Laura Heit is a Portland-based artist who has a background in both animated and performance art. Heit received her MFA from the Royal College of Art in London and has exhibited her works internationally. Her installation, Two Ways Down, featured in In Scene, blends her animation and performance practices through the use of shadow and projection. In Scene also features two films by Heit that showcase her unique animation style.
Heit describes Two Ways Down as a mixture of experimental animation and a performative film. The animations are projected using one projector, yet the images reach all four walls. This is due to small glass panels resting on the table in front of the projector that refract the projection creating an immersive space. Shadows cast by Heit’s moving paper figures, ladders, and objects that are resting on the table and spinning armatures. The movement of these figures makes the film performative. The viewer can clearly see movement occurring before them that contributes to the image shown on the walls. In addition, viewers cannot help but alter the way in which the work is perceived when they enter the space. Projections will fall upon audience members; people’s shadows will block the shadowy figures and objects. This allows the work to exist within a trend of performance art, without the artist actually having to be there to perform the piece.
Two Ways Down is largely inspired by the Hieronymus Bosch painting The Garden of Earthly Delights. To Heit, Bosch’s depiction of Hell comes to represent the moment when nature becomes equalized with humanity after a disaster. Two Ways Down further explores this chaos of disaster by depicting surreal, almost obscene imagery. Influenced by Bosch’s human/animal hybrids, Heit’s figures are composed of dismembered body parts and hybridized amalgamations of humans and animals. Where Bosch’s images are haunting, Heit’s fall more into comedy and humor. The animated loop both begins and ends with small fires, the only element of color in the piece, which comes to represent the disasters that Heit is exploring here. Two Ways Down, ultimately, comments on the necessity to reorder after the absurd chaos of disaster.
Her films, Rover’s Eye and Apollo 6, both consist of footage from NASA, overlaid with small animations. Rover’s Eye uses photos from the Mars rover, while Apollo 6 uses footage from the unmanned Apollo 6 mission that crashed and burned. Both films call into question our trust of film and photography. When presented with film and photos, we are primed to be distrustful; today, we are aware of the many forms of manipulation frequently used in the media. However, when the footage comes from an institution like NASA we usually do not question it and accept it as fact. Heit calls into question that level of trust. By subtly adding animations on top of the videos, Heit suggests a reality not captured in NASA’s archives. She does not insinuate that NASA is necessarily lying to us – it’s not as if she’s animating a dramatic battle scene – just that the footage may not be able to capture the entire reality. In this manner, these films explore similar ideas to Two Ways Down; there is a thread of contending with a logic that we may not understand, be it the logic of chaos or the unknown.
Join us next week for our spotlight on Jesse Sugarmann.
Images: Laura Heit, Two Ways Down, 2015, Hand-drawn animated installation and film
Laura Heit, Rover’s Eye, 2015, Video
Laura Heit, Apollo 6, 2015, Video
Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1490-1510, Oil