This cruel-looking apparatus dates from my Art Foundation course back in 1993. I even remember the brief giving rise to it, or rather the typically nebulous phrase selected by our tutors to so inspire our creative exertions: ‘Information Gathering’. I must have been reading a bit of Edgar Allan Poe at the time, my imagination taking me, in a few short bounds, to The Pit and the Pendulum. I imagined a sort of portable torture chamber (like you do) – part toolbox, part-music box – and I was thinking about movie props and set-dressing and production design for stop-motion animation, which is where my head was at the time. The box itself – long since consigned to a skip – stood about 2.5 feet high maybe, its various contraptions cobbled together from found objects – an old band-saw blade from the college workshop, the screw from my mum’s old meat-mincer… I presume I asked permission before swiping it from the cutlery drawer, though I can’t be 100% sure!
Our previous Kick-About together was inspired by images of the human eye, resulting in an abundance of other-worldly imagery and one short story, in which an elderly man vanishes magically away in the middle of an art exhibition. The pioneering silhouette animations of Lotte Reiniger are likewise preoccupied with all things magical: magical lamps, magical slippers, and magical beings. This week’s showcase of artists’ work riffs on Reiniger’s unique aesthetic and narrative milieu. Happy browsing.
“I always enjoy looking beyond the silhouettes of Lotte Reiniger animations and into the exotic and intricate backgrounds that she made. I get a simple sensory pleasure from the illusion of depth that can be achieved in black and white, just using the basic principles of foreground, midground and background. Visualising big worlds is not something I am particularly good at, but as I started to develop these images, I couldn’t help imagine them as big structures in some vast desolate landscape, where few living things remain.“
“I live in Berlin, just round the corner from where Marlene Dietrich was born, and I’m a big fan of Lotte Reiniger and early German cinema. love the theatricality, the creativity and technical ingenuity that went in to making these animations, as well as the fairy tale subject matter.
A few years ago I was involved in creating some animation sequences and images for screen projection for a stage production of Hansel and Gretel. Lotte Reiniger’s 1955 film of the story, as well as earlier German expressionist cinema were certainly in the mix when I was making this work, and I thought it would fit the bill for the Kick-About prompt this week. I’ve included some images that were made to project onto a screen behind the performers during the scenes when Hansel and Gretel were lost in the forest.”
“When doing research for the Howard Sooley – Prospect Cottage prompt, I came across the inspiring work of Lotte Reiniger, and since then I have been busy cutting, glueing and making for a shadow puppet animated short entitled The Lighthouse Keeper, which centres around the peculiar landscape of Dungeness and a couple of burly blokes. Creating something for the sake of creating and figuring out the hurdles and bumps along the way is what is most enjoyable about delving into a fresh medium I have yet to attempt. The stage is now set, the characters are ready to move, the lights are on and with it, the sheer joy of seeing the cut-out shapes and silhouettes lit up, ablaze. Moving from behind the messy, makeshift backstage to the front brought the biggest smile to my face, which makes the absolute bomb site of my shrinking bedroom all worth it! I am sharing the majority of the cut-out shapes, the stage and silhouettes that will feature in the film, as well as some lighting and staging tests with the main protagonist – while I wait for the delivery for the all important light source before the real fun begins.”
“I realized immediately I had seen Lotte Reiniger’s work before. It did not surprise me to hear Reiniger say, ‘I could cut out silhouettes almost as soon as I could manage to hold a pair of scissors’. Her work is, yes, ‘astonishing’. Me? I never had that dexterity, not even when young. I also don’t work in film, which was Reiniger’s medium. So how to respond to this prompt? I was going to work with simple bird silhouettes, but was unhappy with the ones I made myself. Once again, I had constructed a 3-D collage environment with cardboard pieces inside a paper bag. I decided to use photos of bird silhouettes, and hang them from strings at the top so they would move. I used circles to enclose the bird forms so I could put different photos on each side–the images would change when the dangling circles turned. Using the ceiling fan to create more movement, I began to take photos.”
