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Experimental Animation

Lewis Heriz

Lewis Heriz is a cross-disciplinary artist and filmmaker from Suffolk, UK.

He comes to his animation practice from a background first in music and theatre, then grassroots music promotion. From the latter grew a decade-or-so-long stint in graphic art and illustration, with a heavy weighting on record cover and poster design for labels such as Soundway, Sofrito, Strut, and Now-Again/Stones Throw, and artists such as the Sun Ra Arkestra. The ‘manufactured synaesthesia’ approach he applied to music visuals led him to see animation – with its fusion of sound and image through time – as a natural progression, and has spent the MA at the RCA investigating as expanded an approach to the form as possible under the restricted circumstances of lockdown.


Recent features and exhibitions:

The Feelies (Surface/Tension) [AcrossRCA, 2021]

Centre Pompidou <<Mon Oeil>>, (Improv 1) [2020]

Vimeo Staff Pick, (Improv 1) [2019]

Hot Sun, Late Sun: Modernism UntamedFondation Vincent Van Gogh, Arles [2018]


Previous qualifications:

1st Class BA (Hons) in English Studies at the University of Nottingham

Through my MA studies, I have come to see animation as an integrated system for thinking and making, rather than a single practice or product. The term 'animation' expands and contracts in context; sometimes specifically a repetitive mode of creating 'time-based art', in others an all-pervasive ecosystem of audiovisual techniques and technologies that our entire society engages with on a daily basis.

My current direction draws as much from artist's moving image as it does from more traditional notions of animation, and my interest in non-hierarchical collaboration is partly in response to the negative experience of individual competition associated with freelance labour.

My interest in physical, material and tactile process intensified during the sensorially-deprived period of lockdown in 2020. To hold materiality as being central to one’s day in a hyperdigital era is to appreciate the centrality of embodied cognition in being human: to recognise the temporal nature of neural structures whose organising principle is grounded in the relationship between the Here and the Now.

Agency is key to being an artist, just as it is key to being a human. My MA research has encompassed questions of loss of agency within the digital economy, and has brought me to a belief that a rejection of pervasive trends of surveillance, extraction and behavioural manipulation in Big Tech is essential to maintaining a healthy relationship with the world; one that’s rooted in physics, material properties, embodied cognition, relativity, multi-sensory experience and genuine sustainability.

So Long (We Dreamt of This) — Graduation film / project, 2021

Someone who we never see – a 'nobody' – tries to tend to their plants, but persistent inner voices draw them into an alienating place with the promise of communication through pure thought. Where are we in this vision? Are we an observer of this experience, or experiencing it ourselves? Where is the division between us?

A warning / a reminder / an experiment in investigating a subject through subjectivity.


Written and directed by Lewis Heriz

Animation & cinematography by Lewis Heriz

Additional animation by Sanjana Chandrasekhar and Loïc Kreyden

Research & Assistance: Qi Zhuang

Music: V. R. Alevizos and DrumTalk

Sound design: Lewis Heriz

Sound Mix and additional Sound Design: Oliver Mapp

Medium:

Digital video, 16mm film, handmade film, clay, card, aluminium wire

Size:

16:9, 06m00s
Digital paranoia and epistemic bubbles: identity conflicts from networked consciousness — Sculpture, light & motion control, digital composite
The sensation of being stuck amidst the breathlessness
The sensation of being stuck amidst the breathlessness — Expired 8mm Kodachrome hand processed as reversal in Caffenol; speech recognition; digital composite
Is the internal voice, a voice? What happens when the distinction between the self and the other dissolves? — Communication requires there to be a separation, across which the communication occurs. Hand-processed 16mm film, Letraset
Ocularcentrism; pupils as 'indicators'; 'Presence' through the Screen — 16mm film hand-processed in Caffenol, Bolex H16, 20mm macro tube
Technology's striving to replicate and track the human act of looking - what's watching you 'engage'?
Technology's striving to replicate and track the human act of looking - what's watching you 'engage'? — 16mm film, Bolex H16, 10mm macro tube, digital composite
Rain, flow, being part of a continuum, and subject to the environment: a release
Rain, flow, being part of a continuum, and subject to the environment: a release — Handmade film created by direct application of developer, fix, and ink
Stereoscopic vision – the camera's inability to fully capture the human visual field — 16mm film & digital composite
Rebuilding the world out of discrete units — I used the Bolex and macro tube to commit a close-up of the world to film, then rebuilt the environment from the footage digitally to create a seemingly 'complete' picture of the original field of vision. The camera as scanner.

So Long (We Dreamt of This) is a process-led experimental animation investigating what it means to be human in the digital networked economy. It was also a way of developing an animation practice in an era where everyone with a mobile phone engages with the form.

