Most of us learned about collage through construction paper and a pair of stubby scissors in elementary school. Collage animators took that early training and sliced it into art.
Online at 516arts.org, “Cut Up or Shut Up!” is a compendium of collage animation dating from the 1920s to the 2000s. The international collection includes several of the “first wave” of collage animators who created this experimental work in cut and paste format before the advent of the internet.
Its companion exhibit “Collage in Motion” gathers examples by contemporary animators, curated by independent filmmaker Lisa Barcy, who teaches animation at Chicago’s DePaul University.
Curator Bryan Konefsky, the president of Basement Films and an associate professor at the University of New Mexico, lifted the title “Cut Up or Shut Up!” from a 1972 text by Beat writer William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin. The pair explored a cut-up writing technique first popularized in the 1960s.
Burroughs “would take a typewritten page and cut it into pieces,” Konefsky said. “He would mix them together, making a new kind of almost surreal, subconscious meaning come through.”
The same can be said of these short films, with their jagged or non-existent story lines and spiraling images sutured together into alternate realities.
Comprised of still images shot at Paris’ Orly Airport, “La Jetée” forms a post-apocalyptic story of time travel by Chris Marker in 1962.
Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam credited it as the inspiration for his 1995 film “12 Monkeys.”
The title of Virgil Widrich’s 2003 “Fest Film” refers to a form of celluloid stock that absorbs light quickly. Comprised of hundreds of clips, it was shot in 16 mm pre-computer animation using color photocopies for each frame.
An origami horse gallops across the film, its folded back transformed into a kaleidoscope of film history.
Humphrey Bogart kisses Lauren Bacall, then a speeding train heads to derailed disaster, blaring snippets of films starring Cary Grant, Tippi Hedren, Grace Kelly, Harrison Ford, Audrey Hepburn, Sean Connery, even Buster Keaton and “Frankenstein” splashed across its box cars.
Lotte Reiniger’s “Cinderella,” with its series of black silhouettes acting out the classic fairy tale, dates to 1922 Germany. Reiniger was the pioneering exception to what had largely been a boy’s club. Her work is memorialized in the Lotte Reiniger Museum in Tubingen, Germany.
Curator Lisa Barcy discovered collage animation by accident when she took a film class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
“I think part of it was just my growing up obsessed with cartoons,” she said in a telephone interview. “When I was a kid, I didn’t realize it was a job.”
She grew up to become an independent filmmaker whose animated films have been screened internationally.
“I definitely wouldn’t call it a trend,” she said of the works she brought to the show. “It’s one of those things that’s always been there.”
Barcy included Gretchen Hasse’s 2020 work “We Are Fighting You Now” into the show for its emphasis on protest.
“Her work is very socially conscious,” Barcy said. “It’s sort of a rallying cry for everybody to join the fight. It honors activists.”
Miwa Matreyek’s 2012 “Lumerence” combines flying eggs with images of lips and eyes emerging from mountains and cliffs in a surrealist fantasy.
“It’s such a dense piece,” Barcy said.”It was this meditation on the origins of the universe in general.”
Laurie O’Brien based her post-apocalyptic film “Arithmetic” on a book by the novelist Richard Brautigan.
“That’s a trope that’s so popular right now for obvious reasons,” Barcy said. “She’s thinking about it on a whole different level. It doesn’t go to the ‘Mad Max’ territory.”
Barcy’s own film “Fôret” (“Forest”) amounts to an hypnotic bombardment of color and shapes.
“It was sort of the detritus of the forest,” she said. “It was mostly me trying to use up a lot of materials. It was all paper shot traditionally with a camera.”