Max Hattler is refuting my observation that he’d like to transcend gravity. ‘Animation has become a sub-category of film, but I think film is a sub-category of animation.’ The intent in his work, he states, is not a matter of escaping the rules of physics, as in cartoons, but has more affinities with the beginnings of the cinematic form itself – origins he is keen to reclaim: ‘I don’t really like animation. People go in for the wrong reasons – because they like cartoons. I like abstraction and graphic design. I like early animation. Artists like Hans Richter and Oskar Fischinger saw it as an extension of painting. Celluloid was a way of making paintings move, and that was the beginning of film. Then came narrative and Hollywood and telling stories with people in them. Now, animation is dominated by Disney and funny stuff – why do we have to live with that?’
If this talk of history seems irregular for such an avowed innovator, the confrontational stance does not. Hattler’s breakthrough film, his Royal College of Art graduation short film Collision, literally burst onto the scene in 2005, with a whirl of flags and a deft political kick. To date, Collision has notched up 209 international screenings, winning a clutch of awards and establishing Hattler as one of a wave of design-savvy digital moving image wunderkinds that include David OReilly and (sometime Hattler collaborator) Robert Seidel.
I speak to Hattler on the eve of his trip to the Fredrikstad Animation Festival in Norway where he will serve as a jury member, and perform a new live set with Japanese artist Noriko Okaku, cryptically titled /\/\/\. A curly-haired dynamo, Hattler is a regular presence on the festival circuit, his films constantly touring evocatively monikered events such as Optica, Cream, Exground and Encounters. Most recently, his short film Aanaatt has received special mention ‘for the art form’ at the No-Festival of Video Art and Animation in Chelyabinsk, Russia.
His latest work, Spin, is produced and distributed by edgy Parisian outfit Auteur de Minuit and extends the concerns of Collision. ‘With the mediatisation of war, you have embedded journalists, and it’s twisted. War is constructed as a narrative for news entertainment,’ Hattler explains. ‘Collision has a very specific take on conflict. It’s sexy and seductive and pretty to look at. It draws you in and halfway through you see horrible things.’
The development of Spin has led to Hattler researching political parades and mass rallies, alongside kaleidoscopic Hollywood dance routines: ‘I’ve been looking at work by Leni Riefenstahl, and the escapist vision of Busby Berkeley. I’ve also been considering Fordism and the division of labour, where individuals create a bigger pattern. I’m interested in the human as ornament. What happens when you replicate a figure a million times?’
With this correlation of dance troupes and military troops, Spin presents a constantly self-replenishing supply of plastic toy soldiers, whose uniform movements shift from dizzying eye-candy patterns into increasingly threatening displays, all to a soundtrack of 1940s big band music. This symbiosis of geometry and bodies is an emerging tendency in Hattler’s work, including currently touring live AV set Oh Yes, another collaboration with Noriko Okaku, featuring a YouTube-infected array of Olympian athletes and roller coasters. Contrasting with the painstaking and time-consuming nature of his film work, the live audiovisual performances offer a sense of catharsis: ‘It’s definitely a relief. An ad-hoc, random, uncontrollable adrenalin-based thing.’
Spin revels in its toys’ plastic shininess, mixing 2-D After Effects wizardry and 3-D scans, extending Hattler’s technical vocabulary and involving a small team of animators. While he regularly collaborates with other artists and musicians, Hattler confirms that his next work will be a solo piece: ‘It’s a luxury to get other people involved, but now I’m excited at just being able to tinker.’