Karen Yasinsky

Karen Yasinsky, Lecturer, Film and Media Studies
Visual arts, animation, experimental film at JHU.

Karen Yasinsky is a visual artist who currently lives and works in Baltimore. She is a professor both at the Maryland Institute College of Art and Johns Hopkins University. Her work has been shown worldwide: her short animation movies have been screened in various venues and international film festivals, while her video installations and drawings have been presented internationally in numerous exhibitions. Moreover, Karen Yasinsky is a committed artist, as a  founding board member of “the Gunk Foundation.” Created in 1994, this public charity delivers grants for public art projects, in order to counterbalance the decreasing governmental funding for intellectual and artistic production in the United States.

Karen Yasinsky works primarily with animation and drawing, creating stop-motion films starring handmade dolls. The artist explains that this medium enables her to fulfill her desire to “work by [her]self.” [1] She therefore works alone on each aspect of her films, from drawing and modeling to shooting, passing by costume design, direction and cinematography. Making the twelve-inch-tall clay figures itself is a creative process during which she can build a whole personality for her characters, by modeling their shape, their colors, their clothes and so on. Such details are important since Yasinsky’s characters are silent, their facial expression static, and their bodies’ movement limited.

Picture from Still Life with Cows, 2002.

But more than a fulfilling working method, stop-motion animation also satisfies her “conceptual needs” since she can “focus on the details of characters interactions,” in order to allow the viewer to be involved with “the characters’ state of mind.” [2] The puppets’ action should ultimately served as a mirror for the viewer to reflect on what he has been offered to see. Yasinsky praises animation as an ideal medium for this to happen. Additionally, stop-action films gave her an opportunity to work with other artists on the soundtrack. The duo Snacks did the soundtrack for her hand-drawn animation, Enough to drive you mad (2009, 2.5 min.).[3] Yasinsky has also developed a strong collaboration with the musician Winston Rice and the sound designer/composer Quentin Chiappetta, who both worked on La Nuit and I Choose Darkness‘ soundtracks.

Trained among other things as an historian of art, Yasinsky finds her inspiration notably in French cinema. La Nuit (2007, 6 min.), is based on Jean Vigo’s 1934 movie, L’Atalante. It tells the story of a failed marriage between a country girl and a barge captain, leading to the wife’s escape, resulting in the husband’s depression.[4] Karen Yasinsky recounts the main elements of the movie in three sequences. Among them, the husband’s depression is successfully epitomized by his apparent suicide – he throws himself into a river – and his simultaneous hallucinations in which the bride appears to him. The artist achieves to give human emotions to her dolls, in spite of their “painted clay heads, stuffed fabric bodies and twitchy movements.”[5] The black-and-white pictures combined with an aquatic, odd and frightening soundtrack strangely provides humanity to the clumsy dolls. The French director Robert Bresson’s film, Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) also influenced various of Yasinsky’s projects. In this movie, Bresson brought in amateurs without any acting experience, and rehearsed them to remove any emotion from their lines. Yasinsky follows a similar path in I Choose Darkness (2008-2009, 9 min.), transferring all expressiveness in decor and sound, while denying her dolls any “interpretation of their own.”[6]

In 2011, Karen Yasinsky made a musical video for the Baltimore based-band Thank You, for their single “Pathetic Magic,” using mainly hand-drawn animations.[7] She also finished a longer project “Pools of Shadow from an Older Sky”, a music video in collaboration with Huck Hodge (musician), commissioned by the American Academy in Rome in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the first demonstration of the Galileo telescope. [8] The piece of approximately 17 minutes is divided in five continuous movements, celebrating Galileo’s ingeniousness.


[1] Karen Yasinsky, interview online, accessed March 28, 2012, http://www.re-title.com/artists/karen-yasinsky.asp.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Karen Yasinsky’s vimeo, Enough to drive you mad, 2009, accessed March 28, 2012, http://vimeo.com/14772489.

[4]Karen Yasinsky’s vimeo, La Nuit, 2007, http://vimeo.com/14791870.

Ken Johnson, “Karen Yasinsky”, The New York Times, 2 November, 2007, accessed March 28, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/02/arts/design/02gall.html?pagewanted=print.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Karen Yasinsky’s vimeo, I Choose Darkness, 2009, http://vimeo.com/14778531.

Karen Yasinsky, interview online, accessed March 28, 2012, http://www.re-title.com/artists/karen-yasinsky.asp.

[7] Karen Yasinsky’s vimeo, Pathetic Magic, 2011, http://vimeo.com/24602696.

[8] Huck Hodge’s website, accessed March 28 2012, http://music.columbia.edu/~hodge/Site/Pools_of_shadow_from_an_older_sky.html.

Karen Yasinsky’s vimeo, Pools of Shadow from an Older Sky, 2011, http://vimeo.com/27790089.

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