Looking at Shit: Conception of Ideas

Mostly Moving
Sep 20 · 8 min read

an essay by Caleb Wood

from Mostly Moving issue 3, released July 2019
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I tend to feel that animation exists in the mind, within that area of internal perception. What animators essentially do with their craft is struggle to build a window into their internal experience that others may access. We make animation to divulge all that stuff going on in our head with others. What we end up creating are crude failures compared to the original animation we feel intuitively in our heads. Although, maybe as technology advances, we’ll be able to get to a true depiction of the internal experience.

I’ve found that the best way for me to learn about movement, is to perceive it first hand. If I only observed one instance of movement, for the rest of my life, there would never come a time when I fully understood everything happening in front of me. The complexities of the mundane that surround us are endlessly fertile realms of knowledge. Everything echoes itself in our world. One thing moves one way, and the other moves the other. This thing grows this way, and that dies that way. Pushing and pulling, rising and crashing. Weaving and looping in and out of each other like waves of undulating abstracts. It is sort of a simple notion, the constant flux of our perception of time. Things just keep moving, always.

For the majority of our relationship, Animation has been a primal mentor to my small and diminutive consciousness. I ask it questions, and it gives me answers. Sometimes it’s behavior can be predictable based on previous iterations, and sometimes it will reveal a surprise that ignites the brain. Sometimes they are helpful, but mostly just cathartic id-like interjections. It’s sort of like, there is this projectionist in my head, and when my focus starts to wander the little being will throw up a new film over my eyes that plays with reality. We already augment reality just with the activity happening inside our head, it is always a layered perception.

If I see something like a swan swimming in a river, and I allow myself to listen to Animation, Animation will turn to me and spit so much information that I won’t even be able to process it all. At first, Animation will remind me of how swans are aggressive and territorial. It will flash images of them with wings stretched wide, and the sound of deep bellows thrumming from their jagged trumpet maw. Dark clouds will form behind as Animation invokes a swelling upon the swan’s figure, growing it to the size of some monstrous horror. Lightning will crash upon tumultuous waves, and the beast might even breath fire fueled by the souls of the damned.

Animation will usually step in at this point and try to show me how beautiful the swan is, perhaps it noticed the furrow in my brow. Animation plays both the angel and the devil that whisper with high pitched voices tickling your inner ears. The dark clouds will part, and a ray of sunshine will glisten down onto a dew-covered avian crest. The undulation of the swan’s neck will enter impossible and impressive poses, as it dances on top of glittering waves that radiate ripples of energy from its graceful submerged gait. Submissively, I’ll allow the display of beauty and power to continue for a time.

Then Animation will flex its superiority and get very pseudo-scientific with me. It will raise a pointed hand, undefinable in form, directing my attention to a horde of feathers, all so very alike, covering the swan’s body. They each contain similar patterns but are differentiated by size, scale, texture, color, and different levels of deterioration and filth. Animation informs me that if I were to run and tackle a swan on land, and collect all of its feathers, I could then throw them into the sky and see where they fall. Then I could walk around with technological assistance and document each feather with a photograph. Then I just put the photos in a sequence of rapid succession, and suddenly Animation reveals how all of these separate instances of feathers are actually just one feather that has so many movements locked away in its collective structure that it could dazzle the eye to the grave. It will grow, shift colors, and bend every which way. This is the collective dance that can be found when unstuck from time.

I call it Animation, because our minds do it effortlessly all the time, in real-time, right on top of the world we observe. It’s also called imagination. Some magic place built by the first receivers on another dimension where all of the things we think about reside as they continuously dance on top of reality.

Now, I need to divulge a concept that is pretty vital to the way I operate through consciousness. I’m of the understanding that I don’t create ideas. My head cannot generate a thought on its own. Thoughts are something that pass through and bounce around from the external environment. I’m a receiver for something that might be called a collective consciousness. This stems from the idea that if you never had anything to look at or listen to, or touch, or taste, or smell, you’d never think anything at all. Every thought you’ve ever had was initiated by something outside of your body at some point. Things come in one way and we transform them into something else on the way out. All of these words that you are reading right now, they stem from direct reflection between the human sensory system and the environment it inhabits. Our cultures, religions, politics, and common behavior have all grown organically from these external interactions with the world. Over time the ideas that are born can become real breathing entities that can live beyond our time.

There have been powerful personal moments in my life that fortify this notion of ideas echoing around the world into our heads. What follows is an account of one of the more revelatory encounters I’ve had in my short life.

