Arresting the uncanny: Amy Lockhart mines the subconscious – Gabrielle Moser

Amy Lockhart

Amy Lockhart

Don’t be fooled by Amy Lockhart’s work. Though her videos and installations are firmly rooted in the traditions and aesthetics of psychedelic-inspired outsider art, and despite the fact that her work is frequently shown alongside the work of lo-fi, hipster drawing collectives like The Lions, Lockhart’s art resonates on a distinctly different register. While this young generation of comic book–inspired artists often appropriate and alter figures from popular culture in order to create a pastiche of existing materials, Lockhart’s work is infused with a sincerity and earnestness that imbues her borrowed forms with renewed meaning and affect. Her films, which are often exhibited alongside the sculptural objects used to create them, construct what she calls “an absurd parallel universe” that is immersive and remarkably compelling. By drawing on familiar material but imaginatively manipulating it into something unexpected, Lockhart’s videos mimic a subconscious dreamscape that is neither derivative nor ironic, but instead creatively productive and provocatively uncanny.Through her animations are, of course, moving images, they paradoxically serve to arrest the flow of imagery that bombards us daily: to fix and hold subconscious visions in place long enough for us to thoroughly examine and analyze them. Walter Benjamin once famously predicted, in his landmark 1935 essay on “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility,” that film would allow us to isolate, replay and analyze human behaviour–and particularly subconscious behaviour–in a way that would augment psychoanalytic practices. [1] While many of Benjamin’s predictions and aspirations for photography and film have yet to be realized, Lockhart’s films seem to come close to adapting video’s strategies to exploring the subconscious realm. In her animations, recognizable characters shapeshift, taunt one another, or sometimes just wander through, placing the viewer in the curious and slightly discomforting position of having to make our own set of meanings from a collage of surreal scenarios.

It seems fitting, given her approach, that the first piece of Lockhart’s work I encountered was The Collagist (2004-09), a stop motion animation inspired by Marc Bell’s doodles. Depicting an anonymous pair of hands as they deftly draw, cut, paste and rearrange images on a desktop, the video serves as a kind of meta-narrative for Lockhart’s practice as a whole. Experimentation, clever manipulations of physical materials and a high level of self-reflexivity are hallmarks of Lockhart’s work and her emphasis on the importance and affective potential of even banal creations and materials draws an unusual link between doodling (normally considered an activity spurred on by boredom or distraction) and animation (a conversely focused, time-consuming, labour-intensive process).

This tension between the ephemeral and the permanent is underscored in the sculptural sets displayed by Lockhart alongside The Collagist. Art from The Collagist, a life-sized, two-dimensional reproduction of the collagist’s desk, and Animation Stand, a miniaturized replica of the set up Lockhart used to record and produce the video (complete with Mac laptop and coffee mug), transform provisional structures –the sculptural “means” to the artist’s filmic “ends”– into permanent, independent, gallery-ready artworks. This framework lends all of Lockhart’s works an air of cohesion, as though her diverse paintings, sculptures and videos are connected by their common origins in her active and transformative imagination. Their titles, which refer back to and depend upon one another for their meaning, reiterate this cohesion without subsuming any one work for the sake of narrative unity.

Provisional and propositional scenarios also drive the action in Walk for Walk (2005), Lockhart’s most recognized video work. Assembled from drawings, puppets and cut out animations, the ten minute long animation features a string of unsettling figures, including a school of disembodied, suspended, blinking eyes, amputated blue hands, an alcoholic frog guzzling “It’s All Over Juice” and an amorous strawberry with a tree stump body. Strange but vaguely familiar characters, such as an overgrown Smurf or the Pacman-inspired munching hamburgers, seem subtler than direct pop culture appropriations and instead evoke the way one might misremember these forms in a memory or a dream. Accompanied by a vivid and visceral soundtrack of noises recorded by Lockhart in a self-fashioned soundbooth, Walk for Walk’s parade of bizarre characters alternately prompt shudders and chuckles from the viewer by weaving together the humorous and the preposterous.



It is the spectator’s simultaneous experience of delight and fright that gives Lockhart’s videos their affective potency. It is also such a combination that characterizes the experience of the uncanny in psychoanalytic theory. Art historian Alan Cholodenko, in his thorough history of animation practices, has argued that animation is unique as a medium because it always involves a kind of viewing violence tied to the uncanny. Much like the experience early viewers had when they witnessed the first films, animations unnerve because they constitute “the return of what gave us fright when we were children to give us fright again when we thought we were over it now that we are adults.” [2] Lockhart’s animations, through their use of childhood cartoon characters, infantile voices engaged in gibberish discussions and disturbingly truncated body parts, double this experience of the uncanny by re-presenting subjects whose strangeness we thought we had become accustomed to, or had long forgotten. Rather than stripping these half-remembered figures of their original context and creating an incongruent assemblage, Lockhart’s work relies on these former associations, reinvesting her subjects with affective potency and pointing to the lasting power of images on the collective subconscious.

References:

[1] Benjamin writes that, “Many of the deformations and stereotypes, transformations and catastrophes which can assail the optical world in films afflict the actual world in psychoses, hallucinations, and dreams. Thanks to the camera, therefore, the individual perceptions of the psychotic or the dreamer can be appropriated by collective perception.” See Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility (second version),” The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility and Other Writings on Media, Michael W. Jennings et. al., ed., London and Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008, p. 19-55, 37-38.

[2] Alan Cholodenko, “Introduction,” The Illusion of Life: Essays on Animation, Alan Cholodenko, ed., Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993, p. 9-36, 27.

Gabrielle Moser is a writer, curator and PhD student studying art history and visual culture at York University. She has curated exhibitions for the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, Sleepwalker Projects, Vtape and Xpace and is a member of the Pleasure Dome experimental film and video collective. Her writing has appeared in Canadian Art, C magazine, esse and Invisible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Culture. She is currently co-curating (with Arpi Kovacs) an exhibition on the role of intimacy in recent photographic and video practice for Gallery TPW, Toronto.

Amy Lockhart is a filmmaker (primarily animator) and artist. Her artwork and award winning films have been exhibited internationally. Amy has educated herself through attending the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, completing an artist residency at the Quickdraw Animation Society and a fellowship at the National Film Board. She has received international acclaim, speaking and exhibiting her work at various art institutions including The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and The California Institute of the Arts, where she completed artist residencies.

Comments from old site:

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/03/2009 – 19:16.

delight and fright is right!

A.m.a.z.i.n.g

Submitted by Melvin (not verified) on Tue, 09/01/2009 – 13:26.

This is my favorite animation of all time.
I just love it. Brilliant.