BY David Barrett in Reviews | 09 SEP 98
Featured in
Issue 42


BY David Barrett in Reviews | 09 SEP 98

What is the frame-rate of an animation? In Tim Hutchinson's case it is one frame per day. Spewing out of a wall-mounted fax machine, the images pile up on the floor throughout the show. It becomes a roll of film, but one that measures time in Hutchinson's bedroom (which is what the images depict) rather than attempting to recreate it. Small items move around the outline drawings. A book sits on the bed. It wasn't there yesterday, and tomorrow it's gone. Surveillance springs to mind, and the title, I Know Where You Live (1998), reinforces this sinister edge. But this is the artist's bedroom, and they are his drawings, so it is willing surveillance; like an 80s version of a webcam - evidence of life elsewhere only to prove that there is life elsewhere. Animation has always found itself at the point between life and not-life.

This is a show filled with not-life. Katy Shepherd continues the theme in Dodo (1997), which shows on a small monitor. The bird moves around a cage, preens itself, looks about. It is obviously animated, but is derived from a single black and white photograph, scanned and manipulated. Resurrecting the extinct results in a kind of atrocity, turning the dodo (admittedly not a handsome bird) into a horror-film mutation; a walk-on in a black and white B-movie. Shepherd brings this technique to bear in a more melancholic way in Last (1998). Here she has attempted in some small way to bring her dead mother back to life. The last snapshot of her mother, which includes two children, has been gently animated so that the group seem as if they are posing expectantly for the camera, rather than having already been captured by it. Heads tilt slightly, fingers twitch. The poverty of the effect is surely the point: marionettes swaying because that's all they can do. Shepherd's self-inflicted cruelty is quite dreadful to behold.

Mat Collishaw is not the kind of artist to lighten the tone and his wall-sized projection shows a most terrible beating - so horrifying that a pit-bull drives itself insane desperately trying to escape. This is Bill and Nancy (1998), and the dog scrabbling furiously at the door - at the point where Bill beats Nancy to death - is a looped clip from Oliver Twist, upon which are overlaid the silhouettes of the two protagonists. The scene is convincingly brutal: Bill hauls the wailing Nancy to her feet in order to crack her with a club. It's just about life-size and the horror comes from the silhouetting: it suggests that, like shadow-puppets, it should be entertaining. (What do puppets do, after all, but beat each other with big sticks?)

Perhaps Tim Macmillan's Dead Horse (1998) should have been called Dying Horse, or, more precisely, Horse at the Exact Point of Death. Macmillan has invented a camera - he calls it a 'Time Slice Camera' - whose effect you may have seen in one of the television commercials he has made, like the one for Capital Radio, in which the camera moves through space around an object that is apparently frozen in time. The 'Time Slice Camera' is, in fact, an arc of thousands of mini cameras, all of which expose their single frame at the same instant. When the resulting images are spliced together, they run like a film with a gently arcing camera sweep. But for the entire duration of the film, all you see is a single moment. It's an utterly compelling effect. In Dead Horse, a man holds a horse by the reins, its head close to him. The horse is in a extraordinary position: all four hooves off the ground, back legs splayed at an extreme angle, muscles straining over every inch of its chestnut body. It takes us a while to notice the rifle with its barrel inches from the horse's forehead. This is an abattoir, and the horse is being 'knackered'. The 'camera' rolls around the scene, then returns, constantly rocking back and forth. (The work is part of a great British tradition in animal portraiture - how do you think George Stubbs achieved such anatomical veracity?) The bullet is somewhere inside the horse's head. It's not really dead yet, but then it's certainly not alive... The work records the split second between two mutually exclusive states; states to which animation - at least that which involves the rapid flow of 'real' photographic images - must always refer.

If the photographic image is to be understood as a kind of death, with its indexical link to the missing subject, then an animation of photographs can only be seen as a kind of living death: a re-animation, which is neither life nor death. These artists understand this and make it the explicit theme of their work. But it is the exact pinpointing of this fact that makes Macmillan, against stiff competition, the star of the show. Whether or not his 'Time Slice Camera' will ever find a more apt subject, Dead Horse must rank as a classic in this melancholic genre of the living dead.