Signe Baumane and Sarah Jane Lapp illustrate their points
Two of my favorite women animators, Signe Baumane and Sarah Jane Lapp, will have new short films at South by Southwest. Baumane is the 45-year-old wild and quirky Latvian in NYC whose signature outré oeuvre of colorful hand-drawn animations, many of which she herself narrates, have ranged from "Teat Beat of Sex" to her "Five Informercials for Dentists." Her new 12-minute short, "Birth," is about the surreal psychological terrors of a pregnant teen, a fairly serious tale told with fairly humorous, or at least humorously surreal, imagery. Lapp, on the other hand, is a 36-year-old Seattle-based Renaissance woman visual artist and filmmaker ("Chronicles of an Asthmatic Stripper"), who typically takes on more abstract and cerebral subjects in her finely rendered hand-drawn "experimental animations," as with her new 24-minute short, "Chronicles of a Professional Eulogist." Narrated by a eulogist in training, the film is about a dying professional eulogist's search for a protégé to inherit the glorious burden of his profession. The semifictional film, which Lapp describes as a "documation," uses the imagined figure of the professional eulogist to explore the function of memory, place, and social nostalgia in our religious imaginations.
Here are some of their comments about their chosen form. Baumane replied from the stands at a soccer game in Milan, Italy, where she's working on a commission, while Lapp got in touch in between deadlines for the political op art she creates for a Seattle daily and the small dance troupe she's managing.
Austin Chronicle: Why do you animate?
Signe Baumane: I just fell into animation without much thought. ... Now, of course, I look back and wonder why. Animation does have a visual surreal appeal and is able to deal with symbolic meanings without getting too obvious or cheesy. With just one stroke in animation, I am able to express a complicated thought that live-action wouldn't be able to address ... but I can't work with a character in depth or express nuanced psychological reality. It's just me; I can't do it. ... My drawing style is too simple, and I am drawn too much to abstraction in animation and to the bizarre, surreal, and philosophical. (I have a [Bachelor of Arts] degree in philosophy, so I think too much for my own good.)
AC: Are your stories autobiographical?
SB: Well, we all talk about what we know, so in that sense, all my work is very autobiographical. Until recently it was not very clear to me what my main subject was. Some would say sex, but that's only the most scandalous, visible topic. It is clear to me now that what I am interested in is the relationship of the human body and the human spirit.
AC: Isn't "Birth" a more serious film than you usually make?
SB: "Veterinarian" was my first serious film, about a vet with a broken heart. I knew how to make audiences laugh, and I wanted to see if I could make them cry – range of emotions have to be explored. I didn't intend for "Birth" to be a serious film, initially, and am still not sure if it is totally serious.
Austin Chronicle: You work in so many media, do certain stories lend themselves to animation?
Sarah Jane Lapp: Personally, I find it difficult to animate materials which don't "resonate" with me. Other than that, I don't have limitations. I'd like to say that if you can draw it, you can animate it. But for me, that's not really true. I trained among a bevy of formerly oppressed Czechs, so I suppose I tend to think that angst animates well, politically inspired or otherwise. In general, I think, cinema supports the investigation of our religious imaginations.
AC: The art in your animations is remarkable. What is your technique?
SJL: I draw on paper with a crow quill pen and a bottle of India ink, some gouache, and some waxy crayons on a heavy paper that I punch with a registration puncher. I shot the drawings under an Oxberry.
AC: What would you like viewers to take away from your film?
SJL: Can I respond to this question a year from now? I think I grew up in the Tom Stoppard "the artist provides one half, the spectator the second half" school of interactive art-making. ... If you have to explain to the audience what they're supposed to take away, you've failed.
Sunday, March 15, 2pm, Alamo South Lamar
Tuesday, March 17, 11:30am, Alamo South Lamar
Wednesday, March 18, 1:30pm, Alamo South Lamar
Sunday, March 15, 4:30pm, Alamo South Lamar
Wednesday, March 18, 4pm, Alamo South Lamar
Thursday, March 19, 5pm, Alamo South Lamar