Tag: animation

Movie Review: Ookami kodomo no Ame to Yuki (Wolf Children) (2012)


Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles’s computer.

When university student Hana meets a quiet, lonely man in one of her lectures, the attraction is instantaneous. She soon discovers he is the last of a family of wolf-people, but that does not change her feelings for him. They move in together and have two children, and tragically he is killed in an accident shortly after the second child is born. Hana quickly realizes her offspring are shapeshifters, with the ability to turn into wolves, and she moves her family out to the country with the hope that they’ll be safe from prying eyes and can find a way to reconcile their dichroic heritage by being closer to nature. The daughter, Yuki, is a wild and emotional child, but once she goes to school she grows into a relatively average teenage girl, embarrassed by her abilities and endeavoring to live as a human first and foremost. Her little brother Ame is a shy and scared child, but finds his confidence and self-worth in giving in to his wolf side, retreating to the mountains surrounding their home instead of attending classes. Hana works hard to both provide for her children and understand what they are going through, but worries she cannot help them without wolf-knowledge of her own.

Despite its somewhat silly premise, Wolf Children is a complex and gut-wrenching drama that truly seeks to examine the intensity, challenges, and rewards of single motherhood. I know the title insinuates that the children are the focus, but for me Hana’s character was the true standout, she’s just this phenomenal, impossibly strong woman whose struggle felt real and significant and funny and fascinating. Her kids are downright adorable as only anime kids can be, and it was a real treat to watch them grow up, but I always came back to her story, her experience. Here is a woman who is left with a daunting task, and though she is unsure of herself she remains determined to see it through. She teaches herself about medicine, home improvement, farming, animals, sewing, and anything else she might require to provide for her family, and then she GETS TO WORK. She never asks for help, but takes it as it comes when her neighbors start to offer it, and she always puts Ame’s and Yuki’s needs before her own. I’ll admit that motherhood is a foreign concept to me, an instinct I’ve never had and not a path I’ve chosen not to go down, but I felt such admiration for Hana and her incredible dedication. She is basically a superwoman and yet is never recognized for it, and in the end it was her my heart went out to as Yuki narrated their story.

Rendered in soft colors and incredibly detailed in its depiction of movement, this film is easily one of the most visually stunning animes I’ve seen. Every surface, from water and foliage to domestic interiors and urban streets, is drawn with meticulousness and obvious relish. I remember being similarly wowed by director Mamoru Hosoda’s visual mastery with his previous effort, Summer Wars, but Wolf Children‘s natural wonders are far from the techno-futuristic sheen of that film’s standout scenes, indicating an impressive dexterity in Hosoda’s artistic vision. I loved the fluidity of motion and expression, the reflective surfaces, the use of sight gags throughout to add a dose of humor. I loved the clever transitions that showed the years passing as Ame and Yuki grew up. I loved how the music perfectly matched the visual style, hitting every emotional beat until I was (unsuccessfully) holding back tears at the end.

Wolf Children is a film composed primarily of small moments, of sibling squabbles and teen angst, of motherly devotion and lingering grief. Its story is inventive and strange but its themes are universal and affecting, with a trio of compelling characters at its center and a sophisticated animation style. I found the whole thing really beautiful.


Pair This Movie With: Terminator 2: Judgment Day. No, wait! Hear me out! Wolf Children is a movie about a kickass mom who fights like hell to protect her children from outside forces who might hurt them or take them away from her. She dedicates her whole life to them and her personality adjusts itself to fit this new role. This is basically the plot of T2, only that one has robots. OR for an equally excellent Mamoru Hosoda/Satoko Okudera team-up, there’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

