In the Spotlight: Freya Pitt
Freya Pitt is a Melbourne-based projection artist who is taking the art world by storm. She combines beautiful hand-drawn illustrations with projection installations, shadow puppetry and manipulation to examine how different people react to the environment around them.
Pitt’s passion for drawing started as a young child and has stayed with her ever since. She grew up in Western Australia and graduated from the Edith Cowan University in 2009 before moving to Melbourne to complete a Masters of Art in Public Spaces at RMIT University. Her whimsical silhouette works have featured in public spaces both internationally and around Australia including the Melbourne Art Tram Project, White Night Melbourne and the Gertrude Projection Festival.
Pitt’s fascination with paper-cuts, silhouettes and shadows led her to experiment with overhead projectors early in her creative practice. Such experiments ultimately formed the basis of her signature large-scale, interactive projection installations that spill onto public spaces. She draws on pop-culture, mythology, fables and classical texts, to create magical environments that tell a story through animated illustrations, text, illumination and shadows. Viewers are invited to become apart of the work by standing in a designated spot so that their shadow becomes the main character in the projected narrative. Each viewer brings their own personality to Pitt’s work; it’s simply fascinating to watch (and so much fun to be a part of)!
Pitt’s work The Skies Are on the Ground created for the 2014 White Night Melbourne Festival is a great example of this (watch a video of the work in action here!). The viewer becomes a part of a mystical world that features hand-dawn animated mythological creatures and Gods. In this work the viewer’s shadow becomes a central character in the narrative. Throughout different scenes, viewers become winged creatures, attacked by giant fish, float in a world of pink clouds and face evil powers. What makes Pitt’s work so intriguing is that every participator reacts differently, manipulating the narrative so that everyone tells a different story. Some participators choose to fall victim of the mystical beasts in front of them, and some vigorously fight against them. Pitt’s wild imagination takes both the viewer and the participator on a journey that is both unique to the individual and transforms the use of public spaces into a completely new world.
I recently chatted to Pitt about her work (and her responses are just as fun as her work!):
D: Can you tell us about the ethos and inspiration behind your work?
F: I find the world both confusing and fascinating, and my art tends to come out the ensuing curiosity. I like making things that are engaging and accessible yet not didactic – this is an attempt to pull the viewer into a constructed world, and then encourage them to question their relationship to it.
I think the beauty and the difficulty of the world is in its complexity, and I want to playfully draw people into considering the way they interact with it in a manner that gives them a sense of agency.
D: What inspired you to work with shadow puppetry and manipulation?
F: I had already been working with paper-cut’s in installations, and shadow puppetry seemed like a natural way to add movement and narrative, which I quickly became obsessed with. There’s a power in the interplay between shadow and light that I find endlessly alluring.
D: Your projections incorporate traditional hand drawn elements. Can you tell us about the process of digitally animating your illustrations? How long does it take to animate a piece like ‘The Skies Are On The Ground’?
Yes, the lo-fi aesthetic is important to me, in keeping a sense of human connection. Sometimes the hand drawn elements are first penned/painted on paper, then photographed and worked with digitally, and sometimes drawn digitally using Wacom tablets. I use a combination of Adobe programs to put the works together. As a self-taught animator my processes often seem convoluted to those trained to use the programs, and while I’m always excited to learn more I think the made-up ways I’ve done things have given the works their own aesthetic that can be interesting unto itself.
I think I was working on ‘The Skies Are On The Ground’ for around three months, though a lot of that time was spent on concept development and I would have loved to get more time to animate. I tend to be deadline driven, and don’t think I’ve ever felt that a work was ‘finished’ when it’s been shown!
D: Your work plays heavily on storytelling and imagination. What do you aim to achieve through your narratives?
Stories are the love of my life. They are such an important part of the way we make sense of the world. Our very sense of self is a story we tell ourselves, albeit one constantly in flux and impossible to write down in its entirety.
I try to use narrative to interrupt or augment viewers everyday sense of self, and explore the constant shifting of relationships and meaning.
D: When I see viewers react to works like ‘The Skies Are On The Ground’ at White Night Melbourne Festival 2014, it reminds me of an interpretive dance; viewers dramatically twist and pop their bodies in response to the projection before them. What’s the best reaction you’ve seen to your work?
F: Yes, your own shadow can be surprisingly engaging, and I love watching the different ways people interact. It’s tough to pick a favorite, though one little boy at the 2014 White Night was pretty memorable. He was totally mesmerized by his shadow within the moving projection, and after slowly moving closer ended up licking the lit-up wall. While maybe unhygienic, the moment captured what I see as the desire inherent in projection. Similar to stories and mythology, it can offer delicious possibilities that you can never quite touch, and the poetics of this can make us do strange and wonderful things.
D: How can we keep up-to-date with all things Freya Pitt?
Feature image: Freya Pitt, The Beasts from Behind (Still), 2013. Image courtesy of the artist.