Keen-eyed followers of these Friday call-back posts may have noticed the number of times ‘2015’ appears in relation to images featuring long-exposure photography. That’s because, in the Summer of that year, I set myself a ’10 Day Challenge’ – or rather a ’10 Night Challenge’, in which I sought to produce long-exposure ‘light drawings’ in as many different ways as possible.
One of those variations was thinking about how I might create animated sequences, by producing long exposure photographs as part of continuous sequences. Unsurprisingly, it was a time-intensive undertaking – and a very physical one, given the fact I was ‘puppeteering’ the lights myself, out-of-shot, via a system of black elastic threads. In truth, I didn’t get very far – or rather, I took what felt like a great many photographs, only to find I only had scant seconds of animation as a result. Nonetheless, there is real potential here – to draw with light within particular spaces and animate it too. One day, I’ll walk all the way into this idea and make something happen.
Until then, here are some experiments. I added a touch of music to the second video, and manipulated the animated loops a little more by repeating them. Even these small interventions prove there is much more to be explored here.
Welcome to this first anniversary edition of The Kick-About, a fortnightly blog-based creative challenge in which artists of all stripes come together to present work in response to a given prompt. I asked contributors to choose a favourite work of their own from the previous twenty-five editions so I could celebrate them all together here.
I just want to say a personal note of thanks to everyone who takes part. Producing new ideas and new work in under a fortnight brings with it its own challenges, insecurities and pressures, but if you’re anything like me, you will have enjoyed the otherwise simple satisfaction of making work, getting it done, expressing your creativity, and sharing it with a supportive community. Some of you have thanked me for hosting the Kick-About, and some of you have even worried about the work and time I may be giving it; rest assured, this is the work I like to do and I’m very happy to do it.
Thanks to everyone who has taken part this last year, and I’m very much hoping we can continue to combine our efforts as productively and imaginatively in the coming weeks. Now, just look at what you did…
“Thanks for the Kick-About. For some of us, making art is as natural as breathing, and sometimes almost as necessary to life. During a dark time in history, thanks for stimulating art prompts among creative friends, unfettered by constraints, rules or judgement. Freedom to make in any direction. It’s been a joy. And since you want one favourite, I’m selecting those Bird Ladies from Kick-About No.2. And I hope they sort themselves out soon and send that bureaucratic penguin back to Antarctica.”
“I’ve not been as involved as others in the bi-weekly Kick-About posts, but I’ve seriously enjoyed the challenge of completely unexpected briefs. I’ve chosen to include my piece ‘Orpheus’ this week. This one stood out to me for several reasons, partly because it allowed me to flex my digital painting muscles again, something I’d neglected for a while. Also it was a powerful story that instantly brought up images, compositions and drama. That narrative aspect is something I often neglect in my personal work. This was the challenge, like I had to capture the story, as if on the front cover of book. Our hero enters the underworld, ‘hell’ bent on saving his wife ‘Eurydice’ from the clutches of the dark forces below. Everything a digital painter wants in an image.”
“Selecting KA9 is easy, as it reminds me of how important instinct is within process, as well the time span of sitting across 4 hours 40 minutes to complete a process. I trusted my responses to the music, invited in chance, kept the demon of doubt outside the door, and I enjoyed colour as an adventure. KA9 felt like a pure creative experience and it beckons me on to do more. The community of KA has been totally enriching and so rewarding.”
“Kick-About No.1 was a cathartic experience as I’m often caught up on details and reasoning. And those hang-ups can sometimes paralyse my creativity. I realise now, sometimes it’s just a simple premise, and it’s dumb fun and exploration that’s needed. And I definitely found joy and a small sense of achievement in that process!”
“Weirdly enough I’ve chosen this..a tough call but although I loved putting together the installations I only record them as 6” X 4” photos, which are then put into a KA book as a record. However, I do have my drawings, so could take a better photo, as they’re bigger! I chose this as it WAS tedious in its repetitive way, but after a while it became a form of meditation, and I was happy with the outcome, which is rare. Actually I could have chosen any as far as enjoying the process goes, so onwards to the next…” Graphite on Fabriano.
“An epic and bi-sectioned electronic piece telling the story of the cicada life from a more dark point of view. Beware – the first four minutes are much quieter than the last two. Good speakers or headphones are recommended.”
“The Kick About has brought me to places I’ve never dreamed of going. I’ve dipped my toes into mediums, styles and parts of myself that have otherwise been sealed off. I have learned to find magic in the mundane, while learning a great deal about films, authors, and artists, from the many prompts we have created together. I always feel inspired to see what you all have created every fortnight, so for that I am thankful to all you fellow kick-abouters for your words and creations.
In saying that, it is difficult to choose a favourite, as they all have been a joy to see flourish. One Kick-About does come to mind and that is No. 22, which was the art, life and times of the Austrian painter, Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez, and with it the Pools film. The reason why it is my favourite is because of the way it came to be and the journey it took to get it to that state. I wasn’t seeking this film out. I wasn’t trying to capture anything like it, I didn’t even know this place existed. I was merely bouncing around the innards of the forestry one bitter cold winter morning when a dumping of snow was beginning to melt, and where I set out to capture the extrusion of thick snow rimmed treetops. I found all that, but I also found this film – in a trench of shallow, glistening water.
