Ways of Seeing: Robert Wallace's psychedelic take on Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art


14 March 2018


It’s Nice That has teamed up with Canvas to make a triptych of films which peer inside the walls of three of Britain’s best-loved cultural institutions to turn all your expectations about art galleries upside down. 

Canvas is on a mission to get young people interested in art. Using YouTube as a springboard and rallying support through Facebook and Twitter, Canvas produces and curates video content which promotes artists, exhibitions, events and performances all over the UK.

It’s Nice That harnessed the talents of three rising creative talents — Robert Wallace who is also known as Parallel Teeth, Laurie Rowan and Rose Pilkington — and paired them with Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, Fact gallery in Liverpool and Turner Contemporary, Margate. Over the coming weeks, we will be talking to each of the three filmmakers to find out exactly what went on behind the scenes at the three institutions.

“I didn’t want to make an installation or an artwork you could see in an exhibition. I wanted to convey the experience of venturing through all the spaces and rooms of a gallery,” says Robert Wallace — who goes by the name of Parallel Teeth — about his psychedelic animation which transforms Gateshead’s Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art into a series of multicoloured sketches and hallucinatory cartoons. 

Robert is a New Zealand-born, London-based director, animator and graphic artist, who has worked on a plethora of music videos for musicians like Merk and Mr Jukes, as well as exhibiting in group shows in the UK, USA, Australia and Japan. For Ways of Seeing, Robert took on the challenge of reimagining a gallery into a living entity through his skilful use of shapes, colours and animated movements. “Baltic has a range of spaces that I wanted to draw inspiration from. One was the big library, that hosts a huge collection of art books. I also really liked the staircase,” the animator tells It’s Nice That. “It had mirrors on either end of it, which made the stairwell appear endless. It was important to me to highlight the gallery’s vastness and its multiple storeys through my animation. My film morphs the gallery into an entity that disorients you, makes you feel lost and confuses you as to which level you’re on.”

Robert’s creative journey began with a virtual tour of the gallery. Clicking his way through the space, Robert started penning hypothetical stills for his video. He also turned to Instagram to explore interesting details other Baltic visitors had chosen to photograph. “On the actual day I didn’t have a story board, only a bunch of shots and key features I thought could be good to incorporate into the finished film,” Robert explains.

During the filming of Baltic’s spaces, Robert’s mind repeatedly imagined how shots would work in relation to each other, and how he would transition from one piece of footage to the next. “I knew that if I captured some shots that panned down at the end, I would have to start other shots from the top and then pan down. I recorded quite a few different takes in each location to be safe. It required a lot of imagination on my part; I kept telling myself that although the clips may not look smooth now, they will in the final version.” Robert was particularly conscious of room to room transitions because he was filming with a hand-held camera. A lack of smooth movement meant that the animator had to flex his creative muscles, visualising opportunities for seamless footage transitions that were not immediately apparent. By shooting a large amount of content, Robert was able to play around with various takes and stitch the film together cohesively.

The subsequent editing process lasted for a week. Robert sketched the core animation of every room, filling in spaces with abstract shapes and vibrant background colours. After the foundations had been set, Robert added intricate details and patterns to his creations. Working mainly on Photoshop and sketching the details frame-by-frame allowed Robert to create an energetic and fluid video effect: “The drawings wobble quite a bit if you look at them carefully. If these were still images or clips that were animated really carefully you would be able to see that my track isn’t that precise. But the liveliness hides that. The wobbly, oscillating shapes also lend Baltic more life.” The animations may be add-ons to the live footage, yet Robert’s masterful execution marries his drawings with the clips of Baltic, creating an integrated, symbiotic whole.

Much of Robert’s previous work has included animating music videos where melodies and sounds were the artist’s main source of inspiration. In this film however, the roles were reversed. Robert would work on the animation before sending it to Skillbard who worked on the sound design and used his visuals to compose the music accompaniment. “When I first started working on the project, everything felt very flat and lifeless. But that changed as soon as I received the first sound sample. It gave me a lot of direction and filled me with different ideas,” Robert admits. Through close collaboration, Robert and Skillbard have created melodic sound effects that harmoniously fuse with the music.“We didn’t want it to be a normal song," the animator adds. "We wanted it to be a deconstructed piece of music. The song is informed by the squeaks and beats that sound from the different animated characters and which bleed in and out of the music.”

Big round eyeballs and oversized noses are recurring motifs throughout Robert’s video, lending the various rooms distinct personalities and moods. “The human characteristics are symbolic of the visitors that walk around galleries and reflect on the art. Then you could interpret the patterns as a more abstract take on the art, I guess,” Robert explains. This permeation of facial features animates the various spaces in new ways, beyond the shifting and wobbling abstract shapes. By anthropomorphising the building and the art itself, Robert prompts the viewers to reconsider the relationship between gallery visitors and the art they are there to see. The eyes and noses he sketches evoke a sense of interaction between the walls of buildings and the visitors who, although absent from Robert’s frames, are about to fill Baltic’s room at any given moment.

“I think galleries can be seen as quiet, serious, even clinical places, especially for younger people. I hope I have put a fun spin on it. Perhaps this video will make people reconsider what it means to visit an exhibition and what sort of energy you can expect from a cultural institution.” Through his animation, Robert is enhancing the gallery experience. Museum-goers visit galleries to see the art that hangs on the walls. However, by transforming Baltic into a living entity, Robert’s work implies that immersing yourself in artistic environments can be creative and inspiring; art is both what hangs on the wall and the actual experience itself.

Canvas is an Arts Council-funded initiative bringing together arts organisations across England with a set of wide-ranging objectives: making arts content more discoverable and engaging; increasing the number of people engaging with the arts; increasing the volume and quality of creative media; and supporting the skills and digital capacity of the arts sector.

Canvas consists of two interrelated projects: the Canvas channel and the Canvas network. The Canvas channel publishes, curates and promotes video across YouTube, Facebook and Twitter with the aim of inspiring 18-35 year olds to explore the world of art. The Canvas network helps arts organisations develop their online video strategy and output through advice, support, training and collaborative projects.

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About the Author

Daphne Milner

Daphne has worked for us for a few years now as a freelance writer. She covers everything from photography and graphic design to the ways in which artists are using AI.

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