Angela Kingston: Animation Breakdown – Jordan Baseman’s Nasty Piece of Stuff, and the mind ‘giving way’
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Angela Kingston: Animation Breakdown – Jordan Baseman’s Nasty Piece of Stuff, and the mind ‘giving way’
Nasty Piece of Stuff, images courtesy of Jordan Baseman

Nasty Piece of Stuff, images courtesy of Jordan Baseman

We’ve traditionally thought of animation in terms of drawings or models that, frame-by-frame, have been made to seem to move. However, animation now includes ‘normal’, real-time films that have been intensively worked with rapid edits and cuts, repeats and reversals, speedings-up and slowings-down, collage effects and digital manipulations. And also instances in which the frames of a real action shot are taken one by one, the animation happening effectively within the camera.

Essentially, animation is film that has been used or taken in a ‘wrong way’. And it seems natural and interesting to ask: what might trigger a filmmaker to want to muck about with film? And in what ways has this ‘wrongness’ of animation become meaningful to artists, and to viewers?

An Animate Projects conference at Tate Modern earlier this year was called Animation Breakdown.  Artists and others duly gave a breakdown of various kinds of approaches. But the tongue-in-cheek implication of the title wasn’t given an airing: animation as breakdown. Animation as a type of failure, or as a manifestation of the mind giving way, even.

I was reminded of this second idea of psychological breakdown when I watched one of Jordan Baseman’s recent films. He is now well known for his films in which people he’s contacted, usually via advertisements, talk to camera. More recently, he’s often used other footage that he’s filmed or found to accompany the voice of his subject. Nasty Piece of Stuff is the first of his films to use animation techniques extensively, in order to create some extraordinary visuals for a film about a man he met in Soho.

Here’s Jordan Baseman’s description of how he made the film: “Nasty Piece of Stuff is a stop frame animation shot on 16mm film but edited digitally, frame by frame. The animations in the street were interesting – some shots were done walking around and moving the camera every which way and some were from a moving car. The digital construction of the work took a considerable amount of time; nearly three months. It isn’t speeded up – I used just in-camera techniques.”

In Nasty Piece of Stuff, the man talks about how, years ago, he was raped – and how this gave rise to a whole series of other violations. There are undertones of disgust and incredulity, but he speaks throughout in a shockingly moderate way, his voice cracking only slightly here and there. The animated visuals, on the other hand, perform a violently agitated, staccato dance, as if in answer to him. Each time he speaks, there’s a burst of images of a streetscape at night, or of the trails of city lights; each time he’s silent, the screen is blank.

There’s a syndrome known to psychoanalysts in which, in extreme cases, the analysand cannot feel their own distress – and the analyst can find him or herself pitched into the unexpressed emotions, which they feel on behalf of their patient. In this vein, it’s as if the film footage that Jordan Baseman has animated undergoes, each time the film is screened, a kind of breakdown, on behalf of the man who cannot allow himself to fall apart. The fractured and ‘wrong’ visuals of the animated film manifest the violations and disturbances of the mind.

About the Author: Angela Kingston is a curator and writer.

Jordan Baseman‘s Nasty Piece of Stuff has been shown at ArtSway, Lymington, Photographers’ Gallery, London, and the New Forest Pavilion, Venice, all during 2009.

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