In The Box: Hoarders Without Borders 1.0

Roger Beebe

Wed, Mar 06, 2019

A Wex favorite on a Wex favorite: below, Columbus-based filmmaker and Ohio State Department of Art professor Roger Beebe describes how he came to view an early cut of avant-garde filmmaker and animator Jodie Mack’s latest short, showing this month in The Box. Don’t miss Jodie Mack in person on March 7, when she presents her longform piece The Grand Bizarre—in her words, “a collage of textiles, tourism, language, and music.”

On June 2 of last year, I got an email from Jodie Mack with the subject line “is this accident happy or sad?” The email itself contained just a Vimeo link and a password. I wasn’t totally surprised—Jodie was an undergraduate of mine at the University of Florida a decade and a half ago, and she’s used me as a sounding board for works in progress ever since. But this email was more laconic than usual from her. I clicked the link immediately and replied 19 minutes later, firing off a response peppered with exclamation marks and enthusiastic profanity. Here I will try to elaborate on what I wrote back.

Mack is a dynamo. For the past decade or so, she’s cranked out a series of shorter animations like this one alongside longer projects that take years to complete. In every film, short or long, she attempts to strike a balance where her play with form—color, rhythm, line, composition—extends to something more than form. One series dealt with fabric, the decorative, and the relationship between these and gender. In exploring the tension between an almost-modernist abstraction and mundane materials, this series suggested that the divide between those things is far from innocent. In other works, Mack transformed the patterns in security envelopes (Unsubscribe #1: Special Offer Inside), meditated on home-improvement culture and aspirational consumption (Yard Work is Hard Work), and documented the decline of her mother’s poster business in the era of e-commerce (Dusty Stacks of Mom)—while applying a dazzling array of animation styles and strategies that nodded to the history of experimental animation yet asserted an energy and humor that made these films distinctively hers.

Hoarders Without Borders, with its 1.0 title, promises to initiate a film series about collectors and the impulse to collect. (Globetrotting to various sites of fabric production, The Grand Bizarre may already be the culmination of this series.) The title of Hoarders might refer also to Mack’s own penchant for collecting raw materials she then transforms by/before her camera. It’s been two decades since Derrida diagnosed us with a case of “Archive Fever,” and academics and artists continue to be drawn to the notion of archives as an animating principle. Mack partakes in this archival theme but in a self-reflexive, meta way that may also be refusing some of the presumed intellectual rewards of diving into an archive.

In this case, the archive in question is a mostly geological archive belonging to Mary Johnson that is housed at Harvard’s Mineralogical and Geological Museum, which Mack visited during her time as a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Radcliffe encourages the kind of interdisciplinary border-crossing Mack does here 

as she leaves the narrow world of experimental animation and heads into the science museum. But this approach also presents an open question in this film: whether the fantasy that new forms of knowledge might emerge from these interdisciplinary exchanges might remain a fantasy. With the shutter remaining open as Mack replaced each mineral in front of the camera, Mack’s blurred body as she performs the physical work of this labor-intensive single-frame animation may have been just a “happy accident” that she alluded to in her email’s subject line. Yet this aspect of the work is also theoretically decisive in the way it returns us from the science lab to the animation studio. 

What we get in this film is not new knowledge about the nature of the crystals and mineral formations on display but rather a virtuosic show of the animator’s skill. Hoarders astonishes us with form at the same time that it lays bare the labor required to produce the illusion. This stunning performance is what I come back for again and again in Mack’s work. The delight in form that Jodie also constantly struggles against is her singular gift—a gift to the world.

Jodie Mack (b. 1983) is a London, England–born American filmmaker whose handmade animation works have been shown at the Vienna International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, New York Film Festival, and others. She received an MFA in film, video, and new media from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago after graduating from the University of Florida. Currently, Mack teaches at Dartmouth College as an associate professor of film and media studies.

(4:45 mins., 16mm film transferred to video)