Making Poolswas a creative journey, and I’m thankful it happened in such an organic way: from finding the place and deciding to film it, to viewing the resulting footage as flawed, while still being preoccupied by it, to the Kick-About prompt providing the perfect opportunity to salvage the film into something I’m proud of.
It was a pure delve into the unknown to make something just for the sake of it, not knowing how the outcome would look but just enjoying the whole process of making this thing. I think, in its essence, that is what is so great about The Kick About and why I love being a part of it with you all.”
“At the time of the making of my Metropolis images for The Kick-About #2 I had been living in the same apartment for over three years, and for some reason had never really taken the time to explore the surrounding area with the eye of a photographer or an artist, mostly because it all just seemed very boxy and residential in a way that I have become totally accustomed to seeing every day.
However, with a lot of free time and a phone-camera in hand, I thought that surely the true mundaneness of a real metropolis could be made into something interesting somehow. After fiddling with some images, I ended up with some quite authentic looking silent film production set photos which of course really reminded me of that other Metropolis. I think they even capture the unusual atmosphere and uncertainty of the time they were created.”
“I choose this one because I managed to capture a very personal sense of nostalgia, which is something that I had been trying to crack for a while. Also, it was the first time I had been motivated to break out the paints for over a year, which is a long time, especially when I had been making work every day. It highlighted to me that I need to stronger with myself as a creative and have the fortitude to keep pushing through various blocks and it did herald a period of increased productivity. Also, it is one of the artier of my submissions…”
“The Kick-About #6 is still one of my favourite prompts, and one of the most meaningful series of paintings I have done in the last few years. It represents the beginning of a new creative journey for me, a new painting style, and, at the same time, it encompasses much of my life and experiences. For this “anniversary” I picked just one of the four, my favourite, and the first one I painted. It was originally inspired by a photograph of the Canadian winter landscape by Evelin Berg and, as I mentioned, were partly concept paintings for a short animation I haven’t finished yet. The journey, the film, the story….all still ongoing.” Ink on watercolour paper, 240x680cm.
“I have learnt so much over the last year from participating in The Kick-About, and enjoyed so many different aspects, that I found it really difficult to pick a ‘favourite’. Some pieces have stretched me technically, some have taken me into totally unfamiliar territory, some have felt satisfactorily “complete”. But one submission made me smile when it first occurred to me, smile as I worked on it, and smile even now when I read it back. I can’t think of a better reason for re-visiting it, so my ‘Favourite Kick-About’ is Field Guide to Getting Lost and The Ballad of Ethel and Hilda’.
“It’s the Five Canons of Rhetoric! I’ve chosen this one as it made me really think about my work and its origins and process. It led to the story of this Sea Heart pod that continues to fascinate me along with all the other seed-pods in my life! The journey of this pod crept into the following Kick-About as well, maybe because I can’t travel at the moment and I long to be doing so. It always refreshes my mind and creativity… apart from missing my friends in distant lands.”
“The prompt was Cocteau’s Orpheus, because of the element of serendipity: on a Covid walk, I dragged home two entwined ivy trees, saw the prompt, (not sure which happened first) something clicked, and I set about exploring the potential…”
“The KA’s have been a great way to divert my attention and have provided reason for exploration of deep buried thoughts. Thank you’s to all of you who have donated jumping off points – sometimes they resonate so deafeningly – not always at the point of conceptualising – the museum KA didn’t kick-in for me until I started putting paint to paper but then it dragged up some of the creative juices that I thought had been long gone. So I guess that makes it my significant KA moment. I love the tantalising breadth of work created by all of you. KA reveal days are always so exciting. It amazes me how you seem to tumble out great pieces or concepts. Also amazing how open you have been with background stories to some of the works. Thanks again and I hope KA can continue long after lockdown.”
“In response to the “Kick-about anniversary” (and my very small contribution to it) I have chosen to revisit my take on the Eugen von Ransonnet Villez submarine paintings.
Marine paintings have become a large part of my creative output over the last decade. As a graphic designer just over ten years ago my health took something of a wobble and the medical advice was to change lifestyle. This evolved over a few years and resulted in less use of the mouse and tablet and more the old fashioned paintbrush. It became as much as anything else a journey of self discovery. Several visual themes emerged but the one most urgent in my need to explore was the sea. I soon found like minded painters at the National Maritime Museum Art Club where I became chairman. The club has had a couple of identity changes since then but still exists as the Thames Maritime Artists and I am still chairman.
The limpid, accurately observed and interpreted tones and colours used by Ransonnel Villez immediately struck a chord with my own struggle to capture how we see water and objects in water. Seascape and coastal painting is quite a niche area in painting, not fashionable, and hasn’t been since the Royal Navy stopped ruling the waves, but I have never been troubled by fashion. For me the test of how well I am performing is to be judged by peers and to that end over a number of years I have submitted paintings to the Royal Society of Marine Artists annual open exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London. For four years I failed to get anything into the show, I was disappointed but not discouraged and eventually in 2019 I got a piece into the show. In 2020 in the middle of the pandemic I got two pieces in – and won the Classic Boat Prize. It certainly does not beat taking your life in your hands going under the sea in a primitive diving bell but sometimes dogged persistence does pay off. I have attached a couple of RSMA exhibition to add to the original set.”
“For the Kick-About I’d like to submit my Symbols piece (#5). Of all the digital work I’ve produced over the last year, it stands out to me as being truly different and emotionally driven. Something in Alice Neel’s original painting really clicked with me.”
