A milligram of radium in the tranquil dark Exhibition text for 'Animate OPEN: Parts and Labour', November 2015

‘Reality precedes the voice that seeks it, but as the earth precedes the tree, but as the world precedes the human, but as the sea precedes the vision of the sea, life precedes love, the matter of the body precedes the body, and in turn language one day will have preceded the possession of silence.’ -Clarice Lispector, The Passion According to G.H.

The prehistory of cinema is the prehistory of humanity. Before the lens, the eye; before the white light of the lamp, the fire; before the frame of the screen, the mouth of the cave —  and perhaps the things that made up the world were the things that explained it. In Clarice Lispector’s towering, inscrutable 1964 novel The Passion According to G.H., the narrator experiences a violent epiphany which uncovers that the essence of a thing cannot be approached directly, but only after a total breakdown of self, a deconstruction which requires that which is fixed to be robbed of its name; which dissolves the ‘I’ into the solution of the not-I.

Where photography is ‘the picture of a hollow, of a lack, of an absence’, and the word, even if it was originary – perhaps denoted by Lispector’s ambiguous alternation of ‘God’ / ‘the God’ –  dubiously controlling, fixing all that it surveys, the means of accessing the essential must be plural, not monocular, and must do so obliquely, analogously, and without any language whatsoever. Since animation does not need to represent, so the gestures it makes need not – cannot – be named. ‘The name is an accretion,’ Lispector stipulates, ‘and blocks contact with the thing’; and in this sense, animation is one of precious few tools to be able to delaminate this, to strip away the words that cloud the space of reception of the thing.

Animation’s privileged position on the edge of cinema allows it to look to painting, sculpture, and from there to every most originary example of those forms. In the cave are paintings; in the fire, warmth as well as light. It tethers us concretely to primal needs and desires – to an unconscious – serving to satisfy an unknown, almost intangible yet still extant human precedent; even perhaps an inhuman one: ‘the quivering’, as Lispector writes, ‘of an entirely mute rattling in the rock; and we, who made it to today, are still quivering with it.’

To approach the thing is to reconcile the human with the prehuman, and while with the institutions we have established for viewing the world we can only crudely approximate this world of phenomena, some are boundless enough, generous enough, to point towards an indeterminacy in which the scales of representation might fall. Animation is one such institution. Caught in the magic hour between cinema and precinema, while it cannot summon things themselves, neither is it compelled merely to represent those things, nor to define them, and so it functions rather as a catalyst, a draught of Ayahuasca which might, might lead to the space which leads to the thing itself, which ‘wakens like a milligram of radium in the tranquil dark.’ Animation needs be neither representational nor literal. By removing not only the probability but the possibility of representation in the photographic sense (applicable even to photo-realistic CG animation, as it hasn’t been captured but created), it can exist in that state of suspension which disavows order, grammar and geometry and reveal a path from the circumscribed to the boundless, the finite to the infinite, gesturing towards the phenomenal by means of a freer lexicon: to approach the thing.

So much, so good. But there is another more pragmatic way of understanding the friction between the self and the flight from the self here: that of the inherent differences between the mode of production in mainstream cinema and animation. If we take the studio system which dominates the moving images of the cinema, with its pyramidal labour structure and focus on the personality of the director figure, to be the embodiment of the ‘I’, then the artisanal, solitary craft of animation becomes the negation of this: the id to cinema’s ego; the sump of the imagination, into which all that is unformed, naked and unfixable sinks.

When it works, it works as the result of a careful and delicate balance between artist and material: a balance wrought by time, patience and proximity. But the ineffable cannot be accessed by proxy, or by committee; cannot be formulated or synthesised. It is only approached as the result of a deep and intense relationship between maker and made, and relies also on chance, uncertainty, the freedom to follow loose ends and, as Lispector posits, ‘the joy of getting lost’. Without this space of concentration, and with everything charted and delineated, the zone of the ‘vital node’ would be closed. Things would remain aloof, essenceless and inanimate, the world made only of untouchable ‘pieces of thing.’ Here, then, to the maintenance of this sense of craft, of solitary process, of journeys without maps into the wilderness, loosening the grip of the self and casting off the mantle of the word — and to the space to summon the ambivalent, indefinite and unnameable.

Written to accompany the exhibition Animate OPEN: Parts and Labour (Quad, Derby; November 2015 – January 2016)