Black lake(2010) Written, Directed & Produced by David OReilly, Collaboration with Jon Klassen
Barad, Karen. “Nature’s Queer Performativity.” Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences. Vol. 19(2):121-158, Spring/Summer 2011.
The animation of David O’Reilly is a brutal technosentimental mash, where natureculture’s partiality connects and riffs with tangents and visions that conspire in unsettling a beauty of an alien-human-animalia. Since he started publicly releasing his work, in 2006 so far as I can tell (at the age of 21) with WOFL 2106, O’Reilly has been an enigmatic constant on the stage of avant-garde aesthetics and story-telling in animated film.
His narrative film project The External World (2010) is a mindsplitting multi-verse of absurdist noise and character fragments telling heart-breaking hilarious tales of innocence and corruption and abject pain in sort of performative ‘All the world's a stage’ ways. Rendered in a graphic coldness of 3D animation, The External World has won an astonishing number of awards since its release. I highly recommend watching this film, and feel that it encapsulates all I could say about his work and more. But I’m hoping to draw attention to his entire oeuvre by looking at some of his other work, rather than impose a hierarchy to the breadth of his portfolio.
His film Please Say Something (2009) is highlighted here, along with WOFL 2106, and Black Lake. I'm writing about him here to position a discussion on how O’Reilly’s work renders visible a posthuman catalogue of fluid and rapidly changing perspectives, as described by Karen Barad in her article “Nature’s Queer Performativity”. There is an emergent ontology in O’Reilly’s work.
In WOFL 2106, we experience the full shift in narrative from the expected to the surprising [WARNING that there is a very loud high-pitched note hit in this film at about the 2:20 mark, so don’t blare the volume if you’re wearing earbuds]. A frolicking woodland creature runs through a winter forest alight in a classical orchestral audial landscape, and comes upon the carcass of one of his own. Dragging it into the distance, the little critter leaves the body, and PAUSE…||||… We’re blinded by the soprano-noted appearance of a deity. The carcass is an offering which the deerhead-entity accepts and rolls in its lolling tongue. Angered or satisfied, the deerhead-entity transforms to a demented Chuckydoll head that melts the winter chill with lasers and out of the ground emerges eggs of glittering technology that the woodland critter draws toward and WHAM is confronted with the decapitated/decapitating energy force of an eternal cycle of renewal in an electronic techno-fueled rise to the universal-everything. Or something...
Please Say Something tells a story of a troubled relationship between a Cat & Mouse set in the distant future. A human drama is played out in the bits and bytes of these anthropomorphized animal characters, with glitch cuts and blends of metonymic temporality, distorted edges, and distant highly emotional content that brings difficult warmth and mocking sadness to the stark greyed palette of the film. Watching this film leaves me feeling as though there is a gaping hole in my chest. It is a grey area of suspending expected narratives and perspectives. We relate to the characters swiftly, and yet can’t connect. The harsh queering of reality-alterity seems to come despite the presence of a fairly typical heterosexual narrative. For me it calls into question the mechanisms at work in communicating something human… not nearly apophenia (the tendency of humans to see connections and patterns), but Please Say Something signals power dynamics of psychologically abusive relationships of humans to profound effect. Barad’s thinking on the dehumanizing by presenting gradations of humanness that use animals encompassed in “practices of differentiating the ‘human’ from the ‘nonhuman,’ the ‘animate’ from the ‘inanimate,’ and the ‘cultural’ from the ‘natural’ produce crucial materializing effects” (124) are visible here where there is no fixed notion of identity (as in The External World, most effectively) beside the gendered game of Cat & Mouse.
Black Lake is the most straightforward as a visual narrative told in repetitive metaphor of layering and breaking down of a dark body of water containing the matter of life in the darkness. The identities or lack thereof in this short film break down ideal nature and human’s place in it with symbolism of frames and geometry, as a code or construction, behind everything. A lovely loop of visuals and lulling soundtrack trace O’Reilly’s experimentation in using referents and nature’s queer presence as a site of transformation for consciousness through alternative aesthetic forms of storytelling.