The curator and professor of animation aesthetics Suzanne Buchan writes that animation in film “has the unique quality to create spaces that have little in common with our lived experience of the world: in animation, there is a preference for presenting fantastic, invented and often impossible places”.1 This also applies to the work of TROMARAMA, insofar they present recordings of real spaces inserted with imaginary actions. Presented as (parts of) installations, their video animations relate to the physicality of the exhibition space, its architecture, or to objects displayed alongside the animation screenings.
TROMARAMA’s preference for stop motion animation, a classic cinematographic technique, exudes resistance against an apparent seamlessness that marks large parts of contemporary visual culture produced with the most advanced software. Contemporary digital video editing software enables artists to easily create video sequences that connect image frames to each other in ways that appear seamless to us. Transitions from one image frame to the next can be arranged so that the movement of things and characters within the digital image space is smooth.
And yet, TROMARAMA holds on to a stop motion editing technique in which recorded or computer-generated still images are connected to each other without perfect transitions. The stop motion technique creates perceptible seams between the image frames, which make the motion of the objects choppy or uneven. This choppiness is clearly intentional, because the images fit the sound. So what are we to make of the seams? Could we, at this stage in the 21st century, understand stop motion animation as an artistic strategy through which the easy consumption of digital image flows is intentionally interrupted? Are the seams reminders of “old” media? If so, is TROMARAMA nostalgic?
The members of TROMARAMA stress their appreciation of traditional craftsmanship. But at the same time, the artists are avid users of computers and editing soft- ware, and they take full advantage of the internet as a medium of bringing their work to the attention of a global audience. Through their work, they connect in different ways to the discourse on the relationship between the digital and the analog, between fiction and reality, and progress and tradition, dichotomies which motivate the practices of other artists represented in the collection of the Stedelijk Museum as well.
For instance, our lives have been undergoing more and more digitization since the invention of the inter- net, a fact that is evident in Frances Stark’s Nothing is enough (2012), an animation of text fragments from an online chat about the impact of digital technology on Stark’s sex and work life. The art critic Claire Bishop holds that social relations today are mediated through the “interactive screen” and “dovetail seamlessly with the protocols of Web 2.0”.2 She takes for granted that artists see this supposed seamlessness in terms of loss, which makes them nostalgic for obsolete technologies such as VHS tape, film reels, slides, and techniques such as stop motion animation. But is a preference for an old technique automatically nostalgic? If nostalgia is a critical term that describes a sentimental and unrealistic idealization of the past and a painful feeling connected to the memory of that past, then why is TROMARAMA’s work, produced with the “old” stop motion technique, so amusing? Nostalgia alone cannot satisfactorily explain TROMARAMA’s preference for the stop motion technique.
Temporal, Material, and Spatial Transitions
TROMARAMA is not alone when it comes to combining different cinematographic techniques, scanned photo- graphs, etchings, computer-generated images, or mobile phone recordings. Again with reference to works from the Stedelijk’s collection, their practice is reminiscent, for instance, of that of artists such as Hito Steyerl, who combines digitized Super 8 mm film recordings and photographs with contemporary digital recording and editing technologies in installations like November (2004) and Abstract (2012).
Speaking of the influence of image technologies on her artistic practice, Steyerl notes that “It’s just a given fact, that our system of visuality rests in the digital base. [...] But of course it is a very recent development. This development was momentous. [...] In my works, I try to describe these changes, and I’m convinced that the result of these changes must also be the change of the descriptions of the relationship between power and visuality”.3 The driving force behind Steyerl’s practice is not nostalgia for older cinematographic techniques. Rather, she uses the spaces she creates through her video installations to negotiate the relationship between visual culture and geopolitics. Recorded by means of different techniques, the images she uses aren’t seamlessly con- nected to each other. Each seam between the differently recorded images simultaneously represents a change in time and the materiality of the technology used to create the final image.
The Dutch artist Peter Struycken has been using computer-animated images since the 1960s in his explorations of the possibilities and boundaries of visual perception. One of his strategies is the transition of images from the digital to the analog, and vice versa. His animations come about through a mixture of processes. For example, computer-generated images are photo- graphed with analog cameras and source material (tape or reel) is digitally reworked as a file on servers or hard disks before being transferred to canvases or slides. Struycken thus explores different material supports for visual. His installations explicitly foreground the seams between the analog and the digital, both in production and in the exhibition space.
