Edwin Rostron is an artist, animator, writer and curator based in London. He studied Animation at the Royal College of Art and his work has been shown in exhibitions and film festivals around the world including Ann Arbor Film Festival, Pictoplasma and Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation. He programmes the Edge of Frame screening events, a series of unique showcases of abstract and experimental animation. This conversation took place in relation to the first Edge of Frame weekend at the Whitechapel Gallery.
How and why did you come to start Edge of Frame?
I’ve always wanted to do something like this, for a long time. I came to a period of relative stability, which I thought it was a good time to capitalise on. Other than Animate Projects, there wasn’t anything for the type of work I was making. A lot of people who do independent animation also work in the industry, or do it as part of a wider fine art practise. I produce other work, but animation is the main thing that I do, and I couldn't see anything specifically geared towards that. It was a bit of an experiment really.
What have been the highlights been so far?
I’ve been pleased by how generous and receptive people I’ve approached to interview for the blog have been. Many people haven't made a living out of their animation work. Most have teaching positions and many work commercially or do other types of work. Not many people are beating the door down to interview the sort of people I’ve been speaking with.
Have you found there to be an audience for this sort of thing?
I’ve been aware of a lot more independent experimental animation online around the same time I started the blog. It’s seemed to have coincided with more awareness. A lot of people who read are in America I think, but in England there is interest from people who are making that sort of work or interested in it. I know people are using it as a resource for students too, which is how I saw it primary, as a resource for other artists and students. I wanted to hear words from the artists themselves. I’m particularly interested in their process and how they work and things like that, not necessarily what the work means but how they make it and how the work comes about.
Have you found the audience to be mostly animators at your events, or does the work reach wider?
The one in December is quite focused on experimental animation, but the summer events were specifically trying to focus on the area between experimental film and animation, which feels to be me, especially in this country, seems to be two quite different types of audiences that I’ve always thought would be interested in other types of work. I was deliberately showing things that wasn’t really animation, which attracted certain people. I wanted to mix the audience. The Close-Up screening are mostly people who wouldn’t consider themselves animators. I’m keen to broaden the audience but understand that that might be the main part of the audience.
I came to the events not really knowing anything about animation.
I did a Fine Art degree. I didn't study animation until way after I had started making it. I did a masters at the RCA but by that time I’d been making animation for ages, without really knowing anything about it. A lot of people who make work that you could call animation don’t really see it that way. It is maybe part of a painting practise thats evolved into moving image, or drawing brought to the screen. A lot of artists come to animation as part of a development of other forms. Theres a hardcore animation audience who like a certain sort of animation. I think the sort of things I’m showing are more towards experimental film that happens to use animation techniques. I’m keen to have an audience beyond the animation world as I don't feel part of that audience myself.
What is it that you find particular compelling about this sort of work, and what you do you think about when curating these programmes?
For me, it is an extension of my own practise. I’m interested in a broad range of film, art, painting and all sorts of things, but I'm focusing on this because I feel it is necessary to make this kind of work more visible. I feel strongly about it because its my practise area. As a practitioner, you look at work that connects to your own in a different way than as a viewer, or even a curator who doesn't make work. I find programmes and exhibitions that are curated by other artists particularly interesting. I think they have a different take on things, that’s often more eclectic. I’m not trying to say this is the best stuff thats going on, in any objective way, or that it is representative of everything that is going on. It’s things thats I find interesting with what can be done in the form, what excites me as an artist, and the sort of work I want to see that doesn't get seen often enough, particularly in this country.
Is this part of the appeal of Edge of Frame then, that this work is quite marginal and isn’t exhibited enough?
Yeah. I think people respond because they are either interested and they don't know much about it, or they are interested and they don't see it often enough. I am attracted to things generally that I don’t know much about, that intrigue me and I want to understand them. There’s plenty of animation that screened a lot in animation festivals. The art audience generally are fairly open to animation. People get quite bogged down with terminology, trying to define what is and what isn’t animation. The word animation has baggage that can put people off, or make them thing of certain things.
As an artist who’s had his work shown in places and ways that hasn’t been entirely satisfying, where the work has been marketed towards kids. I feel there is a general lack of familiarity with animation that leads to it being miscommunicated.
Why is it important to see this work in cinemas rather than other contexts?
The ultimate viewing experience is to have it big, loud and in a comfortable environment where you can be immersed in the work. But I am interested in online exhibition, seeing as Edge of Frame began online. Cinema is the ultimate experience, but its not exclusive. I’m interested in exhibiting and viewing work and other projects in other contexts too.
When I was a teenager, experimental animation was on Channel 4, and BBC2, late at night, all the time. There was a brief period where, before the internet existed, that you were able to see a greater, more curated range of this sort of work than you were online.
When was this?
In the ‘90s, there was a concerted effort, particularly on Channel 4's part, to commission and show a lot of animation work. This was how Animate Projects began, as a collaborative project between the Arts Council and Channel 4, to fund a number of works each year and show them. Everything was on really late at night, but this was perfect for me, as thats when I was up watching it. Obviously the TV landscape is different now.
I guess we have Random Acts now, which could be similar?
Yeah, thats evolved out of those kind of strands for sure. I guess, as the internet didn't exist, we’d focus more on what was available, which was a limited range. 4 Channels. It was quite amazing to have that kind of work shown quite often. I’m interested in any format of getting the work out really. There’s a lot of great things that has come from having so much available online. There’s lots of work I’m showing that would never have happened, people I wouldn’t be in touch with, if it weren’t for the internet.
Do you find a lot of work online then?
Yes, lots of it. And through festivals too, but I don’t get to go to many festivals as I’d like to. There aren’t many festivals in this country that show experimental animation. There’s a few, and you can see work in galleries, but compared to America, it’s small. I went to the Ann Arbor Festival this year, and saw a lot of really amazing stuff there. It’s good to see things where everyone else is seeing things if you want to screen it?
It’s also very exciting to have Alexander Stewart over from Eyeworks Festival, and to be able to see the programme they’ve curated, and also their work, will be a great opportunity, as it hasn't much been been shown here, and they’ve been a big inspiration for what I’m doing. Alexander Stewart is an experimental filmmaker and animator. His wife, Lily Carre, is an animator, but also an illustrator and she does comics and graphic novels and is pretty respected in that world. They both work in animation, and started Eyeworks Festival in 2010. This was the first festival explicitly geared towards experimental animation that I was aware of, and it really was too my specific taste and they also showed a lot of older work which I hadn’t seen.