Experimental animator Jodie Mack has an obsession with materials and images with an organic, light-weight quality. Which is handy given that her form - stop-motion - is historically more about creating reality than capturing it. She mainly works with material offcuts ranging from textiles to paper. Her films take those materials in sweeping trips across the globe as she transforms the patterns of everyday life into exquisite films that comment on contemporary complexities like globalization, manufacturing, distribution and commerce.
For centuries, men have killed and died for cloth. The earliest conquistadors scoured the planet for textiles and dyes to bring back to consumers at home in Europe, the distinctive styles and colors evoking far-off lands while conveying class and wealth. Fashion hyper-jumped forward and left an economy of violence and subjugation in its wake, but this large-scale conflict isn’t limited to the remote past. According to stop-motion animator and experimental video artist Jodie Mack, it’s not even over.
“The brightest fabrics with the most colorful dyes are usually the most toxic,” she says over a Zoom from the venerable MacDowell artist’s residency in Peterborough, New Hampshire. “The trajectory of accessibility and technology has a relationship to homogeneity and a lack of nuance, which we can see in the way the swastika, the yin-yang, the ankh have been replicated… In terms of their translation, it’s like we’re using Google Translate as opposed to a human translator. There’s no understanding of idiom.”
Across her dozens of short films and culminating feature debut ‘The Grand Bizarre’, she’s explored the myriad tensions arising from the global marketplace of stuff and still lingering in today’s world. Her work is a hyper-stimulating banquet for the senses, combining an aesthetic of rapid-fire psychedelia with music of her own composition in a swirl of iconography and referents that wouldn’t look out of place on the TV at a house party. All the while, these textural, sensuous marvels interrogate a capitalist reality easily taken for granted, and resist conclusive answers. To focus on textiles, a recurring motif in her catalogue (though she mentions that she’s currently in the thick of a “plant phase”), is to confront a dense pack of topics — the specter of colonialism, cultural interchange, how mass reproduction warps identity, the organic’s mutation into the synthetic. Each film contains a semester’s worth of curricula imparted not through turgid language, but rather in a kaleidoscopic geyser of imagery.
With an academic-minded curiosity giving away her side gig as an associate professor at Dartmouth College, Mack singles out one such teachable lesson from ‘The Grand Bizarre’. Shot on the fly as she toured her shorts through festivals and museums from America to Asia, she noticed that a diamond-shape she refers to as the film’s ‘starlet’ kept reappearing. “The materials find me,” she says. “The diamond was on a suitcase, printed on a vinyl finish at a T.J. Maxx. That store was a point of entry into a lot of the important textile traditions, as were the other big-box stores like Target and Wal-Mart.”
She continues: “When you go into something as nuanced and long as the history of textiles, it’s hard to pinpoint certain origins. It’s like trying to pinpoint the genesis of the phoneme ‘ah’ or ‘oh,’ because everyone’s got the components and systems and rearrangement, so no one’s got copyright on a line or shape. It’s this fluctuation between utility and decoration. So for example, the diamond starlet could have many meanings across various textile cultures where these forms speak to the people that know its language. But when you put things into a global, imperialized market and they end up at T.J. Maxx, then the utility and decoration no longer have any significance to its new consumer.” ...