In a sense, all animation is experimental, because an artist can't really see how his images will move until he throws them up onto a screen. But don't tell that to the filmmakers featured in the traveling Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation, who've rejected the corporate world of commercials and children's entertainment to pursue their own visions. Based in Los Angeles, the festival favors "works made by individual artists, drawing on the lineage of avant -garde cinema as well as the tradition of classic character animation and cartooning," with two free programs on Saturday at Block Museum of Art.
The programs include dazzling abstract works that exploit the tension between geometry and the variegated forms of the natural world. In Johan Rijpma's black-and-white Extrapolate (program one), an artist's hand draws a diagonal line across a grid and slides off the page into space, the hand and pen breaking up into their constituent parts, until this image is crumpled up by another pair of hands; wads of paper explode and recombine, dotted lines tracing their movement. The conflict between uniformity and individuality is even more pronounced in Robert Darroll's psychedelic Feng-Huang (1988, program one), its severe grids, mandalas, and polka-dot patterns disrupted by floating silhouettes of ducks and fish and by ragged, undulating forms.
The programmers always toss a few classics into the mix, and the two oldest entries this year prove that the friction between pattern and chaos is nothing new. Filmstudie (1926, one), by the German dadaist Hans Richter, considers a variety of geometrical forms but opens and closes most powerfully with a lazy dance of circles and spheres that range from the colliding white and black disks of a solar eclipse to a sea of gently rolling eyeballs. A Game With Stones (1965, one), by the Czech surrealist Jan Švankmajer, begins with images of a wind-up clock, its steady ticktock dominating the soundtrack, before a turned water faucet disgorges a flood of uniquely shaped white and black pebbles, which are herded into grid-shaped patterns before bursting out of their captivity.
Of the narrative shorts, the two most striking explore female sexual need and are frank to the point of crudity. In Ruth Lingford's What She Wants (1994, one) a lonely middle-aged woman wanders through cold city streets, the mouth of her purse turning into a bright red vulva; as she rides the subway, sexual images corrode into scenes of atrocity (a woman fellating a penis morphs into Goya's image of Saturn devouring his young). And Barbara Hammer's witty No No Nooky T.V. (1987, program two) turns a carefully planned lesbian seduction into a primitive video game. The title suggests what all the festival contributors have no doubt learned: if you want art that really speaks to you, you may have to create it yourself. v