Anna Craycroft “Motion into Being”

The New Museum of Contemporary Art

poster for Anna Craycroft “Motion into Being”
[Image: Anna Craycroft "Storyboard: Animating Personhood" (2017) Ink on paper, 20 x 36 in. Courtesy the artist.]

This event has ended.

Anna Craycroft (b. 1975, Eugene, OR) will be the artist-in-residence during the Department of Education and Public Engagement’s Spring 2018 R&D Season: ANIMATION. For her exhibition Motion into Being, Craycroft will transform the Fifth Floor Gallery into an active site for producing a stop-motion animation film that she will develop over the course of the exhibition. Visitors will physically enter the stage where Craycroft will shoot new footage every week. Drawing on traditions of folklore and fables, which often use anthropomorphism to narrate moral tales, the animated film will confront the physical and philosophical lenses used to construct and legitimize personhood. Questions of who and what qualifies as a person have become increasingly contentious as the agency of all beings—from nonhuman animals to corporations, and from ecosystems to artificial intelligence—has fractured legal and theoretical discourse.

The English words animal and animation both derive from the Latin root animare, which means quite literally “to give breath to.” But who or what exactly is that giver of breath, and who or what receives it? Animated entities are usually understood to speak and move at the will of their creator. Borrowing from the conventions of vaudeville, puppetry, and the sideshow, early animations revel in the slapstick and offer comedies of uncouth manners; figures plot to overturn their station only to be met by a deliciously nasty comeuppance, their stories littered with running gags. The film that Craycroft will produce plays with abstraction and figuration, nodding to the abstract films of Mary Ellen Bute and Oskar Fischinger as well as the narrative storytelling of Lotte Reiniger and Max Fleischer. As these pioneering filmmakers recognized, when we watch a shape—whether abstract or not—move and respond to its environment, we cannot help but ascribe sentient properties to it. Forms that even hint at representation appear to have character, instincts, and a story.

The structure of Craycroft’s installation borrows from early stop-motion animation techniques like the 20th century setback camera, which gave the illusion of forms moving through real space by filming animation cells on a horizontal glass plane placed in front of a miniature forced perspective set. Within this system, the camera points at a diorama of sorts, composed of a blend of three-dimensional objects and two-dimensional images. Perhaps most immediately striking about Craycroft’s set is its starkness: the walls, floor, and objects within it are painted exclusively in black, white, and grey. These tones are the most basic way of measuring light that the camera can capture. Using such measurements, photographers determine how long to expose film to light in order to produce a legible image. On the floor of the exhibition, curved and triangular lines note how the eye perceives depth and movement, which stems from how the brain reconciles slightly different input received from the right and left eyes. Though scientific principles dictate how this operates, not all human bodies receive the same sensory data or reconcile it in the same way. Moving outside of the human world, animals and insects understand depth, space, and motion in radically divergent ways.

At stake in Craycroft’s project is perhaps one of the most fundamental, even existential inquiries: what is it to be human? Yet in our moment of heightened ecological, political, and representational crisis, a second question now haunts this first one: why is “human” still an elevated category, if indeed it ever was? In our lifetimes, the very concept of the human as evolved—as “top of the food chain”—is crumbling. Craycroft’s inquiry into animation in all its valences suggests, if obliquely, that we reconsider our assumptions and look again—frame by frame.

The exhibition is curated by Johanna Burton, Keith Haring Director and Curator of Education and Public Engagement, and Sara O’Keeffe, Assistant Curator, with Kate Wiener, Education Associate.



from January 17, 2018 to March 13, 2018


Anna Craycroft

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