A solo show of animated works by DAVID THEOBALD - winner of the MFP National Open 2012
Private View Friday 11 October 6pm till late
Exhibition continues: Saturday 12, Sunday 13 then Thursday 17, Friday 18, Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 October - 12 mid-day to 5pm
Motorcade/FlashParade is very pleased to be showing the work of David Theobald. His animated video piece ‘Walking Holiday in Grindelwald’ won first prize in our second National Open last year. This solo show is part of his prize.
David Theobald accepts First Prize from George Ferguson
Today, location is not so much defined by geography, but by our position within the complex web of processes that make up contemporary society. ‘PC World’ presents a series of computer animated and photographic works that attempt to capture such a situation, caught in a perpetual state of transit where increasing complexity is often presented as the illusion of ‘progress’, their looping nature both mirroring the underlying technology used in their creation and the repetitive processes that seem central to the infrastructure of contemporary society. As the global economy lurches towards an uncertain future, these complex connections that form the basis of day-to-day existence seem ever more evident and ever more precarious.
David Theobald’s Productively Perverse ‘PC World’
an exhibition essay by Lilly Husbands
an exhibition essay by Lilly Husbands
My advice is to keep watching. Wait until the joke appears and then fades, and stay until the seriousness settles in. This is a small test of endurance. You will have some time to think. You will share this time with the work before you: to think with, against or through it, as you like. But first you must keep watching. It is up to you.
Sometimes David Theobald’s animated works feel like structural avant-garde films that have been shot in the foreclosed and run-down parts of a Pixar film-world. Their resemblance to the high quality, colour-saturated hyperrealism of commercial computer-generated animations purposefully disarms us, playing with our lazy, ingrained expectations of pre-digested mainstream narrative entertainment only to actively defy the social and intellectual conformity promoted by what Adorno and Horkheimer famously called ‘the culture industry.’ Theobald draws from animation’s ability to enhance our perception of things to make us see beyond the humour, the entertainment, and even the subject’s banality into how it operates as an intelligently critical artwork that reflects on actualities in the real world. Ultimately, Theobald’s works’ clever senses of humour, glossy visual appeal, and mundane subject matters all belie the very serious critical and ethical motivations that undergird them. Indeed, humour, irony, and reflexivity are Theobald’s defences against a number of contemporary anxieties (from the unethical effects of anthropocentrism to late capitalist consumer culture’s excessive waste to the increasing sense of alienation and powerlessness brought about by globalized economies and digital technologies).
The intensive labour that goes into Theobald’s animations is perversely used to produce images of objects and experiences that we normally go out of our way to avoid seeing and experiencing. They often ‘take place’ in parts of that world that resemble what Marc Augé has called ‘non-places,’ the locations of supermodernity which are characterised by their lack of character, by their prefabricated blandness whose cloned anonymity is simultaneously alien and familiar. (Not coincidently, many of his works make brilliant use of the soul-destroying effects of Muzak). He impishly invites us to spend potentially endless amounts of (looped) time with simulations of these unappealing non-places, creating ample space in which to begin exasperatedly contemplating the contemporary human condition. Theobald’s perverseness is productive. It opens up the potential for us to engage critically with certain aspects of our lives that we would normally be inclined to ignore or quickly forget. All of Our Agents Are Busy (2013), a 5 ½ minute continuous loop that Theobald describes simply as ‘digital purgatory,’ reminds us of the little moments of impotence that we face daily in our impersonal, hypermediated reality by aggressively accosting us with a sound collage of the irritating (and mildly insulting) automated voices that insist that they are ‘working hard to answer your call as quickly as possible.’ The red and green lights on the electronic panels that steadily blink throughout the work resemble an indecipherable, alien Morse code, and anyone who has ever had trouble with their broadband will recognize them as a symbol of the disconnect between our understanding of and our dependence upon the technologies that we use daily. We must meet the temporal demands of this piece in order to feel the full devastation at the heart of the work, as the compounded effect of the audio-visuals ultimately offers an overwhelming sense of the alienating nature of these particular aspects of our society.
In the works included in ‘PC World,’ Theobald has foregone the exciting potential for Deleuzian ‘gaseous perception’ offered by the flexible, dynamic qualities of an animated ‘virtual camera,’ instead opting for fixed, straightjacketed viewpoints that nevertheless offer physically and psychologically powerful experiences. For instance, The Power of Now (2012) is a particularly torturous piece, directing our gaze as it holds us in the confined space of an imagined dentist’s chair, compelling us to endure the terrible vicissitudes of numerous audio-visual indignities (in the forms of drab urban and office views, the bleakness of the revolving loan/lotto/luxury car advert, the insufferably plucky Muzak, and the alarming intensity of the dental drill). Named after Eckhart Tolle’s internationally bestselling guide to spiritual enlightenment that advocates ‘honouring the present’ as a route to self-enlightenment, The Power of Now challenges us to find anything existentially redeeming about this simultaneously unremarkable yet excruciating situation. We are tempted to wonder how the Buddha would remain enlightened and detached in such a scenario. (Would a true Zen master even bother to go to the dentist, I wonder?)
Finally, Theobald’s works can at times seem like philosophical thought experiments, showing us, for instance, how human absence narrates itself. Indeed, the visions he shares with us often seem to exist on the brink of embodiment, depicting object and animal ontologies that are typically ignored by or unavailable to human beings. In some works we are witness to the normally unseen lives of objects, begging the question of what it means to be something. On top of this, of course, is the understanding that the completely illusory fabrication and artistic manipulation of these animated images renders these glimpses into unobservable worlds ironic impossibilities. However, this impossibility does not detract from the deeply moral effort of asking us to imagine the world from alien perspectives, to see ourselves and the traces of our behaviours as they affect the things around us. For instance, in Jingle Bells (2013), Theobald’s refusal to succumb to conventional commercial animation’s anthropomorphizing tendencies plays with our desires to make meaning out of non human actions. As always with Theobalds’ work, we must decipher the work’s multiple layers of significance: we must see the still functional keyboard in Jingle Bells as a reference to the wasteful practices of capitalist cultures (such as planned obsolescence), we must see the slugs as simultaneously sentient, ‘autonomous’ beings, agents of narrative action, and the outcomes of programming and pixels. We must laugh at the joke that the slugs don’t know they’re playing music, and further, that Theobald has precisely programmed the work to look like the slugs don’t know they’re playing music.
We must at least smile, because if we don’t, we run the risk of crying.
About the Author: Lilly Husbands is a doctorate candidate in Film Studies at King’s College London. Her research is concerned with closely investigating contemporary North American and British works of experimental animation, focusing particularly on the varieties of non-normative aesthetic experience that such works offer spectators. She received her BA in Comparative Literature from Brown University in 2003 and completed her Film Studies Master’s Degree at KCL in 2008 and her Critical Methodologies Master’s Degree at KCL in 2009. Her interests include experimental cinema, animation and special effects, film aesthetics, film philosophy, spectatorship, and film music.