In Residence

Feeling stuck? These cartoon characters can relate

These infinite loops would give Escher the spins. Get sucked into the world of Anna Firth, this week's Exhibitionist in Residence.

These infinite loops would give Escher the spins. Get sucked into the world of Anna Firth

Fall down the rabbit hole. Animation by Anna Firth features on this week's episode of CBC Arts: Exhibitionists. (Anna Firth)

If you don't already feel stuck on repeat, trapped in the meaningless shuffle through time that we call modern life, congratulations! Now, look at these GIFs and join the rest of us.

Anna Firth is this week's Exhibitionist in Residence, and being an animator, the 24-year-old knows something about that nauseous feeling of futility — something that comes with spending days at a light table, drawing what seems like the same thing over and over and over again.

What she comes up is supposed to give you the existential creeps. Heck, Firth herself calls the stuff "frenetic, almost like writhing chaos" — loops on loops on loops of dead-eyed cartoon characters, floppy and naked like Snagglepuss had a bad run-in with poacher, and all mindlessly repeating a single pointless action, one that's been layered into a knot that would give M.C. Escher the spins.  

We used to think of repetition like that as a glitch or something toxic. But it's how we're used to watching stuff.- Anna Firth, artist

"I think there's something kind of gross about watching the same thing over and over again," says Firth, but there's something completely natural about it, too — at least at this moment in time. "That's how so much media is presented to us right now," she continues, "like with Instagram and the way news is given to us. We're seeing this image, like three seconds, over and over again. I think there's something unhealthy about that. We used to think of repetition like that as a glitch or something toxic. But it's how we're used to watching stuff."

So you're going to love watching her GIFs, even if you won't admit it to yourself.

"I think there's something I made into them about getting stuck," says Firth over the phone from Vancouver, where she finished her MFA at Emily Carr University earlier this year. (Some of the GIFs appearing on the show were part of her thesis project, Pine Processionary.)

"When I'm writing about my work, I talk about this allure they have. Even right now, I have my computer open and I'm just kind of like staring at some of them. You just get stuck there, like, 'I can't get away from this!'"

"I think it's a response to the way they're made," she says, talking about the slog that is hand-drawn animation — but they're also supposed to mess with your expectations of what animation can be. Most people are used to cartoons that tell a story. They're the stuff of Saturday morning gags and fairy-tale Disney flicks. But GIFs like these don't have a beginning, middle and happily ever after. And they're not meant to be seen in a movie theatre or streaming on Netflix, either. Beyond posting them on Instagram, Firth creates her GIFs for installations and live performances, so all her hand-drawn circles of hell can surround the viewer completely — all the better for creating those infinity vibes.

Take a look.

(Courtesy of Anna Firth)
(Courtesy of Anna Firth)
(Courtesy of Anna Firth)
(Courtesy of Anna Firth)
(Courtesy of Anna Firth)
(Courtesy of Anna Firth)
(Courtesy of Anna Firth)
(Courtesy of Anna Firth)
(Courtesy of Anna Firth)
(Courtesy of Anna Firth)

For more from Anna Firth, find her on Instagram. She's also the founder of Flavourcel, an animation collective based in Vancouver. Follow them for info on workshops, talks and other upcoming events.

Stream CBC Arts: Exhibitionists or catch it on CBC Television, Friday nights at 11:30 p.m. (midnight NT) and Sundays at 3:30 p.m. (4 NT).

About the Author

Leah Collins

Leah Collins is the Senior Writer at CBC Arts.