Quay Brothers bring visions from stop-motion animated films to Hartell Gallery

February 3, 2010

Internationally acclaimed filmmakers Timothy and Stephen Quay visited campus for an exhibition in Sibley Hall devoted to their work, screenings of their films, and classes with art and film students.

Known as the Quay Brothers, the twin siblings joined Kent Kleinman, dean of AAP; architecture professor Mark Morris; and M.F.A. student Ruth Oppenheim for a gallery talk in conjunction with Dormitorium: An Exhibition of Film Decors by the Quays, on display in John Hartell Gallery in Sibley Hall through Feb. 5.

The Quays use puppets in many of their films, and their finely detailed miniature sets create moody, evocative environments from found objects and reused materials, such as fabrics, paper, wood, and metal.

The Hartell Gallery exhibition features 11 set decors from stop-motion animated films, video screens showing the films, and a display of text comprising "A Quay Brothers Dictionary," explaining some of the filmmakers' influences and a variety of references to writers, artists, composers, and art movements in their work.

Each set is enclosed in glass, and some feature a large magnifying lens to give viewers the sense of moving through the space as the eye moves to take in the contents within.

"They are inspired by surrealism and montage and Eastern European literature and graphic design, and I find that very, very appealing," said Oppenheim, an art student who has created stop-motion films and helped install the exhibition. "It gave me a completely different experience in seeing the films after actually seeing the objects. They make everything by hand, and it's just the two of them. There's something very sincere about it."

Students in lecturer Marilyn Rivchin's introductory and advanced filmmaking courses asked the Quays about their process when the filmmakers visited their classes Jan. 25 and 26. Rivchin said the first project in the introductory course will be to create an original stop-motion animation.

"Animation taught us all the métiers," Stephen Quay said. "We learned everything from cameras to lighting."

Rivchin said the Quays meticulously shoot one frame at a time for their films, distinctly non-narrative pieces that pull the viewer along into unique metaphorical worlds.

"If you had to write a legitimate script, you'd succumb to a whole process that's just terrifying," Timothy Quay said.

Lynn Tomlinson '88, who teaches a summer animation workshop and Rivchin also showed Quay animated shorts to students. The Quays also visited Cornell art students in two classes taught by Greg Page -- Introduction to Print Media and Special Topics: Turf: Invasive Species as Art -- and met with film students at Ithaca College.

The filmmakers provided live commentary for Tales from the Quay Brothers, six short films screened Jan. 26 at Cornell Cinema, which also showed their 2005 feature film The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes on Jan. 27.

In addition to films, commercials, and music videos, the Quays have created set designs for theater and opera productions and an animated segment of the film Frida.

The exhibition and the Quays' visit were sponsored by the College of Architecture, Art and Planning. Cosponsors include Cornell Cinema and the Departments of Theatre, Film, and Dance, and Design and Environmental Analysis.

By Dan Aloi

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