Art: Wangechi Mutu’s Grossly Beautiful Collage

yomammaWangechi Mutu: Yo Mamma, 2003. via Nasher Museum of Art

Combining diverse artistic approaches–including ink drawing, collage, installation, painting, video, and animation–and commenting slyly on race, gender, colonialism, and sexuality in her subject matter, Wangechi Mutu has always most attracted me with her work’s sickly beauty. There’s something so eye-catching yet simultaneously upsetting about her mixed-media compositions, they force viewers to look first for pleasure and then again for meaning. Born in Nairobi, Kenya, and educated at Cooper Union and Yale University, Mutu has been exhibiting since the late 90s but seems to be gaining more and more recognition in recent years, with a major solo museum exhibition that is ending its national tour at Northwestern University this fall. Her work has primarily focused on subversions of the female form, which Helaine Posner describes as a “cross-cultural look at the exoticized, eroticized, and demonized female body, particularly the black female body, as the repository of society’s fascination and fears” (The Reckoning). Her female figures tend to be elongated and contorted, at times even lumpy, made up of disparate pieces that seem to call out the innumerable expectations, presumptions, and stereotypes placed upon women in general by contemporary societies, and on black women specifically.

Many of her pieces mix pornographic imagery with ethnographic photography like that seen in National Geographic. In her series of collages collectively titled The Ark Collection, she playfully and pointedly juxtaposes black female porn models with details of Masai tribal textiles, jewelry, and figures taken from popular snaps by photojournalist Carole Beckwith. Mutu intentionally draws associations between the hyper-sexualization of black women in contemporary media and the long-held Western fascination with women living in so-called “primitive” or “exotic” cultures. Complex and confrontational, these works are also intriguingly beautiful, inviting viewers to consider how their different parts add up to a bitingly satirical whole. In these as in other works, we see a kind of dualism, which Mutu has herself described: “I was thinking in terms of two histories; I was moving from seeing myself as a person from Kenya in America, to seeing myself as a fusion of the two. When two ideas come together, it doesn’t always create a very logical result, it doesn’t add up to what people expect, and you can’t tell where one begins and where one ends” (“Resonant Surgeries: The Collaged World of Wangechi Mutu”).

Mutu- the ark collection2Wangechi Mutu: The Ark Collection, 2006. via Border Crossings Magazine

Mutu- the ark collectionWangechi Mutu: The Ark Collection, 2006. via Border Crossings Magazine

In many of her more recent pieces, the artist works on a large scale (about life-size for her figures) to create mixed-media representations of female-animal-plant hybrids, seemingly amorphous bodies that exist in fantastical landscapes. Her imagery seems to reference everything from environmental concerns and sci-fi technology to high fashion models and acid flashbacks. It is easy to draw a line between her work and the early cut-up collages by Picasso (which she cites as an influence), the gritty, exaggerated bodies of Egon Schiele, the overlapping composite paintings of Francis Picabia, and the grotesque figures of Georg Baselitz; however, Mutu brings the aesthetic of these white male modernists into the current age, and infuses it with her unique perspective, gendered and racial experience, and cultural signifiers. Of her identity as a black woman artist, she has commented, “Part of my baggage with feminism is that it still hasn’t taken into consideration the work done by women outside America and Europe. We’re coming from very different behavioural patterns as far as how the patriarchy expressed itself on us. European and American women occupy a very different space from African women, and even that is too general because there are different countries with different histories and different religions… I still feel there are many battles to be fought concerning how women are placed in society” (“Resonant Surgeries: The Collaged World of Wangechi Mutu”).

Another thing I appreciate about Wangechi Mutu is how she elevates the collage technique to a higher plane, as it is not typically considered a “high art” form. Many well-known artists have worked in collage (Picasso himself was a pioneer of the medium), but it is rarely considered a primary approach for major artists aside from someone like Hannah Höch or Richard Hamilton. I’ve never been quite sure why, I assume it has something to do with the typically small size of collaged works, or perhaps that it is by nature appropriative. Mutu’s life-size scale and expert utilization of different media, along with her captivatingly bold visual style, lend her collages a dynamism and confrontationalism that is not so often communicated with small cut-paper collage. She continues the practice’s tradition of using found imagery to comment on societal and cultural issues, but is not obvious about it in the way the Constructivists and Pop artists were, nor so cheeky as Dada artists, preferring to hint and cajole until her audience realizes the profound subtleties found within. Her figures suggest characters, her compositions suggest narrative settings, and we are allowed free reign as viewers to examine closely how she employs symbolic imagery, and how these women are positioned and what their gestures or actions may indicate. Her imagination and expansive artistic vocabulary continually blow me away, and here I’ve only scratched the surface of her varied output (she’s probably most known for her mixed media works, but she also does performance, installation, sculpture, and film). Actually, I should just take a step back and let her work speak for itself.


