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Ephemeral Animation

Tamsin Newlands reports on a workshop led by Nenagh Watson for the Suspense Festival

For two days October 2009 I attended a masterclass on Ephemeral Animation. It was facilitated by the artist Nenagh Watson (who had worked with Tadeusz Kantor towards the end of his life) and was thus focused on his work and exercises.

Watson divided the creation of life using inanimate objects into three stages:

The source of animation; whether human or natural.

The object itself.

The quality of the animation performance.

During the workshop we learned how to give discarded objects a new power and purpose, and to understand that the skill of the animator in making a successful performance was to engage with the audience while simultaneously stimulating their imaginations. With a little persuasion an audience can believe whatever the animators have transformed the objects into.

We discussed the natural elements of water, wind, gravity and light and how natural beauty can be enhanced by these elements and how often the most beautiful things are stumbled upon by chance. For example, water causes some objects to float, creating two different worlds above and below the water’s surface. In the case of water the object can be changed by the natural element just as the natural element can disrupt the perception of the object. Sunlight can create shadows, and highlights colour. The same applies to fire, which creates shadows and shapes despite often being associated with burning and destruction. Lastly, air and wind are elements which cause floating and falling.

During the workshop we individually experimented with using the movements of a plastic bag around the room and exploring the relationship between this object and ourselves. We first moved the bag in such a way as to demonstrate its interest in us and then altered our intentions completely by trying to get rid of the bag by moving our body in such a way as to show that it would not leave us alone. When the whole group finished exploring we dropped our bags on the ground at an appropriate time and to most of us this created the striking image of fallen soldiers scattered across a battlefield. We can see the effect wind has on a plastic bag during a scene in the Hollywood film American Beauty, when air fills the bag causing it to rise and fall and move around the space at different tempos, almost like a bird. This supports Kantor’s argument that waste and scrap objects can be made to appear more beautiful and evocative than purpose-built objects from the props department.


Nenagh Watson's Ephemeral Animation workshop was held 30 & 31 October as part of Suspense London Puppetry Festival. Nenagh is a Creative Fellow at Central School of Speech & Drama, and works with Barking Dog.

Tamsin Newlands is a student in the Department of Drama and Theatre, at Royal Holloway, University of London.


Photography Nenagh Watson. Composition Sarah Ainslie.
Images courtesy of Nenagh Watson and the Little Angel Theatre

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