Direct animation: Margaret Tait, Caroline Leaf and Annabel Nicolson
Land/Water and the Visual Arts research seminar
19 January 2011, Faculty of Arts, Scott Building, University of Plymouth
Frame from Annabel Nicholson's 16mm film 'Slides' (1971), made on teh contact film printer at the London Film Makers' Co-opPresentation of a written paper about the direct animation practice of three women artists, illustrated with an extract from Margaret Tait’s 35mm film Painted Eightsome (1970), the 70mm film Entre Deux Soeurs by Caroline Leaf (1990), and Annabel Nicolson’s 16mm film Slides (1971) made from 8mm and 16mm film fragments and 35mm transparencies of her paintings.

This talk is a work in progress: the beginning part of what will become part of my PhD thesis, a practice-based independent enquiry that aims to establish a personal perspective, as an artist film-maker at the beginning of the twentyfirst century, on the paradigm shifts in women's creative practice in animation from the 1970s onward.

The theoretical terrain from which it emerges has tended to be dominated by patriarchal hetereosexist discourse. My investigation is led by my own intuitive practice as an artist: the body of work created during the course of my project, together with my reflexive commentary on my work and key works by other artists, informed by my reading of Poststructuralist feminism and critical thinking about contemporary film and animation, forms the heart of the research.

The aim is to provide increased knowledge of feminine and feminist practices and subjectivities in the area of contemporary moving image and animation. In addition, I hope that my study will make a small contribution to our understanding of art and creative processes as academic research.

In his essay on femininity Sigmund Freud addressed what he called "the riddle of femininity" and summed-up a lifetime's psychoanalytical research into the subject. At the end, he gave this advice: "If you want to know more about femininity, inquire from your own experience of life, or turn to the poets, or wait until science will give you deeper and coherent information" (Freud 1933: 135).

Taking this cue, and including art within the poetic, my thesis, which adopts feminist perspectives, is led by my experience as a girl and as a woman, and is located within my critically reflexive practice as an artist film-maker. My research looks specifically at animation creative practice and gender, within the field of artists' moving image, from the 1970s until the present day.

In addition to my own subjective material, I draw upon the creative practice of other women makers - their work, and their own, and other's, commentaries upon their work. In order to gain additional perspectives, I refer to critical work by animation and moving image theorists, scholars, and historians, including Paul Wells, Esther Leslie, Malcolm Le Grice, David Curtis and others. My analysis is inflected principally through the lens of the feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray, and informed further by the writing of Hélène Cixous, and Julia Kristeva. The poet Harriet Tarlo has said that her most significant experience of land and water was the coast around Padstow in Cornwall, which she had visited 'since before she was born' (Tarlo 2009: 36). She said: "I have been here before", meaning: I have been here within my mother's womb. Her words, and the embodied subjectivities of place, time, genealogy, and memory resonate throughout my project; and in my thesis I seek to create what Irigaray terms my own 'personal collective history'.

In her book Je, tu, nous: towards a culture of difference in the section ‘How she became not-he’, the French philosopher Luce Irigaray highlighted the lack of the feminine, which she describes as having been made "non-masculine", in other words - "an abstract nonexistent reality" - by patriarchal cultures (Irigaray 1993: 20). She states that: "women find it so difficult to speak and to be heard as women. They are excluded and denied by the patriarchal linguistic order. They cannot be women and speak in a sensible, coherent manner" (Irigaray 1993: 20).

Irigaray believes that every individual "must recreate his or her own collective history" (1993: 28), but that for women the 'structuration' of the 'real world' environment is defined by the male cultural imaginary (1993: 35 - 42).

Later in the book, she calls for "attractive images" of mothers and daughters to be displayed prominently throughout cities and towns, in order to "give girls a valid representation of their genealogy, an essential condition for the constitution of her identity" (Irigaray 1993: 47 - 48).

Of course Irigaray was not calling - literally - for posters and photographs of women to be put up on walls, billboards, hoardings and screens as 'Big Sisters' to dominate the landscape of our lives. What she was bringing to our attention was the absence of women from a culture dominated by what she terms a "vicious" patriarchal phallocratic order (1993: 47), and she called for a complete restructuring of this cultural framework, in order to foster the emergence of new identities and subjectivities for women.

In an earlier work, Speculum of the other woman, Irigaray tackles Freud's concept of femininity, including the issue of representation: "an organized system whose meaning is regulated by paradigms and units of value that are in turn determined by male subjects". She proposes that: "the feminine must be deciphered as inter-dict: within the signs or between them" (1985: 22).

Irigaray considers this to be "one of the tasks of our time, following particularly from the discovery of the unconscious and the various human liberation movements" (Irigaray 1993: 59) and calls for "the right to "verticality" in female identity", by which she means a woman's right to her genealogical and spiritual becoming (Irigaray 1993: 94).

In addition, Irigaray has stressed the importance of there being a legacy, an inheritance for us in which the feminine is inscribed in a multiplicity of ways and forms. I have used her words as guidance, as a kind of road map, during the course of my doctoral research.

The terrain is different in the twenty first century: Je, tu, nous was first published twenty years ago. In my own area of specialism, there was a flowering of independent and personal animation work created by women artists from the 1970s onward - through the 1980s and into the 1990s - that inscribed a place for female subjectivities.

But the situation is fragile, the legacy is in its infancy. Linda Simensky, then Cartoon Network's Director of Programming, reported in 1996 that when a professional association called Women In Animation was formed, male colleagues treated this as a joke, and asked: "Where's the Men In Animation group?". Simensky reports that she and other women replied: "That's what we call 'The Animation Industry'" (Simensky 1996).

The animation scholar Clare Kitson, once Commissioning Editor for Animation at Channel Four, has commented to me in the last few weeks about how she has observed that there is, increasingly, a lack of women's animation being made today (Kitson 2011).

Throughout my research I have been aware of a 'historicity' of women which is largely unspoken, and unrecorded: like the women embroiderers of the Bayeaux Tapestry, we are un-named and unrepresented, absent from our own histories. The Scottish poet Ali Smith echoes this when she made the following comment about the absence of awareness of Margaret Tait's poems and films: "women artists do tend, historically, to get lost more easily, to fall off the back of the canonical" (Smith 2004: 8).

In this talk I present and examine an example of the direct animation work created by three women artists, which is contemporaneous from 1970 to 1990. The artists are: Margaret Tait, Caroline Leaf and Annabel Nicolson.

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