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Flock to "Flicker Fusion"

Don't miss the powerful, curious animation screening at DiverseWorks

Fans of independent film and animation should hurry to DiverseWorks to experience a real treat of an exhibition, "Flicker Fusion." Referring to the visual fusion produced by a continuous flow of video frames, the show loops through a 12-video cycle presented at seven viewing stations.

As you enter, the cacophonous sound produced by the simultaneous screenings is a little daunting, but later, the churning noise adds an interesting layer to the show as a whole.

Fashion and advertising get skewered in Ich Bin Ein Manipulator.
Courtesy of DiverseWorks
Fashion and advertising get skewered in Ich Bin Ein Manipulator.

Houston artist Wendy Wagner's The Eternity of a Second sets a nice tone for the abstract logic that reappears in some of the other films. Wagner's ethereal narrative involves characters from her paintings, rendered here in computer flash animation. The colorful, bizarre creatures resemble Pokémons and inhabit a Japanese-inspired cartoon milieu. Tootie, accompanied by her Flying Snouts — two vibrant cartoon noses — goes on a sightseeing tour of Earth "two seconds ago, in another dimension." They visit London, Mount Fuji and Hawaii, before an emergency calls them back to their reality. They find their way home by looking at the "pretty postcards" they'd accumulated on their journey. The film ends with the creatures frolicking in their upper atmosphere dimension with floating flowers and a frog applying lipstick.

The main gallery's central viewing station screens a piece by Brent Green, who performed with his band at the exhibit's opening on January 11. Green is a self-taught animator, and his visual world is decidedly grim, with many of his works dealing with death and loss. Hadacol Christmas is one of Green's lighter works, imagining the origin of Christmas as a cough syrup-induced rampage by a bony, withered Santa. Smashed on Hadacol, a discontinued alcoholic cure-all, Santa rains down junk from his flying sled upon a little town. There's also a side plot involving dead crows. The animation is set to a live recording of Green performing with the Chicago band Califone. Because of the delicate volume level required to sustain the exhibit's interactivity, Hadacol Christmas's audio is somewhat drowned out. It's okay, though, because Green's imagery is engaging enough to keep our interest. We hear Green's music (part bluegrass/part drone-rock) and his quavering voice (reminiscent of Daniel Johnston), and it's enough audio to support the progression of images. Green utilizes stop-motion animation with transparencies, paper and Scotch tape, creating a shaky, flickery, constructivist realm inhabited by spindly, desiccated characters that move with surprising fluidity. Green definitely has a handle on movement in relation to weight and speed.

Three small monitors display abstract animation by Jeff Scher, Scott Teplin and Bob Sabiston. Curator Diane Barber correctly chose video screens for these specimens, as they pay homage (perhaps in spite of themselves) to the computer screen saver. Sabiston's is the most technologically advanced of the three (he was head of animation for Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly), looping through a series of fluid kaleidoscopic movements, while the others employ old-school techniques in service of abstraction.

King Kong, by Federico Solmi, is a crude yet outrageous drawing animation that takes the iconic movie monster and transforms him into a lumbering pop-­culture critic. The mostly black-and-white video depicts the legendary super-ape going berserk in New York City, but it's updated for the present. Taking place on Novem­ber 30, 2005, and narrated by silent film-style text, like "King Kong loves the art world, in particular Gagosian Gallery," it shows Kong stomping through the streets, holding the Guggenheim Museum in his hands. He arrives at Gagosian and pulverizes the gallery, wielding the Guggenheim as a sledgehammer, then visits Wall Street and snacks on stockbrokers like they're popcorn shrimp. Brandishing the golden arches ripped off a McDonald's, he battles the Statue of Liberty, climbs a skyscraper and urinates on the city, and is eventually dispatched, to the outro of Eric Clapton's "Layla." Solmi takes the opportunity, since "finally the world of assholes was over," to declare himself and his wife the Lord's chosen saviors of Earth, and they mechanically produce children, replicas of themselves in piles of babies — the end.

And in the end, Solmi isn't really in critical mode. He seems more concerned with projecting disparity or absurdity. Imagining himself as humanity's hero with a huge schlong, he walks a comedic avenue much like the one Sacha Baron Cohen travels.

Worth a look at its night-and-day cross-section of urban life populated by pictograph people (like the ones on public information signs), Lars Arrhenius's The Street is an amusing microcosm of monotony. Against a backdrop of ambient city noise, the cookie-cutter figures wake up, go to work, work out, go home, watch TV, make love, go to sleep and start all over again. Wonderful touches include a grim reaper stalking around a hospital, a homeless man and his dog — all the dogs are Scottish terriers — and a prostitute (watch closely or you'll miss her) who strikes a hand-on-hip pose for a few moments and then skulks off.

Not to be missed is one walled-off station screening works by Martha Colburn, Andrew Jeffrey Wright and Clare Rojas. Of all the animators here, Colburn is the rock star of "Flicker Fusion." Her works have been screened at the Sundance Film Festival, including a piece of animation she made for the award-winning documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, and in the '90s she was one part of the improvisational noise-rock duo the Dramatics. She created a music video for the acclaimed San Francisco band Deerhoof, and if that's not rock star enough, she's based in L.A., New York City and Amsterdam. Her contribution to "Flicker Fusion" is a 2007 video, Meet Me in Wichita. The stop-motion work melds photography, painting and mixed media into a muscular, transfixing mixture of movie mythology and American foreign policy. Using The Wizard of Oz as backdrop, Colburn injects Osama bin Laden into the narrative as Wicked Witch of the Middle East, among other demonic incarnations. He torments Dorothy, arranging a dogfight, in a sense, between his black cat and Toto. After the cat brutally decapitates Toto, the Tin Man, the Lion and the flying monkeys take revenge on bin Laden, dropping bombs and disemboweling him. Somehow, though, bin Laden's "essence" escapes in the form of a bat. Colburn's imagery is relentlessly mauling in its intensity. There are faint echoes of Saddam Hussein's cameos in South Park, though the humor here is fleeting and bone-dry.

I wish Colburn's Destiny Manifesto were screening here as well. It's very much a companion piece to Meet Me in Wichita in its exploration of parallels between Old West battles (cowboys and Native Americans), and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (draw your own connections).

Hands down the most entertaining video is Ich Bin Ein Manipulator by Wright & Rojas. Fashion and advertising get skewered and manipulated in this elaborate excuse to destroy magazines. Page by page, monsters emerge from fashion ads and models' faces melt off. E.T.'s head sprouts from a female mannequin's neck, one model sports a literal camel toe, Christian Bale's face morphs into an alien skull, a cow standing on a tree stump squirts milk into a model's eye, and a Buddhist monk self-immolates over a Versace ad, all set to silly ping-boing sound effects. Eventually, the video's creators let us know how they really feel about their subject, once their creative juices peak and must be, well, released. It's all tidied up and wrapped by the word "ende."

"Flicker Fusion" has its filler, like Zhou Xiaohu's repetitive and pretentious clay animation Crowd Around, which wears out its gimmick quickly. And Home Video by Kota Ezawa never materializes into much of anything except a cartoonish suburban home in daylight and nighttime. I kept waiting for Hello Kitty to run across the screen. On the whole, though, "Flicker Fusion" is a fantastic buffet of powerful and curious animation.

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