CULTIVATE: CINEMA + SOUND
Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017
Live scores by Hadiza, Tobi Parks, and Dartanyan Brown
Films by Serena Illuminati, Roshan Louise-Julie, Kalimah Abioto, and Julia Oldham
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JULIA OLDHAM: Searching for the Impossible
In her time-based work, Julia Oldham combines live-action video with traditional animation to create narratives about science and nature—two subjects that saturated her formative years in rural Maryland, where she was raised by a physicist, an avid gardener, and a pack of dogs. Her love affair with science burgeoned as she grew and developed as an artist, and scientific curiosity emerged as a character in her work.
Oldham typically juggles themes of connectivity between humans and animals with poetic notions of science. She is the performer in her video work, and the character she plays in these pieces is a fantastical self: the self that has a love affair with a coyote, discovers the infinite, splits into matter and antimatter, and lives in an alternate universe. Always searching for the impossible, her characters are guided by desire that is unrequited, and that reflects the artist’s impossible longing to understand the unknowable and transcend humanness. By performing the lead role in her videos, Oldham goes through the same process of journeying as the character does. The performative aspect of the work is just as significant as the act of drawing, setting up shots, and writing scripts. Physically moving through a story invariably changes the narrative structure of the piece—for instance, when the body disagrees with a particular movement or environment and creates new gestures by chance.
Animation can be a tool for accessing that which is dreamlike, and in her videos, Oldham uses animation as a means of making the impossible visually possible and blending the real world with invented ones. She animates manually, drawing each frame by hand on a light box, a method that allows for more variation between frames than is typical in studio-produced animation. This process of drawing is visible in the squirming, scratchy lines of the characters’ wrinkles and fur, and in the strange and uncanny transitions between drawings that would typically be considered too detailed for a cartoon. Oldham mixes these rough animated characters into live-action video worlds in which she performs, superimposing them onto real and imagined landscapes and interacting with them. These visual elements pull the dreamworld into her narratives to create a visual language that can move seamlessly between the sweet and the creepy.