This session explores the relationship of animation to radical conceptions of the subject. Drawing on Marx’s theory of the abbreviated, punctuated self in relation to the machine, it places animation as a form in a critical relation to the disenfranchisements of industrial capital. Its aesthetic, its jerky, stop-starting mode, its seriality, its brutality emulates bureaucratic and machinic existence. But animation had its moment, a more or less hand drawn one. Now most mainstream film tends towards being animated, digitally. How do our still abbreviated selves find expression in these various contemporary modes of film making? I am curious about two seemingly different moves. There is the return of an overt and theatrical Brechtianism in radical film – in, for example, Zoe Beloff’s The Days of the Communeand Mike Wayne and Deidre O’Neill’s The Condition of the Working Classes. These are films of ideas, in which a series of dialectical relays are discharged, between an old text and a current moment, between spaces, between acting and being, acting and filming acting. Here the camera spies in on an unfurling process of political discovery and displaced self-representation. Actors stand beside themselves – bearing signs, making gestures. There is something cartoonish about the set up, as much as there is a Brechtian referent. I want to set these alongside two recent animated art films, Imitation of Lifeby Mathias Poledna and Animation, Masksby Jordan Wolfson. One evokes the old style hand drawn methods of Disney in its fully rounded humanoid Golden Age and the other is composed of 3D digital techniques. How is animation in each being made to express the now, and in what ways does it absorb that now, in what ways refract it? How do the cels or the pixels and the matter of the projection screen participate in the dramaticisation of what makes sense in to our contemporary lives, such as we ‘recognise ourselves in them’, as Walter Benjamin observed, that is, recognise our absurd selves in their absurdities. Perhaps Hito Steyerls How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File will be drawn into this too. And what does the vogue for spirited objects, or animism, as evinced in Anselm Franke’s recent touring show ‘Animism’ and Mark Leckey’s ‘Universal Addressability of Dumb Things’, as well as his predilection for Felix the Cat, signify?
Esther Leslie is Professor of Political Aesthetics at Birkbeck, University of London. She has written two books on Walter Benjamin, one for Pluto in 2000 and one for Reaktion in 2007. She is also author of 'Hollywood Flatlands: Animation, Critical Theory and the Avant Garde' (2002), and 'Synthetic Worlds: Nature, Art and the Chemical Industry' (2005). She runs a website together with Ben Watson,