that song that your words called
into my mind, that song is like
a lost world, just images
in fragments, suspended like
a raincloud without rain,
a weight that refuses
to dissipate–I can almost
feel the memory but it won’t
land, it keeps circling
through the things that aren’t
quite there–like a bird
call I can’t locate, disembodied
wings hovering invisible
inside my head
“Lotte Reiniger’s beautiful silhouette works appeared to largely focus on fairy tales, so I wanted to come at it from a different angle. Taking inspiration from something short, like a poem, I delved into some of my childhood books and lit upon Edward Lear’s ‘Complete Nonsense.’ With my poem selected I created the scene with some coloured paper, and rigged up my phone for stop frame-animation. This was quite the challenge without a proper lighting set up, or the ability to ‘onion-skin’ my images, so there are some interesting colour variations caused by cloud cover and some rather choppy movements. But perhaps that adds to the charm of the ‘Young Lady of Portugal’! (Or perhaps I need some more practice and MANY more inbetweens!).”
“Silhouettes have been around for many years and I know that they are very tricky to work convincingly. Lotte Reiniger must have been a very clever mistress of this craft and way ahead of her time. I decided to do some cut work on the facade of a decorative little theatre and inside put a small montage – since my animation skills are nil and it uses up some of my mountain of collage papers! I’m not sure if The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear is still as well known as it was in my schooldays, but its entertaining characters are great for paper modeling, plus the tiny details of jars of honey, runcible spoons etc. So now all that’s left to do is settle back and sing along – ‘The owl and the pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat…'”
“I loved these early animations. So full of energy and passion. I remember the fascination I felt as a child when adults amused me by making rabbits with their hands on the walls when the sun was out, and in the evenings with little table lights. I love watching moving shadows, and when I was in Mexico there were always shadows, as there never seemed to be a day without sun. A little different here in the past two weeks, so here are a few snatched mages and sounds of PLACE. Guess the Mexican one!”
“Thank you, Graeme, for the inspiring venture into action. Months have passed without life drawing so, the recreation ground provided observation of the figure in motion. This playful solitary kick-about prompted a series of sketches, which later, shifted to paint in the studio. Perhaps a bit of Lowry, if I may indulge myself. The second motion-based work is a spin off from the online RA Saturday Sketch Club which thankfully James Randall introduced me too, I’ve added in the mask which dates the work.” Oil on prepared paper 24 x 65 cm.
“There is an apartment block just across the road from ours – floor to ceiling glass – a very Rear Window stage. Nice simple shapes too. And a jumping off point for fantasy and metaphor.”
“I remember the first time I watched Reiniger’s Cinderella, thrilling at the moment when we see the ugly sister cut off her own toes in order to make the glass slipper fit her foot – a reminder that fairy stories, as written originally, were hardly short on violence and darkness. Take that Walt Disney, with all your syrup! Inspired by folk-tales, and by those who live in the shadows, I’ve written my own fairy story for the Kick-About, crammed with impossible things presented as commonplace, thought probably not anyone’s idea of a bedtime story…’
You can read a PDF version here.
With thanks to kick-abouter, Phill Hosking (who has just recently started this new blog), we have, as our new prompt, a 2010 oil painting by American artist, Brian Rutenberg, Low Dense, which is just a little over four metres wide! What a welcome kick of mouthwatering colour. Have fun.
Okay, so this one is going to take a bit of explaining.
How was it, back in 2001, I ended up choreographing and compèring a male strip show? How was it the participants in the said strip show were also my students at the time? It all sounds rather unsavoury, even more so for actually writing it down these twenty years later!
The short version is we were raising funds for the student degree show for the undergraduate photography course on which I was teaching film and video – an extraordinary project undertaken by an extraordinary cohort of final year students.
Not content with just finishing their respective degrees, the students decided to turn a long-abandoned secondary school in Hackney Downs, London, into an exhibition space for their photography and video work. What ensued, for them, for the photography department’s staff, and for me, was a sometimes gruelling, but deeply satisfying adventure in collaboration. The damp, derelict classrooms and corridors of the school were transformed into clean, white exhibition spaces, the old, empty swimming pool into a venue for the aftershow party. I spent a whole lot of time sitting atop scaffolding towers and shovelling pigeon poo – and likewise everyone else. It took over one hundred days, and hours of hard physical work to prepare the exhibition space – and a lot of money, which is where the male strippers come in….
