grassy plains. This beautiful gentle backdrop gets disrupted with the figure of a poacher, which is abrasive and crude in comparison—a nice contrast. I really like the transitions between the bear’s reality, memories and what appears to be a deservedly peaceful afterlife.
The animation may seem hand-drawn upon first glance, but Natasha went through a very interesting process in achieving this style. Intent upon translating the fluidity of hand-painted animation by computer generated means, she combined the different techniques by printing out the characters’ UV maps, hand-painting each piece and feeding them back into the software to create a wrap around the figures. Phew, all this in four months! The resulting animation style reminds me of Alexander Petrov’s Old Man and the Sea, which was created by physically painting layers upon sheets of glass. It’s interesting to see how old and new technologies can combine to achieve similar effects and Natasha Bell’s exploration is a lovely example.