Monday, 30 April 2012

The Quay Brothers at Hyde Park Picture House, Leeds 24 April 2012

I came across the amazing stop motion animations by the Quay brothers while researching my MA in Contemporary Applied Arts a couple of years ago. I have an abiding interest in the dusty forgotten corners of the human world, the artefacts and dirt that accumulate underneath and behind things which have a life of their own just out of the corner of your eye, so coming across the extraordinary underground world of their film 'The Street of Crocodiles' was a mind blowing revelation. When I found out that the twins would be presenting four of their films on the big screen at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds this month I could hardly believe my luck. The event was a taster for the much anticipated Overworlds and Underworlds event that the brothers are orchestrating for the Leed's Cultural Olympiad next month (details below).

Thanks to the ever wonderful Emma of Culture Vulture I swung a ticket for the film show and so found myself once again entering the magical, frightening, utterly unique world of the Quay brothers.

The first film was my favourite, 'The Street of Crocodiles' and I find it hard to describe how overwhelming the experience is of seeing this on a large screen in a darkened auditorium. I also find it very hard to put into words what the piece is about, I always feel that there is a meaning just out of reach and that if only I concentrated hard enough, and my brain worked fast enough, I'd grasp it. Sadly I never do, but for me, in the end, it's all about the marvelous dirty corners and grimy glass and my fascination with the life of the objects that the brothers manipulate: the dandelion clock, the rusty screws that dance and spin, the creepy porcelain dolls heads with the glowing eyes and the endless string running around pulleys from and to an unknown dark place. I have seen resonances of this piece in several places including some well known advertising campaigns. Most of my friends have never heard of the Quay brothers but they will certainly have seen work influenced by their unique vision.

The second film was 'Stille Nacht' which I had not seen before although I remember seeing a room set from it in their fabulous 'Dormitorium' exhibition in the Leeds Town Hall crypt last Autumn. This is the one with the magnet and the dancing iron filings and was at once joyous and scary with the battered doll's head peering out at us from the screen in giant scale.

The third film was a more recent one called 'Maska' and unusually seemed to have a narrative with its nightmarish story of a 'woman' created frankenstein-like in a laboratory, brought to life and female gender in order to seduce an enemy of 'the king', only it turns out 'she' is a praying mantis-like monster whose purpose is to assassinate this enemy. There were some amazingly richly saturated shots of the 'palace' interior and stormy seas and lightning lit skies outside. A thoroughly disturbing story of pursuit and death unfolds against this backdrop.

The final film was 'In Absentia' which combined live action with stop motion animation and a terrifyingly atonal music score. Again a story of sorts is involved, this one a real life one of a woman in an insane asylum who wrote endless undelivered letters to her husband pleading to be released. Being a Quay brothers production we saw the fate of all the broken pencil leads, apparently danced or raged over by a little demon or god of broken pencils, who collects them up and crushes them into staining graphite pools. Underneath the woman's chair, a sea of pencil shavings builds up and we see the woman's hands blackened with pencil lead in uncomfortable close up as she laboriously attempts to write her futile letters and over it  the soundtrack with its wailing, sobbing and hysterical laughter. About as close to the endless pain of insanity as I ever want to get.

The lights came up and we all sat a little shocked and considerably awed for a few moments. We were then treated to a Q & A session with the men themselves. They are notoriously hard to interview and for a while it looked like we were only going to get monosyllabic answers as they were unsuccessfully probed about what Overworlds and Underworlds was going to look like. However things began to warm up after some intelligent (and brave) questioning from the audience and we were treated to a tiny insight into the minds of these incredibly thoughtful artists. I was left feeling like I'd been in the presence of greatness and with a strange desire to learn more about phenomenology, whatever that is!

Roll on Overworlds and Underworlds, Leeds city centre 18 - 20 May 2012. I am clearing my diary for the whole weekend. Find out what little there is to know so far at
Who cares though - whatever happens it will be the most extraordinary thing to hit Leeds in a very very long time. Get ready!