untitled-640x845Wangechi Mutu: Untitled, 2003. via Wangechi Mutu

onceuponatimeWangechi Mutu: Once upon a time she said, I’m not afraid and her enemies became afraid of her The End, 2013. via Nasher Museum of Art

ridingdeathWangechi Mutu: Riding Death in My Sleep, 2002. via Nasher Museum of Art

Mutu- Forensic_Forms_5-598x845Wangechi Mutu: Forensic Forms, 5 of 10, 2004. via Wangechi Mutu

Wangechi Mutu - SantigoldWangechi Mutu: The End of Eating Everything, 2013. See a clip of the short film. Film still via Wangechi Mutu

Mutu: Fish-Trinity-1100x728Wangechi Mutu: Sketchbook Drawing (Fish Trinity), 2011. via Wangechi Mutu

MutuWangechi Mutu: Blue Rose, 2007. via Wangechi Mutu

misguidedWangechi Mutu: Misguided Little Unforgivable Hierarchies, 2005. via Nasher Museum of Art

People-in-Glass-Towers-Should-Not-Imagine-Us-EDITED-1100x766Wangechi Mutu: People in Glass Towers Should Not Imagine Us, 2003. via Wangechi Mutu

Mutu_361_TheStormHasFinallyMadeItOutOfMe_loresWangechi Mutu: The Storm Has Finally Made It Out Of Me Alhamdulillah, 2003. via Wangechi Mutu

Me.I1-1100x675Wangechi Mutu: Me.I., 2012. via Wangechi Mutu


Robert Enright and Wangechi Mutu. “Resonant Surgeries: The Collaged World of Wangechi Mutu.Border Crossings Magazine.

Helaine Posner. “Wangechi Mutu.” The Reckoning: Women Artists in the New Millennium. Prestel Publishing, 2013.

Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey.” Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

Wangechi Mutu artist site.

Exhibitions: Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg at ICA Boston

djurberg-glass6Nathalie Djurberg: A World of Glass, 2011. Installation view. All photos by the author.

When I heard that one of the newer exhibits at the Institute of Contemporary Art would feature stop-motion animation, I was pretty damned excited. Basically all I ever want in any visual entertainment is stop-motion animation, for real. But that description is only scratching the surface of Nathalie Djurberg’s work, produced in conjunction with her partner, Hans Berg, a composer. Djurberg combines elements of installation, sculpture, video, and sound to create her immersive room-size works, the newest of which is titled A World of Glass. For this piece, viewers enter an enclosed dark room lined with several rows of long tables, upon which rest hosts of small translucent sculpture- resembling glass but actually rendered in polyurethane. On all four walls are projected four different films, short claymation stories featuring violent and sexual interactions between humans and animals. Over the presentation Hans Berg’s eerie, ethereal soundscape plays, establishing a quiet, strange mood throughout.

Born in Sweden and now based in Berlin, Djurberg is known for her bizarre, surreal imagery and unexpected pairings of sex and violence. Scholar Nancy Princenthal sees her compositions as examinations of human and animal relationships “both from the point of view of humanity’s inherent bestiality–understood, conventionally, to mean our lust, hunger, viciousness–and from the perspective of our physical domination” (The Reckoning, 90). Her figures are crude and colorful, taking on a kind of naive look in their imperfect, thumbprinted surfaces and exaggerated facial features. In previous installations, Djurberg has created mid-size sculptures in the same style as her animated characters, as in The Parade (exhibited at the Walker in 2011). For A World of Glass, she casts household objects and kitchenwares into unreal glass-like sculptures. Viewers walk among the long tables on which they stand unguarded, treading carefully for fear of smashing them into pieces. The irony is, of course, that they are not actually glass but polyurethane, thick and sturdy despite their appearance of fragility. They are detailed and a little strange, some misshapen and even lumpen, others perfect in their recreation, all slightly aglow in the darkened space.

djurberg-glass1Nathalie Djurberg: A World of Glass, 2011. Installation view.

djurberg-glass2Nathalie Djurberg: A World of Glass, 2011. Installation view.

