If you’re into experimental animation, Eyeworks is your festival | Movie Feature | Chicago Reader

If you’re into experimental animation, Eyeworks is your festival 

“Experimental” doesn’t necessarily mean “bizarre,” but you’ll find plenty of that too.

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Barry Doupé

Now in its ninth year, the Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation, curated by artists Alexander Stewart and Lilli Carré, remains the best annual survey of the form, one that takes care not to limit itself.

"We don't normally curate the festival around specific themes," the curators explain via e-mail, "but they inevitably emerge in each year's lineup as we get the [short] films together." Works "that use digital collage techniques, and . . . that feature a kind of dystopic environmental collapse" are this year's de facto leitmotifs; the best example of both is James J.A. Mercer's Landfill (2014), purportedly composed of archival video footage from the year 2157. Wholly committed to its found-footage premise, the film defies summation; at times reminiscent of a Dalí dreamscape, its surreality encourages revelry rather than attempts at decoding.

I found myself drawn to the densely bizarre abstractions of the program. Dane Picard's Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are George (1992) features computer-animated George Jetsons wearing Shakespearean ruffs speaking dialogue dubbed from Laurence Olivier's Hamlet, with The Jetsons patriarch's fictional—and utterly batshit—life story detailed via randomly dispersed intertitles. Theo Chin's Pinakothek (2018) uses a Polyvision-esque aspect ratio to present the story of an offscreen protagonist looking for companionship in the Munich art museum's digital archive. "Experimental" need not mean "exceedingly bizarre," but with these two films (and several others), it's absolutely the case.

"We are always interested in finding works that attempt to do something we see as truly unusual, both in terms of the way the piece is made, and what it's working with conceptually," Carré and Stewart write. "It's especially exciting when we find older pieces that do this, that anticipate or speak to ideas that artists are engaging with in contemporary work."

Decades-old short films by children's book creator Lisze Bechtold, abstract painter Maria Lassnig, and animator Faith Hubley will be projected from 35-millimeter prints; this year's Eyeworks features more films in that gauge than any previous edition. The varying formats and lack of established through lines speak to the festival's own experimental spirit, running the gamut from old-school computer animation (the 1985 short Calculated Movements by Larry Cuba, who designed the animated Death Star blueprints in Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope) to hand-painted animation (Cheng-Hsu Chung's 2018 short Adorable). The latter is a graphic exploration of queerness, a reflection of how important diversity is to Stewart and Carré. "We think of the idea of diversity in multiple ways," they write, "including gender and identity, geographical and cultural perspective, and creative sensibilities." Through their seemingly random assortment of animations—limited only by the stipulation that they be experimental—they achieve that and more.  v

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