‘Diagrams of Motion’: Stop-Motion Animation as a Form of Kinetic Sculpture in the Short Films of Jan Švankmajer and the Brothers Quay
Jean-Luc Godard wrote that ‘The cinema is not an art which films life; the cinema is something between art and life’ (cited in Roud’s, 2010, biography of Godard), an observation particularly true of stop-motion animation. The filmmakers discussed in this essay, Jan Švankmajer and the Brothers Quay, share a fascination with the latent content of found objects; they believe that forgotten toys, discarded tools and other such objects contain echoes of past experiences. Extrapolating Švankmajer’s belief that memories are imparted to the objects we touch, the manipulation of his found objects as puppets in his films becomes a means of evoking and repurposing their latent content, just as the Quays develop their dreamlike films from the psychic content they perceive in their armatures. Making a case study of a selection of these animators’ short films, this article examines the practice of stop-motion animation against that of kinetic sculpture, unpicking the complexities of the relationship between the inherently static mediums of sculpture and photography – symbolic of a fixed moment in time – and that of stop-motion animation, a temporal pocket in which these fossilized moments are revived once more.