Author: Kayla Parker
Format: Digital film (loop)
Duration: 5’ 9”
The figure of a small white doll grows from a ball of modeling clay, is cut and sewn shut, and then buried and ‘reborn’, among a nest of white granulated sugar and the dark stain of slut’s wool – the fluffy dust that collects under furniture and along skirting boards.
The animation is practice-as-research for my doctoral thesis and explores my early childhood memories of secret play, when aged five years, locked in a silent room for a rest after lunch, I would sculpt tiny figures from the balls of plasticine I had hidden in the dust under the piano.
Parameters and context
At the heart of my project is my response as an artist to the context and cultural implications of being a female film-maker working in the field of expanded animation practice at the beginning of the twenty first century, within the specific focus of UK-based and English-speaking practice.
Practice-led research study has enhanced my critical evaluation skills, together with my personal and professional development, by establishing a personal perspective on how feminist creative practice has shifted in relation to animation from the 1970s onwards. In addition my research informs and deepens understanding of my own creative practice, helps me develop my critical and contextual writing, and establishes links between praxis and theory.
My key aims
1 To explore the processes of subjectivity and materiality within expanded notions of animation practice, and, in relation to feminist theory, how practice has been situated within patriarchal discourse, and in what ways makers have responded.
2 To investigate ‘the maternal and the material’ through auto/biographical narratives of mother/daughter relationships, from a personal perspective and through engaged/inclusive practice with other women.
3 To examine how meaning is embodied in the artefact and constructed by the subjective and experiential transactional processes between maker and audience.
My investigation is practice-led and conducted from the position of a UK-based feminist artist working in the field of animation film in the first decade of the twenty first century. The central lines of inquiry underpinning my doctoral research are:
1 In relation to my own expanded animation practice as an artist, and situated within heterosexist patriarchal discourse, what are the processes involved in constructing a subjective position, and by what characteristics is the gendered subject recognised; can we identify qualities of methodology, including materiality, that frame the practice as ‘feminine’ and/or feminist, and, if so, how may these be defined and better understood?
2 Through practice-led research from a personal perspective, by collaborative work with other women, and with reference to French post-Structuralist feminist theory, what do we understand as ‘the material and the maternal’; and to what extent are we defined by our auto/biographical narratives as daughters and m/others?
3 What qualities, embodied in the artefact, communicate the integrity invested in a work of art, and what are the subjective and experiential transactional processes that link maker and audience?
In addition, through my research I address further questions arising from the primary research, such as: ‘How may we best address ethical issues that arise through collaborative practice?’ and, in relation to practice-as-research in arts and humanities, ‘What are the mechanisms by which praxis becomes theory?’
In my practice-led doctoral research I work intuitively to create series of interconnected media artefacts, realised as digital photographs, performance, drawing, and animation. The themes emerging in response to these research experiments are framed as key aims and questions above: these have been determined through my own critical reflections on what I have made, my experience of making, and sharing the outcomes with others; writing about my methods and processes; my study of the work and writing of others; my scoping or review of the fields of animation, artists’ moving image, and feminine/feminist practice; a consideration of exhibition strategies; discussions with my supervisors and colleagues; and presentation of outcomes at seminars, talks and exhibitions.
A series of performance engagements under an animation rostrum, recorded by stop-frame capture onto a computer via a High Definition video camera set up at 180 degrees above the blank white sheet which forms the ’ground’. The raw materials from which the animation is made were selected and assembled intuitively, drawing upon memories of play during early childhood: white modelling clay; the fluffy dust known as slut’s wool that collects under furniture and along skirting boards; white granulated sugar; a steel sewing needle; and white cotton tacking thread. The work has not been edited or submitted to post-production image manipulation. The final frame of one performance becomes the first frame of the following performance: ‘White Body’ records the process of the artist’s intuitive tactile interaction with the ingredients, becoming a representation of embodied subjectivity (Irigaray, 1990) and materiality evolving frame-by-frame. By intuition I mean an absence of thought: an ‘un-thinking’ which creates a potent field of action into which the semiotic (Kristeva, 1980) can slide and play freely. When conscious thought is suspended, as in a state of trance (Deren, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1948) a space is revealed, within which an animated form of l’écriture féminine (Cixous, 1975) may materialise.
The digital film ‘White Body’ was screened as a continuous (looped) projection from DVD for the ‘Immersion’ exhibition by the LOCATE Research Group in the Scott Building at University of Plymouth during June/July 2008. The exhibition was held in association with the LAND/WATER Research Centre annual symposium ‘Landscape and Beauty’.
The film was projected onto the gallery floor, in resonance with the rostrum set-up of the making process, but with a reversal of scale (Bachelard, 1994) so that the miniature white clay figure was enlarged to the size of an adult human. The gallery was darkened, and the animation upon the floor surface was the first work that a visitor encountered on entering the space. The position of the projection caused the ‘shadow’ of the visitor’s body to fall across the image and so obliterate part of it: as people approached the projection to examine the animation more closely, they entered the projection beam and prevented light from reaching its target upon the floor. ‘White Body’ became an interactive work through its staging and the strategies by which people negotiated their encounter with it. Several visitors responded by approaching the projection and lying down on the gallery floor, positioning their body so that it fitted within that of the animated clay figure projected upon them.
