Simple Machines: The Inspirational Teaching of Experimental Animator Jodie Mack

Wasteland #3: Moons, Sons (courtesy of Jodie Mack)

“Find the note, then swerve,” urges experimental host Jodie Mack. The colorfully-clad performer is one-third through her antique presentation at the November 2021 Film Friends Gathering hosted by the Echo Park Film Center. Now in its second year, this go-around’s monthly online series focuses on “simple machines” for filmmaking. Mack happily showed off some of his own creations, such as a zoetrope on a bicycle, but quickly moved on to his love for singing. “My voice is a simple machine!” she raves before launching into a wide-mouthed croon, a note or two above the roar of her electric toothbrush.

This imperative – find and deviate – may well be the artist’s mantra for a sharp teaching practice based not on imparting knowledge but on creating spaces that foster growth and transformation. Mack, who earned his master’s degree in film, video, and new media from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has an eclectic body of brilliantly vibrant experimental animation, is an associate professor of film and media studies at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. The desire to find the note and then deflect not only parallels animation’s basic gesture of frame-by-frame transformation, but indicates its timely reinvention of film education. Mack’s teaching philosophy represents a welcome intervention in the neoliberal classroom where educators are often expected to talk about learning management, return on investment and, of course, deliverables.

“I teach a class called ‘Water in the Lake: Real Events for the Imagination,’ which is based on a book of the same title by Kenneth Maue,” says Mack, describing one of his recent classes at Dartmouth. In this case, students planted seeds and tended a garden during the term, considering growing and nurturing alongside art and filmmaking. This simple, shared act once again embodies animation as a form – small, incremental changes lead to something bigger – but also brings students, locked in their rooms for a year during the pandemic, back into touch with the with each other and with the rich materiality and organic systems of the world.

Maue’s book offers a series of performance and improvisation-related incentives for musicians, and Mack has repurposed them as catalysts for students to create time-based work, often through the prism of nature. . “One of the scores is called ‘Three Days of Red,’ where someone is supposed to record every red thing they see for three days,” Mack continues. “There were multiple videos that answered this prompt, and they were all completely different.”

Mack says she wrote to Maue about the class, sharing some of the students’ work, and he responded by sending more poems and prompts. “One of the plays he wrote for us was called ‘The Freedom of Everyone Working Fluidly,'” Mack continues. The poetic prompt is delightful, and Maue’s generosity in nurturing a relationship with students and emphasis on fluidity speaks to Mack’s dynamic teaching philosophy. “I think that’s an essential part of being an educator: animating knowledge or inspiring possibilities of what it might be, as opposed to knowing an objective truth,” she says.

Mack also teaches “Introduction to Film: From Script to Screen” at Dartmouth, which enrolls between 50 and 60 students each term. Provoked by the pandemic to rethink the class, she invited the students to redo collectively Mechanical Ballet, Fernand Léger and Dudley Murphy’s beautiful cubist film from 1924. “Each student recreated one minute of the film with a very limited set of tools,” she explains, adding that for the class’s summer version, the students did it again Overview of the garden1957 Marie Menken magic short film. “I did a gallery exhibition of the students’ work,” she continues. The exhibit included dozens of plants and entering the gallery became a full-body sensory experience. “I remember we had a lot of conversations around this idea of ​​what a garden is and how much we can look at the human impulse for control, especially in nature. than a gardener? I found that really inspiring, of course, because I see teaching as a bit like gardening.

Teaching like gardening is a very different model of education than most of us learn, and Mack takes it very seriously, likening the differences in scale between annuals and perennials to the difference between a more immediate learning and learning that takes place over longer periods of time. . “As we think about what it means to throw around buzzwords in education – like ‘student-centred classroom’ or ‘democratized education’ – I think a lot about the lineage of ‘author’, from priest to expert to genius to pedagogue to orator to teacher, and that kind of suffocation
the seriousness and authority contained in terms like these, which are undoubtedly rooted in patriarchy and white supremacy. Rather than rule the classroom with harmful authority, Mack prefers to open space for learning experiences.

Mack’s perspective on teaching stems in part from his own background. “I am the first person in my family to graduate from high school and go to college, and I have taught and been a student at many types of educational institutions, from community college to schools d’art and Ivies, and I’ve seen a lot,” she says. “Sometimes I kind of feel like an ambassador between worlds, so this idea of ​​opening up a classroom and Doing an experimental lab sounds really exciting to me, not only as an educator but also as an artist, because my teaching and artistic practices are certainly intertwined.

And what about singing? Does it fit in the classroom? “I guess for me, part of breaking down those barriers involves some self-mockery and leveling the playing field,” and sometimes that means not being so serious all the time. “It’s almost as if we’ve learned that learning is a passive act or a form of consumption, as opposed to something generative. I certainly don’t stand in front of classrooms feeling like the expert. If anything, I feel like going to the movies and/or going to class is an act of generosity on both sides, from the person on stage as well as the audience.

When asked what she hopes her students learn in her filmmaking classes, Mack is very clear. “I want my classes to convey the idea of ​​endless possibilities. Students should come out of my classes with their expectations lubricated, so that they aren’t so rigid in their understanding of different shapes and can really see n’ any film or work of art as a combination of form and meaning where form and meaning are invested together in a symbiotic relationship. Mack pauses, then quickly adds another thought. “And really, I want the people come out of my classes understanding their ability to be an artist and to create things.”

Mechanical Ballet remakes:

Overview of the garden remakes: