“Caravan,” the installation by Mexican artist Betsabeé Romero, was a collaboration and dialogue between artists, including SFTV professors José Garcia Moreno and David Garden that explored the powerful imagery around migration. Though LMU’s Laband Art Gallery and the exhibit are currently closed due to the Covid-19 crisis, we asked SFTV professor of animation and award-winning creator José Garcia Moreno to share his insights into the exhibition and the vast world of animation. Plus, find out how you can still see an augmented reality animation for “Caravan” at home!
How did you become involved in artist Betsabeé Romero’s “Caravan” project?
Betsabée Romero and I have worked together in the past. Our previous project was a Day of the Dead installation for the Museum Dolores Olmedo in Mexico City called “Los Huesos Tienen Memoria.” On that occasion, I worked with her in a 3D-mapping animation featuring a series of sugar skulls. The imagery of the popular altar decorations made of sugar was used heavily throughout that exhibition. Our projects always deal with social consciousness, political activism, multidisciplinary interventions, and mixed media.
Last year, I was appointed as Interim Director of the Academy of Catholic Thought and Imagination here at LMU. One of my central ideas was to propose, during my tenure at ACTI, the exploration of the concept of borders and frontiers, and their liminal qualities. Liminality refers to transitional periods, rites of passage, or the vulnerable quality of walking across borders: places where everyone lacks social status or rank. It relates to immigrants, but also to individuals in transsexual stages––in general, society lacks compassion towards those who are in transition.
In thinking about animation and film, cinematic time is also based on the liminality of an in-between temporality that occurs in that extraordinary moment of passage, in which the past frame and future frame of an animated sequence merge in the present. It is not anymore two static frames, but a vibration generated at the impulse of two conjoined images.
The “Caravan” piece is a modern reconstruction of a Tachyscope, nothing more than a revision of an optical theater that tells a perpetual story, in 37 frames. It is a story about a life-and-death force that propels immigration like a cyclone of biblical proportions, which now we also called a caravan. The center of a cyclone is minimal and simple, and it is also an eye of spiral winds in rotation.
The immigrants depicted, in their transitional frailty and anonymity, are vessels of the renewal of any society. Immigration will never stop because it is a force of nature. Its never-ending essence also reminds me of never-ending movements which you encounter in all those pre-cinema optical theaters, at the end of the 19th century, like Tachyscopes, Zoetropes, and their marvelous pantomimes lumineuses.
You’ve collaborated with fellow SFTV faculty member David Garden before. Visitors at the Playa Vista campus can see your theater model for the animated stop-motion film The Emperor of the Moon. Can you share more about that project?
I invited David to join us because he and I are always exploring new grounds. We enjoy questioning ourselves about traditional interpretations of the use of animation as a medium, and as a language. I think our minds are complementary and we have a unique dialogue that moves us toward a very playful and interesting collaboration.
Our previous project, Emperor of the Moon, came from a proposal that Nenad Pervan made to me a couple of years to integrate animation into a Commedia dell’Arte theater play. The project was based on two famous theaters, one of which was the Drottningholm Palace Theater in Stockholm, the first theater to use “special effects” through this series of mechanical devices. The other influence came from a Baroque theater in Bohemia which has beautiful sgraffito on its walls. The project was a great opportunity to do laser cutting, stop motion, 3D animation, and motion-controlled rigged scenes.
I think it was a great success. The miniature model was showcased at the Hannon Library and now lives at the Playa Vista facilities.
What is it about animation as a medium that you find so engaging?
There’s a historical misconception about what animation means. It was rapidly categorized under the umbrella of filmmaking and entertainment. But I think there’s an essential distinction between live-action and animation, which is not based in form, technique, or genre, but rather in manipulation and fabrication of cinematic time.
Live-action is based on the principle of recorded time, as it happens—also known as time “that has been.” In contrast, animation is based on time “that will be.” There is no real-time reference in the way that animation fabricates its experience—instead, it is pure time, in terms of Bergson. That’s why there’s so much interest from the experimental sciences in the medium of animation—not because it can “visualize” but because it can create a time-space continuum that can be filled with anything. If you check any 3D software interface, there is always a tool that can “move volume through space in time.” I’ve been saying not only that the future of animation is interdisciplinary, but also that we will start teaching, in the near future, physics through animation at elementary levels.
What advice would you give to young animators looking to advance in the field?
Animation is one of the preeminent languages of our times. It is also one of the most generous mediums. You can switch from abstract art to anime, to procedural animation based on particles and physics models. Animation is everywhere, not only in cartoons and films. but in many capacities, such as physical therapy. The future of this medium is very bright. Be brave, expand your horizons, question your assumptions about animation. But also be practical and define your interests and aspirations. Animation is a vast world.
We have to ask: What is your favorite animated film?
It will be impossible to bring it down to one. I will give you three: Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyasaki), The Man who Planted Trees (Frederick Back), Father and Daughter (Michael Dudok de Witt).
View the augmented reality animation! Follow the directions below:
- Download the EyeJack app from your App store.
- Point at the code and let the animation load into your phone.
- Point your phone through EyeJack at the poster of the exhibition, Caravan. Watch the animation run.