The Manipulate Festival is now in its eighth year and its animation strand continues to expand, this year introducing a welcome opportunity to discuss individual screenings with the animators who created them.
At the Traverse every night this week at 9pm, award-winning animators from home and abroad are show-casing a selection of their own work alongside a chosen few animations that served to influence and inspire them. This programme of animation lasts roughly an hour, leaving a half hour or so for home-grown animator Iain Gardner to host a question and answer session with the artist.
On Tuesday evening, Estonian animator Ülo Pikkov chose to present three animation shorts, all made in Poland pre 1989, together with four of his own. The influence of social and cultural conditions on the development of the animation industry in Eastern Europe makes this date significant. Pikkov himself confirmed that the title of his programme, ‘Oppressed Creatures’, was chosen in reference to a political group of people living under Soviet rule in Eastern Europe post World War II.
All of the films shown carried a strong surrealist style: dreamlike and irrational, the dislocation of realism together with an uncanny foreignness that is nevertheless partly hinged on familiar experience, serves to create a disturbance of thought rooted in human anxiety and the sense of a lurking, undefined threat – a kind of subconscious uneasiness. Pikkov suggests that this is no accident.
The French founders of surrealism saw their movement as a kind of liberation, a subversion of the very concepts of society and culture that they believed oppressed human freedom. After WWII, surrealism had already faded in France but was beginning to flourish in those countries on the other side of the Berlin Wall – and particularly within the realm of animation. As Pikkov puts it, when trying to be creative under a restrictive, Soviet regime, ‘text is tight, it pins you down, but with visuals they couldn’t catch you’.
The three Polish films shown – Sun, Cages and Soup – also contained within them a nod to the philosophical underpinnings of surrealist thought, and a wink to the distinctive style of Polish Poster Art that continued to develop and bloom throughout the 20th Century. Their influence on Pikkov’s work is clear.
Following his Polish inspirations, Pikkov’s Dialogos, Taste of Life, Body Memory and The End completed the evening’s animations, but did not end them. After the Q&A, those who had hung around were rewarded with a sneak preview of Pikkov’s latest animation, Tik-Tak – perhaps the best of the night. NB: in the world of surreal animation, the personal interpretation derived by both the artist and the viewer is the only thing that matters; you may form your own opinion of the artist’s work, but miss the Q&A and you may miss the heart of the matter – and a lot more besides!