For me, animation takes advantage of a neurological phenomenon that allows the manipulation of light and matter to give the appearance of objects defying physics. 

The resulting magic is a thrill; one that has captured the imagination since the earliest experiments in optical illusion. We dream of defying physics, to be untethered from our mortal reality. The concern at the centre of my project, however, is that networked animation technologies – such as the mobile phone – deliver the illusion under the guise of actual reality, as opposed to the realm of fiction. Primarily this is due to the screen’s permeability, the sense that we can control it, influence it; a dream that cinema audiences of the 20th Century might have been thrilled to see realised. 

This logic – that animation technologies are ‘progressing’ towards a seamless fusion of physical and digital – appears to be the underlying force behind the visions of tech positivists leveraging network effects to integrate their surveillance devices permanently into our lives; beyond the screen, even, into a boundless, seamless ‘experience’. To enjoy screen-based art or entertainment is a choice. To have our every move and interaction collected and sold through optical technologies that we use for human communication is not.

To be fully aware of the opaque medium that sits between us when we communicate like this is to enter into a state of digital paranoia. It raises difficult questions: how to connect – as we want to – and feel as if we are doing it naturally, when this connection must necessarily first be transcoded by an incomprehensible web of algorithms, code and ulterior motives?

So Long (We Dreamt of This) is an act as much as a research project, a statement of intent as much as a story. Reintegrating with the material and investigating a subject through metaphor, non-rational associative improvisation, and self-initiated ‘found footage’, to process an experience and move beyond it.

Medium:

16mm film, handmade film, digital film, paper sculpture, wire
Documentation of the project
Contribution/collaboration: Loïc Kreyden – decontextualised content; inspiring extrapolation beyond the viewport — One response of many to discussions of depicting partially-hidden structures and contexts, and the need for users to apply imagination to complete the picture; an impulse that can lead to conspiratorial thinking
Contribution/collaboration: Qi Zhuang – decontextualised content; rapid consumption; exploring water theme — Free associative film created in response to discussions around the subject of decontextualisation and fragmented content of digital culture
Contribution/collaboration: Sanjana Chandrasekhar – abstraction/distortion of the physical world — Monoprinted animations in response to still frames, generating unexpected associations to spark new scenes and transitions
Contribution/collaboration: V. R. Alevizos - distorted environment — Environmental field recording digitally manipulated to reflect the world distortion effect of the digital network

Documentation of the process-led approach.

Collaborations

Rather than use assistants as part of a production line, I engaged with a small group of RCA artists – all isolating in their home countries across the world – to generate footage on their own terms as part of the associative and part-improvised dimension of the project. Details are in the clips and stills above.

Processes

Much of the processes appear to be in direct contradiction to the subject under investigation. If this depicts a future, why analogue? (There is nothing to say analogue technologies will not be used in the future, but Hollywood and Silicon Valley are an unholy alliance that looms large in the collective consciousness.) If this depicts the present, why no depiction of the technology we use? (To depict a culture you are critical of is to reproduce it...)

Using so-called 'obsolete' technologies is an act of defiance in the age of techno-capitalism, for a number of reasons. Nothing you do automatically generates 'data' that can then be sold on to third parties. Machines that may have felt black-boxed in the pre-digital era (such as the 16mm projector) are now eminently comprehensible in contrast to 'the algorithm'; even physical computing is comprehensible when compared to Alexa. Working with physical components that you can manipulate and customise is an act of agency. Calling the aesthetic outcome of any technology as 'nostalgic' is to ignore the fact that digital media relies upon nostalgia to retain its users: the most state of the art communication technology leverages nostalgia (Here's a memory from five years ago! Why not share it?), while the aesthetics of previous artistic tools are written off by the logic of technological 'progress'. This is a trap. A tool is a means for its user to achieve something; in many cases in the digital landscape, this power dynamic has reversed under the auspices of 'a free and open' internet where advertising is 'essential but benign': as the cliché now goes, you think you are the user, but you are the product. In this relationship, the platform is using you, even as you feel like you are using it. In this environment a question arises: what is all this activity for? Has it really improved things, as the platforms themselves insist? Does it really serve us well, and is there something we ought to be doing that's better?

To engage in material processes (or simply go for a walk without a device) for a time is to not spend that time generating data through 'interaction' that shifts vast amounts of money to individuals that use their wealth to build private rockets to fly themselves into space, rather than help fix problems on earth and in society. Whether we live in a real-life dystopian science fiction is ultimately down to us.

Various clips of 2D animation work, 2020-2021

Medium:

Mixed media

Size:

1m00s

Leverhulme Trade Charities Trust

Leverhulme Trade Charities Trust