Watch Me Move: The Animation Show, Barbican Art Gallery, London
Feed your dreams at the all-you-can-watch imagination feast
Sunday 26 June 2011
An art gallery is, by nature and precedent, not a place for showing films, so it was bold of the Barbican gallery to attempt a giant survey of animation from the past 150 years.
No cinema could have done it: there are more than 100 examples here, ranging from the work of the Lumière brothers through early Disney to The Simpsons, Japanese anime and CGI. Yet this isn't only about the march of technology. Watch Me Move shows that the moving force in animation is the power of imagining.
The exhibition title comes from a sequence from a short made by Winsor McCay 100 years ago. It's simply a parade of hand-coloured archetypes – prince, clown, dragon, princess – each of which demonstrates the tricks of their maker's relatively novel trade, stretching, squashing and morphing comically into other forms. The animation may strike us now as basic and repetitive, but its effect is far from simple. Harnessing the cyphers of childhood stories, McCay's little entertainment taps into the collective unconscious. In their comings and goings from and into nowhere, too, these storybook figures assume the character of our dreams – a recurring feature in this absorbing show.
The selection is divided into loose themes – apparitions, superhumans, fables, visions – set over two floors, though you need a good three or four hours to do justice to it all. The Berlin-based design company Chezweitz & Roseapple has divided some of the space into cubicles, screened with black net, with nylon filament doors that drape over you like cobwebs as you pass silently through. Double-sided screens hang on the net walls, so you get a double chance to see some things. Further on, a room showing a film on each wall contains padded booths with directional speakers, so you're never bothered by overlap. The largest room encourages you to lounge on leather pouffes wearing headphones. Apart from some slightly whimsical captioning, the layout is helpful, and makes you want to linger.
Included in the first section are experiments with photography and physics, as well as early comic marvels such as The Skeleton's Dance, created as part of Disney's Silly Symphonies of 1929. It makes a marked contrast with the Lumière brothers' own dancing skeleton, Squelette joyeux: same theme, younger technology.
The thematic approach means that recent work can be viewed alongside archive items: McCay's Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) with Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1993), while in John Lasseter's two-minute short for Pixar (1986), two Anglepoise lamps, one big, one small, sweetly assume the character of a dinosaur parent and child.
On a large scale, though, the piece that held me longest was Run Wrake's 2005 film Rabbit, which spookily appropriates 1950s educational picture-book illustrations (complete with captions such as "girl", "boy", "tree"), to spin a macabre tale of two children who, on cutting open a rabbit (don't ask), discover a genie that can turn base objects into jewels. Fabulous stuff, that, alas, won't be showing in a cinema near you any time soon.
Until 11 Sep (0845 120 7550)
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Professional big game hunter Ian Gibson crushed to death by elephant during hunt
- 4 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Game of Thrones season 5: Emilia Clarke praises characters who 'accept their femininity'
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Glastonbury 2015 tickets: How to make sure you’re successful in Sunday's re-sale
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate