MIWA MATREYEK: ANIMATING AND PERFORMING THE FANTASTIC

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An audience’s first reaction to Miwa Matreyek’s work could only be wonder. Matreyek, an animator and performer based in Los Angeles, is known for her fantastic, complex, and almost indescribable pieces. Recently, she came to Baltimore to perform as part of QuestFest, a local performing arts series.

During the week leading up to her performances, Matreyek also led an artists’ workshop through the Johns Hopkins Digital Media Center. The class gave a group of enthusiastic participants, including myself, the chance to learn about projections and performance. Over the course of three days, Matreyek explained her own methods and philosophies, and set about helping the participants make their own artistic discoveries. She shared her early videos, which showed her early experiments with motion, the body, and animation. She described these earlier animations as “moving collages,” and “surrealist” in nature.1 Later, during graduate school, she found inspiration in other disciplines, particularly in the performing arts like theater and dance.

It was this sort of interdisciplinary aim that Matreyek brought to the workshop. The artistic experiments were numerous, as were the types of technology. My own project involved projecting the image of myself onto various small objects, like gourds and lampshades, using a live-feed camera. Other projects used software, projectors, cameras, animation, and even an infrared camera. But they also included hand puppets, paper cutouts, household objects, screens, and the simple human body. Matreyek’s guidance inspired this combination of digital and physical art, bringing performance, object, and image together to create these fledgling projects.

Dream of Lucid Living

Myth and Infrastructure

On Friday, I attended Matreyek’s performance at the Theatre Project. She was performing with two of her videos, “Myth and Infrastructure,” and “Dream of Lucid Living.” These videos were projected, alternating at times from rear to frontal projection, while she, usually behind the screen as a shadow, interacted with the images. Having practiced her routine painstakingly, timing her motions to the music, she was able to nearly perfectly interact with the moving images. The effect was convincing, and at times it seemed as though she was actually interacting with the images, affecting their motions in real time. She did use some paper cutouts and other real objects, like a chair, but the animated effects were not triggered by her actions. At times, her body may not have been exactly “in place,” but as she explained afterwards, any disparities between her gesture and the animation, such as a gap between her hand and the object meant to be sitting on it, do not bother her. She does want the audience to“do work to see the illusion”; to mentally mesh her body with the animation.2

The videos themselves are beautiful, intricate, and otherworldly. The interplay of her body, the images, and the music cannot be described in a way that does justice to the experience. It should be noted, too, that an incredible amount of technological exactness and perfectionism went into these works, not to mention imagination. During the question and answer portion of her show, Matreyek explained how, in her work, the physical body takes on a more “fantastical” element in combination with the animation, while the animation somehow becomes more tangible in relation to the body, entering a “consequential” world.3 She prefers to use live performance, as well as certain material objects, because there are certain motions you “can’t simulate in animation.”4

At Friday’s show, many of the hands raised during the Q+A had questions about Matreyek’s technique. But many of just wanted to pay their compliments, and express wonder at her art. In all, Matreyek has left her mark on Baltimore, with her inspiring and beautiful work.

1March 12, 2012, DMC Workshop

2Ibid.

3Ibid.

4Ibid.

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