London based filmmaker and animator Alice Dunseath uses materials we often discard -various liquids, chemicals, crystals or elements that have a life of their own- and composes them digitally with music or sounds to create visual poetry that encourages audience to contemplate the bigger picture. Alice was one of the speakers in our “Design for a Phygital World” panel series which were organised in partnership with FRAME Magazine as a part of the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial’s Parallel Events Program. We talked about her ever-changing ways of making films and creating animations in a phygital world.
I like to use real world objects, made of materials that we know how they feel, how they touch. Then, I like to manipulate them with other real world experimentations. I am trying to capture essences of things, situations and places.
Firstly, I like to ask your perception about the concept, “phygital”. What is “phygital” for you, how do you think this concept shape your works?
Phygital is the combination of the physical and digital design - and I think I argue with any piece of animation could be turned a piece of phygital design because animation is so relying on technology as a medium. It is never just sat alone, always relying on technology. Whether that was with the analogue camera, now it is with the digital camera. As technology evolves, animation is evolving with it.
I am particularly interested in haptic perception. Haptic perception is our ability to imagine what something feels like by looking at it -using our previous experiences to know what something feels like- However, if this is on screen and we are seeing a digital work that has never existed in real world, then we know straight away that we don’t know what that feels like. I like to use real world objects, made of materials that we know how they feel, how they touch. Then, I like to manipulate them with other real world experimentations; either with chemicals or inks or using other liquids to create some sort of organic movement and then I manipulate that footage digitally. It’s either captured in time-lapse or I manipulate the movement to create images that you never ever see in your real life but yet are also from this world.
When I go through your works, I notice that you aim to create a recognisable language in between disciplines varying from animation to fashion movies and storytelling. How can you express your common approach?
I suppose I often use the content or the theme to inspire the materials I use to make the work. For instance, I did a series of animations about plastic pollution and I decided to use plastic that have been washed up on the beaches as the material to animate with. In the fashion films, I’ve use the samples of textiles. Even though if you were just to look at stills of the films and animations I made, you might think that they are all done by somebody different. But I think you can kind of tell that they are mine. There is always some sort of slightly emotional narrative loosely in there and I pick the materials depending on the content.
What is your motive about using living organisms and crystals for your works? Do you think you are fascinated by them because of they are in a middle realm?
Yes, I am absolutely fascinated by crystals and their ability to suggest life without technically being alive. They look like a plant growing or like folding shapes replicate lighting - all this sort of recurring imagery… Just because the way we perceive the world, we’ve decided that they are not alive and I could argue that maybe they are alive. We are interacting with them moving and they are animated so - maybe they are alive.
Could you briefly tell us your filming technique for crystals and living organisms?
I make the plaster objects, then, leave them to dry, paint them or dye them with inks. Afterwards, I soak them or pour the liquid in and it absorbs up through the plaster and using capillary reaction as the liquid starts to evaporate, crystals form. It takes about 24 hours. I take a frame about every 5 minutes for every 24 hours. So, you come in the morning and you have got a piece of moving image, a living sculpture.
How do you think about the relation between the city you are based now and your somewhat dream-like works?
I live in London but I am not from London; I am definitely a country girl. I grew up in a tiny village. Going outside and being in the nature is incredibly important to me. I love the energy of the city but I am constantly reminded that it feels quite thick and it doesn’t feel quite real to me. I suppose I don’t actually see that much difference about creating my works in the city though, I think I see the world quite dream-like way in that sense! I grew up from a family of artists and it changed my perception - being brought up around people who observing or noticing how you view things and maybe you are going to see stuff different way… I am trying to capture essences of things, situations and places.
In one my films (https://vimeo.com/134635726), I am showing architecture and structures building and forming and we see a human, dancing and then that will be taken over by nature. So I guess, that’s in there. I see cities as temporary places, they haven’t always been there and they will not be. Nature always takes over.
Who and what influence you for life and work?
I really love the works of filmmaker Jordan Belson. He died a few years ago but he was amazing. Using analogue film and in-camera effects, he would make incredible films that seemed to replicate the universe - but he didn’t tell anyone how he would create the effects. They used some of his techniques in Tree of Life, Terrence Malick’s film.
My family also inspire me a lot. My dad and my sister (both sculptors) have been huge inspiration for my work. I also find the work of Max Hattler and William Kentridge extremely inspiring as well.