The next research piece will be a reflexive response to the experience of making and showing ‘White Body’, a performance that follows on from the final frame, as the end becomes the beginning.
All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows
Review 1: Accept subject to amended statement
I am a fan of Kayla Parker’s work. Over the years I have shown it to students and used it to inspire them. Consequently I was excited by the prospect of seeing new work by her and curious to see the direction her ideas would take.
At some level my expectations were amply met. White Body contains beauty, familiarity and wit, all of which I had hoped for. The choice of working in monochrome added mystery and the idea of purity, the domestic nature of the tools were satisfyingly used, the sequence of images flowed well and were professionally presented.
Then it ended.
I watched it repeating itself (as it is in a loop) and felt let down. So then I referred to the accompanying text to contextualise both the practice and the ideas behind it. This was informative, and for me, slightly disappointing. I was reassured by the references to Kristeva, Cixous and Irigaray. However, I felt concerned the theoretical base did not refer to newer work, or to any writing around performative work.
The text also implied there was a performative element to the piece. I was not able to see this, further images or recordings of that process were not available, so this seemed rather irrelevant and not integrated into the completed animation sequence.
I place this into the ‘Process based research’ (4) category. In some ways it might have been an advantage if I wasn’t familiar with earlier work by the filmmaker. In the context of this earlier work, I’m not sure if ‘the production methods, ethics, ways of generating material, research, etc., are innovative breakthroughs that offer knowledge to the field as a whole.’ I believe this work has developed from the earlier practice and will continue to posit questions around the ‘context and cultural implications of being a female filmmaker in the field of expanded animation, within the specific focus of UK based and English speaking practice.’ I am struggling to establish how ‘expanded’ animation practice differs from animation practice in general, using this example.
The theoretical basis of the research suggests several areas of research that fit variously onto this very short example – I am unsure if the key aims are intended to be revealed in this piece.
The making process is described as a series of performance engagements under an animation rostrum. The animation itself is described as the performance. It seems to me that this is too general and that much of any animation process could be described as performative. There is no apparent attempt to explore this idea in a more general way or to explore a animation and the act of filming as performative by other animateurs.
I would recommend the screen work to be accepted ( I really do like the work), but the statement needs to prepare the audience for its brevity, the performative aspects need more theoretical contextualising and it would be helpful if the still of the projection could be included.
Review 2: Accept
An androgynous white plasticine figure unfolds itself into existence, tightly contained within the frame. Immediately we see the body of the figure suddenly pierced by the determined action of a needle and thread that does not choose to repair the slightly visible crack down the body, but rather unexpectedly sews a series of white threads upwards across its torso, so that it resembles some sort of sea creature with a mane of amalgamated threads that begin to wave themselves into existence. The continuation of this action extends to a more violent act, provoking a disturbed reaction in the viewer, whereby the legs are sewn and bound together, restricting any kind of human movement. Yet this constraint is purely a metamorphosis, as the newly created ‘sea creature’ takes flight, finding a new form of motion, one that allows it to immerse itself in the sand, disappearing from view.
The energy of this creature buried underground sends reverberations that appear as successive circles that puncture the surface of the sand until the creature resurfaces for just a moment, before retreating back underground. However, the white threads break free, dancing like windswept grasses on a sand dune and emitting circular energy pulses. The obvious shape of a vagina then begins to take form and the act of menstruation is suggested through the leakage of dark fragmentary matter from the phallic crevice.
We witness another burial and we return the blank canvas, yet this time a series of white punctured balls enter the frame emulating a synchronised dance routine until two lines are formed and parted slightly to create a darkened line that divides the frame crudely in half. The cycle begins again, as the needle and thread reappear and attempt to sew them together, but are thwarted by the eruption of duplicate spawn-like balls with eye-holes that overpower the action and spill into the frame, after battling with the encroaching net of thread. The phallic crevice resurfaces again amongst the chaos, but this time gives birth effortlessly to a new ‘white body’, which emerges triumphantly onto its ‘nest’.
The work is both aesthetically and metaphorically feminine and reminds us of Julia Kristeva’s notion of the ‘monstrous feminine’ and the ‘abject’ through female body expulsions. The cyclical nature of the reproductive imagery could suggest Kristeva’s thoughts on childbirth in her essay, ‘Revolution in Poetic Language’: “By giving birth, the woman enters into contact with her Mother; she becomes, she is her own Mother; they are the same, continuity differentiating itself.” (Butler, 1999, p.107)
As a woman I am both intrigued yet repulsed by the overtly bodily nature of the visual imagery that seems to be explicitly sexual and overwhelming, recalling Cixous’s assertion that women must ‘write from the body’, equating feminine writing with feminine sexuality. Janet Wolff refers to Nancy Spero’s appropriation of the term ‘la peinture feminine’ to describe her own work (Wolff, 1990, p.132), which could also be applied to ‘White Body’, as ‘la film feminine’ since it is similarly occupied with repetition and the continuing cyclical pattern of birth and death; that of emergence and submersion.