I like these devious little sculptures, but I’m really there for the animation, which is itself captivating, and decidedly off-putting. In one film, a naked woman is melting like butter, both helped and hindered by the advances of a large bull who attempts to lick her back into shape. In another, a naked man wrestles with crocodiles and hippos that snap their jaws in anticipation of a meal, but when he dons a red fox-like mask he seems to gain the upper hand and their battle starts to resemble an orgy. In the third, a black woman (whose features resemble a caricature, but I’m not sure if that was intentional or if it’s just the result of Djurberg’s cartoonish style) sits in a room made of ice, surrounded by various animals. She continually catches herself in a large bear trap, and the animals can only help her escape by chewing off her appendages. In the final film, a furry bison attempts to remain still in a room full of glass objects (echoing the sculptures in the gallery), but eventually knocks over several shelves and they all shatter.

djurberg-glass5Nathalie Djurberg: I am a Wild Animal, 2011.

djurberg-glass3Nathalie Djurberg: My Body is a House of Glass, 2011.

The animation is somewhat stuttery and artificial, intentionally revealing strings and armatures, never fully committing to the films’ own fantasies despite their attention to detail. I find Djurberg’s imagery frightening but captivating, confusing but thought-provoking. She has noted that a formative experience for her was when a fellow student showed a hardcore porn film to her biology class. She was twelve. The apparent juxtaposition of childlike innocence with pornographic content is central to her videos on view in A World of Glass. The characters shift between victims and aggressors multiple times, and no one appears to maintain control of their situation. The women seem to find equal parts delight and discomfort in their own sexual liberation. There is pleasure and pain, creation and destruction, humor and horror, color and darkness, and a lot of weirdness. I find the work as a whole wonderfully original, but also unsettling. Which may well be the artist’s intention. Curator Anna Stothart concludes:

“Trespassing the border between good and evil, this remarkable and unsettling work updates the traditional folktale and suggests that the hierarchies and distinctions that uphold societal organization are simply a response to the voracious, and amoral, demands of our so-called animal nature. While the lessons of A World of Glass are patently unclear, the installation invites us into an alternate world in which can confront aspects of our own desires and demons.”


Flowers & Mushrooms. Ed. Toni Stooss. Hirmer Publishers, 2014.

Eleanor Heartney, Helaine Posner, Nancy Princenthal, and Sue Scott. The Reckoning: Women Artists of the New Millennium. Prestel, 2013.

Anna Stothart. Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg: A World of Glass. Exhibition Booklet. Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, 2014.

Exhibitions: “Paweł Althamer: The Neighbors” at The New Museum

althamer-studyfromnature-1991Paweł Althamer: Study From Nature, 1991 (detail). All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

I visited the New Museum in New York for the first time a few weeks ago, and had a really good experience overall. (Though that spaceship thing was kind of a let down.) It’s kind of a strange building, an assortment of rooms piled on top of each other in a jumbled tower, with each floor serving as a single exhibition space. The main exhibit on view was devoted to Polish sculptor Paweł Althamer, spanning four floors and revealing the artist’s aesthetic innovation as well as his tendency to collaborate with people outside the art world establishment. I started at the top and worked my way down, and at first found his different practices unconnected and a little confusing, but gradually these seemingly disparate elements came together in exciting ways.

