step back
an essay prompted by watching 'Fantasia' and other stop-motion films by Swedish animator Guldies

Let me in, says the imagination.

What could be a horror or a wriggling dream makes its way through the fence, rendering the fence obsolete. The yard is reassuringly rigid, though the house at its centre is of the fairy-tale kind, the type that presages the eating of children.

We doubt such things will occur in clay. If something ends up eating something else, it will probably absorb it in a way that satisfies the viewer. The impossible blending of shapes rarely feels violent. Surprising, unnerving at times, even threatening, but rarely violent.

The closed house with its winking window provides the drama. What's inside and how do we get to it? Even when the door flicks open, the interior remains invisible. To boil it down to basics - who's there?

Outside, our wriggling horror/dream contorts itself into various pleasing and not-so-pleasing forms. The more human they appear, the more grotesque. Bubbling cubes or ticking eggs can be soothing, but the red, sinewy mouths they belch from, the haggard, wax-work faces, make us want to step back from the clearing.

Only for a moment, of course. We always want to see what happens next. Which mirage, which contortion, will take the place of the one that went before? That's part of the beauty of this art form, I suppose. It's impossible to watch and not think of possibility. Why shouldn't an outstretched hand melt and river its blind way through starry pines? Why shouldn't water droplets bundle upwards into themselves, before knocking nervously upon a door, beyond which could be whispering? Why shouldn't the house become a headless swan? Why can't we fly away?

There's a brief peace in suspecting that anything can become anything else, even if it can't. I think this is especially true when we see representations of our own human form morph and flutter into something inhuman and therefore more effortlessly beautiful. It's nice to become a blue cube every once in a while. It's nice to lose our heads - quite literally - and see them spiral off into the trees or the long grass, turning into blooms, or bayonets, or less recognisably human heads.

Then, when a shape shifts back into something that more closely resembles us, we can enjoy a patch of relief - Yes, we're still there! We haven't lost ourselves just yet! - followed inevitably, I find, by a recurring sense of just how ugly we can be, even in clay. Nostrils and teeth and tongues and ears, all dripping and unsteady, liable to fold into waving, severed limbs. That's when we ask for the sky again, the glittering lights between the bushes. We want that knocking, wriggling, visiting monster to revert back into something plain, geometric and safe. A pause to settle ourselves, before departing once more for further destinations of the strange.