“I would like to choose ‘Dance of the Happy Shades’ as my favourite piece. It was my very first appearance on the Kick-about and possibly one of my best works. It involved using the mixed media of silk material and painting, and I felt it was a good showcase for my manipulative skills with fabric. I definitely got a buzz from seeing my picture on the internet and I loved using the bright, cheerful colours. It made me feel excited, hopeful and creative even though it was the start of lockdown.”
“While I haven’t been able to contribute as often as I would like in recent months, The Kick-About is a welcome stretch away from my day-to-day. Working in design, I’ve felt it more and more challenging to work without a brief or steer, to make for the pleasure of making, without feeling the need to justify time spent playing as part of a longer project or showreel piece. The Kick-About has provided that stimulus, giving a direction but not a destination, and a space to remember that away from the rounds of amends, renders and timesheets, making is simply, fun. For this reason, making a witches bottle due to a misreading of a painting by Alice Neel was the most enjoyable project for me, reading and researching down whatever avenue seemed interesting, formulating an idea without thinking of demographics or target audience, and then making something however crudely with real physical materials, not worrying about brand guidelines or alignment or safe margins. Looking at the high quality of the other submissions makes it lucky I’m dressing up my motivation in the same outfit as naive or folk art. However, at a time which created a step back from our daily lives and the time to think about why we do the things we do, for me The Kick-About is the reminder I needed to not pack everything in and try to manage a hedge fund. Joy! It’s all about joy!“
“I’m choosing the Invisible Cities (Ersilla) prompt as my favorite. First, because it was something I wanted to do as soon as I read the book a few years ago, but had never gotten around to. And also because it expanded my work from my usual repertoire, which is basically 2-dimensional.
I would say that almost all the prompts have pushed me further than I would normally go outside my comfort zone which is a very good thing. And everyone else’s work is so inspiring, it keeps my mind full of different ideas and inspiration.”
“I’ve loved being part of the Kick-About over the last year. It’s got me doing things I’ve never done before, such as writing and recording my own voice, and it’s going me doing things that I’d never have done without it, so a big thank you, Phil, for putting this together every fortnight. It’s been a real pleasure seeing how people have responded to the prompts and I’m always in awe of the variety, the talent and the creativity that appears in each post.
I’ve got a few favourites from the past year, but i’m choosing this image, which I called ‘Forest Flare’ and made in response to the Orphée’prompt way back last June I think. I painted some 2D trees, an arch and a sky onto card, and then lit and photographed th em on my desk. The main reason I was pleased with how it turned out is that, in the photographic image, a small figure appeared, sitting on the floor, framed by the arch and looking like a faun that had wandered out of the paper forest. It wasn’t there when I looked at the table top set up, but some magic happened in the camera and the image turned out more interesting that I’d planned – quite spooky!”
“I’ve chosen ‘Baba’s Important Work’ because the resulting short story speaks to the power of a random prompt to produce something satisfying, unpredictable and inevitable-seeming. That a story set in a static caravan, in some dystopian society, should have issued from an old book on nautical knot-work, makes me feel excited about the creative process in all its strangeness. I find it reassuring too, a bit like going to Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, opening its doors, and finding, thank goodness, there are still ideas in there after all.“
“Albatross Box is the only sculpture I’ve done for the Kick Abouts – and it is the one that has proven the most constant source of inspiration since I made it. It is still hung up in my house, changing with the light and day and it is a source of endless fascination for my 3 year old. Once COVID restrictions ease a bit, I’d love to scout out some more bones and do a few more bone shadow boxes with poetry and make it a series (I confess to already rescuing another wooden box from the curb in anticipation!). “
“Picking a personal favourite is so tricky! My mind immediately jumps to the Alice Neel prompt from Kick-About #3. I really enjoyed the making of that piece in it’s simplicity and assemblage of iconography. I also enjoyed Kick-About #23 in which I could channel grief into some strange cardboard constructions. Both of those prompts were so calming and helpful to produce. But if I’m honest with myself, I think the very first Kick-About was my favourite subject, largely because the Max Ernst prompt is well suited to my comfort zone – bizarre landscapes and painting methods. What a boring choice I know, but I remember that painting evolving so clearly in my head, and it was a joy.”
With its associations with protest and freedom of expression, this week’s prompt, courtesy of Kerfe Roig, returns us somewhat to the untaming of our last Kick-About together, but just like everyone else, I suspect, I’ve had the song from Hair going around and around my brain these past two weeks!
“I apologise in advance to any students of colour-theory who might be seeing these images. While it was made in the spirit of peace and love, it might in fact be the colour equivalent an atomic bomb. Really I just wanted to make the animated tye dye t-shirts while listening to the Broadway cast recording of Hair.”
“I did go briefly down a rabbit hole to look up the meaning of the expression in astrological terms. It’s complex but predictably vague and controversial. The Age of Aquarius may have begun in 2600 BCE, or may have begun in the 20th Century or may be yet to begin. Having grown out of what limited interest I had in astrology years ago, this was not a direction that inspired art. It did lead me to quite an interesting little reading session about hippies, beatniks and the New Age movement of the 1960s and 1970s, but the complexity of this material reminded me of why I was never very good at history in school and why I admire people who are good at history!
