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GOCRITIC! Animafest Zagreb 2019

GoCritic! Shorts Review: Animafest Zagreb - Animation and Fine Arts 2

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- Our US-Korean participant takes a long, critical look at Animafest Zagreb's thematic programme which combines animation and fine arts

GoCritic! Shorts Review: Animafest Zagreb - Animation and Fine Arts 2
Central Museum by Jochen Kuhn

Art preserves; animation breathes. Together, then, animated art should invite immortality. Paralleling animated loops with the grand circle of life, the 29th World Festival of Animated Film - Animafest Zagreb flirts with the idea of eternity. Indeed, instead of weaving animation into the larger canon of art history, the programme brashly asserts animation’s artistic legitimacy in a somewhat heavy-handed second showcasing of this year’s Animation and Fine Arts section, going by the sub-heading "Inspired by…"  

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The opening film sets the tone for the programme, asking the age-old question: What is art? Jochen Kuhn's Central Museum (Germany, 2016) answers with the whimsical musings of an art museum devisee. In a whispered conversation with a withered security guard, the two explore the differences in the self-proclaimed art world. In deadpan banter style, they irreverently review the artworks before them: "Is this an exhibition? Does art have value? If I sleep on this installation, will I be part of the performative experience?" With its ambiguous conclusion, the film leaves the plastic arts in need of further evaluation.

Unfortunately, the first block of films leaves the viewer no time to respond to such questions. In a relentless reproduction of textbook art history, Rino Stefano Tagliafierro's Beauty (Italy, 2014) digitally manipulates oil paintings from Caravaggio to Bierstadt, celebrating the feast and famine of the Western European canon. Philip Scott Johnson's 500 Years of Female Portraits in Western Art (USA, 2007) follows up in a poorly-pixelated fashion. Centuries of female portraits morph into one another, suggesting that all Western portraiture is the same. And just when the viewer can bear no more of this masturbatory ivory tower, the final film of this trio – Gil Alkabetz's The Da Vinci Time Code (Germany, 2009) – "reinterprets" the iconic Last Supper in a hyper-speed montage of close-ups. Leaving little room to breathe in the ever-shifting canvas-scape, this segment regurgitates a self-congratulatory overview of the Western canon. The still images of the past are effectively repurposed upon a filmic timeline. The message is clear: while the fine arts may believe in their own self-importance, only animation can truly allow a painted canvas to come alive.

(Dripped by Leo Verrier)

Shifting from what seems like a never-ending montage of portraiture, the programme goes on to experiment with more finite narratives. Leo Verrier's Dripped (France, 2001) revolves around a serial art thief who literally consumes paintings in search of a visceral experience - until he eventually eats a self-made Pollock, melting into a kaleidoscopic dribble. Veljiko Popović's Cyclists (Croatia/France, 2018) reimagines Vasko Lipovac's work, as it pits the two protagonists against one another in a neck-and-neck race to bed a female bystander. Student production None of That (USA, 2015) by Isabela Littger, Anna Paddock, and Kriti Kaur features a security guard’s desperate attempt to protect Michelangelo's David from a nun's censorship. By building imagined narratives over specific works, the program re-asserts the dominance of the moving image over the still: the ability to tell a story on a timeline.

(La Chute by Boris Labbe)

As if the previous section weren’t convincing enough for the viewer, the last selection of films traps the audience in a hellish loop. Like a Phenakistoscope, Georges Schwizgebel's Battle of San Romano (Switzerland, 2018) rattles the viewer in a cyclical rendering of Paolo Uccello's epic mural. Boris Labbe's instant Cannes classic La Chute (France, 2018) similarly traps the audience in a charcoal rendition of Eden, Earth, and Hell from Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights. Andreas Hykade's Love and Theft (Germany, 2010) ends the dizzying programme with a throwback to the beginning of the section: in an endless loop of famous animation icons and filmmakers, from Betty Boop to Bill Plympton, it returns to the central theme of the programme: that animation is deserving of a place within the fine arts. In a way, the two forms and their mutual relations - canvas and film, life and death, art and animation - do promise a Mobius strip-like eternity when intertwined: painting only freezes the present, animation perpetuates the afterlife.

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