Short animations are known for pushing the medium of animation beyond its comfort zone—in acknowledging the conservative nature of commercial animation projects, many argue that this is the primary appeal of shorts. We are sympathetic to innovation, and while supporting it is one of this site’s mission statements, our dual focus on storytelling has reduced the number of experimental pieces that we have featured in recent years. And yet…something about the work of Jack Wedge burrows itself into our brains and refuses to leave.
Make no mistake, Tennessee, the latest animation from Wedge, is undeniably weird. A young, precocious undergrad at NYU, Wedge might object to being termed “experimental” however. Tennessee is, nominally, a rather straightforward narrative—in a near-scifi world a young woman is lonely on her birthday and feels isolated by an environment in which all those that surround her are buried in the virtual. She tries to find love by connecting in the real-world, but finds her efforts ignored. This exploration of alienation is a familiar story of technological pessimism, one that is apt for our moment.
In all honesty however, it’s not the “what” of the story Wedge is telling that is interesting, but the “how”. A cacophony of visual ideas, the film is an ugly, messy, brain dump of styles and information from a mind whose humor, and sensibilities have only known internet culture as the dominant mode. It’s fresh, juvenile, and unapologetically rule-breaking—and quite unlike what you’ve seen before.
Not as formally rigorous as the deconstruction David O’Reilly presented when breaking onto the scene nearly a decade ago, Wedge nonetheless challenges established norms: he employs a crude, faux-naive style that’s reminiscent of early internet flash and MS Paint. This rejection of “good” animation may roll some eyes, but it’s increasingly popular among a younger class of animators such as Peter Millard. The rejection of beauty is likewise striking, and despite their work being very different, it calls to mind Nikita Diakur, whose aptly titled film, Ugly, has been praised at some of the holiest cathedrals of animation this past year, winning the grand prize at Ottawa. Wedge may be simply following his own muse, but there is a purposefulness I feel, one that is perhaps expressed in the interesting use of overlapping figures in the film’s climactic sex scene, which recalls Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2—a now canonical work that was reviled upon reception. After the non-sequitur strangeness of films like Dogs of Life, and Egg, Tennessee is a big leap forward in craft for Wedge, firmly situating it into the guidelines of “bad art”, defined by the curator of Boston’s Bad Art Museum as “pieces that exhibit good technique used to create images of questionable taste.”
Willful boundary-crossing makes for a challenging viewing experience, but as a shock to the system, it is liberating too, and Wedge’s work we find transgressively delightful. He is quickly making a name for himself as an iconoclastic artist across mediums, and his latest project crosses boundaries of a different sort—Brain, his first video game, is available to download now.