But visually, the culture of the ’60s and ’70s is interesting. In fact I already had a digital collage with a psychedelic flavour that I made in November last year after watching the progress of the US elections with horror and dread. I had a powerful craving for the dawn of a new era, and for women to play an important role in it.”
“In Australia, that thirst for a change of culture, and a redistribution of power is even stronger now. If you’re interested, journalist Leigh Sales talks about it here, or there’s a briefer version on her Instagram page here. But what the heck. I had to make something new just for this prompt. So I decided that peace, love and harmony were the go, but sticking with the a secondary theme of female solidarity and friendship. And here’s the dawning of the Age of Aquarius being celebrated in a small way between two friends. The moon is definitely in the Seventh House. Need you even ask?”
“So this is what I learned during my research into the ‘age of Aquarius’ – that in addition to all the immediate water-based imagery that associates with it, some scholars of all things astrological identify electricity as one of the keenest indications of the Aquarian age. Originally I had film in mind as my response to the prompt, something rather doomy and cynical juxtaposing the optimism given to the age of Aquarius with the lived reality of recent events and the rise of populism in politics… but, while good and worthwhile possibly, it was also going nowhere visually! Instead, I wondered how I might bring the Aquarian motifs of electricity and water together in a suitably cosmic way – without blowing myself up in the process! So it was I returned to the site of the scrying mirror, that small body of water so fascinating to me in its blackness (but which also makes it quite smelly!), and cracked out a few techniques familiar to me from previous photographic adventures in other dark places.It is certainly the dawning of something going on here…”
“I love Hair – it was one of the last shows before covid that we saw that I really enjoyed – just a small production that ran for a few nights at the Sydney Opera House. Yep our poor youngsters will have the same old concerns but worse, I suppose. After a few painted kick-about responses I went back to the computer for some clean lines. I hope it feels like there is some energy in it – it started off feeling that way to me but it always amazes me how much time you spend on a computer to get an image off the ground.“
“This constellation was identified as “The Water Carrier” in the records of the Babylonians, some 6000 years BCE, and has been recognised as such by civilisations ever since. Different ideologies have ascribed different myths, but the common feature throughout has been the urn pouring water from the heavens. Regardless of the meanings ascribed to the constellation, the constellation itself is real and eternal, and humanity has gazed upon it since the first humanoid turned its face to the stars and wondered.
It is about 27,500 years since our solar system last moved through this sector of the sky, and will remain within this sector for approximately 2,150 years. When thinking about these vast periods of time, it is tempting to take comfort in the fact, that whatever the ups and downs of our own little lives, there is a never-changing constancy about the world and its place in the universe. But perhaps the true meaning of the constellation of Aquarius is not that water will always be available, but that all life needs water to survive. Maybe “The Age of Aquarius” is the time to recognize if we continue to use water, consume water, play with water, waste water and pollute water, as we have done over the last couple of centuries, we may have witnessed the “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius”, but there may be no one much around to witness the twilight.”
“When Phil asked me to choose this week’s Kick-About prompt, I thought immediately of The Age of Aquarius, because I’ve been turning over in my mind the hope that it might be real, that humanity can change. I always loved the music posters of the “Hair” era, and used them as inspiration for my neon colored paintings… Back when the musical “Hair” came out, some astrologers grumbled that it wasn’t really the Age of Aquarius yet. But what did we care? We were tired of the world as it was, ready for Peace, Love and Understanding. Well…maybe not. During 2020 there were rumblings once again online about the REAL Age of Aquarius finally showing up. I was skeptical to say the least.It seems we had the Age of Aquarius skewed, not only in time. Yes, it’s a total tearing down and rebuilding. But it’s going to require hard work. Taking a lot of drugs and wearing tie-dye and listening to songs about love won’t do it. Can we change our entire approach to living together, not only with each other, but with the earth, its creatures, its landscape, its elements? We need to if we want to survive.”
chaotic stillness watching from the whorled center for new beginnings
all those lost patterns – I collect them in my mind, in new rotations
all impermanence – no matter which way you turn the path continues
giving myself hope inside my dark wanderings– a world of wonder
“Firstly, I was gobsmacked by the age of Aquarius song from the musical Hair. It left the hairs standing on my arms with the booming lead singer’s voice being absolutely phenomenal. If this show ever returns to live audiences I would love to see it! The “hippie” people of this era wanted to show their respect and love for the earth and focus on the world around them, while doing it as a group effort to show a sense of community and togetherness. Aquarius is an air sign, and as a fellow air sign myself, they are known to be creative, free spirited, and always seek clarity.
The symbol for Aquarius being the ‘water bearer’, who eternally gives life and spiritual food to the world, while also washing away the past and making room for a fresh start is usually depicted as a mighty figure pouring water from a vessel onto the earth. When seeing the image of the water bearer, I wanted to focus on a previous experience surrounding water that ignited the Pools film from the Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez prompt, which gave me more respect for the earth and the little wonders that happen sporadically, if you are open enough to find them.