You have to remember, back in 2001, I was twenty-six years old, so not much older (and in some cases younger) than the students I was teaching in my professional capacity. I was also the licensee of the student campus bar, and so found myself in this rare halfway space between different roles, expectations and responsibilities. I’m happy now, but I was very happy back then, teaching film, talking film, running a very busy bar with all the banter and sauce and boisterousness you’d expect, and working with a team of dedicated educators, who were fearless when it came to fostering extraordinary student experiences.
I don’t think it struck anyone as particularly odd or left-field, or suspect, when I first came up with the suggestion we could ‘put on a show’ to raise funds for the In-Motion degree show big-build at the derelict Secondary School. The Full Monty (1997) must still have been looming large as a pop-cultural touchstone, because the idea of a group of ordinary-shaped students taking their clothes off in support of a good cause didn’t seem problematic in the slightest. I don’t recall a single objection or raised eye-brow.
Contrary perhaps to the associations that go with the objectification of male bodies, I look back at this unlikeliest of episodes as a moment of utter sweetness. As an openly gay member of staff, you might consider how my shifting role from ‘teacher’ to ‘choreographer’ was difficult for some of the young men involved, but apparently not, considering the ebullience and gusto and trust.
One of my fondest and enduring memories will always be, not the pectorals or inguinal creases of these photographers-come-strippers, but the joyousness of that raucous, perfect night; the roar of the crowd, who were in on the joke of it, and what was so charming about the pleasure these blithe young men were taking in their riotously ramshackle show.
Video footage was taken at the night of the performance, and one of my roles, as the resident videographer of the In-Motion project, was to put the content together for posterity. You’ll see straight away how long ago all of this was, on account of the 4:3 aspect ratio and less-than-broadcast quality. I was learning my trade as a video editor at the time, playing fast and loose with copyright and music soundtracks, so interpolating entire sections from the movies A Chorus Line and Cabaret to dial-up the show business accordingly. I appear in this film too – in a fabulously shiny silver shirt, and so young-looking and sleight, I can’t help but sigh.
I’ve only recently dredged up this film from an old DVD and haven’t thought about this particular night in years. To watch it again is to return immediately to that humid bar, which was crammed beyond its capacity with art students of all stripes, all of whom had paid their money to see their friends and classmates bare their bums in a bid to buy litres of white emulsion, hire a crane and scaffolding, buy lights and wire, to make something amazing happen. The film goes someway to conveying the noise in the bar that night, but not all the way. The roof was raised, and then some, by the delightful hooting of students, who couldn’t quite believe we were actually going through with it.
It will sound strange if I admit, that about this one night in the service of one huge transformative project, I feel a genuine sense of achievement and pride. Obviously I’m not talking about the choreography (talk about murder on the dancefloor). I’m talking instead about the directness of what we did that night; I’m talking about our lack of worry and the way we just decided to do an improbable, stupid thing, and then went ahead and did it. I’m talking too about all the people who allowed us do it, about the trust and safety we all felt, and I’m proud of it too, because in this film – on this night – I’m completely confident in all my identities.
This week, the woods remain lovely, dark and deep, as dreams of snow and ice continue to characterise this suitably festive Kick-About, with new works inspired by the third slow movement from Hely-Hutchinson’s 1927 A Carol Symphony. The Kick-About has been running for thirty-four weeks and was started, in part, as a response to the first lock-down. Throughout this time, our fortnightly shindigs have been a constant source of anticipation, comfort and satisfaction and I just wanted to say a big thank you to all my fellow kick-abouters for your creativity, conversation and always, the surprises. A big thank you too to all those who comment, who participate, who browse, and who share. Now go have yourselves a very merry Christmas!
“This painting isn’t what I had intended – but then again what is these days! In my mind I had envisaged carol singers and a merry Christmas card type scene. Alas it all went rather pear-shaped, so this is one I did earlier. I suppose it has a rather snowy and bleak look about it, but if you just keep walking around the corner and over the hill, there is little village hidden away and yes, I can hear the sound of Christmas carols drifting across the fields. Merry Yule tide and a peaceful New Year one and all.”
