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Journey To The Storyboard Dimension
I have been engaged in several long-term projects and find that as one phase or iteration of a project comes to fruition another of the same project emerges in its place. Most notably this has been true of my comics series, “Starseed + Her Psychic Warriors” and my archetypal studies of the Tarot deck. The theme of the Epic journey and the personalities encountered on the way has built a bridge from my foundations in painting and drawing to my aspirations in books and video. My preoccupation is with narratives in whatever form they may take, and there have been many: comics, artists books, short films, animations, web pages and in the near future, hopefully a tapestry. My love of journeying and reading the ambience of vacant places in my new home, Chicago, has taught me the importance of vacancy. Vacancy has become a preoccupation of mine in the creative process and I suspect it is intimately related a primordial instinct to fill the void with narratives—to recognize patterns and to weave them into the fabric of seemingly innocuous places.
I find narratives and journeys to be one and the same: inherent, incessant and necessary. I say inherent because of the shared tradition worldwide and throughout time. Incessant: because when I try to divert attention to any other project or activity, my long-term projects call me back like a dog going astray. Necessary: because the stories have lives of their own and must be nurtured like a helpless newborn. They need me and I need them and eventually others will need them and they will out-grow me and journey on. Expanding the physical space on which these stories take place can be expected to unfold the mental fabric upon which these stories are woven.
The illusion of the moving image is argued by some to be caused by “Persistence of Vision”: the human’s desire to see the past image while also viewing the present image. As we watch the moving image we slide into the future by wasting away the present and desperately grasping onto a past that is fading from view. The filmstrip is like a thread; on it, time unravels into a thin, fragile lifeline. You could grab on at any point and follow each image to the end or back to the beginning. But, you can only ever really see one image at a time. Many artworks, in galleries and popular culture alike, are displayed using multichannel video or feature a megalomaniacal villain, brooding hero or hapless victim entranced by an array of screens. Usually, this looks really cool but I think it is about more than that.
My insistence, while animating, on making every frame a presentable illustration in and of itself, has drawn my attention to the temporal importance of a storyboard. The storyboard has become my favourite part of the process because in its static nature it still manages to communicate the passage of time, all while never omitting information. Looking at a storyboard is like time travel in that your eyes can hop back and forth between the beginning and end to inform any moment of interest. When looking at a large storyboard pinned up against a wall, it can be used like a map to plot a journey in any direction, not just past to future/left to right, but up-down, diagonally or backwards.
Storyboarding is essentially the oldest form of visual storytelling as written language developed out of pictorial glyphs. It maintained its role as the most effective storytelling device from ancient through to medieval times in the adornment of temples, churches, and palaces—painted on panels, stained-glass windows, carved right into stone or weaved into tapestries. The simple succession of images bookends our experience of time in the third dimension, from the ancients to contemporary society. One image after another is, according to the “persistence of vision” theory, still the mode of traveling through time in any motion picture or gif file. And despite the storyboard being bounded to the 2D world and experienced as frozen in a mobile 3D world, the flexibility of how the images relate to one another goes beyond our current notions of how people experience time, and from an archival perspective is immortalizing a dynamic thing.
Like turning the pages in a book, in single channel video you must conceal the image behind in order to reveal the one before you. But the two page spread, that is the small taste of magic that is the film reel or the storyboard or the tapestry. These are all examples of contextualizing images. What happens when you let multiple images persist side by side? They inform each other. This is long understood by those that read tarot spreads. Many emphasize the reading of each card, like each frame in a movie. But rarely will a film critic judge a movie based on a single frame. It is all the frames together that tell the story. When reading a tarot spread one has the opportunity to experience the beginning, middle and end of a narrative simultaneously, in real time. This preoccupation with storyboards led me to comics and this temporal flexibility greatly informed the comic series’ narrative.
A storyboard can be studied as separate frames like looking at the separate pieces of a puzzle but the puzzle makes much more sense when you view all the pieces as part of a bigger picture. A Bosch painting has a lot going on and it would do you some good to zoom in on a detail and study it as a dignified piece, in and of itself. But this does not mean you shouldn’t also stand back and appreciate the glory of the sum of its parts. A Bosch painting has as much harmony to offer as a Rothko, should you give it the chance. Life offers immense beauty at every scale, from the microscopic to the macroscopic, from telephoto to wide-angle, should you put in the effort to adjust your focus. Should we readjust our view of time, life may be experienced in truly mind-altering ways.