“Characters want you! The floodgates opened and our visual culture was set upon by a mass of abstract characters, grinning, blinking and snarling in their inimitable pared-down graphical way. In what has become a truly global movement they have invaded digital media, animation, advertising, design, fashion, street and fine art, mashing up and guzzling their way through a diet of pop culture, tribal art, folklore, logos and cartoons. They are the true embodiment of the utopian promise of global communication. They speak in emotions that bypass language and cultural boundaries.”
My first Pictoplasma was an eye-opening affair set in the avant-garde city of Berlin. Combining a day-long “character walk” of installations set in fascinating locations, with screenings and lectures featuring the artist/creators themselves, it was a revelation of what a festival could be. When I heard there was going to be a “mini-Picto” in New York City, I just had to go. And, regardless of the location (or the remnants of a hurricane swamping Saturday afternoon), Pictoplasma delivers. It is a format that the creators and curators Peter Thaler and Lars Denicke have coined, and co-curator and moderator Anna Henckel-Donnersmarck happily and charismatically pulls off. Held in the City from September 4 – 6, Pictoplasma was nothing short of inspirational. Featuring lectures, presentations, performances, screenings and parties, Pictoplasma seeks to explore individual creations – individual characters – regardless of their original context or form. As brilliantly described above, Pictoplasma explores the characters that live in our brave new mixed-up post digital world.
What separates Pictoplasma is that it isn’t a festival with the traditional ASIFA roots. Born in the late 1990's as an archive for contemporary character design, the events now showcase characters and their creators. Instead of focusing on narrative and technique, the character is what is studied and showcased. I am a firm believer that all great narrative is born from character and this festival is an exceptional opportunity to stop, pause and just look at really cool characters, however simple or complex. Whether they are found in Tim Biskup’s paintings, Aaron Stewart’s doctored family photos or parading on stage with Friends with You, at Pictoplasma you are invited to gaze unabashedly at these strange characters as their inventors lead you through their creative thought process. The one-and-a-half-hour blocks afford plenty of time to delve in deep and learn about the characters, projects and how they came to be. Where was the creator in his life? Had he just gone through a painful divorce? How did these two people from seemingly impossibly different backgrounds meet and begin making art together? Who even thought of fusing music and video games together like that? All is revealed – with fascinating insight – at Pictoplasma.
The event also features screenings and wow…what a treat. I am not joking. Now, I’ve been to a lot of animation screenings and attending them is probably one of my most favorite things to do… but attending a Pictoplasma screening? Candy! Pure candy! What could be more joyful? The screenings are composed of a number of short shorts, which I can pretty much guarantee you have not seen before. I can also pretty much guarantee that they are the hippest, coolest, most innovative, freshest, most hyper-awesome pieces you have ever seen. I don’t know where they find them! But find them they do and we are the lucky ones. In piece after piece you don’t know whether to drool over the design or the technique or both. Just magical little wonderful short piece after short piece, a treat!
Beginning Thursday night with an exhibition entitled “Blackboards,” Pictoplasma was off and running. The next day started with a screening and then launched into five lectures. Tokyoplastic started the event with a bang, followed by Fons Schiedon. Tim Biskup, who I had seen in Berlin, delivered another thoughtful and well prepared presentation about the theory behind his constantly evolving art. Gangpol & Mit then showed several of their shorts that combine early videogame-like graphics with 8-bit music. Later, Aaron Stewart introduced us to many of his special childhood friends. The day ended with a lecture and performance from Motomichi Nakamura, which should have happened in a night club so we could have watched the visuals and master at work, while shaking a few tail-feathers.
The next day started with a screening and panel and then opened up into lectures featuring Akinori Oishi and the U.K.’s fantastic Studio AKA, who treated us to the New York City premier of their brand new film "Varmints." The haunting film follows a loveable creature in a bleak city as he harbors the only plant and finds love; a dark, beautiful and magical Wall-E. Pop-culture icon David OReilly opened the evening’s lectures and was the talk of the night. Friends With You followed, bringing the crowd to their feet with their on stage insanity! I love those guys. They also brought the house down when I saw them in Berlin. Another screening finished up our time at Washington Square’s Jack H. Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at New York University. We then moved on to Bar 13 to conclude the event, where the party took over at least three floors of the venue. Tim Biskup, Gangpol & Mit and others DJ’d, while some patrons took to the roof to enjoy the rapidly clearing New York skies.
The entire event’s tone is modern, fresh and showcases things one won’t find anywhere else. From painters, to individuals making art with found objects to awesome boutique studios to music performances that correspond with real-time animation. Frightened because it isn’t like anything you have ever experienced? Scared because it will be so different from anything you’ve been to before? Don’t be! Embrace it! Get ready to be delighted and don’t let another Pictoplasma pass you by! I’ll see you there!
Heather Kenyon is a consultant specializing in the development and production of animation. For five years, she worked at Cartoon Network, where she was the Senior Director of Development, Original Series, leading the development of all series for children 6 – 11 years of age. She is also the former editor-in-chief of Animation World Network.