Until a second ago I was looking at a blank page, thinking about this idea of a New Year, and how 2022 for me could be characterised as being an(other) attempt at a ‘fresh start’; one of a small handful of periods in my life where stepping out of the clutter into a new situation seemed like an answer to something. Nothing is a blank page, of course. Even a blank page has a texture, and is surrounded by things, which could be said to constitute a surface continuing outwards from (or inwards towards) it. I’m wondering if the blank page anxiety I used to have - which led me to starting sketchbooks at the back, having enshrined the first page in a misguided belief that if the drawing on it wasn’t good, it would set the tone of not-goodness for the rest of the sketchbook - was also linked to a fear of defining myself.
Whatever it was linked to, this fear of the blank page seems to have been vanquished somehow thanks to my focussing on animation as my main mode of expression, and with improvisation becoming its scaffolding. There’s a relief in knowing that a line can draw itself. With no plan, no specialist tools, and the tiniest amount of force, an artwork can begin to materialise; and the degree to which you direct it is entirely up to you.
The continuity of a line that defines something. A thought; a trace of some physical interactions through time. A timeline. A structure to work with.
Time has taken on a strange form since 2020. Maybe it’s beginning to settle into something recognisable, but my understanding of time over the past two years has been utterly scrambled thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
After contracting Covid during the Annecy animation festival in June, I noticed two symptoms that aren’t mentioned as part of the diagnostic criteria:
a feeling of sudden discontinuity (of frustrated momentum), and
The latter is one that many people report; both have probably been experienced by everyone; and infection is not a prerequisite for experiencing either. The feeling of momentum and potential created by having a film in a festival is quite intense (this being my first experience of it). To fall ill with the thing and have no energy to build on the opportunity felt unfair, but somehow inevitable and expected by that point. No plans seem to go uninterrupted during the pandemic. The discontinuity caused by the initial lockdown became a pattern, and one that actually helped form the fractured structure of my film. Maybe, it seemed to say, time - and the unfolding of events - shouldn’t be expected to be an uninterrupted line; instead it’s easier to expect interruptions, and these interruptions to the line are what gives our lives an interesting shape.
That first rupture was so cataclysmic, it will take many years to unpick its impact, but some also saw it as a unique opportunity to actually be permitted to stop, fully, and think about how we would ideally want to do things. Although that time was highly traumatic for many of us, me included (though, importantly, not for everyone), I do look back at it now and find it helpful in remembering that it allowed us to consider alternative ways forward. It’s certainly what happened to my approach to making work: I stopped planning and preparing for months - there seemed little point - and instead just threw myself straight into production and activity, allowing the resulting work to surprise me and form the direction. Without all that planning, the something from nothing felt miraculous.
I love a blank page, now, supported and framed by the table, or the surrounding view. A little portal, encouraging a response, but forcing nothing on you.
In 2021, we had to leave our place in Hackney Wick, East London, and decided to try somewhere new.
In November that year we moved to a small, quite isolated place right on the borders of Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire. We were there for 11 months.
Although there were some flashes of recognisable activity, a few moments of life as I had known it, this was new, a shock, a radical shift. More rural even than where I had grown up, on the other side of the country. The hills here interacted with light in ways I was unaccustomed; changing constantly, filling and emptying with clouds, and beneath them so little - in comparison to where we had been - happened, that every tiny change was noticed. The behaviour of the sheep as the temperature dropped, taking longer to stand up in the morning when dusted with frost. The first call of the swifts in spring, slicing ecstatically and triumphantly through the blue. A deeper-coloured patch of grass emerging as it grew, delineating where an outhouse once stood, maybe.
In this period of radical discontinuity, there was continuity of a kind I had forgotten.
Again I was forced to stop, just when we were all being told we were allowed to start again; but this wasn’t stopping, really, at all. It was just stepping back, and thinking, and watching, until I felt ready to step back in.
Thanks very much to those of you who encouraged me to start this, and to those of you who signed up when I first announced it softly a while back. I don’t know where it’ll go exactly, but it probably won’t be as ‘looking back-y’ as this. I just needed to explain where I’ve been, and to start. Please do let me know your thoughts/suggestions if you fancy sharing them.
I’ll aim to get these out about once a month.
Til then, and a very happy new year,
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