Vox is a 2-screen synchronized SD animation with Dolby 5.1 surround sound, commissioned by Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne and the Institute of Art, Brisbane as a joint project in 2007. Deliberately employing a flat/graphic style of animation, two heads - one male, the other female - face each other. Each takes turn to sexually intimidate the other through a series of contorting biomorphic growths sprouting from his/her head. The active agent in this sexual change is entirely transformed while the expelling head remains grounded and still.
This 2-screen work characterises Philip's general approach to gender propositions. On the one hand, clear binaries are set up between 'male' and 'female'; on the other hand, these binaries are blended, fused, morphed and ultimately dissolved. The male head grows a series of penile extensions which eventually abstract into something entirely 'post-phallic', after which the female head grows a series of vaginal extensions which eventually abstract into something entirely 'post-uterine'. That 'post' realm is the universe of the body. Humans - symbolised by the male and female heads in this animation - are mere pollops.
Concept & direction - Philip Brophy
Design & key animation - Philip Brophy
Sound design, synthesis & mix - Philip Brophy
Inbetweening - Steven Whatmough, Idora Alhabashi, Dom Evans, Teishan Ahearne
Flash scripting - Steven Whatmough
Technical advice - Phip Murray, Martine Corompt, Dominic Redfern, Stephen Jones
Production assistance - Chris MacKellar
Digital print advice - John Bilan
Thanks - Alexie Glass, Emily Cormack, Robert Leonard, RMIT Media Arts
ULTRA SKIN, Coreana Museum of Art, Seoul
ILLUME - Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney (outdoor silent dual-projection)
Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne (solo exhibition)
Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane (solo exhibition)
· The male sings, his face full of expressionistic angst as his mouth opens wide.
· The female simply stares ahead at him.
· The sound of his voice is like an opera tenor singing a single high note, yet it contorts into alien, cyborg noise - yet all the while retaining a screaming human quality.
· As he sings a mutated biosonic-penile erupts forth from his mouth and pulsates
. · It continues to grow and throb ungainly, eventually spreading itself onto the face of the female in profile on the adjoining screen.
· Spent and finished, his protuberance retracts and thins out, receding inside his throat.
· Throughout, the female remains passive and non-affected.
· The female now sings, her face full of sensual ardour as her mouth opens wide.
· The male simply stares ahead at her.
· The sound of her voice is like an opera soprano singing a single high note, yet it contorts into alien, cyborg noise - yet all the while retaining a screaming human quality.
· As she sings a mutated biosonic-vagina erupts forth from her mouth in a series of lip-like folds that flutter and quiver.
· The folds continue to grow and move erratically, eventually spreading itself onto the face of the male in profile on the adjoining screen.
· Spent and finished, her protuberance retracts and thins out, receding inside her throat.
· Throughout, the male remains passive and non-affected.
In West Side Story the Puerto Rican chicks dance off against their men in the film's fieriest number, "America". They spit at their men. The guys sling machismo back. The girls flap their Rican skirts in waves of thigh heat. The spiv studs respond with a series of erectile poses. It's like a dance-off between mermaids and matadors.
Aurora Snow directs herself in her series Assploitations. Buffed calendar studs with square jaws ram her trinity of orifices. She cajoles them, egging them on to penetrate her more. Aurora runs this show. These guys grimace as they desperately try to get to the other side. She can swallow them all in one gulp with her extraterrestrial deep throat technique. Her spit is more substantial than their cum shots. Her voice withers their forced grunts.
Tom Hanks stands on one side of a wombic expanse of west coast water in Sleepless in Seattle. Meg Ryan psychically waits on the opposite coast facing him across America. As forcefully distilled as Safeway brand mineral water, their dumb closed mouths and glassy vacant eyes face the nothingness that forecasts their relationship. Its idealised status is the essence of cinematic factiousness. The insipid ballad that skates across the waterways and airwaves entrances these figures ghosted by love.
In Vox, a man opens his mouth. Stuff comes out. A woman opens her mouth. Stuff comes out.
That's the way it is in the dimensional warp between the dick flick and the chick flick. Between the flaccid stylistics of Ocean's Thirteen and the neurotic warmth of Amelie. Between the rehearsed gender politics of Shirin Neshat and the uncontrolled gender detonations of Big Brother. Between you and your other. And your Other. Between your daughter holding a toy princess and your son holding a toy dinosaur. Between their legs.Vox - 2-screen animation still © 2007
The style of drawing for Vox is based on the flat unshaded technique typical of late Edo-era portraiture prints and their modern application in anime. Heads are formed as self-contained 'orbs' with two levels of flesh: lit and shaded. Selective minimal line work is then applied to refine and distill nuances of facial expression. Vox uses these key design features to retain a flatness to the imagery.
This flatness is an integral aspect of the animation, in that the flat imagery is mobilized through computer motion. The purpose is to 'mechanize' the iconic representational face through contradictory 'natural' movement - to clash realistic momentum and dynamism with unrealistic objects and surfaces.
Caucasian fleshy tones are employed to create a restricted palette which less references human flesh and more evokes unhumaness: plastic surgery, mortician make-up, sex dolls, store mannequins, toy dolls, idol figurines, etc. The concept of infusing these 'figures' with post-human sexuality is a prime directive in the design and rendering of the images in Vox.Vox - 2-screen animation still © 2007
A test video was filmed to provide tracking data for facial expressions. From this shoot, the best uninterrupted performance was selected, lasting 1 minute and 48 seconds. From this performance, 168 keyframes were tabulated and registered, each with specific timings attached. The resulting sequence totals 3,700 frames. From these keyframes (ranging from completely still profiles to wildly contorted faces), hand drawn sketches were constructed to generate a template of elements which were then redrawn as vector elements in Freehand. One set of these keyframes was adapted to iconically represent a male visage; a second set was adapted to iconically represent a female visage (proportionally reconfigured without adam's apple, a larger forehead, a smaller nose and a thinner neck).
In Freehand, these vector keyframes were then blended into shockwave files at 25 frames per second (ie. no 'limited animation' was employed). The swfs were then imported into Flash and layered. Tests were carried out with the shockwave files from which the facial blends and expressions were modified back in Freehand, then re-exported.
Once the facial expressions had been completed, design of the 'organs' was undertaken. A set of male and female organs were hand-drafted. The Male and Female sequences each entailed 9 components, indicated below in their emerging form and their maturated form:
Each of these 9 components undergoes 8 phases of growth and reduction across the 168 keyframes. They were then redrawn as vector elements in Freehand and positioned according to the framing/positioning of each of the 168 keyframes. In Freehand, these vector keyframes were then blended into shockwave files. The swfs were then imported into Flash and layered. Tests were carried out with the shockwave files from which organ registration was modified back in Freehand, then re-exported.
An overall frame registration check was undertaken in Flash at dual-screen scale. The final Flash project was exported as Quicktime Movies for single-screen positioning in Final Cut Pro. The Exported MPG2s were then used for the authoring of the DVDs for the first version of the work installed at Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne, and the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.
A more jittery/messy/less-seamless version was ideally versioned, so Steven Whatmough was employed to design a Flash script that would allow for generating a version of a final completed Quicktime Movie to be scrubbed back-and-forth. A real-time performance was recorded of this 'scrubbing' - one for the male and one for the female, each lasting around 5 minutes. These performances allowed for greater focus and detailing on the minute changes in facial expressions and organ mutation which passed too smoothly and quickly in the original short version. These recorded performances then became exported MPG2s which were used for the new version of the work presented at the Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney, and the Coreana Museum of Art, Seoul.