‘ANNA VASOF’S “NON STOP STOP-MOTION”’ [Gabriele Jutz]

Anna Vasof’s “Non Stop Stop-Motion”

Figure 1

Non Stop Stop Motion (AnnaVasof, A 2020). Still from the chapter “Misunderstanding.” Copyright: Anna Vasof

 

“Non Stop Stop Motion” is a filmless animation technique developed by architect and media artist Anna Vasof (born in 1985) during her studies in Transmedia Arts at the University of Applied Arts Vienna. In 2020 she finished her PhD in Practice. Among the results of her artistic research are a film, Non Stop Stop Motion,[1] and an exhibition of works under the same title. At the center of the artist’s work are her attempts – and failures – to understand the core mechanisms behind the production of movement out of a series of still images; the film Non Stop Stop Motion unfolds this endeavor in fourteen chapters, from “Misunderstanding” to “Everything is an Excuse.” The accompanying exhibition[2] presented the machines and contraptions that issued from her experiments.

Based on the idea that the illusion of movement results from the projection of discontinuous, intermittently visible still images, her “Non Stop Stop Motion” works translate intermittency, this most basic cinematic mechanism, into performances and installations. Many of Vasof’s pieces can be regarded as attempts to lay bare the usually invisible workings of the cinematic apparatus – but without using a (conventional) cinematic apparatus at all. An excellent example of this unraveling of the magic of animated pictures is Vasof’s interactive installation Self-Portrait (2017).[3] The piece is made out of simple everyday objects: a metal bucket, a small wooden ball, an LED lamp, magnifiers, rope and seven paper cups. When a visitor moves the rope up and down and the lamp starts swinging, the installation turns into an audiovisual machine animating a figure of the upper body of a young woman with closed eyes and wearing a headscarf. This figure has been cut out from the bottoms of the paper cups, each cut-out representing a slightly different stage of movement. Thanks to the magnifiers attached to the paper cups, when the lamp starts swinging the very small image of the figure’s upper body is projected (in a much-enlarged scale) on to the wall, moving backwards and forwards as if it were trapped in an endless loop of bowing. Additionally, and with fantastic precision, exactly at the moment the woman’s head hits a thin line we hear a loud bang, the result of the clapper striking the bottom of the metal bucket. Finally, as important it was for Vasof to find the appropriate mechanism for Self-Portrait, the piece cannot be reduced to its technical aspects. As its title suggests, the artist is also interested in narrative, in this case, the universal story of female struggle.

If we consider the numerous, centuries-long attempts to make images move and look for historical affiliations or resonances between these ventures and Self-Portrait, it is neither the Lumière’s cinematograph nor the popular optical toys of the nineteenth century, but the magic lantern, first described by the Dutch scientist Christiaan Huyghens in 1659,[4] that seems to be the template for Vasof’s installation. The magic lantern is an early type of image projector that used pictures on transparent slides, one or more lenses, and a light source. As Laurent Mannoni explains, “[t]he image was generally ‘fixed,’ but could also be animated if the slide included a mechanism which allowed the subject to be moved. All that was necessary was to place the slide upside-down in the ‘slide carrier,’ in front of light focused from a candle or oil lamp.”[5]

Vasof’s wondrous contraption clearly references the concept of the magic lantern as Self-Portrait is a live performance in which magnified images made without recourse to a camera are projected on to a white surface. However, Vasof’s continuation of the “old” into the “new” also contains considerable modifications. Instead of slides she uses cardboard cut-outs (the underside of the paper cups); a simple lamp serves as a light source; and sound comes directly from the apparatus itself when the clapper hits the bucket.[6] Unlike the magic lantern shows, often involving travelling showmen – so-called “lanternists” – going from town to town putting on entertaining performances, the interactive setting of Self-Portrait demands that viewers themselves set the apparatus in motion with a touch of their hand. As the audience is not merely watching from a distance, but becomes instead part of the machine’s functioning, Self-Portrait’s apparatus is one that more properly fits under the category of – to use Wanda Strauven’s terms – the “player mode” of moving images, as opposed to the original magic lantern’s “viewer mode.”[7]

A comparison of proto-cinema (magic lantern) and contemporary expanded animation (Self-Portrait) necessarily entails further differences, most remarkably the interplay between light source and image carrier. In the original magic lantern, the slides were mobile and the light source fixed; in Self-Portrait however, the light source moves, but the images stand still. While the magic lantern, during its long history, aimed at constant improvement (for example, more complex design, a larger number of lenses, various cinematic techniques including fades and dissolves), Vasof’s endeavor moves in the opposite direction by emphasizing limitations to work, favoring DIY-practices and “cheap” materials. As a hacked magic lantern, Self-Portrait not only demonstrates how obsolete apparatuses can be reinvented through modification, but also represents a poetic and critical work with a degree of socio-political weight.

 

 

 

[1] https://vimeo.com/annavasof (Non Stop Stop Motion)

[2] Zentrum Fokus Forschung, Vienna, October 27–29, 2020.

[3] https://vimeo.com/annavasof (Self-Portrait)

[4] Laurent Mannoni, The Great Art of Light and Shadow. Archaeology of the Cinema. Exeter: University of Exeter Press 2000, p. 33.

[5] Ibid, p. 33–34.

[6] One should add that magic lantern shows were usually accompanied by sound (music, singing or storytelling), but the sound source was external to the apparatus.

[7] Wanda Strauven, “The Observer’s Dilemma. To Touch or Not to Touch.” In: Media Archaeology. Approaches, Applications, and Implications, edited by Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka. University of California Press 2011, pp. 148–163.