Judith Robertson Brings Animation to Her Alternate Realities

Judith Robertson is a walker. She’s in residence now and it’s not uncommon to see her out and about on the Mt. San Angelo grounds. Aside from the personal pleasure she derives from the pursuit, it also has profound repercussions in her art. 

The act of walking: moving the body through space references the passage of time. There’s also a degree of uncertainty about the whole enterprise: often meanderings will take us off course. Sometimes, there’s a specific destination, other times not. “I’m very conscious of how we as creatures are making these lines around the globe with historic patterns going back forever. If you start mapping them, you’ll find they have their own unique story pattern and emotional subtext. In my recent work, I am becoming more panoramic. I’m trying to create a sense of time or bring time into the mix by virtue of motion: as we walk, time passes and the story unfolds.’

Judy uses photographs as the catalyst to achieve something quite different from the realism generally associated with photography. Working them with other media, she creates altered realities where a sense of foreboding, underlying confusion, or mystery is evident. You still see some semblance of the photograph “I want to plant the seeds of some representation, but I only want the story to begin there and then go someplace completely different.” The work is dreamlike and a little unearthly, but very much tied to the earth. “I want you to start from a familiar point but wind up in a labyrinthine state of confusion, or at least disorientation.”

It was her interest in conveying time that led Judy to her most recent project: a three-minute animated film of crossing a street in Miami Beach where she lives. “Shooting the video, I tried to get as close to how I shoot my digital stills as possible. It’s really crude and blurry. It’s fractured and jerky because I was walking. When I saw the rough footage, I could tell there was magic in it.”

The project is incredibly laborious and Judy’s VCCA residency has helped the work come to fruition. “What’s so great about these opportunities is it sets the stage for me to try something I’ve never done before, get a real foothold on it. At home, it’s so difficult to start projects of this scale.”

The raw video had 6,000 frames, many were duplicates generated by the camera as a reaction to Judy’s filming: “The way I shoot, the camera’s struggling, I’ve opened up the shutter, it’s dong things it’s really not comfortable doing so it duplicates in order to fill in blank areas.” After dumping two-thirds of the images, she had to resize and color correct the remaining 2,000 unique ones. She then prints them out onto drawing paper and works them with pencil, pen, marker, paint and collage. Finally she scans them back into the computer for insertion into the video.

“Doing this project, I’m understanding the rhythm of working with time now, the anatomy of serializing a thought. It’s really fascinating. You have to narrow your storytelling focus in a way it’s more literary than ever because you can’t talk about five things at one time in one frame. You have to talk about maybe a quarter of one thing and you have to have a quarter going into a half of one thing and then you have to arrive at the one thing 20 frames later so that kind of thing is brand new to me.”

Watching a snippet of the animation I was struck by how the quick juxtaposition of different media and styles—photographic images of landscape overlaid with flat, cartoonish drawing—added a dynamic energy. Spontaneous lines, floating numbers and an unrolling brick road turn the mundane act of crossing the street into a visual and narrative adventure.
Reading is Judy’s “mantra and inspiration.” Right now, books in her studio include
Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit, Across the Land and the Water poems by W.G. Sebald and My Very End of the Universe a compilation of five 'novellas-in-flash' (Rose Metal Press). The common thread seems to be time—Wanderlust is about walking, poems are “moments” and flash fiction is condensed (or speeded up) fiction—a nice parallel to what Judy is doing.



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