The steady stream of static online viewing rooms and PDFs, meant to serve as a digital stand-in for physical art experiences, were flooding Lauren Powell’s inbox and only making her more depressed about not being able to see paintings and sculptures in real life. “The screen was a barrier between myself and the art,” she told Hyperallergic.
Yet there was one on-screen medium that didn’t bring her down. “When I watch an animation, I feel as if I am a part of it, like I am somehow participating,” said Powell, an independent curator based in New York City. The realization that time-based artwork could be truly engaging — even therapeutic — inspired her to curate E-Motionø Support Group, an online show described as a “collection of animations to help you feel better.”
Animated works by 39 artists are being unveiled in daily batches through June 9 on Powell’s online platform, Art of This World, and its corresponding Instagram account. They include a range of video- and sound-based creations, from Rebecca Morgan‘s “Breathing and Blinking” (2014), a 19-second outline drawing of a sleepy woman that captures how the artist feels during quarantine; to Andy Harman‘s equally hilarious and soothing “Flerpity Floopin” (2020), which he made by filling a mirrored room with materials from his studio and “bringing it to life” with a leaf blower. (The short excerpts included in this article are only snippets of the complete works, all worth watching and listening to in full.)
One of the most striking works is “The Sin Park” (2019) by the Chinese multimedia artist WANG Chen, an animation that combines digital video, 3-D game design, drawings, and performances by the artist herself wearing hand-sewn costumes. In a color-drenched, pixelated dreamscape resembling the interior of a kaleidoscope, a trope of furry characters and abstract creatures move slowly to hypnotic beats.
Powell’s love affair with animation is a recent one. In February, she exhibited animated works for the first time in a show titled Vicious Frames at Manhattan’s Postmasters Gallery.
“This is where the door was opened to me by [artist] Claudia Bitran, and I continued to show her painting-animations at SPRING/BREAK Art Fair in March, just before the world shut down,” she said. Bitran contributed one of her beguiling moving paintings, “FLARES” (2018), to the current show.
But the onset of the pandemic and an ensuing wave of anxiety had paralyzed her. Powell says she struggled to come up with the physical or emotional energy to execute the show. Motivated by two artists friends now featured in E-Motionø Support Group — Morgan and Robin F. Williams — she began gathering works for the exhibition, “despite the quarantine brain saying ‘no, do nothing.’”
“I still can’t believe the response I received, and how grateful many artists were to be given this prompt to try something new that could be done from a home studio,” says Powell, noting that 80% of participating artists are painters and the rest are sculptors, and over half of them created animation for the first time for this show.
What Powell describes as “quarantine brain,” that impossibility of concentration and general grogginess associated with the monotony and confusion of the current moment, is a feeling we can all relate to. The works in this show offer a respite from the sameness; an opportunity to lose oneself in surreal worlds.
“This show has gotten me through quarantine mentally with flying colors,” says Powell. “And I hope I can help people the way I’ve been helped by all of these artists and friends by sharing this collection.”
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