“The wonderful piece of music for this week’s kick about prompt has been wafting through the flat today, reminding me that Christmas does have some very nice things about it, once I forget about all the things I’m supposed to associate it with these days. I used to love this time of year as a kid, less so as I’ve got older and feel pressured to have somebody else’s version of Christmas and not the one I want.
I made this collage a few years ago, putting a few of my favourite wintry things together to create a version of Christmas I’d actually like; snow, the winter landscape, a cosy lit window, a jet black sky studded with hard bright stars. If you stepped inside that house there’d be a real tree with very beautiful decorations and real candles. Oh, and Christmas pudding and custard – now I’m living in Germany, I’m missing Christmas pudding soooo much, they don’t do it here!”
“I have run out of time for this kick-about so I am sending you my Christmas card. Wishing you all a warm, safe and cosy Christmas and may 2021 brings us all a way out of such a strange time.”
“The music of this prompt felt very christmassy and warm indeed. To me, nothing feels more christmassy than going for a walk in the countryside of Ireland, where the invigorating air hits you with pure refreshment and the frost glistens the shrubbery and flora. I spent a lot of my time, when I was a young lad, outside, building rickety hideouts and treehouses with my friends and cousins. Going for a walk near my family home always feels like I am dipping into my memory vault, where walking past a bparticular tree will spark a memory of us building and climbing away; walking through the grasses of the fields reminds me of being cut by barbed wire, and being so dumbfounded by having fun, I didn’t realise I was bleeding with barbed wire marks in my palms.
I remember the beehive camouflaged into the ground of one particular field; I can only imagine the sight of us all running and screaming our heads off as we ran for our lives from the angry hive – after we’d awakened it! Memories like that are scattered around the countryside of Ireland. They echo as I stroll past them, and now I am older I can really appreciate them. Although all the hideouts and treehouses are dismantled, and our worn-down trails filled by vegetation again, the clean air and bright stars haven’t changed.
Although isolation has, for now, stopped me from revisiting those actual areas of my past, I remember them as I walk through the bogland surrounding my Mam’s house, where I know I would have been in my element too. I am still drawn to those picturesque areas and the crisp, clean air – and I really appreciate the little bird houses built into the trees to shelter the birds in the bitter winter. I still walk past a particular tree and think – that would have been a good one to climb.”
“When I listen to this particular movement from Hely-Hutchinson’s A Carol Symphony, I almost feel the temperature drop. It’s like that moment from The Sixth Sense, when the kid’s breath is suddenly visible in the presence of ghosts. The plucking of the harp is the musical equivalent of frost moving its way across the landscape – hard, sharp, crystalline and magical in some ancient way.
The house I grew up in had no central heating, only the gas fire in the living room. There was no double-glazing either and it was quite normal to wake up and see your breath in the bedroom. It was also common to find ice on the inside of the windows – frost ferns of extraordinary beauty. In response to this music, I wanted to capture those patterns of ice, but the weather here is stubbornly mild and ordinary. Undeterred, I set about recreating the sorts of photographs I might have taken, but had to rely on some digital transformations, taking an image of an actual frosted fern taken in my garden several winters ago, and pressing it against a window of my own invention. When the first of these images coalesced, I gave a small cry of delight – for yes, here they were again, those delicate veneers of ice, just as I remembered them, and for a moment at least, I was my small pyjamaed self.”
“As an 11th hour coda to my efforts at faking frost, I sent my resulting images over to CGI-whizz, Deanna Crisbacher, and asked her to have a kick-about too…”
“… and this last image is where Dee and I met in the middle to produce one more.”
