How we come from stars. Continuing experimental vignettes. Chamoe in festivals; the magic of composites; aggression and abstraction; post-gallery watermelon.
Sometimes as an antidote
To fear of death,
I eat the stars.
By now you’ve all seen James Webb’s fantastical Carina Nebula image that’s been making its dazzling rounds. Mixed in with technical terms like structure and deep field in NASA’s promotional parlance, is decidedly romantic language: stellar nursery, newborn stars, baby planets. It feels charmingly intimate, speaking in these terms about an otherwise unfathomable and breathtaking vastness.
It’s hard to even wrap my head around what it is I’m looking at, but I can recognize the enormity of scale—every tiny dot likely an entire solar system—so far away that the information took over 7000 years to get here. The technical mastery and precision required, 30 years in the delivering of the JWST, is astounding too—a 2 micron mirror-depth error had embarrassing consequences for its predecessor (a sheet of paper is 100 microns btw). It vexes comprehension further to realize that what we’re seeing is not what it is now; we’re looking at a projection of a long-gone past.
I MEAN. WHAT EVEN IS TIME.
Zooming waaay in, to a little Harlem studio back on Earth…I was originally going to write about malaise, despondency, and fatigue, because the past two weeks have been really hard for a variety of reasons. I’ve been cranky about the performative asks of industry, saddened by its effect on other writers, dealing with an unexpected and staggering family need from afar.
Then the crags of stars, birth and creation against the repetitive hammer of everything, snapped me out of myself. While some may be motivated by the desire to confirm that we’re not alone (the greater the expanse, the better the chances); comfort for me comes from the reminder that what we are living, and where we are, what we are, is not the end of it—there’s more than this, more than us.
Our triviality is not just a wonder—it’s an immense relief.
And when I can allow myself to see the small struggling beauty of us, I might also, begrudgingly, marvel at the regality of our celestial lineage. The jaw-dropping fact that we come from stars.
Thank you JWST: we needed this.
News: my animated short Chamoe in upcoming festivals
WIP: more experimental vignettes, with sound
Provisions: a great summer exhibit, $1 watermelon, heavenly literature
NYC gem: a new happy hour spot in Manhattan for oysters
Quick recap: I premiered an animated short this past May, after documenting its making in this newsletter for about a year. Now the process is starting all over again! You’re seeing my next film come to life behind the scenes as I share pages from the sketch book, ideas and experiments, how I’m refueling in and out of the studio.
First—Chamoe has been selected for another festival! It’s going to screen right here in NYC next month, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music 🙀 as a part of Animation Block Party’s 2022 Summer Fest.
And I can finally announce that Chamoe is also an official selection of Ukraine’s Linoleum Festival (September), in a program alongside veterans like Sophie Koko Gate 🙀🙀
The film is now locked on Vimeo until 2023 but here’s the trailer if you haven’t seen it:
From Linoleum: “For the past 8 years, Linoleum has tried to build and develop the animation industry in Ukraine, showcasing the world’s best animation and gathering foreign and Ukrainian professionals in Kyiv. Although we planned an offline edition, due to the Russian invasion and constant bombings, only online format is now possible for us…In these horrific times, we believe that culture can still serve as distraction and therapy for those in need. Also, we believe that stopping is a wrong decision.”
Poet Ilya Kaminsky’s “Poems in a Time of Crisis” comes to mind again:
I ask how I can help. Finally, an older friend, a lifelong journalist, writes back: “Putins come and go. If you want to help, send us some poems and essays. We are putting together a literary magazine.” In the middle of war, he is asking for poems.
I’m incredibly honored and proud to stand in defiance with Ukraine in this way, to contribute in what small way I can as an artist.
Experimental vignettes with sound
As I shared last time, I’m investigating the Korean War and diasporic memory for my next animated short. The past few weeks, I continued to work through concepts and hypotheses via animated vignettes.
I’ve been obsessed with morning and evening shadows on my studio wall as I think about the nature of memory, and time. The way they become diffuse and vague, then coalesce starkly in a slow unending cycle, is mesmerizing.
To try and approximate the visual effect, I took to paper with watercolor and sumi ink:
My priority was to make specific observations around ink versus paint, levels of pigment dilution, and type of paper—so I wasn’t precious about it:
After production in Photoshop:
So far, I haven’t been able to justify the time and effort (I came to a similar conclusion before) but I can increasingly see why I might want to invest in analog techniques. Painting on glass (destructive), single-canvas painting (also destructive), or using true watercolor paper, for slower, more nuanced sequences, might produce results that I find more compelling. But all of these require expensive new gear, give me mild panic attacks, and add to production time—the opposite of how I want to work on my next film.
Ultimately of course: whatever the story asks for.
Here’s a peek at two other vignettes I worked on, all stylistic departures for me.
In the first, “Dokkebi/도깨비,” the Korean word for “goblin,” I explored ways to infuse feelings of power, accusation, and aggression into a narrative where women traditionally present as victims. The animation has a discordant feel, with harsh, sudden transitions. Set to pounding electronic music—see below. The composite:
The second, “Shades,” began with a sketch. Women fleeing on a sinuous dirt path during the war, single file, as I’ve seen in many photographs.
I went more stylistically severe and abstract than usual, using repetition and slower pacing to feel out concepts like magnitude, passage of time, pernicious continuity. The composites:
For movement, I was inspired by the iconic “Kingdom of the Shades” scene in La Bayadère. I saw it for the first time on television as a child, completely by chance, and I’ve never forgotten it. I remember being transfixed by the seemingly endless procession of “shades,” their deep, synchronized arabesques, a ghostly dance repeated over and over again:
As you can see, my experiments from the past weeks present an eclectic mix in style and vibe as I marinate in thoughts about memory, women, and the Korean War.
All of these are fragments of ideas, and they feel like pieces of a puzzle (multiple puzzles?) that I’m studying and trying to fit together.
Below, members can take a look at these vignettes (plus some extra ones) in the context of refined sequences with sound. I also share some gems and joys I’ve been taking in for creative nourishment: an exhibit in the Bowery featuring paintings by one of my fav animators; after which a cold slice of watermelon; in the evenings a new novel.
Plus, a new Manhattan happy hour spot for sub-$20 luxury.
Everyone else, see you in 2 weeks ❤️
A quick heads-up that membership will become $7mo/$70yr next week for new paid subscribers. This was the target from the beginning, but I’d been putting off the adjustment, not knowing how it would affect folks who’re already paying.
I can now confirm that changes do NOT affect existing members (by default, rates are fixed at time of paid subscription). Sign up before July 26th to lock in rates before they increase ✨
I constantly struggle with wanting to provide everything for free 😭 and the need to build a business. If you’re able, I hope you consider going paid 🙏
As always, I’m deeply grateful for your time, and for your support.
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