Escape Velocity, 2015. HD animation commissioned by Electric Objects Art Club.
My animation for the E01 depicts the empty looping landscape of the Road Runner cartoon, a motif I've returned to again and again over the past 15 years, always without resolution. Whenever I think I've moved past it, it loops back into my life and I feel compelled to rewind and start again. But I can never quite catch that bird.
So, to begin: what is it that attracts me to Road Runner? It clearly touches on many of my favourite themes: animation, creativity, labor, neurosis, war, landscape, the sublime, technology and desire. In that sense, it's the classic overdetermined signifier - with every reading it yields more interpretation. One little thought starts an interpretative chain reaction, like creative nuclear fission. And nuclear fission is an apt reference: the original series was produced between the years of 1949 and 1966, mirroring the period of the cold war. What could be more fitting for this era than the story of Acme's ever-increasing arsenal of pantomime threat?
Proliferation is a theme that proliferates within Road Runner itself: in its creation, Chuck Jones came up with a set of endlessly generative mechanics, outlined here. It's the master theorem of cartoon physics. Like the dynamics of a good novel, card game or sitcom, it produces a set of creative restrictions that paradoxically liberate play and produce endless fruitful variations on a theme. Nuclear fission, a chain reaction, endless cycles, escalations and upgrades.
Upgrades. The Coyote is the ultimate technophile. He relies on Acme's never-ending supply of gadgets and devices, but each unboxing paradoxically takes him further from his desired outcome - a tasty meal. Here we have the classic bind of technology: with every invention we are carried further from our nature. It’s the dialectic of the past 500 years of industrial advancement - the same old neuroses.
Neuroses. Psychoanalysis. Freud (and Lacan particularly) would have liked Road Runner. Despite the natural order of hunter-prey, in Road Runner, the bird is not meant to be eaten. The bird-as-a-meal is a perpetually deferred fantasy, achieving a purely symbolic status and reducing Wile E. Coyote to an interminable chase of unfulfilled and impossible desire. He doesn’t want the solution, he wants the challenge. The answer must always be deferred, just as with JJ Abrams’ mystery box and the interminable questions of his cryptic ABC series ‘Lost’.
Lost. Lost in Monument Valley, a landscape rendered with an atmosphere far richer than it needs to be. How many generations of children have been set loose on their very own spirit quest, hypnotised by those 25 or so simplistically rendered drawings, looping over and over: cactus, rock, cactus, mountain, cactus, rock, cactus, mountain. Chuck Jones and his animators summon the expansive beauty of The American Sublime with farcical economy.
Economy. Making ends meet. Like the tromp l’oeil tunnel the Coyote paints on the rockface, the economy of the loop is all about shortcuts, invisible joins and clever tricks. The loop defies sense: there are no entry and exit points, no end and no beginning. Video art has always engaged with the loop, often against its will and sometimes to its detriment. Now the loop has found its home in online media: GIFs, Vines, Instagram - and the E01.
And so, we return, back to the start.
Special thanks to Antonin Herveet.