In a dark corridor directly beneath the Art Centre’s Playhouse Theatre littered with staging detritus Dave Jones shows me a luminous rat running along the edge of a wall. Suddenly it disappears to be replaced by rats with glowing yellow eyes multiplying in a plague-like swarm across the wall.
They’re actually projected interactive animations that he can control using an iPad and remote-controlled projector. Jones has been workshopping them as part of a collaboration with Chamber Made Opera for Captives of the City, a new contemporary opera incorporating puppetry, animation and multimedia.
We then head upstairs out onto the silent empty stage to find somewhere to chat. Without hesitation he swings off the edge down to the seating level, making it look easy. Not surprising, as he says rock climbing used to be the main thing he did; sponsored to trek to the world’s most challenging climbs. Jones is built of strong stuff, stocky with trunk-like arms and broad shoulders though his voice is gentle and quiet.
He’s down in Melbourne for the week from his home base in Natimuk, a small town in the Wimmera wheat belt near Horsham. Once it was an agricultural town notable for little other than its proximity to Mount Arapiles, Victoria’s best rock climbing area. Since he moved there over 15 years ago however, it’s also become something of a regional arts ‘hot spot’ with a thriving arts community.
When I ask Jones how he describes himself he says, ‘If someone wants a one-word answer, I say animation.’ Certainly animation is the start of the story as he has made a number of award-winning short animated films. His practice however, extends into multimedia design, illustration, sculpture, community arts projects, interactive installations, puppetry and projections, such as his work with aerial performer Jillian Peace projecting 30m images onto the Natimuk wheat silos.
‘I get quite bored if I do something for too long,’ Jones explains. ‘It makes it hard to build a name for doing something in particular I ‘s’pose. But I kind of like that.’
Assisted by an Australia Council for the Arts Creative Australia Fellowship, Jones has recently been concentrating on two major projects in which he has been creating real-time interactive animations. The Captives in the City project with Chamber Made Opera has been one of these projects; the other has been Feed; a collaboration with Thieves Theatre.
Based on the novel of the same name by American writer M.T. Anderson, Feed is set in a dystopic future world where people have the ‘feed’, or internet, wired into their heads. Jones’s animations try to visualize this for an audience, creating cloud-like animated text and images, which surround the actors and respond to their gestures in real-time. Jones likens it to animated puppetry.
Much of the new technology Jones uses has been designed for computer gaming so it’s fast and responsive when it comes to generating immersive visuals. Just as importantly, it’s also relatively cheap and easy to buy off the shelf. It means he must compromise his preferred aesthetic but he sees exploring the technologies potential as worth it. As he explains, when he used stop motion or pen and ink to create his animations it might take a week to create 10 seconds of footage. It’s making all sorts of new things possible.
The best thing about the Fellowship, Jones says is the opportunity it has provided to develop and explore ideas, both those that have been on the backburner and new discoveries. New technology and ways of doing things are literally becoming possible every month, he says. To just have the time to see how that can fit into your repertoire and whether it enhances what you do or not has been invaluable. Then there’re what Jones calls ‘happy accidents’; insights that happen while working on something else that usually have to be put aside when you’re on a deadline.
While working on these latest two projects Jones says he’s created a framework and come upon a number of exciting things that he will be able to develop into new projects in the next few years. ‘I just have this really solid basis to create amazing new work going forward,’ he says. ‘Stuff that I hadn’t even thought of a year ago when I proposed the Fellowship.’
‘A lot of the good discoveries that have been possible this year have been because of that luxury to just sort of…’ Jones pauses, then sighs happily. ‘…wander.’
More of Dave Jones work can be seen at the Art Is Festival in Horsham, 30 May – 9 June, 2014