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The Janet and Walter Sondheim Prize 2010

Posted 7/7/2010

The Sondheim Artscape Prize: 2010 Finalists

Through Aug.1 at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

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Karen Yasinksy's "You Have to Be Very Careful"

Karen Yasinsky

Installing her work for a third year as a Sondheim finalist, Karen Yasinsky has drastically scaled back her presentation. Having put tremendous gusto into the elaborate, multimedia installation last year, this year she chose to be more succinct and almost cautious. Yasinsky, who makes hand-drawn animations and stop-motion films based on classic movies, takes up one modest room in the gallery for her nearly three-minute animation loop, "You Have To Be Very Careful." While the title suggests a dual trepidation, both for her characters and about the installation itself, in this case, less is more.

The projection fills the entire wall of the small viewing room, the frame stretching from the floor nearly to the top of the wall, immersing you in a striking, larger-than-life animation of two psychologically opposite characters. One is Shelley Duvall from Robert Altman's 1974 Thieves Like Us; the other is Elliot Gould from Altman's California Split from the same year. Through a stylized rotoscoping, Yasinsky introduces these unrelated characters into the same cinematic space. Using no dialogue, the scene's awkwardness and humor are achieved through its soundtrack, placement of the figures, and pulsing colors that make up the imagined interaction. Duvall, whose character is dealt the short end of the stick in Thieves, appears similarly gentle and delicate in Yasinsky's flickering, graphite line work. Pensive and preoccupied, Duvall's likeness busies herself with ambiguous tasks around the frame, stopping for a close-up.

The animation of Gould--amended with grotesque, almost clownish color splotches--appears bold and wild eyed in the frame. His character has none of the grace or daintiness of Duvall's; where she flows fluidly, moving between the frame's fore and middle grounds, the Gould figure stays spatially frozen, amputated by the edge of the screen. In the awkwardness of this pose, he is transformed into something not quite human; he makes no gestures, only horrid facial expressions. Yasinsky likens him to a frog when a fly drifts into view and Gould swallows it.

Soon rainbows appear, Gould's shirt stripes alternate psychedelically, Duvall checks her watch and smiles. Duvall stands alone, changed by the complimentary comparison to Gould, now surrounded by an outline of color. In the last few moments of the animation, images of products from the 1970s slide right to left through the frame before it starts over again. Yasinsky's ability to animate, manipulate, and interfere in the predestined lives of film characters is somewhat playful and curious. She removes the limits placed on each character, gives them additional scenarios in which to hold their own, and reveals the depths of their psyches.

In her statement, Yasinsky describes this animation as creating a sketch of an era rather than a conscious narrative. Its brevity allows it to act as a collection of thoughts, drawings, and references in a clean, accessible format. Having already clinched the Baker Prize and the Joseph H. Hazen Rome Prize this year, it may be this kind of self-limitation that helps her to secure the elusive Sondheim prize. (AE)

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