These seams are also blatant in Joan Jonas’s Volcano Saga (1989), another work from the Stedelijk’s collection. For this video animation, Jonas used digital effects to create a magical dreamscape in which the saga unfolds. Volcano Saga developed in phases; it was presented in solo performances, during which Jonas showed slides and video recordings that she and her film crew had made in Iceland. She then had the saga performed by the actors Tilda Swinton and Ron Vawter. All performances were recorded and were later (partly) used for a 30-minute video edited for television broad- cast. The video animation then became part of the Volcano Saga installation, first presented during Jonas’s 1994 solo exhibition in the Stedelijk, in combination with the props that play a role in the video. In the video, the seams between the animated objects and the recorded landscapes are obvious and spatially exaggerated in the installation. In this way, TROMARAMA’s animations are similar to the work of Struycken, Jonas and Steyerl. All these artists idiosyncratically accentuate the seams between the digital and the analog, fiction and reality, tradition and contemporaneity, the everyday and art.
Intervening in the discussion on the “Digital Divide” initiated by Bishop, frieze assistant editor Paul Teasdale points out that the “seamlessness” Bishop presupposes is questionable with regard to “the contradictions of transplanting the digital into the physical space”. 4 Work made for the interactive screen, or, in his words, “made using online technologies [,] is near-impossible to trans- late into the offline world of exhibition-making (even for younger artists, the paradigm is still that of the gallery space) without some qualitative loss of format, context and meaning”.5 Teasdale sees this act of translation as a challenge faced by artists and curators.
According to Teasdale, a loss occurs in digital art- works when they are transplanted from the online into the exhibition space. Yet, the transition of digitally produced art to another space does not always necessarily result in loss; it can also be seen as a change of format, context, and meaning. In global visual culture, this change is continuous: the museum itself is now a space through which digital images flow more or less rapidly, similar to the way the internet constitutes a space, with physical structures such as servers and cables.
The discussion about loss is engaged with and extended thematically in works by TROMARAMA and Steyerl. In November (2004) and Abstract (2012), Steyerl deals with a personal loss – the death of her friend Andrea Wolf – placing it in a broader historical and geopolitical context. Here, the missing person is represented through “old” analogue media like photo- graphs, video, and film recordings. In TROMARAMA’s animations The Charade and On Progress, people have vanished completely and lonely and unguided everyday objects take over the world. Like Steyerl, TROMARAMA foreground the experience of loss in social environments that are dominated by invisible powers.
TROMARAMA’s application of stop motion animation can be viewed as an artistic strategy through which the relationship between the digital and the analogue is negotiated. Their works show that the relationship between the two is not smooth or seamless. Their animations are metaphors for the frictions between the objects and the digital technology that seems to animate them. Like the works by Stark, Struycken, Jonas and Steyerl, TROMARAMA’s stop motion animations show that the seams connecting images are made of time and space. Their practice is not motivated by nostalgia for the analog, as Bishop maintains, but by their curiosity about the relationship between the past and the present, the traditional and the contemporary, analog and digital technologies. Conceptually, their practice follows Teasdale’s proposition that we are not (yet) entirely ready to assimilate our lives seamlessly with the digital.
Kerstin Winking (project curator Global Collaborations)
1 Suzanne Buchan quoted in: Edwin Carels, “Space of Wonder – Animation and Museology” in: Suzanne Buchan (ed.), Pervasive Animation (New York 2013), p. 295
2 Claire Bishop, “Digital Divide”, Artforum, September 2012, pp. 434–441.
3 Lukasz Zaremba, “To Work as a Pixel – Interview with Hito Steyerl”, in SZUM 2014: http://magazynszum.pl/rozmowy/to-work-as-a-pixel-interviev-with-hito-steyerl
4 Paul Teasdale, “Net Gains – Claire Bishop versus the Internet”, frieze 153 (March 2013) p.15. www.frieze.com/issue/article/net-gains/
*This essay was published in Tromarama solo exhibition publication. Published by Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Date of Publication: June 11, 2015