Our guide to the Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation | Movie Review | Chicago Reader

Our guide to the Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation 

Lili Carré and Alexander Stewart present their annual cornucopia of mind-blowing imagery.

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Jake Fried's Headspace

Jake Fried's Headspace

According to curators Lili Carré and Alexander Stewart, the Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation aspires to "blend an appreciation of classic animation with the sensibilities of avant-garde cinema and the visual culture of alternative comics." That mission statement all but promises a wide range of styles and subjects, and each year the festival has delivered just that—you never know what you're going to see from one short to the next. The fifth incarnation of Eyeworks, which opened with a program on Tuesday but continues this weekend, is typically eclectic; the Saturday-night programs feature examples of hand-drawn, stop-motion, and computer animation. Many of the shorts were created in the past year, though each program contains a number of older titles as well.

Of the shorts I was able to preview, the older items were among the most impressive. Florence Miailhe's Hammam (1992) and Georges Schwizgebel's Jeu (2006)—both screening in the second program on Saturday—suggest oil paintings as much as animation, the hand-drawn imagery defined by thick brushstrokes and deep pools of color. Hammam, with its sketches of a traditional Arabian bathhouse, specifically evokes Matisse in its simplified yet sensual human forms. Jeu pays tribute to the trompe l'oeil drawings of M.C. Escher and his followers; the images proceed fluidly, with one emerging from another and so on, and the cumulative effect is dizzying.

Of the shorts in the first Saturday program, more than half were made ten or more years ago. Nicole Hewitt's stop-motion animation In/Dividu (1998) is a particular standout, recalling the work of Czech animator Jan Svankmajer with its strange-looking contraptions made from boxes, strings, and other simple items. As the action proceeds, Hewitt makes these contraptions more technologically advanced, incorporating lightbulbs and bits of circuitry, though her concluding close-ups of naked human body parts suggest that people are the most complicated machines of all. Allison Schulnick's Eager (2013), another stop-motion work, begins with a ballet performed by human figures that appear to be made of yarn, which is followed by clay figures that suggest fusions of flowers and electronic devices.

Some of the other impressive recent selections include Joshua Mosley's Jeu de Paume and Jake Fried's Headspace, both screening in the second Saturday program. Jeu de Paume is a stop-motion work re-creating an indoor tennis match that took place at the Chateau de Fontainebleau in the early 20th century; the outmoded settings are so meticulously realized that you might think you're watching a live-action film. Headspace, drawn in pencil and ink, suggests an artist's sketchbook brought to life, its human figures morphing into abstract shapes and back again. That summary also describes the work of Caleb Wood, a prolific young artist who will introduce an entire program of his own work, on Friday at 7 PM, and take part in a postshow discussion.

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