These photos show a snapshot of a spectacle that was for my eyes only, where a trickling of snow was melting and forming a mirage of colours in a shallow lagoon of water. It was a joyous occasion to just sit and watch this natural occurrence, and with its dancing display, it allowed me to stop worrying about everything and what the future holds and just be here in this moment. I think experiences like that are important for grounding you and bringing you back to your present reality, where worry has no place, as the hippies in Hair embodied this physicality here and now by dancing and moving their bodies like water…”
“I was very lucky to be ‘sweet sixteen at the tail end of the 60s. Having worked hard to get my exams, it was time to enjoy myself and ‘let the sunshine in’, so I started a job in London. It was alive and buzzing! I worked in a large open plan office and every day was such fun – more often than not I just managed to catch the last train home! It was all parties, pubs and shopping, and frankly one of the best times of my life! Everyone was so happy! Perhaps it was due to the great music of the time or the wonderful crazy clothes. I still have my beautiful purple velvet kaftan. Unfortunately, I never got to see Hair the Musical as it was always booked solid but how I enjoyed the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.”
“When I read the prompt for this week’s Kick-About, my first port of call was that clip from the film Hair where the hippie kids are dancing in the park singing ‘let the sunshine in’. My research did go a bit deeper than watching 1960s musicals, into the realms of astrology and vernal equinoxes and suchlike, but I kept coming back to that catchy song. I was struck by how the song linked all the positive attributes of the new age of Aquarius to sunshine, relating feelings to the weather, as so many songs do. When the age of Aquarius does arrive, we’ll all be dancing under sunny skies, apparently. The film version looks very dated now, of course, and has a very American feel. If it’d been made in Britain it’d be less ‘let the sunshine in’ and more ‘take your washing in’. I’m not complaining, though, I really do like the gentle climate of the British Isles. It’s what helps make our landscapes and gardens so beautiful. It’s also become rather de rigueur to challenge such simple binaries as; sunny weather, good – rainy weather, bad. Nature writers seem to be falling over themselves in their enthusiasm to tell us about their new books where they did things like walk in the rain for a whole year, and how they found such experiences deeply revelatory and healing. Back in the 19th century, John Ruskin told us ‘there’s really no such things as bad weather, just different kinds of weather’. I do get it, I can enjoy rain, and storms, and snow, but given the choice, I’d rather be outside under a clear blue sky. I’ve made a little film about it for the Kick-About this week, splicing together two videos, taken exactly six months apart; one in high summer, one in midwinter. By making the film so binary, I hope it allows for the nuances to emerge and for this to generate more complex feelings about sun/rain, summer/winter, light/dark and life/death, ultimately, I suppose. Or maybe it just makes the sunny part of the film look all the more enticing and the winter part even more ‘ugh!’.
The soundtrack to the film is from a beautiful piece of music called Waterland (part IV) by The Rain Dogs. Check out their amazing work at the-rain-dogs.bandcamp.com
Ok, I’m looking out of the window as I write this and the sky is a delicate pale grey with a soft drizzle coming down; where are those hippie kids when you need them!?”
“This is my 1960s “Dolly Dress” – another treasure from a charity shop. It hangs on my wall as a reminder of all the good times and never fails to trigger a smile. Years ago. when working in Australia, friends at the studio invited me to a 60/70s party. Myself and another dressed accordingly. She was a dancer and had hoarded all original clothes from that ‘crossroad time’. We arrived clutching the soundtrack to “Hair” and more than ready to party, but sadly no one else had dressed up (chic black only), so we put on the music, revived the old moves, and soon were all swirling back to a time when change was the buzzword, freedom and fashion a shock, and art school the perfect place to explore this “New World”. May we all ‘ let the sun shine in’ when we gather once more to dance, drink and laugh with our friends….how fab will that be?!”
Just a reminder then, that the Kick-About No.26 ‘52.1429’ is our anniversary edition to mark one year of shared creative endeavours. I think we’ve all earned a little break from fizzing fortnightly with new things to try and do, so I’m asking kick-abouters to get in touch and choose one of their own previous submissions for including in a ‘greatest hits’ edition. All you need do is point me at the piece of work you’d like me to include, but also send me a few lines on why you’ve chosen it; it might be because it represented some crazy creative detour into the unknown, or it might just be because you really really like it – and anything else you’d like to talk about too. I look forward to hearing from you in due course.
Back in 2014, I had the pleasure of devising and creatively directing an EU-funded ‘visualisation of classical music’ project in collaboration with my students, alumni and staff. Our mission was to take on Verdi’s mighty Requiem, and not attempt to animate it, or fall into any turgid, representational mode committing us to grandiose CGI. You can dive nice and deep into the development of the project here, but I’m going to offer up the short version, which goes like this: first, we plugged Arie Van Beek into some motion-detection software while he was conducting Verdi’s Requiem with his orchestra in order to capture his every movement during the performance. Next, the resulting data was translated by a computer into seven curves, one for each of the discrete movements of the Requiem, which gave us spatial representations of the conductor’s gestural energy; along these curves followed his orchestra.
The seven curves originating from Arie Van Beek’s conducting of the Requiem
My students and alumni were then given the curves as digital files, and challenged to use them to produce sculptural forms fashioned in 3D using the animation software in which they were trained. They were asked to listen to each movement of the Requiem and allow their impressions of the music to inform their creative decision-making, and a final selection to be made from their respective entries.
The final seven 3D models produced by the students.
Ultimately, we wanted to physicalise the 3D forms as real-world sculpture, so had to devise a practical means to ready the digital models for fabrication. We divided the 3D forms into planes, or slices, with the idea of laser-cutting the silhouettes out of sheet steel, before reassembling them again to produce the finished piece.
One of the sculptural forms expressed as a series of silhouettes.
A 3D simulation of how the silhouettes combine to produce the sculpture.
