Interview with Karolina Glusiec
from MM02, released April 2019
Karolina Glusiec is a polish-born artist working primarily with drawing and animation. Her drawing style is immediately recognizable due to it’s loose, layered, and rapidly applied look. What at first appears abstract quickly becomes the embodiment of a moment in time, especially when those loose lines begin to move within her animated works. By stripping away the specific detail of a scene she is able to evoke something that feels more at the root of the subject, often making her films play like a recorded memory. Beyond animation, Glusiec is seemingly ever-busy documenting her daily life via her sketchbook. She’s taken the notion of flipbook animation to another level by using each page of a sketchbook as a new animation frame — the result of which is wonderfully energetic and loose animations documenting her travels. Karolina is a graduate of the animation department at the RCA in London and has since worked on various music videos and commissioned projects as well as developing her own unique view of the medium.
Mostly Moving: Hi Karolina, Could you tell me a bit about yourself and how you got started making animation?
Mostly Moving: Hi Karolina, Could you tell me a bit about yourself and how you got started making animation?
Karolina Glusiec: Sure, I’m Karolina. I was born in Poland, in Lublin which is the city in the south-east part of the country. It’s funny, a lot of my Polish friends told me they thought that I lived there and that I knew the city very well. I haven’t actually lived there until between 2016 and late 2018. So, yeah I lived in the south-east of Poland, first with my grandparents when I was little. In a village called Rakolupy. I remember watching television with my granddad, making little figurines out of random things, drawing and having best time ever playing with nothing with granddad- he used to point on some piece of rubbish, or a shadow or something just leftovered, laying around and would ask if I see a shape or a person or something. We would go like this for hours. My granddad is a full time daydreamer. And a diy superhero. He also specializes in carrying furniture on the bicycle. Fixing things with nothing. He always used to be very resourceful. I guess spending time with him when I was little made me later choose to want to make animation. And one more thing, I remember watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus on the telly when I was 5 or 6 years old? Had no clue what was this all about back then but doesn’t matter.
MM: Your drawing style is both descriptive & abstract and often gives the audience just enough information to make sense of the marks. How did you arrive at such a distinct drawing style?
KG: Well, the answer is: time. No time or not enough time. Or just enough time to do something. Just the moment and circumstances really — this all defines how my drawing is. It’s not that I’m always in a hurry. No, it’s not like that- it’s always the drawing that is an addiction thing to what is currently happening or an additional thing to a certain memory. A complimentary element- not necessarily a piece on its own. It’s a part of a bigger picture or a story, a starting point of something to talk about. I think it’s a luxury and a real privilege to do paintings. To spend so much time on them. I want to learn how is it. So I have been drawing slower for last couple of months when I was visiting the US. Now since I’m in Canada and I’m back into animating I’ve started drawing quickly again. Other thing is, when I draw from life or whenever I draw I never meant to or, hmm, I hardly ever mean to make a nice looking or a particularly looking picture. Or a composition. A friend of mine, Maciej Palka, who is a comic book artist told me that he doesn’t understand my drawings at all -” There’s no pivotal point, the main element in the composition…” and yes, he’s right. There’s never any. Don’t really concentrate on detail — by default — but I try to learn this, see how it is. When I lived in New York I started joining life drawing classes that would focus on portrait drawing — a couple of hours, or long long long posts. People that were attending were mostly retired, their practice was incredible, so peaceful and detail, the tools they would use, the paper, the materials… everything was so opposite to what I would usually use, to how I usually would work. And this also — was a proof that drawing can also a part of something bigger — for these guys coming to the classes regularly, this was a reason to hang out, spend some time on having a conversation while drawing the life model ( I remember them talking about Aretha Franklin’s funeral or about Murphy Brown series — this seemed to be more important than all these things that might have seemed to be “important” on the life drawing class — and this was great — everyone knew what they were doing even though it might have seemed that the focus was somewhere else. It was just there. And everyone was engaged at the conversation at the same time, model included, didn’t matter if it was about Rosh Hashannah, Chinese Moon Festival or rising prices of rent in Manhattan.
