DIY animators get in The Zone

Peter Burr offers Tarkovsky ‘side-make’ with Special Effect

The rise of underground animators into the mainstream is nothing new but it still feels like a specific group is having its moment. From the unprecedented success of Adult Swim which has given work to a small handful of cult cartoonists to the recent launch of the Fox network’s ADHD programming block (an Adult Swim competitor with legendary Paper Rad ringleader Ben Jones on its staff alongside music from Lightning Bolt). What was once linked to the East Coast’s noise rock scene via Load Records Fort Thunder and the aforementioned Paper Rad among many others is slowly invading your television dial.

Peter Burr for what it’s worth is now hanging out with Tupac. Well not quite but the multidisciplinary artist has taken a contract with a New York-based firm with the same technology that brought the fallen rapper back to life as a hologram at Coachella last year.

Burr likely won’t be bringing Tupac with him when he comes to Calgary (“I’m working up to that”) but he will bring work from a vastly diverse group of artists and animators from all over the world (and in the case of Chad VanGaalen from our very own city). Showcasing his Special Effect show at GIRAF Burr is bringing commissioned animations from James Duesing Amy Lockhart Yoshi Sodeoka Billy Grant Michael Bell-Smith Ola Vasiljeva Jacob Ciocci (of Paper Rad fame) Andrew Benson Jeff Kriksciun Chad VanGaalen Philippe Blanchard E*Rock Luke Painter Brandon Blommaert Stu Hughes Devin Flynn Michael Robinson Sabrina Ratté and Brenna Murphy plus original music from Lucky Dragons and Seabat.

Independent animation fans know it’s a stacked bill to say the least but Special Effect is much more than a shorts package with a deep roster. “The gist of it is that it’s like a live cinema performance” says Burr. “People who are coming can expect a movie theatre experience. Of course there’s a live element that involves lasers fog live music live video manipulation and live special effects.”

The performance is an homage to Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker itself a loose adaptation of the Strugatsky brothers’ novel Roadside Picnic . The initial film explored “The Zone” a bizarre area that works outside of the laws of physics. Burr calls his Special Effect presentation a “side-make” adding that he sees it as a “late ’70s Soviet science fiction film that’s been contemporized and Americanized.”

“Somebody described this show as ‘viscous’ and I think that’s an on-point adjective” he adds. “I think of it in a way as a dark spa with the sub bass cranked up and the smoke and the lasers. Just a real dark spa. But then there are these subversions of that… there are these moments of levity that interrupt the sort of existential crisis that’s ultimately going on.”

The central piece of the work is Burr’s performance which was written with Maya Lubinsky and PFFR (the team behind cult classic TV shows like Wonder Showzen and Delocated ). By commissioning 30-second shorts from so many different artists however Burr has added a feeling of collaboration to the otherwise solitary performance.

“In working with other artists I was interested in the energy that exists outside of the individual’s mind and the individual’s ego” Burr says. “Tarkovsky part of the reason he’s so great was he had this huge ego and he was a very committed and devoted filmmaker with a lot of patience. You could see that in the film — it was a very singular vision. With this the interruption and disruption from me going into my own ego my own sort of psychoanalysis is allowing the sort of external world to come in.”

Burr’s no stranger to curating vast playlists of animated work. Since 2005 he’s run Cartune Xprez as a way to showcase up and coming animators. The project grew naturally out of Burr’s work in the interactive musical project Hooliganship which routinely incorporated visual elements into their performances and the Bookmobile Project which would bring zines visual art and workshops all over North America in a converted Airstream trailer. Burr adapted those models into Cartune Xprez as an effort to showcase the work of his fellow independent animators in 2005. “I wasn’t using YouTube then at all so it became a way of sharing all this great video work otherwise I had no idea how one would see that” he recalls.

After showcasing pre-existing work for close to a decade however Special Effect sees Burr commissioning brand new animations. “For the first time I’m not curating stuff that other people have made but I’m actually working with these artists who I’ve worked with for a long long time and asking them to make original content for the show.”

The larger scale work is indicative of underground animations’ sprawling reach — in addition to finding long-term day jobs Burr and his peers have exhibited work in renowned art galleries the world over. “One can only hope that the longer you’re doing something the more people end up seeing it that the project does expand” he says. “In a lot of ways things don’t feel different than they did in the beginning…. This stuff grew out of a DIY very logical and self-sustaining subculture. That has shifted… it’s a classic progression where people change people shift and do different things. As an artist that is engaged in this kind of DIY value and experimentation those venues need to change.”