Gateshead-based animator Petra Szemán is heavily influenced by the early filmography of Japanese director Makoto Shinkai, and grew up watching the works of post-communist Hungarian experimental animators such as Marcell Jankovics. In 2018-2020 they were awarded a MEXT Research Scholarship to fund two years of research and development in Tsukuba, Japan, where they began reworking the ‘hero’s journey’ structure with the principles of the gaiden, a nonlinear narrative used in manga and anime that translates to mean ‘(out)side story’.
Petra’s work follows the journeys of Yourself, an avatar protagonist on a pilgrimage through landscapes that have become oversaturated with fiction. A deeply personal avatar, Yourself is used to interrogate the potential of animation to challenge binary fictions such as East-vs-West, real vs not real, academia vs pop culture, here vs there. A body tied to animation posits a realm of possibilities, and Petra asks ‘rather than inquiring into its relationship to the real, it may be better to ask: what new territories may be opened up?’ Moving between the intersection of artists’ moving image, animation, and video games, they layer real life footage with 2D frame-by-frame animation and game landscapes, searching for holes in world-building and contexts where the narrative falters.
Petra is one of five artists commissioned to create new work for On Animatics, a project culminating in a series of online exhibitions and the publication of a book co-authored with Jamie Sutcliffe.