MM: Since leaving the RCA you’ve worked on many animated music videos. What is that experience like compared to working on personal work?
KG: It is surely different. In a music video the most important part of it is the music, the song. The video is meant to compliment it, not overtake it. So, working on a music video to me often feels like being given a present — something to play with and at the same time something to analyze — rhythmically and structurally or a field to improvise on.
But never to overtake it -no no no
It’s rather that I feel like translating it Ito the visual language — the rhythms and the chords, it feels like making music with pictures. I love working on music videos.
I’m gradually coming back to it since I arrived in Canada. Currently editing and finishing animating a couple of pieces. Happy I can do it even though I don’t have my own computer, my own room ( I’m sleeping in a dorm room with 10 other people atm) my own studio — I can do it at the moment :) Because I reached out to a place that I always wanted to go to, so I now go there every day and they let me work from there. I’m super super lucky.
So, making music videos is always something that I wanted to do — It’s a really really rewarding and satisfying thing to make, even though, sometimes it eels like, ok, everybody needs to pay the rent, the projects that I work for are by independent artists, it’s all time-consuming but, it’s worth it. The best things I worked one were the ones I worked for free. And I met my favourite musicians who are my friends — sometimes they would reach out to me — sometimes I would give them a shout on social media — that I like their works. And they would write me back. Sometimes we would collaborate.
It is amazing. Because you make connections, meet people, can visit them, they become your friends — yeah I’m lucky, see — I think I really am. On one of my friend’s wedding, 2 years ago he told me: “Karolina, you know that you’re the person amongst this crowd of friends of mine that I’ve know for the longest — it’s been 10 years!” And you know what’s funny — we started talking while using last.fm — it was big in Poland — we didn’t have Spotify there for a longer bit and last.fm was great, it featured the works uploaded by the artists themselves, all these thematic radio stations and you could, hehe, check who’s listening to similar stuff in your area — especially if you’re into weird experimental music, ending out that someone listens to a song that has 2 hits and is just sitting in the room two blocks away — would feel somehow special — especially when it was an obscure German electric artist recording songs in his bathroom, uploading and deleting them the same day.
I also worked as a VJ — I was touring with a group called JAAA! and we played all the main festivals in Poland — we also went to Reeperbahn Festival in Germany. It was great — I’ve taught myself how to use the MIDI controllers and just play the visuals as if you’s play instruments with pictures instead of sounds coming out of them hah. Also — as an experience — it was something special. The band funded their record release themselves, with some support of friends but — they were never signed up to a label, they didn’t have a manager apart from a great guy they found potential at — who lived locally, is running an independent music press website and gave up working with them because it was hard to juggle these two things… — but you know the score — it was all for a reason — the love for music, not for a result which could be — money or other things. As long as you remember about the reason, everything is working and you don’t need to steal ahead and think about anything else. Things you think you should own or have.
Talking about that — I also had time when I thought I had nothing, I blew up some chances etc — well, I had these two years when I was looking after my grandparents, living in Poland and having two jobs. And when my computer broke I thought oh well, no time no money , no nothing etc,
funny thing is that I managed to be working without it. And still do live visuals on concert — this time the analog way. I met a lot of people involved in experimental and improvised music scene in Lublin — but calling it experimental seems narrowing and, hm, labelling it a bit — because people would jam with each other, nobody would stick to a particular style or genre, they would just go for it. There were a lot of free concerts going on too — bands from different parts of Poland would come and play a gig and you could give them a shout, reach out and jam together. It was pretty relaxed, pretty straightforward — easy. And normal — at the same time being something special — something one of a kind. I have really nice memories from these two years, haha, even though at the time to me it seemed that my life weighted a lot. Because of the family situation and other things I would cry almost every day. But now thinking about those two years — it was great — we had everything that we needed because we would create things for ourselves. I’d come and visit my friends in other department at my work during my lunch break and we would jam for half hour. And he would record that. I’m not a great solo musicians but I’d be George Harrison of my own kind if I’s be in the Beatles — I play piano chords like drums, I play guitar like drums, I’m basically a rhythmic-guitarist that doesn’t really play guitar super well but can provide some blending in and sometimes some abstract vocals.