“The musical selection of seasonal carols made me think of the cosmos – not just the return of the light this season celebrates, but the vast circles of time and space to which we belong. But how to show this in a concrete way? I turned to sacred geometry – the Seed of Life and the Egg of Life, images based on seven circles as a framework for the whole of creation, forms that also echo the tones of the musical scale. For my collages I used images from 2 of my reference books–Majestic Universe and Space Odyssey. It was a learning process, fitting all the pieces together like a puzzle, but I eventually approached the images I had in my mind. And for the poem, a seven line form–appropriately named Pleiades. Its six-syllable lines also reflect the 7 + 6 circles of the Egg of Life mandala.”
in the beginning, dark–
isn’t it always?—then
inside the seed, the egg,
invoking each other,
imagined, conjoined, kin–
instruments of (re)birth
“Listening to Hely-Hutchinson’s A Carol Symphony, I found myself wondering about the meaning and roots of the word “Noel”; why the Coventry Carol, also featured in this piece, could sound so gentle and loving when it was about the mass slaugher of children; and generally, how tradition and custom allowed us to sing of the Christmas story, without really registering the words at all. So I have tried to restore some of the words most associated with our Christmas carols back into the context of the original event – a re-telling of the nativity, which is all mine, illustrated with some beautiful paintings, which aren’t.
I’d also like to wish each of my fellow Kickabouters a safe and peaceful Christmas, and a much happier New Year! Thank you for making this year so much better than it might have been. Love and virtual hugs to you all.”
“Chris Rea once sang “I’m driving home for Christmas” Over the years I have often found myself doing the contrary. Whether it was for work or escapism, I would often find myself in a red and white queue, wending my way up some motorway or other. Rea shares an empathy with his fellow travellers, as they sit in their cars waiting to continue their journey to meet loved ones. I often experienced it in a different way as I was driving on those dark evenings; I was leaving home going somewhere, not back to family or to the out-of-town shopping centres, or to the supermarket to get the turkey dinner and this congestion Rea sentimentalises was a hindrance. I craved the dark mornings, or the late-night finishes. I knew the people on the roads then were the same as me, their purpose not driven by consumerism or sentimentality but by necessity.
Come Christmas day I would often find the ceremony of the event claustrophobic and melancholic. As the darkness settled in, I would make my excuses and leave. The streetlights led me somewhere – and away from something – neither the ‘somewhere’ nor the ‘something’ were tangible or important – the act of travelling was the goal. I would simply travel without a whim or care, but inevitably the ley lines of the world would draw me to the coast, where I would park by the harbour and watch the dark waves for a while before reluctantly returning home. Whichever way I experienced my Christmas lights, there was a freedom on those sodium drenched roads, no top-to-toe tailbacks, no red lights all around.
Now, having had a family, my house has had its share of being festooned. Christmas day isn’t so much of a chore, even with in-laws and pets and the general hullabaloo. I can even survive the most banal Christmas hit (just), but occasionally there is still that yearning to travel and experience those quiet routes again.”
“A mini mystery with a touch of fairy tale. We will pretty much all be indoors this year (especially if the rain goes on) so I’ve brought the spooky woods into the house and paused the singing… With luck it’ll resume. Winter Solstice! Light is on its way. Meanwhile, I hope everybody has a cosy creative few days with positive thoughts for 2021.”
“Well there you go – 2020 is almost over. I am a humbug from way back, so this really was a challenge! I guess I sidestepped it by jumping to a new year’s message, hopefully as treacley as the music. Based on some pics of cockatoos in Centennial Park – such wonderful clowns – which were taken a few weeks ago with grevilleas and bush cherry flowers, which are out in the garden now.
To all the kick-abouters Season’s Greetings and best wishes for a bright shiny 2021. It’s been marvellous seeing all your beautiful works.”
We have the lovely Gary Thorne to thank for our next Kick-About prompt, which will no doubt come as a very welcome distraction from all things titivated, gilded and ‘Christmassy’. Gary presents us with simpler fare this week – left-overs from the great feast, perhaps?
“To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea.“
Like caffeine, it is to this 1954 radio drama by Dylan Thomas, I turn whenever I feel my own creative mojo flagging. When the good words won’t come, I listen to this, emboldened always by the music of Thomas’s language and the rich meat of his imagery. When a character won’t materialise for me, I go back and spend some time with this fictional village’s ensemble of frustrated, thwarted dreamers, all of them caught, all of them poets, all of them rudely alive and real-seeming. I love the darkness here, and the way the extraordinary images just keep on coming, vignette-after-vignette sequinned with detail.
Whenever I listen to Under Milk Wood, I remember writing is nothing short of a magical act, and I scold myself for moping about, wasting time, and just not getting on with it.