Monday, 4 January 2016

Curating a centenary exhibition

In April of 2014 I curated an exhibition to pay tribute to Norman in my own way. I included old family photos lent by the Biggar family, drawings, poems, copies of Normans letters, my copy of his drawings and personal items like my sons Skylark violin. It was visited by Don McWilliams and Anna, Helen Biggar's niece. Helen worked with Norman on Hell Unlimited and other films.

Quote from the University of Stirling Archive April 2014
Tricia Anderson is a dancer and choreographer, and relative of the filmmaker Norman McLaren. 2014 is the centenary of McLaren’s birth and Tricia has curated a personal tribute to Norman which is currently on display in the University Archives. Here she writes about her research into McLaren’s work.
The exhibition ‘Affectionately Yours’ is based on the research for my film of the same name. In 2003 I saw an interview with the film maker Norman McLaren in which he said that movement was his art form, but had he been a dancer he would have created movement in a very different way. I was struck by this statement for a number of reasons. I am a dancer and choreographer and I was curious to know what kind of dance McLaren might have choreographed himself. This led me to research him through his personal letters.
My aim was to respond to the life and work of Norman McLaren, and to examine the link between dance and animation. This has allowed me to experience first-hand some of those common threads between my art form and McLaren’s and to begin to draw conclusions for my own practice, which eventually combined dance film and animation. I have looked at the context within which McLaren’s work took place. I am fascinated by the opinions of other artists and film makers who knew McLaren or worked with him.
Norman McLaren dancing in the garden of the family home, 21 Albert Place, Stirling, c 1936.
Norman McLaren’s place in the history of animation and experimental film making is that of a pioneer who brought an amazing range of skills to his art form. He was an artist, director, scientist, inventor, keen observer of humanity and accomplished musician. Transcripts of interviews with him bring the reader in touch with a shy, sensitive, multi-sensory man who saw the world in a very unique way. His sensitivity and acute awareness of stillness and movement, music, line, form, space and rhythmic structure are all qualities which he brought to his films. As a choreographer I feel that I am intensely aware of these elements and I find myself looking at his work again and again from the choreographer’s viewpoint. I found myself asking how Norman McLaren might have used these qualities himself if he HAD been a choreographer. There are many common threads between dance, animation and film. There are also many common ‘threads’ between this film maker and me.
I am related to McLaren.  My grandfather and Norman McLaren’s mother were siblings. In my search for McLaren the film maker I realised I could not separate him from McLaren, my father’s cousin. I felt that the qualities I have mentioned may be shared between film maker and dancer, but may also reflect a shared genetic inheritance. I needed to explore how strong the link was and this brought me to the archive stored at The University of Stirling.
Norman McLaren's father in the showroom of his decorating business, Maxwell Place, Stirling, c 1910.
McLaren had an inquiring mind, and was endlessly questing to “work things out”, a quality which in part was inherited, I believe, from a very practical, down to earth lineage. His mother grew up on a farm and there are a number of relatives who were involved in some way with engineering. His artistic ability was in part inherited from his father, a painter and decorator. Musical ability was present on both sides of the family.
McLaren felt Art was one thing he was really good at which led him to Art College…. where he discovered film. By the time I found the material stored in the archive I had become aware that many people still did not know who Norman McLaren was. I began to feel that I wanted to do something to draw attention to his work. I made a decision that one day I would make a dance and film based on him. I eventually made this film, Affectionately Yours, in 2012.
Still from the film Affectionately Yours, Tricia Anderson, 2012.

Travel with Norman

Traveling with Norman

In 2014 I became part of the McLaren 2014 centenary celebration, traveling all over Scotland and England.
Four of us shared the teaching work, taking animation and stories of Norman to children from Shetland to Penarth and Dublin to Fife. We taught over 3,000 people animation techniques Norman would have used and introduced over 6,000 altogether to his ideas and films. It was a perfect use of the skills I learned on my masters degree and a very timely reminder of my love of travel! Open skies, road ahead, a mission to accomplish...a dream!