Stop Motion Animation and Svankmajer

I like making my mosaic animations, they bring another dimension to my work.  It is a way to experiment and develop the original idea, and really bring the mosaics to life.  Then the work can metamorphose in a much more spontaneous way than through my mosaic series.  It takes a bit of time, but no more than making the mosaics themselves. And if I make it from the  pieces I have cut then making the mosaic falls into place quite quickly. For those who haven’t seen my experimental mosaic animations go to  http://www.youtube.com/user/TheKaterattray or just click the “animations” tab at the header.

In 1989 I was writing my final year thesis on the metamorphic image in  Surrealism at art college.  One holiday I returned home and my dad introduced me to the stop-motion animations of Czech film maker, Jan Svankmayer. I was fascinated with them and deeply influenced by his work. I still think he is probably the greatest animator of all time. One of my favourite animations is Dimensions of Dialogue. You can watch part 1 here, although not great quality. It is best to buy a DVD of it.


Like other Surrealists Svankmajer was  inspired  by the composite fruit and veg portraits of 16th century Italian painter Arcimboldo, and used the idea in part 1 of the film.

Arcimboldo was described as a  ” Mannerist” painter of the Renaissance, but these paintings were unlike any other paintings of that time. They were  initially criticised, but were later seen as playful and fitted into the humour of the time. If we didn’t know any better, we might think these paintings were made by a 20th century Surrealist.


What I love about Svankmajer’s Dimensions of Dialogue (part 1) is the exaggerated  noises, crisp and clear, and the large collection of objects and foods he uses that become alive as they are broken down; digested and regurgitated time and time again. This animation was made in 1982 in Prague, which  at that time was  still under the clutches of Soviet communism. Many artists and writers weren’t able to express themselves freely  for fear of offending the Soviet Union.  Svankmajer made “Dimensions of Dialogue” in response to the  oppression and consequently it was banned.

In the late 1960’s he became a  member of the Czechoslovakian Surrealists group who were also motivated by the  political climate. They shared the  ideas and philosophies  of the 1920’s Surrealists in the way that they explored dreams,  childhood,  magic, metamorphosis, myth, and  collections of objects, which were manifested in work  that was dreamlike, playful, disturbing,  beautiful and grotesque all at the same time, all of which are apparent in Svankmajer’s work.  While  it  plays with the psyche, the metaphors are paramount, making  it  a complex but effective way to convey a message.

(Look at advertising today that uses a similar psychology)

Svankmeyer still lives and works in Prague. His latest films combine real actors with animation. His animations have inspired other film makers such as the Brothers Quay and Tim Burton.

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