Friday, 20 May 2011

Stefan Schabenbeck

The Friday evening treat for this week gives us Stefan Schabenback, and his 'Everything is just a number' (Wszystko jest liczbą)

This is a remarkable piece of animation that imaginatively shows the life of numbers, that are of course a concept like time (though perhaps numbers are less relative, at least disregarding our perceptions of them) that serve to enable conscious beings to put sense and order to the reality around them, but, as with time, have a life of their own and, in the end, change (or perhaps recreate or simplify) the star of the story, an old man.

Like with cubism, the basic contours of the world in which this man lives in have been reduced to simple forms, forms which (as with cubism) demonstrate that they have what could possibly be termed as a presence (or an indicator of a presence which is elsewhere); something to (at least) draw the attention, a charisma even.

If that sounds a bit mad, then think of how geometry is used in paintings or architecture in order to draw the eye.  This Icon famously used lines and curves to move the eye to the centre and then back again out in a continual movement.  The geometry is the thing that hold and moves the attention around the picture.

What Schabenback has done is to make this process clearer, in that he can be influenced by the numbers and shapes, such as  almost comes a cropper by the numbers 6 and 7, a number 4 which serves as a handy chair, raining numbers that for some time engage him, 2's that can saw wood or turn into a question mark.

After his encounters with various numbers he encounters what I shall call a double-box, where 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 and so on copies of himself create what amounts to a mass, a mass of clones that eventually turns to number 1's, the number that he eventually turns into.

I'm even less an expert on biology than I am on art, but even I know that numbers surround us.  Like the old man of the film, we see numbers of birds in a V formation flying above us, we see numbers of leaves on a tree, which then fall and further multiply; 2 eyes, 17 paves of stone on the path to the street, 1 man sat on the bench, typing out numbers on his mobile phone.....

Stefan Schabenback was an animator who was part of the wave of animators who created films based on what could be termed 'natualistic', as opposed to the surrealist animation of likes of Jan Lenica (as I reviewed here).   A key example is 'The Journey' (Podróż) by Daniel Szczechura (which one can see here, though not with the original sound.  I have to say that it is an improvement on the original) which simply depicts the view of a man from a window during a train journey.

While 'Everything is just a number' gained him immediately international reknown while still being young, his 'Stairs' (Schody) is also a key work of his that seems to have been an inspiration for 'Cathedral' (Katedra),  a piece you shall have to wait for to see here :)

When watching 'Stairs'  for the first time it seemed like a harmful children's story of a man going on a walk up some stairs.  The walk turns much more strenuous than I had expected, however, leading to an outcome that is possibly a commentary on how the forces around you that you follow can lead to you become part of them, so to speak (similar to what happened to the star of the 'Everything is just a number', in fact).

Whether this (I can't seem to take my social critic hat off) is a commentary on the lack of power of the individual to change the world around him or her (a topic that Czesław Miłosz spoke about), placing the emphasis on acceptance is something I shall leave the reader to discern.  In any case, both the man of 'Everything is just a number' and the person of 'Stairs' seem to be willfully meeting their respective fates.

There are plenty philosphians who could make much more out of that.  In any case, that's enough writing from me.  Hope you enjoy the films.

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