Freeze Frame

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Director, writer, animator: Soetkin Verstegen
Sound: Andrea Martignoni , Michal Krajczok

With the support of
Akademie Schloss Solitude, Germany
Saari Residency – Kone Foundation, Finland
Atelier 105 residency – Light Cone, France
Fish Factory Creative Centre, Iceland

In the animation Freeze Frame by Soetkin Verstegen, identical figures perform the hopeless task of preserving blocks of ice. The repetitive movements reanimate the animals captured inside. Read the introductory interview with the artist.

Where does the title of this film come from?

Freeze frame is the technique in which an image in a film stops moving. It is typically used to represent a pending life-or-death situation. Despite its apparent simplicity and corny effect, in the time of celluloid film it required an elaborate process of optically reprinting the same frame over and over again. It was a radical invention to undo the previous invention. I think that’s great. I like these tensions that invert each other. I like that one figure standing still is at the same time many different figures moving. Early cinema coincided with a fascination for microscopy, looking at cells and coming to terms that we are not one, but in fact multitudes. I like the inversion that you need the film to keep moving for it to pause, because if it would actually stand still the image would melt or burn in front of the projector light. This animation flips back and forth between these kind of ideas.

What historical circumstances does Freeze Frame refer to?

It’s triggered by many different microstories that are mostly set in early twentieth century. They don’t need to be traceable, I distilled them in a simple formal play. To me it’s a puzzle that can be used as a thought generator for ideas on many levels. Understandably, many people assume I wanted to portray something about the state of the world, that’s a pity. There’s a danger in trying to fit everything into a bigger picture. It stands in the way of looking at things in all their useless detail and silliness. Observing light, movement, material, focus, and sound are also very important to me.

The main characters in Freeze Frame are anonymous factory workers and different animals. What interests you in these figures?

The figures are taken from an actual practice, the ice harvest. When you look at this practice and strip it of its use, you get a surreal, poetic ritual. Figures cutting the floor from under their feet, dragging home a beauty they know will disappear. On one hand you could look at them as factory workers, but to me they choose to drag their cubes. To me they are film archivists, battling the decay of the fragile celluloid image. The repetitions and movements of their actions have something interesting and beautiful in itself, like dancers.

»To me they are film archivists, battling the decay of the fragile celluloid image.«

Most of the animals I chose for a set of reasons can be found in fossils or ambers. For example the frog is one of the oldest animals in the world and now subject to a lot of preservation programs. You can notice those efforts around Solitude as well. They definitely duplicated there, at some point you couldn’t walk in the forest without squashing those tiny frogs crawlin

g over the path. Through science, the frog gained a dubious immortality by being the first animal whose movements were revived after death, and being the first animal to be X-rayed.

Let’s talk about how the film came into being. It was made over a long period in a darkened studio apartment.

The darkened studio was luckily only a very small part of that long period. To me it was a bright time with a lot of interesting meetings and the peace of mind to read books, condensed into something very small. Most of the time was spent filing and polishing my little ice cube. It just had to be right. There’s something obsessive and pointless in there that fits the film perfectly well. Once I found the most simple solution to something it seemed like there could never have been another option. But only in the last week, when I made the final shots, edit and export, it all of a sudden clicked for me. Before that, all was chaos.

Still from the animation »Freeze Frame« by Soetkin Verstegen
Still from the animation »Freeze Frame« by Soetkin Verstegen
Still from the animation »Freeze Frame« by Soetkin Verstegen
Still from the animation »Freeze Frame« by Soetkin Verstegen
Still from the animation »Freeze Frame« by Soetkin Verstegen
Still from the animation »Freeze Frame« by Soetkin Verstegen

Freeze Frame was produced during a number of residences. What kind of equipment do you bring with you for working on the set and when you take the individual pictures?

It’s true that I missed an equipped animation studio and collecting the very basics took a lot of time. Stop motion is a lot of problem solving, unexpected obstacles, weight, and clutter. I’m now on a residency and decided to see what I can do with drawing. It’s such a light medium. You can fly all over the page without gravity, it’s a joy.

It’s not the first time your work references early cinema. Could you elaborate on the connection between early photography, the beginnings of cinema, and your animations?

Film is now an artistic medium, but in its early days it was inseparable from a boom of inventions and discoveries in connecting fields such as science and medicine. It changed the way we see reality because it allowed different angles than those we perceive by stretching, reversing, pausing time, through optical instruments that can look closer or further than the eye can see. It’s an interesting time with a lot of optimism and hope about science, industry, invention, mass production, all those things we are now cynical about. It’s a sweet irony that we consider ourselves so evolved compared to those days, because we now know for certain that progress is an illusion, period.

How do you go about using/quoting historical material and visual heritage, for example the early movement studies by Eadweard Muybridge?

It’s not my intention to directly quote anything, but since ideas come from archive materials, things that happened in my personal life, books I read, talks I had, some things are easy to recognize, others are not.

Are there other hidden references in Freeze Frame?

The film ends in the sound of a small drop. The sound designers first objected that this was too cliché. For me it recalls the studies of the splash of a drop by Arthur Worthington. He started a lecture on his body of work with this statement: »The splash of a drop is a transaction which is accomplished in the twinkling of an eye, and it may seem to some that a man who proposes to discourse on the matter for an hour must have lost all sense of proportion.« I think that summarizes it quite nicely.


The interview was conducted by Denise Helene Sumi