While walking in Yoyogi park, located in central Tokyo around the year 2013, something unexpected happened to me. I was trying to get inspiration for a film I was working on by observing the park’s vegetation in all of its glory. I was walking down a less traveled wooded path within the park. Yoyogi is pretty large, and some paths are just better than others, and I was on a new one that was quickly rising the ranks. As I walked, I entered a portion of the path where an expansive murder of crows was creating a cacophony of sound. I looked up but couldn’t see any of them, they were too well integrated into the canopy above. But as my gaze fell to where my feet were stepping, I saw an enormous amount of white splattered bird shit cascading for a good twenty feet or so. This was the crows' collective mark on the landscape.

The sheer condensed quantity of bird shit was what struck me at first. It looked arguably better and more exciting than anything Jackson Pollock ever created, and there was no artist statement to weigh it down. Keep in mind, the entire time this event is playing out, hundreds of crows are calling out above. I lowered myself to the ground for a closer inspection. A security guard of the park walked by me inquisitively. I looked up at him with what probably was a very stupid face, and then looked back at all the bird shit with eyes wide to express how I felt it was some kind of phenomenal occurrence. I started to feel awkward because the guard decided to just observe me for a while. It added a level of pressure to the event that may have focused intent. As I continued to look at bird shit while the guard looked at me looking at bird shit, I began to notice that some of the white splatters of defecation resembled the form of actual birds. There were a lot of them, everywhere, in all different positions. Then Animation screamed at me with a thunderous clash. It told me to take photos of as many bird shit splatters as I could, and sequence them to look like they were collectively flying. I listened subserviently as the eureka sensation set in, and slowly crouch walked round and round the bird shit with my phone out.

The guard's inner monologue must have reached a new realm of absurdity. “Why would this foreigner be so interested in this large amount of bird shit, why is he taking photos of it, so many photos”. The guard probably made a mental note to get someone out here and clean this bird shit up immediately. He walked off while I was in the midst of documenting the sea of organic rorschachs. I recall the event taking at least an hour, crouch walking around, all the while being bombarded with crow speech from aloft. I kept finding better and better figurative poses hidden in the abstract chaos at my feet. I cursed at myself for not bringing a better camera on my walk but tried not to focus on my failures. Near the end of the documentation, I noticed an old grandmother was looking at me intently. This was enough of a jolt that it broke me out of my stupor, and allowed me to realize that I had probably collected enough slices in time to complete my task. My squat muscles were ripped from my alien behavior, and I hustled off into the cityscape like a pirate that had stolen the most valuable treasure. I had hundreds of bird shit photos burning a hole in my pocket.

That night, I composed the film “bird shit”. It felt really good. Like something had actually happened. I never planned on making the film. It wasn’t premeditated in any way. It was just something that happened to me, or through me. I was merely present in the moment and awake enough to listen. The result was a sequence of bird shit photos that invoke the movement of a flying bird. The film reveals a connectedness between matter, thought, and perception.

Bird Shit (2013) by Caleb Wood

During that whole process, I never really took a moment to analyze the situation. Why would random occurrences line up in such a way where all of my previous experiences would inform my behavior to process this event in a manner that led a creatures excrement to be re-animated into a pattern of movement native to the creature itself? Why did the culmination of the bird’s diet become a statement of the birds' collective behavior? Why did the bird shit look like birds? I settled back once again on the simple notion that everything echoes in our world.

What I’m trying to express by recounting this event, is that things will come to you, but you have to be available. You have to look out at the world and understand that there are so many secrets, hiding everywhere, little ideas bouncing around, and through animation, they can be revealed. Every form of matter is casting out waves of possibilities just waiting to be perceived by the right entities. When you observe them, you’ll process, and something will happen. An idea will spontaneously generate as it develops rapidly inside your mind. That idea will grow through you and spread out across the seas of consciousness. Its sort of like the universe is whispering at itself, trying to wake up. When it happens, it might feel like a spark or a slow-burning candle. On the day that I looked at bird shit, it felt like bright lightning. I was electrified by something so simple and basic. Even bird shit can be food for thought.


FIND CALEB

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© Mostly Moving 2019

Mostly Moving

Interviews and essays by contemporary independent & experimental animators. Created by Jonah Primiano.

Mostly Moving

Written by

Mostly Moving

Interviews and essays by contemporary independent & experimental animators. Created by Jonah Primiano.

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