My friend, Maciej, about whom I mentioned beforehand told me once about an album once released by Current 93 — it was an improvised piece — they’d record at one go. He told me about a sentence they’d include in the inlay card of the record which would be something like” “on the day of (date/month/year of the improvised session being recorded/ taped) The band called Current 93 began and ceased to exist. There was Current 93 and there was no Current 93 anymore” or something like that. Makes sense to me — in terms of — making things. Or making sense of things. Not being too fixed, still finding the perspective and the distance and the value of what we do, regarding where we do place it in our bigger picture and what do we see in it. What is the reason. Of music. Of making. Whether there would ever need to be any.
Ok, went a bit long on that sorry!
MM: You appear to draw almost every moment you get. Do these drawings become the starting points for your films?
KG: Oh man, sketchbook things. It varies, it really does.
And it varies in terms of why do I draw for, whether there is a purpose to it, or just an excuse to sit still around some people and be around them in a particular space to just be there and sit still for a while. As I said before, the drawing then becomes a complimentary thing to what you’re experiencing, whether it’s a concert or an afternoon in the park or someone peeling onions and carrots and telling them about their day at work and what was their autumn like 2 years ago and so on.
So cannot really answer that in a yes/no way.
I remember talking to my friend Josh Armitage, an artist whose practice is now mostly into drawing and painting — we both graduated from Animation at the RCA and we were classmates. It must have been around 2015 or 2014, we were talking about how our drawings end their life or would start their life in the sketchbook… haha, so, that’s the thing,
I had times when drawing would be a privilege to me. Just because of some certain circumstances I did or did not have enough time or space or need to draw. There surely must have been a couple of times I didn’t draw at all. And these were times that it made me feel bad — I missed drawing then, but there were also times when I didn’t feel like drawing at all. Or when I’d try it just wouldn’t happen. Like when I was teaching life drawing in London — it seemed that I would do just enough. Even though I would make like 6 drawings within a couple of months — that was just it and that was meant to be it. It all varies, it’s ok.
By the way, recently I started animating for the music videos by… taking a look at my American sketchbooks and just taking some drawings as starting points — improvising on composition/structure / portraits — I would just choose whatever would feel interesting to me and redraw a particular sketch and then start animating it — whenever it would take me. Obviously it wouldn’t be as random as it may sound now, but yeah I would choose some sketch for a reason and this would be my starting point into animation.
MM: The techniques of observational and direct sketchbook animation sets you apart from many contemporary animators. What lead you to work in this way?
KG: Oh. I guess that is dictated by the fact that — having a camera or having a film crew or rather…
I mentioned a couple of times — that I love photography but I don’t take great pictures
drawing, now when I talk about it makes me realize that this is also something of my own, something mine, something I can decide on and something that I can control or I can be carried away with
but it is something I have.
I once wrote something that drawing is everything that I have. It is true and it is not true. It is everything and nothing at all — because that’s what drawing can be — we would all see it differently but,
doesn’t matter if I draw much or nothing at all but it’s a part of my life, probably that’s why it lead me to work the way I do — I never think about it in an analytical way so sorry if this may seem to be a really vague answer.
MM: Much of your work serves to document the world around you, both as you see it and as you remember it. In this context, do you consider yourself a documentary filmmaker?
KG: I think that in this context I can be someone like a mixture of a person strolling around places and having very good memory. ( ha. ha. ha. I really do)
so I’d say I’m a mixture of a pinhole camera leftovered somewhere — just registering things happening, that family archiver taking pictures when nobody is looking or when nobody wants to pose and this person that likes to stroll around and go places, see people, stop by, go to grocery store not to buy anything, taking different routes to work every day, taking more or less time on it, “like an unusual kind of a tourist on a permanent vacation” — just like Charlie Parker in Jim Jarmusch film.
