A crowd gathered under the rafters and art-deco chandeliers of the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts, and the fifteen-piece Aaron Olson Ensemble began with the low strum of a bass guitar, continued into a bright piano melody that later became the distorted sound of a nightmare, and finally moved into a powerful brassy conclusion without ever losing its warm aural undercurrents. Aaron M. Olson’s eight-minute score for Allison Schulnik’s stop-motion animation EAGER (2014) achieved the kind of joyful melancholy implicit in being a living creature on this earth—and delineated the existing emotional landscape. I am compelled to talk about music in this review because the inclusion of this live accompaniment to Schulnik’s floral film was indicative of the kind of poetry inherent in Landscape City. The work in this show investigates the psychological and emotional relationship between humans and their landscape—specifically that of Southern California—and how that construct is undergoing a rapid revision as we move into an uncertain future.
Allison Schulnik’s EAGER is a jumble of grotesque and beautiful scenes that begins with a dance of skeletal female figures who communicate with their long, stringy hair, since their faces are absent. They come in contact with a gauzy, blue-stained witch and a comically sad clown–horse with an erect, red, swinging dick. Then one woman unzips the others’ stomachs to wear them like backpacks through a wild and carnivorous forest of flowers and trees reminiscent of the garden of live flowers from Alice in Wonderland. The influence of choreographer Pina Bausch is apparent, but so too the terrifying early psychedelic cartoons of the 1930s. What this lavish animation encompasses makes words feel ineffective, but any attempt would have to include life, death, rebirth, sex, competition, nature, self-expression, female empowerment, and reproductive power—thanks to all of the rotting, deformed, and beautifully hand-sculpted figures. Schulnik even places herself in the work in a photographic stop-motion sequence, wearing a costume that resembles the blue clay witch. This is the first animation for which the artist has commissioned accompanying music; in the past, she used existing music from artists. Schulnik says that working with Olson was her first collaboration, and the creative agency this allowed is evident in the film.