In my life so far I have discovered perhaps two or three activities in which I can totally immerse myself and turn down the volume of my conscious thoughts. I can usually count on drawing, cleaning or running to release me into a deeply unselfconscious mood of intense distraction--to that list I am now going to add watching abstracted, avant-garde animation. Because these moods are delicate and pleasurable, but also unpredictable, I protect them with the superstitious belief that if I analyse them too much they will vanish.
Animation has always struck me as a labour of love. I imagine that the intensive, time-consuming labour of making even simple animations creates its own kind of addictive, meditative state. The labour involved in making early animations, like those by Mary Ellen Bute in the 1930s and 40s, seems to tally with what I get from watching these antique films now. It is as though the loving consideration of each frame has created an immersive mood that I can experience through the movements of abstracted shapes on screen.
The animations of Bute, Robert Breer, Katy Dove and the Conrads were selected by Tramway to form a programme of artists' animation. This programme formed a historical context within which to reflect on Sebastian Buerkner's installation Glove, and further to consider three of his single-screen works not included within his Tramway exhibition.
Buerkner gave an introductory talk before the programme began in which he described animation as a one-man show where the animator takes the roles of director, actor, cinematographer and editor. This level of control is provided for Buerkner by the digital animation application Flash, in which he constructs all his sequences. Unlike Katy Dove's work, in which she uses the software package to animate hand drawn or painted forms, Buerkner's images are entirely generated from within Flash. This makes watching his animations very much like looking into a self-contained plastic world that is distinct from any everyday environment I am likely to find myself in. In this way his animations are akin to science fiction, or what could be called digital fiction, or perhaps Flash fiction.
The figments of Buerkner's digital fictions range from simplistic shapes and gradients that refuse to depict anything, to more surreal illustrations of, for example, an eye, a coin, a key or a foot. These figments are precisely choreographed to digitally processed soundtracks that have a dark, cinematic feeling of expectation. These noir-like qualities of anticipation and apprehension have led his work to be described with reference to the 'subconscious'--as if the subconscious were an underworld inhabited by shadows as opposed to, for example, rainbows or clouds. The three animations that I watched by Buerkner intelligently used a variety of editing techniques to build up distinct moods. He then allowed these moods to falter or collapse into strange, compelling moments of awkward hesitation, like the silences that follow a Freudian slip.
Buerkner's own style of delivering his introductory talk became an analogy for the digital animation process. As he spoke he reviewed his statements, not out of uncertainty but out of a desire to refine the telling of his experience. In a similar way the nonmateriality of digital animation facilitates a potentially endless process of evaluation and adjustment from which Buerkner has created a variation on the stream of consciousness technique. …