If that’s make it for a documentary filmmaker than I’m surely a documentary filmmaker. Because the everyday life is here, just fascinating and different every day. Fascinating on its own how it is, it’s just is.
MM: You tend to document your sketchbook animations so that the viewer can see the space around them. Is the setting your animations appear in just as important as the content itself?
KG: To be honest, I’m working on it. I haven’t intended to, but maybe I’m getting older, maybe I started to loosen up with is a bit — the concept of clinical presentation of the artwork never did it for me. I was always kind of, not telling that the galleries are bad or something, they’re great but I think that art is a part of life and there is no border between art and life. Everybody is an artist.
So with this aspect in animation — I’m working on it —I ‘m gradually finding way of letting the film expanding outside of the frame, to be a part of a particular space, so have some more life than just from the beginning to it’s end on Vimeo. The closes to it I was surely doing life visuals or taking part in projects where projections of films were in the everyday life spaces — like when I did this project for PEER Gallery and Animate Project Alliance UK back in London in 2013 where the films were screened in the window space between the post office and the cash machine. People would see them just because they had to send a letter of pay out some cash from the wall and that was great, great thing. Last year I’d present my films in Entropia Gallery in Wroclaw, Poland, just as a backdrop to Andrew Dixon, a musician, performing a piece on an instrument he made himself — It was at the time when the event was coming to an end, people were engaged in the conversation, Andy was playing his instrument, it was getting darker, it would all happen in The Museum, on the sunny terrace, everyone was at ease, having wine or just being engaged in some casual conversation, I was on my way to the train station, thinking about having a cigarette or having one one the way. So yeah, Films in everyday life, films losing this sharp edge of frame. I like it. It’s not my main intention — it never was but I feel that the space and the surrounding and the piece it shows it at can resonate. So yeah, animation and a part of everyday life and everyday life as a part of animation.
when I started photographing my sketchbooks in particular places / spaces I noticed that, it’s obvious but the piece looks different everywhere. So I started printing out the photographs taken with my phone and giving them away during my travels — just as postcards. On the back I would write where the drawing was made and where the picture of the drawing was taken. And when. Some of them were miles apart and times apart. But would make it together as a piece. And photographed somewhere else would make it as a different piece — a completely new one! hah, sounds now as an inversion and as a parallel to this Current 93 story I told you about answering couple of questions before.
MM: Why do you think animation is such an effective medium for documenting memory and moments?
KG: I don’t know. I don’t really know if I do. I can tell how it works for me though.
It’s more accessible, it’s quicker, it’s something I can do almost everywhere because I only need something to draw. Or I need my head and my memory.
I guess that If I’d be working only on 16mm Bolex, which I’d love to have and I once bought myself a 16mm camera that I never had a chance to use… see
I guess that to me animation is just an “easiest” way to reach out to start making things. Because I then think that that’s it I already can start without needing much equipment or things.
Yeah to me animation is instant. In my way of working — as the drawing is a direct thing in my art practice — animation can be an extension of the drawing or an interpretation or improvisation taking its as a starting point to something completely different.
MM: You haven’t released a proper animated film in a bit. Can we expect to see a new film from you any time soon?
KG: Haha, I think at the moment I’m putting together a couple of things — to be honest — a proper animation film seems like a perfect title to my new film, or to the essay that I have just wrote. I do have a couple of things I’m working on. A couple of music videos, a site-specific project, taking part in Vancouver, screened in the public space — on the wall of one of the buildings in the area of Mount Pleasant neighbourhood so, a couple of things are happening
but talking about my film-film… I think it’s happening already — gradually building up some things without intention of making something spectacular made me compiled and collected a couple of chunks that I’d like to show soon. And also, I have this spectacular (yes) 20 minute epic film I started making in 2014 and you know what? I never finished it, hahahaha :)
I guess that everyday I’m making a proper animated film and not making it at all and the same time, it’s like this Current 93 thing I told you about, you know :)
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