The first piece, Draftsmen’s Congress, is a full-gallery installation, a notable exercise in interactivity and art-as-play. Originally presented at the Berlin Biennial in 2012, the work began as a blank white room, which over the course of the exhibition became inundated with additions in paint and crayon, splattered along every surface, including the floor. Althamer also ran sculptural workshops to make new works for the space, which over time were also painted by visitors. I was immediately taken with the concept of this piece- at first sight I was just excited to be in such a colorful, playful room, and when I realized I could add my own mark, I was overjoyed. While my companion drew adorable birdies, I wrote a few key phrases. As a whole the work is fun and liberating, allowing visitors to freely express themselves, to collaborate, and to bask in the beauty of a space completely transformed by art. The room itself is a memorial to the people who visited during the exhibition’s run, marked by people of all ages and backgrounds, recording their names or dates or thoughts or drawings. It was also a very positive space, with lots of inspirational messages written throughout. My words weren’t quite so uplifting, but still pretty important to share, I think.

althamer-draftsmanscongressPaweł Althamer: Draftsmen’s Congress, 2014.

althamer-draftsmanscongress2Paweł Althamer: Draftsmen’s Congress, 2014. My addition.

althamer-draftsmanscongress3Paweł Althamer: Draftsmen’s Congress, 2014. My addition.

The next floor collected together a number of Althamer’s sculpture, proving a rather jarring shift from the previous installation. They are primarily figurative, life-size, made of biological material such as hemp, hair, hay, animal intestines, and wood. Some are clothed, some are nude, some are metal, some are abstracted. They are all to some extent unnerving, rendering the viewer uncomfortable through their use of animal and human matter, their confrontational gazes, and, often, the disenfranchised people they represent. Some of them are the result of collaborative projects, though (Maika Pollack notes) that is not always made clear in their presentation at the museum. The dominant piece is Matea, a cast-aluminum scene that came from a 2006 action performed in tandem with Althamer’s wife, Matejka. The couple set up a traditional sculptor’s studio in Greece, with each modeling for the other. Althamer cast this piece as a way to immortalize their collaboration, and the work is as much hers as it is his. A striking work in the corner called Black Market involved African immigrants whom Althamer had met in Warsaw and invited to carve small sculptures out of ebony wood. They themselves were not skilled as artisans, and through their participation Althamer hoped to break down barriers between artist and non-artist, while also referencing racial barriers in the art world and the historical notion of Primitivism. But, their names are not included in the museum wall text- they are simply presented as generalized African immigrants. Not really making any strides for black artists here. Further stressing the collaborative (but uncredited) aspects of his practice, music played by street musicians positioned in the lobby was pumped into the gallery, though I never knew the name of the person playing. By the time I reached the lobby, I forgot to check.

althamer-matea2006-08Paweł Althamer: Matea, 2006/2008.

althamer-spinasuitcase-1996Paweł Althamer: Self Portrait in a Suitcase, 1996.

althamer-blackmarket-2007Paweł Althamer: Black Market, 2007.

althamer-selfportrait-1993Paweł Althamer: Self Portrait, 1993.

Easily my favorite work was Mezalia, a stop-motion short film and its accompanying set, produced in collaboration with artist Paulina Antoniewicz and filmmaker Jacek Taszakowski. Stop-motion animation is one of my favorite art forms and it’s always fascinating to see the behind-the-scenes elements. The set is a miniature beach, with scattered trees and buildings, and a dock stretching over a mirrored surface. Two boys sit listlessly near the water with their new toy sailboat. Across from this set, a smaller structure is made up as a derelict, unfurnished apartment with a little Althamer stand-in peering sadly out the window at the boys. The film itself was sort of hidden on the other side of the gallery in the middle of a stairway, but I was happy to find it. Its style reminded of The Adventures of Mark Twain, both visually and thematically, and the use of Althamer’s lonely figure staring into the past as a framing device laces the entire film with underlying melancholy.

althamer-mezaliaset-2010Paweł Althamer: Mezalia, 2010 (detail).

althamer-mezaliaset2-2010Paweł Althamer: Mezalia, 2010 (detail).

