Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Time Machine Essay: Brothers Quay Research...

I've finally decided to do my time machine essay on the Brothers Quay and their influences:

the Brothers Quay, whose films bear a superficial resemblance to Švankmajer’s. As marvellous as they are (and of undoubted interest to surrealists), the films of the Brothers Quay are too singular, too resolutely personal, to be considered within the context of surrealism.” (Richardson, 2006:176-77)

This is ultimately where they differ from Švankmajer, whose films emerge from a collective engagement tied to a will of transformation which is the fundamental characteristic of surrealism.

The Brothers Quay, on the other hand, create a hermetic world obeying its own logic and resistant to any external intrusion. Their sensibility appears to have been formed largely through an engagement with Central European culture, and any linkage which may be discerned between their work and surrealism is purely formal.” (Richardson, 2006:176-77)

The Quay Brothers, “known for their exquisite puppet animation films, and to a lesser degree for their stage and set design for theatre and opera”, were commissioned by the Rotterdam Film Festival to “create an exhibition, Dormitorium, with eighteen exhibition cases that presented reconfigurations of a variety of their puppets, film décors and fragments. As they work in puppet animation, these cases are tantalizing explorations and presentations of their work. But what is especially attractive is how different the works look on display compared to the lighting in the films. And screws are – well, just that – screws. The haptic becomes tactile.” (Rugg, Sedgwick, 2008:135)

In ‘Concrete Animation’, an essay by New York– based filmmaker, artist and author George Griffin, he addresses the fact that ‘animation is more than the sum of its parts’ and his argument aims ‘to link “concrete” to actual materials, objects not just images, and the processes which cause them to spring to life. It would not then be tied to any particular rules of design or vanguard art theory. It would suggest the tactile, the tangible, the real, the stuff which is often forgotten in the river of illusion’ .

It is perhaps the film-makers who themselves are most aware of the value of the materials they use, that recognize they have a value in addition to the films, are the ones that are regarded as ‘artists’.” (Rugg, Sedgwick, 2008:135)

Concrete was a term used...as a synonym for abstract or absolute animation, perhaps in reference to the planar abstractions of De Stijl: Theo von Doesburg and Piet Mondrian...there was a radical commitment to eliminate the conventional accretions of ornament and narrative.” (Griffin 2007)

Today the term contains a tone of defiant backlash against the pervasive reach of digital processing and its tendency toward virtual reality.” (Griffin 2007)

I propose to link concrete to actual materials, objects not just images, and the processes which cause them to spring to life.” (Griffin, 2007)

It suggests the tactile, the tangible, the real, the stuff which is often forgotten in the river of illusion. Just as concrete, used in building construction, is formed by the coalescence of discrete particles into a solid mass, so too is animation more than the sum of its parts, be they frames on a strip of film, pages in a book, or a sequence of objects.” (Griffin, 2007)

On River of Crocodiles "vision animated to the bursting point, illogical, oneiric, and exhilarating. It was a phenomenon that I implicitly understood but could not adequately describe." (Buchan, 2011:XI)
"what entails the experiential difference between a screw animated on-screen and one that we twirl in our fingers?" (Buchan, 2011:XII)
On their work " They are exemplary visual excavations, and alchemical reworking of occluded but recognizable elements from other films and artworks, identified by a highly original style and poetic dialectical form." (Buchan, 2011:XII)

"At first glance, their inspirations are an eclectic mix: Lewis Carroll, Franz Kafka, E.T.A Hoffman, Marcel Duchamp, Hieronymous Bosch, Michel de Gheldrode, Wladyslaw Starewicz, Bruno Schulz, Robert Walser, Guiseppe Arcimboldo, Raymond Roussel, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Stanislaw Lem. On closer scrutiny, these artists and writers share an express interest in metaphysical and undercurrent worlds of the life of objects, a preoccupation with obsession, the fantastic, the banal, the miniature." (Buchan, 2011:XIII)
"In the Quays' films, these authors and artists become retrieved ghosts hovering out of frame, frames invested with their metaphysical afterlife of omnipotence, epiphany, sexual pathologies, and fantasy." (Buchan, 2011:XIII)
Look into Patrick Bokanowski and Siegfried Zielinski.

"By incorporating automata in puppet and object design and "romantic ruins" in their sets, the Quays create an especial capacity to suggest the uncanny." (Buchan, 2011:96)
"The Quays' eerie use of familiar objects in a collaged and montaged spatial uncertainty and the illusion created by the cinematic apparatus bring this "something" to light twofold: the bringing to life of inanimate objects on the one hand, and the cinema's capacity to allow us to experience what we logically know is impossible but secretly wish is not." (Buchan, 2011:96)

"if psycho-analytic theory is correct in maintaining that every affect belonging to an emotional impulse, whatever its kind, is transformed, if it is repressed, into anxiety, then among instances of frightening things there must be one class in which the frightening element can be shown to be something repressed which recurs." (Freud, 2006:217)
"uncanny is in reality nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression."(Freud, 2006:217)
Schelling's definition of uncanny "as something which ought to have remained hidden but has come to light." (Freud, 2006:217)

"An unconscious and repressed wish, whose fulfilment could only be felt as painful by the dreamer's ego, has seized the opportunity offered by the continued cathexis of painful day - residues, has lent them its support, and has thus made them capable of being dreamed." (Freud, 1911:343)


Richardson, Michael (2006) Surrealism and Cinema. Oxford: Berg Publishers

Rugg, Sedgwick, (2008) Issues in Curating Contemporary Art and Performance. Bristol: Intellect Ltd.

Griffin, George (2007) Concrete Animation. In: sagepublications.com Vol.2, 11.2007 [online] http://anm.sagepub.com/content/2/3/259

Buchan, Suzanne (2011) The Quay Brothers: Into a Metaphysical Playroom. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Freud, Sigmund (2006) Writings on art and literature. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press

Freud, Sigmund (1911) The interpretation of dreams. USA: Plain Label Books


  1. Hey Molly - I think in terms of the Brothers Quay and Freud, you should dig into the idea of the 'Return of the Repressed'


    It dovetails with the 'unheimlich' - a subject you already know something about...

  2. Excellent, thank you! I'll get a proper set of quotes and references up tomorrow. I've been in a bit of a muddle today so thanks a lot for keeping me in the right direction.

  3. Saw this - thought of you - someone influenced by the Brothers Quay, methinks?


  4. Oh wow!! I love this! Its charming wierdness is what Coraline would've been like if it had been made by the Brothers Quay!
    Amazing, thank you! :D