Maquettes of the seven sculptures were then produced so we could understand how they would sit on the ground and actually work as physical things. I need to say here what an exciting moment this was, as we first understood what it meant to have taken an epic, canonical work of classical music and converted it into tangible, tactile things.
The seven movements of Verdi’s Requiem as diminutive, laser-cut maquettes.
Finally, laser-cut from steel, welded together and painted, the seven finished sculptures were installed on the lawn of the Royal Opera House’s High House Production Park, Purfleet, to accompany a further performance of the Requiem. The unspoken truth of this highly collaborative and interdisciplinary project was that all of us wished the budget had been very much larger, meaning we could have produced the sculptures at a much bigger scale. Sized as they were, the sculptures were playful, when I think we all wanted them to loom more grandly, as befitting their origin point. Still, the business of moving them around in various transit vans, and carrying them about, proved challenging enough; any bigger, and we would have needed a fleet of articulated lorries!
The pleasure of this project was not knowing how to do something, and not knowing how something was going to turn out, but always confident in the knowledge I was working with a bunch of talented individuals committed to making something wonderful take place.
Aside from all the conspicuously unheimlich delights of Czech stop-motion animator and director, Jiří Barta’s 1989 short film, The Club Of The Discarded, a recent re-watch put me in mind of recent times: lock-down days of grinding similarity, the proximity of neighbours and their noise, the allure of difference, and feelings of redundancy.
As a fitting book-end, I wanted to (re)share a past projects of which I’m very fond, not least because I got to work with a loyal team of generous creatives. If you’re familiar with Red’s Kingdom, you’ll recognise the likes of Emily Clarkson, Ethan Shilling, Deanna Crisbacher and kick-abouter, Simon Holland, all of whom worked on this short educational animated film about the provenance of some ship-wrecked Roman pottery. Let me also introduce you to production team members, Nat Urwin, Tom Smith, Charlie Serafini, Alan Postings, and Jeffrey Wang, whose time and talents this film absorbed so totally for so many weeks.
Commissioned by the trustees of the Seaside Museum Herne Bay and funded by Heritage Lottery, the film was also made with the help and support of the children and staff of the Herne Bay Junior School. I had the pleasure of meeting a whole bunch of the school’s exuberant pupils in our search for the ‘voice of Marcus’, a role that ultimately went to Lake Blumenthal, who auditioned for me so impressively – while dressed as a lion!
Though completely exhausting in only the way putting together an animation can be on a tight schedule and even tighter budget, Marcus & The Mystery of the Pudding Pans was a very happy, life-affirming collaboration. I was interviewed on local radio about the project, which you can listen to here – or rather, you can hear my answers to the interviewer’s questions about the development of the animation in this archive of my side of the interview.
It was all the way back in November I last caught up with Red’s Kingdom’s artist-in-residence – filmmaker, animator and digital artist, Tom Beg. Since that time, I can assure you Tom hasn’t been twiddling his thumbs. On the contrary, he has been hard at working bringing the illusion of life to the first group of his otherworldly critters, so it’s time for a bit more show and tell.
Phil: How are you, Tom? And life in Japan? What are the headlines?
Tom:Nothing too exciting for me personally but it is coming up to my fifth anniversary of living here, so that’s something. Also, Japan’s educational year actually ends in March, and starts again in April, so in February most students who are planning to go to high school or university are going through what is known as juken jigoku or “exam hell” if translated to English. This means soon it will be spring and graduation ceremonies (socially distanced ones, of course), with cherry blossom flavoured Kit Kats, and cherry blossom flavoured everything available in abundance.
Phil: I’ve been very excited to see your most recent updates, including a sneak peek at the project’s branding. To kick things off, tell us something about your creative decision-making in regards to your animation’s title.
Tom: The animation’s title is Tabula 5465. Basically, it is inspired by the naming conventions of exoplanets. Tabula is the Roman word for a slate or tablet, on which things are written, while 5465 is a reference to the physical dimensions of Joan Miro’s painting Women and Birds at Sunrise, the painting from which the designs and ideas for the creatures in my animation derive. The logo represents the orbits of eight different planets, each representing the different creatures in my animation. The font was inspired by the one used for the titles in The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.
Phil: I’ve been watching your animation updates appear on your Vimeo channel, and enjoying how you’re bringing more life to your creatures with every iteration. What’s guiding your decision-making in terms of your animation strategy?
Tom:Just making sure everything feels alive and behaving as if it belongs in this world. For this sequence, firstly I thought about how the creatures would behave if they were simply idling about and not doing much at all. From there, it was thinking about how they might potentially go from this idling-around behaviourtodifferent states of movement.
Phil: We’ve talked previously about the challenges of directing a film that is driven, not by story, but by the behaviours of your characters. What is your current thinking about how the film hangs together as a whole?
Tom:I think it’s going to be more in the style of a documentary or educational film. Rather than have the creatures perform for the camera, I’m animating as if they are being filmed in a natural state. I imagine when filming nature in real life, there is probably a certain joy in just watching things happen without any interference, even if it’s totally mundane behaviour. That’s what I’m aiming to capture. It’s not really a story with a three-act structure, but the story of these creatures and how they behave in their own world, and as a group.
Phil: What are some of the frustrations in regard to the animation process?