The final floor featured my other favorite work, The Venetians. Made for the 2013 Venice Bienniale, it is a full-gallery installation of grey sculpture with faces cast from people Althamer met on the streets of Venice. This random sampling is meant to portray the diversity of Venice while highlighting those on the fringes, a common trope in his work since his earlier projects neighbors in his hometown of Brodno, an impoverished suburb of Warsaw. The works combine realistic facial features with abstracted bodies, as slick plastic is draped and stretched over steel armatures to form limbs and torsos. Life-size, they are placed throughout the gallery in different poses, so that viewers can walk among them- as on a city street, presumably. The effect is beautiful and uncanny and kind of funny all at once. In four corners of the space an earlier project is worked into The Venetians, a video series from 2003 called So-Called Waves and other Phenomena of the Mind which includes footage of the artist taking different drugs and undergoing hypnosis. I’ll admit I didn’t really pay much attention to these pieces, mostly because I was so captivated by the sculpture. And one of them shows Althamer watching his daughter’s birth and that kind of thing grosses me out so I walked away.

althamer-venetians-2013Paweł Althamer: The Venetians, 2013 (detail).

PAWEL-slide-OP2A-superJumboPaweł Althamer: The Venetians, 2013. Installation view. via The New York Times

PAWEL-slide-4746-superJumboPaweł Althamer: The Venetians, 2013 (detail). via The New York Times

althamer-socalledwaves-2003Paweł Althamer: So-Called Waves and Other Phenomena of the Mind, 2003-04. Installation view.

This was my first exposure to Althamer, and it was a lot to process. I enjoyed the exhibit overall, taken with his bizarre sculptural style and interactive components of works like The Draftsmen’s Congress. Since my visit I’ve thought and read more about his projects, his collaborations, and how he is received and exhibited. Generally it seems he uses his art world cachet to promote his collaborative projects, and works diligently to bring his own art knowledge to communities who might not have access to art classes. The curators do not always mention or focus on the collaborators in Althamer’s work, sparking questions of authorship, but I would see that as more of a problem with the New Museum’s presentation than Althamer’s actual artistic practice.

Festival Review: The Congress (2014)


Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, part of the Boston Underground Film Festival.

Beginning in an almost-real version of the real world, The Congress centers on Robin Wright, playing struggling actress Robin Wright, once-beloved star of The Princess Bride whose career has gone sour after years of missed roles and bad film choices. Now in her 40s, Robin devotes much of her time caring for her sick teenaged son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is slowly losing his hearing and sight. When a cruel producer (Danny Huston) offers her an unbelievable contract, she decides to take it, resulting in her entire self being digitized. Her digital likeness is taken over by a studio conglomerate, which uses it to make new movies starring a younger, malleable, no-personal-melodrama version of Robin Wright, while the real one is no longer allowed to act. Twenty years later, she meets with the company to negotiate a new contract, but finds that the world is changing faster than she anticipated, with a new chemical process that allows humans to view the world as a cartoon, changing themselves and everything around them through drug-fueled imagination.

Positioning its characters between the contrasting poles of heartbreaking realism and completely bonkers fantasy, The Congress juggles a multitude of ideas but manages to present a fairly cohesive story. By grounding his tale with a real-life protagonist, the actress Robin Wright, Folman is able to gradually incorporate stranger and stranger concepts, with the final destination barely resembling the starting point. The world he creates is definitely weird, distinguished by its ever-fluctuating landscape and psychedelic colors, populated by people who are limited only by the reach of their imaginations. The animation retains the superficial sheen and flatness of Folman’s previous film, Waltz with Bashir, but the visual style varies, overwhelming the viewer with different aesthetics and effects, conveying the befuddlement felt by Wright when she enters this unfamiliar animated world.


I loved it, but it’s not without its flaws. The animation just works, stringing together multiple influences and references but almost distracting me with that Flash-style feel, where everything is sort of disassociated. The story is all over the place, jumping across decades at different points to reflect the extreme changes in society, and attempting to simultaneously focus on Wright’s personal experiences of caring for (and later trying to locate) her son as well as the structure of this crazy future. But somehow it all mostly works, with Wright remaining strong as the protagonist whose confused perspective comes to mirror the audience’s. The whole thing is an emotional experience, weird and funny and satirical and inventive and honestly rather touching. I could tell that some people in the audience were left with a “Huh?” reaction, but I walked out feeling inspired and moved.


Pair This Movie With: I don’t know. I’m just drawing a blank here for any other movie, though I’m sure there are a few sci-fi ones that would be good. It’s up to you, I guess.