In 2013 EMDASH supported the Austrian Pavilion, at the 55th Venice Biennale, in presenting artist Mathias Poledna’s 35 mm film Imitation of Life, a 3 minute animation produced using the historic, labor-intensive handmade technique and built around a cartoon character performing a musical number. Its buoyant spirit and visual texture evoke the Golden Era of the American animation industry during the late 1930s and early 1940s. In the preceding years, the time of the Great Depression, the medium had evolved from a crude form of mass spectacle into a visual language of enormous richness and complexity that shaped and continues to resonate in our collective imaginary.
Imitation of Life appropriates and reassembles this language as it revisits the contradictions and ambiguities that accompanied the medium’s development. More than 5,000 handmade sketches, layouts, animation drawings, watercolored backgrounds and ink-rendered animation cells, were produced to make the film in close cooperation with acclaimed artists from the animation departments of film studios in Los Angeles, most notably Disney. The soundtrack combines new original music created specifically for this project with a rearrangement of a popular song from the 1930s written by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, both recorded with a full orchestra in the style of the period at the Warner Brothers scoring stage in Los Angeles.
Presented in Venice, Poledna’s installation allows for a complex cross-reading with other episodes from this period: the relationship between European art and American mass culture; European emigration to the United States and American export to Europe; the presentation of animated films produced by the Disney Studios at the first film festivals in Venice; the late modernism of the Austrian Pavilion, and the period from 1938 to 1942 during which the building remained empty while Austrian artists exhibited in the German Pavilion.