Tom: The physic simulations require a lot of calculation that can’t be done in real-time, so if I want to move something, I can’t get accurate feedback instantly. I have to do something called a playblast, which is a way of watching the animation play back at the correct speed. The videos you’re seeing in this post are playblasts. They aren’t full renders, but they play the animation accurately at a lower visual quality for preview purposes. Then there is dealing with models passing through each other because they aren’t actually solid things. I’m constantly having to adjust timing and position. It’s like cutting off the head of a hydra – you fix one and then another one appears!
Phil: And what’s delighted and surprised you?
Tom:I snuck out a few low-resolution renders with the lighting and materials applied, and it is looking quite nice. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait a while longer to see those….
Phil: Out of curiosity, are you able to add up all the different individual tasks and processes you’ve had to go through to get to the latest stage – and how many processes come after this point to produce a final sequence?
Tom:So far there’s been: design, modelling, rigging, texturing, lighting, going back and fixing the modelling, fixing the rigging, animating, fixing animation, fixing animation and fixing animation. After fixing more animation, I will need to cache the animation and set up the various render passes that will give me the information I need to get depth of field, motion blur etc. After that, rendering the actual animation and compositing the various layers into a final sequence with all the effects applied that give it the final polished look.
Phil: And finally, what’s up next?
Tom: The three-armed pink tentacle creatures probably. I will animate the creatures in the order I made them, although they won’t necessarily appear in the animation in this order.
I wanted to engage with the most recent Kick-About prompt – the 5 Canons of Rhetoric – as it related to the idea of moving from an initial instinctive idea to something recognisably cogent and complete, and communicated successfully to others. I chose the pangram, ‘The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog’ because, in its use of every single letter in the alphabet, I thought I could argue it was a single sentence encompassing every other English language idea possible; every book, every song, every poem, every philosophical treatise, every argument, and so on. As the animation goes on, you see different ideas vying for representation and moments of indecision, flashes of inspiration – helpful and otherwise – and a final resolution of the phrase we recognise collectively as ‘right’.
(There is some pesky pixelation due to compression in this Vimeo version: with a bit of luck, you’ll find the original video to view hosted here).
The Kick-About comes of age today, with Edition No. 21. Let me begin by saying how restorative, ordering and genuinely exciting I find our collective runarounds. Through your emails, comments and conversations, I know you value the Kick-About too, seeing it as an opportunity to make some new stuff, finish some older stuff, get something done, take risks, recreate, and get your hands dirty. It gives me great pleasure to host your work on here. Red’s Kingdom is lucky to have you. Long may we play together.
“The definition of rhetoric in the little Oxford dictionary is: art of persuasive speaking or writing; inflated or exaggerated language. Based on that (with a bit of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Not I’) I’ve spliced together the opening lines of Barack Obama’s inauguration speech with a selection of Donald Trumps tweets (sections of ). Calm authoritative argument versus shouted ignorance (in my opinion!).”
“Each time we gather to inaugurate a president I WILL NOT BE ATTENDING THE INAUGURATION! we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution, THE ELECTION WAS STOLEN! we affirm the promise of our democracy, IT WAS A RIGGED ELECTION! we recall that what binds this nation together, SORRY LOSERS! is not the colours of our skin, or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names, WE’RE GOING TO BUILD A WALL! what makes us exceptional, what makes us America AMERICA FIRST! AMERICA FIRST! is our allegiance to an ideal articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; FAKE NEWS! that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; BULLSHIT! that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” STOP THE STEAL! STOP THE STEAL!
“The prompt this week made me think about the creative process, my creative process, something I don’t usually spend much time contemplating. What does my creative process actually involve? Which parts of the process am I good at, and which parts do I find uncomfortable and hurry past? What is my – and I recoil slightly from the earnestness of this word – practice? I’ve found stepping back and considering how I approach my work a useful exercise. For this Kick-About, I’ve tried to take a photo that includes some of the steps I might go through in making an image; there are sketches, with some of the quick drawings that are often the very start of the process for me, then painted papers I make to provide the raw materials for my collage work, a collaged blackbird taking shape, and also a finished image of a wintry landscape with a barn owl, plus reference books, poetry and other stuff I might find that sparks inspiration. Birds provide a good, if rather obvious, metaphor for this process; sometimes the idea flies, sometimes not….”
“I thought the five words evoked something mysterious, something unseen and a bit psychological. Mostly I was inspired by the patterns and colours MRI and CT scans produce as a way of visualising how our brains react to a specific emotional response or biological function. In this case, the triggers being inventio, disposito, elecuitio, memoria and pronuntiatio, and a very abstract visualisation of those words. I have my own ideas about which of these images represents each of the words, but in the end I thought I would leave it up to the viewer to come up with their own interpretation of the order.”
“Once I had got over my initial panic on reading the ‘5 Canons of Rhetoric’, I read a bit more on the subject and realised what was being described was a process – a process which could be applied to many creative endeavours. The stages may have different emphases for different types of creativity, but (it seems to me) the principles remain the same. I decided to test this hypothesis by applying it to a much humbler craft than oratory, but one that I know well. Below I have tried to show the 5 canons applied to the process of making a crochet blanket, from initial idea to finished piece.”
“My mind glazed over as I read through these rigid and formal ways of organizing communication. Of course the word rhetoric has multiple meanings, the first of which, is “(in writing or speech) the undue use of exaggeration or display; bombast”. Something we all been over-subjected to of late. What is true of all the definitions is that rhetoric involves the use of language.
