Animated Myths For The New Millennium

By Juan Antonio Alvarez Reyes
Artist: Hye Rim Lee

The history of animation is already a hundred years old, and we could even say that it is a media that pre-dates cinema, but starts out on its great pathway along side it. If different “machines” and creations were soon able to give movement to drawings and images and end up providing what was called “optical theater”, the discovery of the photogram to photogram projection technique, together with simple tricks using the film and recording and projection devices, made emergence easier for a great evolution of a media and of a genre that has always had one foot anchored in the cinematic and entertainment industry and the other in artistic and avant-garde productions. Even though we traditionally associate animation with Walt Disney and his empire (although Japanese Anime is also present) animation has a vast history that has been linked to the artistic and visual avant-garde, making up perhaps one of the last media to be explored on the path to assimilation that modern art and museums have started out on decades ago, firstly with photography and then with cinema.

In a world dominated by visual culture development of specific computer programs has made expansion and use of this media extremely easy for a number of artists who, raised in the entertainment industry (based firstly on animation) and then educated with videogames, use the tools currently available for narrating today’s stories. Animation brings reality down a few notches, even though it doesn’t eliminate it totally, which then opens the door to fiction, in each and every one of its variants. Animation has also recently expanded into new territories. Therefore it should not be unexpected that it has also come into the artistic scene. This is due to several things: The first one has to do with the history of animation, spread over more than one hundred years, and its approximations to avant-garde art and experimental cinema during different periods of the twentieth century. During different times of the twentieth century and in different places in the World there have been important animators who have had a clear-cut experimental and avant-garde vocation. Therefore there is a historic tradition that has marked this close relationship between visual arts and animation. On the other hand is the tight link with cinema and, above all, with some of the innovative experiences born in this field. So then it is not rare, at a time such as ours, in which screens (public cinema) would take over today’s museums and art centers, the media that has our attention also occupies an important part of them. During the last decade, together with cinema, an authentic boom of an old media has occurred due to the fact that it is closely and intimately related: drawing has been profusely used, exhibited and reclaimed. So, how do we combine them? How do we bring video-cinema and drawing together? Well, the answer seems logical and simple: by using “animated drawing”.

So then, what would the use of animation provide? To start with, to a large degree, it suspends reality and leads the viewer into a different world, taking away his prohibitions about the order of things and allowing him not only fantasy, tales or fiction, but by using these, and once the viewers open up, it makes an introduction to symbolism and allegory easier. A large part of this is due to our innate inclination and opening up to this media (that was constructed and fomented since childhood). On the other hand it allows us to step over that reality and not have to be limited by it regarding the physicality of the world: the artist is not limited and limitless possibilities are opened up before him, almost to the same degree as they are possible in his mind. Lastly, using it in the current artistic scene is a practice that is permeable from a critical point of view, from things ironic, sweet, crazy or even tragic. The possibilities that this hundred-year-old language offer are rediscovered and they find in our world one of the decisive moments of their history, especially in the territory of modern art and thanks to the continuous dissolution of the boundaries between reality and fiction.

Animation does not only perceive the world differently, but also creates other worlds by using two powerful tools: fantasy and imagination. Could we conceive, today, by way of animation, a new claim on imagination and fantasy in the current art world, one that would allow for a critical attitude toward the World and that, at the same time, is aware of the powerful mechanisms involved in its construction and usage? The answer is yes. This is seen in works and careers of people like William Kentridge or Kara Walker, but also with animation that is less povera, from the field of 3D technologies, Hye Rim Lee is involved in critical exploration of questions dealing with feminism and cyberculture. Antonia Levi, by studying current Japanese animation, has commented that the creation of new myths is one of the basic issues in the new millennium. Hye Rim Lee also believes, as she does, in the construction of narrations regarding the new cyberfeminism mythologies along with the culture of videogames. The artist is conscious of the “I am where I think” that Walter D. Mignolo has studied with such detail by pointing out the importance of the geopolitical aspect of knowledge and by aiming for a state of “global coloniality”. Therein lays the need to analyze those myths that take part in the images of things feminine, of sexuality, of the culture of children, of exotism and cultural stereotypes that the mass media reflect and impose. Among that mass media are, without a doubt, animations and videogames.

Maureen Furniss, while analyzing the cultural differences, has written “when we talk of representation in animated films, in most cases, we focus on what appears on the screen. However, we should be interested just as much, or even more, in what does not appear”. In her feminist analysis of representation (beyond a catalogue of racist and sexist works), Furniss believes that up until now there has not been “a better way of representing femininity and the issues relating to women” in animated works. In any case, Hye Rim Lee seems to adhere to the masculine and Western stereotypes regarding the female body and sexuality in order to change her stories (as she does with Candyland). So, in the game of combining and changing supposed naiveties that she uses in her videos, there is an intelligent union of two elements that are constitutive of animation itself in what regards cultural construction. To know: on one hand animations have been associated with an audience made up of children for decades. On the other, during the last decade, production of animated pornography has blasted off. Therefore, this iconic interrelationship that the artist has done in pieces such as Crystal City Spun (2007) and Crystal City (2008) is appropriate, since it combines apparently contradictory items: the culture of children, masculine desire, geocultural stereotypes and sex all in a media (animation) in which all these elements have been present during its already long history in constructing new and different myths.
(This article was originally written in the artist’s catalog during her solo show at GACMA, Spain in 2008)