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Robert Breer

June 29, 2006

Fuji, 1974


A 2002 addition to the National Film Registry and one of Robert Breer's longest duration, rotoscope animation films, Fuji transforms a seemingly mundane state of transience - a tourist's eye view from a window seat of a train passing through an area overlooking Mount Fuji - into an imaginative, transfixing, and lyrical free-association of everyday objects and structural geometries into metamorphic, kinetic art. A bookending live action footage of a smiling, bespectacled (presumably) Western tourist set against the familiar cadence of an accelerating train revving up as it leaves the station sets the mesmerizing tone for the film's abstract panoramic survey of an Ozu-esque Japanese landscape of electrical power lines, passing trains, railroad tracks, and the gentle slope of obliquely peaked, uniform rooflines as Breer distills the essential geometry of Mount Fuji into a collage of acute angles and converging (and bifurcating) lines that, through the interlacing of images, seemingly propels the static into motion and morphs the iconic Japanese landmark (and familiar art subject) into equally identifiable representations of contemporary Japanese culture: a series of alternating V-shapes form the fluttering of wings, a triangle framed against two poles transform into an architectural pagoda, a rotation of coincident lines through the vertex mimic the steady, precise sweep of windmills and clock hands, and even a right angle L-shape (perhaps a prefiguration of LMNO) traces the outline of factory buildings that intermittently dot the industrial landscape (where the smokestacks, in turn, evoke the image of a burning cigarette) or demarcates the floor of an art exhibition gallery room. This abstraction of figures into essential outlines is also illustrated in the rotoscoped images of human figures, where the actions of an observer is visually repeated in the interlaced images of the train conductor - turning the head, leaning over, pulling away, and advancing toward the foreground - with the observer, in turn, alternately transfigured as a man in a suit, in uniform, in traditional kimono, and even subsequently, as a woman: the fluidity of movement created by the continuity of the amorphous figure's corresponding gestures and mannerisms. As in Breer's earlier Form Phases series (in particular, the ingeniously crafted Form Phases IV), Breer organically transforms linear geometries into dimensional shapes, while alternately collapsing forms into singularity to create a kind of moving art that integrates both practical aesthetics of traditional canvas painting and kinetic sculpture. In continually redefining the notion of space and substance, motion and stasis, object and art, Fuji wryly diverges from the hackneyed, exoticized sightseeing travelogue and instead converges towards a transformative and infinitely more fascinating journey of the imagination.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 29, 2006 | | Comments (6) | Filed under 2006, Robert Breer

May 15, 2005

Swiss Army Knife with Rats and Pigeons, 1980


In the final, melancholic passage of Maurice Pialat's L'amour existe, a narrator contemplates the double entendre image of a victory commemorative sculpture that appears to equally articulate strength and human frailty, noting that "the hand of glory, ordering and directing, can also beg - a simple change in angle is sufficient." This intrinsic contextual duality of images based on the observer's perspective similarly provides the inspired methodology to Robert Breer's visually dense, yet integrally cohesive film, Swiss Army Knife with Rats and Pigeons. The introductory sequence of a rough sketch illustrating a closed Swiss army knife that is interlaced with images of a hand drawn rat presents the eccentric association of seemingly mutually exclusive objects presented in the film as the mundane pocket knife begins to associatively resemble the characteristic profile of a rodent waiting to pounce with its accipitral, nail inset eye, corkscrew tail, and jagged blade teeth. Breer uses spiral images - a tape dispenser, turning windmills, and rolling soda cans - in order to illustrate the recursive, abstract (and fanciful) transfiguration of mundane objects (a pigeon's eye into a tape dispenser, a partially opened folding knife into a stapler, the deployment of the pocket knife into propulsive flight) into a permutation of kinetic art. Moreover, Breer's extensive incorporation of recurring imagery throughout the film (bold, reinforcing colors, the juxtaposition of stapler and mousetrap that employ a similar hinge mechanism, silo windmills and single-engine propeller aircraft, the curve of the pocket knife mimicked in the outline of bicyclist racing through a public park) further serve to reinforce the interconnection of successive images, creating conceptual cohesion through the cumulative, perceptional impression of the linked images rather than direct (or even inferential), causal correlation of individual images. In its articulation of conceptual multiplicity through rapid-fire, transfixing, highly textural imagery, the film ingeniously derives meaning through the interdependent, contextual reference of other images rather than their interrelation to each other - an abstract, ephemeral afterimage that exists (and derives logic) only in the imaginary and the transient.

Posted by acquarello on May 15, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Robert Breer

May 14, 2005

Form Phases #4, 1954


The opening image of Robert Breer's Form Phases #4 is that of two-strip red and white color panels, a seemingly tongue-in-cheek image that visually presages the film's fusion of two-dimensional animation and early color-process motion picture, as a sliver of white line breaks the bounds of the color border and continues to transect unimpededly (and organically) through geometric blocks of color before morphing into more complex shapes - a triangle, then square, then trapezoid, before developing curvature and pivoting into a rhombic, kite-like formation, then floating through the frame and attaching to other shapes to create more complex, composite (but elemental and reducible) forms - ever transforming, moving, fracturing, and transecting the bounds of cognitively predefined notions of visual space. Another ingenious manifestation of Breer's re-contextualization and transformation of two-dimensional space appears in the brief, isolated sequence of conic sections - a red triangle and black circle - locked in a hyperkinetic, follow-the-leader chase before the triangle becomes entrapped in a rigid "black box", seemingly imbalancing the object in its encapsulated potentiality that causes the overarching frame to fragment, not according to prescribed linear decomposition of the geometric sides of a rectangle, but rather, splinters into infinitely recursive, rectangular sub-frames that reveal a residual trail, recalling a rudimentary, prefiguring visual architecture of modern-day, computer-rendered mathematical fractals. More conceptually elaborate than cartoons, yet less formalist (and serious-minded) than typical gallery performance art, Robert Breer's unclassifiable animation film fuses infectious creative whimsy and penchant for structure and geometric precision with the decontextualized abstraction of modern art to create an indelible, visually arresting study of figures in motion where space becomes object, matter becomes void, and everything is relative, interdependent, mutable, and in a state of perpetual - and curiously wondrous - metamorphosis.

Posted by acquarello on May 14, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Robert Breer