One synonym given particularly caught my eye: ” balderdash–senseless, stupid, or exaggerated talk or writing; nonsense”. The word nonsense immediately made me think of the surrealists. The surrealists felt that letting go of the need to control your creation would reveal deeper truths. This was true of both visual and written art. They rejected logic and reason. I often use surrealistic techniques for both my art and my writing. I’ve been doing Rorschach images for awhile: these little cards are done by dripping the leftover paint from my watercolors onto the card and folding it in half. Usually the layers are done in several sessions. I also compose comments for my images using words and phrases I’ve cut out of magazines and advertisements. I limit myself to what’s contained in one envelope for each card, and often spend quite a long time choosing and arranging them. I call it ‘the collage box oracle’, as it’s similar to using magnetic poetry. I was originally inspired by Claudia McGill, who is a master at this technique. I’m usually surprised by what appears. It always makes me think.
I first scanned in just the images, and then worked on the words. When I went to scan them, I realized I had changed the orientation of the image in half of them. Another unexpected surprise. Surrealistic Rhetoric has no pretense to being anything but a random arrangement of words, but somehow manages to incorporate at least 4 of the classical canons: invention, arrangement, style, and delivery. As to memory, well, canon #7 deals with that.”
The Eight Canons of Surrealist Rhetoric
Is there anything more archetypal than nothing?
Space is just energy deconstructing.
You expected evolving to be more complex.
Adventure awaits beyond the details of yourself.
Fools rush into the shadow of the projected image.
I was invented from the earth’s fertile surfaces– otherwise my unlimited nakedness would be alarming.
My plans are to forget to remember.
There was a window from the start—simple and mysterious– imagine looking through it to what is hidden between.
“I was intrigued to learn about the new archaeology regarding Stone Henge, whereby they have discovered that an ancient stone circle at Waun Mawn in Wales was the original prototype. I decided there must have been one farsighted individual who used his power of rhetoric to persuade his Neolithic mates to help him with this great project over 3,000 years ago. So…”
‘We don’t need to hide ourselves away in this Peat Moor as a second rate team. We could be top of the league! Let’s show them what we can do. You know those huge blue stones lying around the pitch everywhere? Well,why don’t we move them to Salisbury Plain! It won’t be difficult to get them there – it’s only a stones throw, of about 150 miles. We’ll get some of the local lads together and roll them there on timber sledges. No sweat! Then we’ll have a Rave – a Pop Festival – around Midsummer say. I’ll see if I can get some class acts like The Amesbury Archer or The Boscombe Bowmen. Those blue rocks have great accoustics! We’ll have a game, a few jars, a bit of stargazing and then watch the sun come up! They’ll be gobsmacked for years to come! It’ll be epic! What d’ ya say?’
“The Five Canons of Rhetoric. Well, that made me think about where I’m at! 1) INVENTIO – I have a passion for seed-pods. They are my inspiration. 2) DISPOSITIO – I selected 5 from my collection. Nigella Damascena, Physalis Peruviana, Wisteria Leguminosae, Magnolia Grandiflora, Entada Gigas. Five was overwhelming, and they all had a story to tell, and despite spending time drawing them, with real attention to their individual personalities, I kept being drawn to the shiny black pod in the middle that fitted so deliciously in the palm of my hand. When I looked it up, it was certainly of the pea Family. I found a clue online .. it could be a Sea-Heart, a pod that drifts across the world. It comes from a vine that scrambles through trees in tropical areas of vast size, the biggest and most extraordinary of the pea family, also known as the Monkey Ladder. I had to find out, so I rang the friend who had given it to me on a very special birthday a few years ago.
“Where did you find it?’ “On a beach in Donegal.”
Jackpot! 3) ELOCUTIO – I had discovered where it may have come from and where it landed: from the Gulf of Mexico, along the Gulf Stream’s warm currents, to land on the sandy, windswept dunes of Donegal on the West coast of Ireland. It’s an intriguing pod, beloved of sailors, who hung them round their necks when on a treacherous sea voyage to keep them safe, and also made into snuff boxes, and decorated in Africa with wonderful designs as a gift. So I took the story, took elements that suggested shapes suitable to travel from the other pods into its story 4) MEMORIA! The final piece is too sketchy for 5) PRONUNTIATO! but it satisfied my ever-growing wanderlust for returning to Mexico to see the Monkey Ladder growing!”
“I wanted to engage with the prompt as it related to the idea of moving from an initial instinctive idea to something recognisably cogent and complete, and communicated successfully to others. I chose the pangram, ‘The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over The Lazy Dog’ because, in its use of every single letter in the alphabet, I thought I could argue it was a single sentence encompassing every other English language idea possible; every book, every song, every poem, every philosophical treatise, every argument, and so on. As the animation goes on, you see different ideas vying for representation and moments of indecision, flashes of inspiration – helpful and otherwise – and a final resolution of the phrase we can recognise collectively as ‘right’.”
(There is some pesky pixelation due to compression in this Vimeo version: with a bit of luck, you’ll find the original video to view hosted here).
“The subject matter has been in the back of my mind for a while, yet I haven’t had reason enough to do it, until now, so thanks Kick-About. The subject is myself (James Randall is owed credit here), organisation spans 1957-2021, clarity of intent seems to arrive through the preceding years, as things add-up, and delivery is through my favoured medium – oil on prepared paper, 20x20cm each.“