Enter the Brainbox is a dynamic and diverse selection of films exploring how different ways of thinking can be brought to life through animation. Depicting unconscious streams of thought, speechless eruptions, intense emotional states, bodies of research and the creative process itself, these works illustrate the huge potential of animation to communicate that which is invisible, and the incredible variety of forms it might take.
The first film, Kathy Rose’s Pencil Booklings (1978) is a playful and exquisitely crafted drawn animation. We see the artist herself creating a host of peculiar characters, literally drawing them right out of the ether. They immediately take on a life of their own, one complaining 'I don’t like my voice effect!' Rose’s characters personify animation’s potential for endless metamorphosis and change, and also something of its unpredictable and disarming nature.
If Pencil Booklings explores animation’s capacity for play and creative daydreaming, the next film, Voices (1985) by Joanna Priestley, channels animation’s huge scope for direct expression and communication. Priestley begins by introducing herself as an animator, and, like Rose, revels in her absolute control over both her medium and the viewer’s attention, changing her form at will to reinforce her points. Priestley’s control of the images on screen mirrors her thoughts on having control over one’s own choices;
'Its the attitude that I hold in my mind that creates the world that I see, and I can change my mind'
Over thirty years after those works were created, Jessica Ashman’s 2017 film I Don’t Protest, I Just Dance My Shadow shows us that that drawn and painted animation has lost none of its relevance or direct power. It visualises 'the joy, frustration, wishes and dreams of what it feels like to be a black woman and a woman of colour artist, creating and existing', with Ashman quite literally drawing on her extensive research and interviews. The animation obscures and submerges the printed out transcripts and video clips as research material becomes physical material for the animation.
Eden Kötting’s It’s All in the Mind (2015) brings to life drawings from her sketchbooks, taking us on a journey through a fantastical natural wonderland, our destination sharing some common ground with that of Joanna Priestley’s Voices, as the artist declares 'Men are stuck in their dark holes…It’s all in the mind'. The whole work is imbued with a freeform energy, partly joyful and partly sinister; a compelling train of thought taking place in front of our eyes.
A sense of the living, animated sketchbook is similarly found in Stuart Hilton’s 1994 work Save Me. As in Kötting’s film, scrawled written notes, doodles and torn-out magazine photos move and take flight. Hilton adds into this mix shrinking vegetables, breakfast TV, audio offcuts, overheard conversations, video footage and all manner of other delights. The film uses animation techniques to explore the experience of perception, disrupting the illusion of persistence of vision and drawing connections with the fragmented and chaotic experience of everyday life.
The guttural opening sounds of Peter Millard’s Boogodobiegodongo (2012) are similarly fragmented and chaotic, sounding out in a black void before we are plunged into brightly coloured mayhem. Millard’s drawing has a quickly scrawled urgency with the feeling of spontaneous thought, but preserving this energy as one takes single drawings into the laborious and time-consuming process of animation is no easy task. Boogodobiegodongo’s deranged, maniac energy is the product of an animator with a great sensitivity for his medium.
Amy Lockhart’s Walk for Walk (2005) is based on characters from the artist’s sketchbooks, jokes with friends and free association. The film is imbued with a sense of endless playful digression, and has in Lockhart’s words 'a narrative that just sort of happened, like taking a walk'. With its bright colours and cartoon-like characters, both Walk for Walk and Boogodobiegodongo evoke the heightened perceptions of infancy, hypnotised by Saturday morning cartoons and buzzing on E-numbers.
A host of TV cartoon characters, along with others from all corners of animation history, coalesce into an endlessly morphing, rhythmically pulsing figure in Andreas Hykade’s Love and Theft (2010). The animation never settles on a single face, but nonetheless the powerful graphic reduction of these familiar characters means many of them have been burnt on our retinas from an early age. Hykade’s film pushes these engrained images into abstraction and grotesque distortion. We see the limitless plasticity and fluidity of animation suggested by earlier films here given free reign and taken to eye popping heights.
Run Wrake’s 1994 film Jukebox collides a variety of imagery, techniques, and animation processes together with an array of sound and musical elements, to reveal layers of external reality, giving way to inner worlds of daydream and fantasy. The film itself is a kind of jukebox, taking us into different zones of experience, often overlapping or contained within one another. Wrake’s masterpiece brings to my mind William Burrough’s explanation of the title of his book Naked Lunch; 'a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.' For me Jukebox is like a dazzling series of those moments, brought to visceral, animated life.
The final film in this selection, Café Bar by Alison De Vere, reveals the hidden mental landscapes and dramas that take place in the minds of a couple as they meet in a café. The two domains of the café and the characters’ fantastical mindscapes are rendered with charming, sketchy animation. There is a very likeable human quality to the line and energy of De Vere’s drawings, and without dialogue or context we rapidly become engaged with the characters and their expectations, fears and fantasies.
Enter the Brainbox delves into the minds of ten very distinct artists, each using animation to forge a direct and liberating connection between their creative minds, their films and their audience. It shows animation as the unruly, hybrid and vibrant form it is, and celebrates its ability to articulate our thoughts and feelings that lie beyond words.
Explore the bizarre minds of animation's underground in a screening of rare shorts and forgotten gems, plus a pre-recorded animation demonstration
About Edwin Rostron
Edwin Rostron is an artist and curator based in London. He runs Edge of Frame, a blog and ongoing programme of screening events focusing on experimental animation, and is a tutor on the Animation Programme at the Royal College of Art.