Visual arts Marie Paccou

Surprise, surprise! After the flip-books, you’re about to see Marie Paccou in a completely different light…
© Marie Paccou

From 20 January to 11 February, visitors to the Turn On exhibition will be plunged into the world of phonotropic animation by some fifteen artists from Luxembourg and elsewhere. Among them is Marie Paccou, an artist best known for her animated short films. Her name may ring a bell: after her first appearance at Rotondes during Flip Off, she’s back this year for Turn On. And surprise! This time, you’ll be seeing her in a completely different light…

Marie, you create flip books based on previously published novels. Your drawings overlap with the text, revealing only a few words of the story. Is this a way of assigning a new narrative and a new existence to the books in which you draw? 

Despite being an avid reader, I express myself through animated images. My work on flipped books” takes two directions: firstly, I enhance a widely circulated book, giving it the status of a unique piece, and secondly, I push it towards screens and social networks, even if it means altering it by covering it with images, and possibly hastening its disappearance and replacement in the process. Regardless, my drawings always maintain a connection to the book. I tend to think of it as a portrait of the book: sometimes mocking, sometimes faithful, sometimes not.

And how did you come up with the idea of drawing inside books?

Initially, it was a playful response to the media library that invited me for a flip-book workshop. When the librarian weeds out” their shelves (that’s their term, not mine!), they no longer have the right to forbid drawing on the books. So, we doodled on the discarded ones with the children – we drew on the weeds. 

And I have to confess that the stop-motion movement, common to the entire series of flip books, fascinated me! You present the book’s cover, and voila!, you dive into the film it contains… I enjoyed it so much that I continued well beyond the examples I had prepared for the workshop.

This year you’re returning to Rotondes as part of Turn On, and this time it’s to create something completely different: a giant phonotrope! What inspired you to embark on this bold adventure? 

Above all, it was mutual trust: witnessing the elegance, accuracy, and generous spirit of Flip-Off, and receiving considerable confidence from the Rotondes team, even though I’d only presented the ombrellotropes’, which are 300g of rotating animation. Whereas the disc of the giant phonotrope I’m coming with this time weighs 48kg…

Additionally, beyond the shift to a larger format, I’m motivated by the collective dimension that the experience can take on, by bringing spectators together around a large disc.

How does this phonotrope come to life, and what role does the audience play in the process? 

The phonotrope springs to life when the audience starts the engine and activates their smartphone camera. When static, numerous almost identical drawings can be seen all around the disc. However, when the disc rotates at the right speed, these drawings overlap’ on the smartphone screen, displaying thirty photos per second. At that point, the animation, i.e., the subtle variations from one drawing to the next, the drawn movement, becomes perceptible. To the naked eye however, it’s a different experience (and not – as some people say – less visible!), as it’s the disc’s rotation you can see, and this results in a blur due to its speed.

Your creation depicts the tale of The Pied Piper of Hamelin. What motivated this choice? 

I literally grew up surrounded by tales – my mother is an amateur storyteller, and she also trains other storytellers. I was initially looking for a tale featuring precisely 24 characters to match the number of animation phases drawn. Unfortunately, I found no such tale: Ali Baba’s 40 thieves are 40, the 12 brothers are 12, and the ogre from Tom Thumb has 7 daughters. As I couldn’t find a tale with 24 characters, the Pied Piper of Hamelin emerged as an interesting option since it makes a multitude of rats and children disappear, without specifying the exact number! To illustrate the story, I painted spirals of rats and children converging towards the Pied Piper. Ultimately, my work will highlight the parallel drawn between rats and children in the original tale.

Creating a giant phonotrope presents a considerable challenge! Can you elaborate on the different stages of this creative process? 

Initially, there was deliberation with Rotondes regarding the number of phases and the speed to assign to the giant phonotrope. A rotation twice as slow would imply twice as many drawings, allowing for a rhythmic hop! hop!” instead of hop!” The temptation was there, but I opted to maintain the tempo I’m used to, enabling me to draw twice as large. This ensures the audience has some distance. 

Subsequently, I faced a dilemma concerning the story, which, as a parent, frightened me. Considering the abundance of tales with happy endings where the weak become powerful, tackling the cruel tale of revenge posed a significant challenge! 

I still have a lot of hurdles to overcome, especially as the blank disc is yet to be delivered. The most significant obstacle may be the inability to verify my animation, given that the mechanics were designed in Luxembourg. However, having painted numerous ombrellotropes, I believe I’m adequately prepared to cope!

Before embarking on this phonotrope adventure, you introduced kitchenotropes’ and ombrellotropes’. Could you shed some light on these inventions? 

So, in chronological order, kitchenotropes are a series of cardboard plates transformed into phonotropes for gramophones. Plateotrope’ didn’t quite have the right ring to it. This series earned its name when my only option to rotate and view my animation was to use my food mill because I had left my record player outside in the heatwave and it was fried. 

This incident gave me the confidence to transition to the umbrella, which I previously thought was too unstable and manual. Coming from a background of short films and cinema, which are characterised by a motorised and cadenced environment, I realised that the umbrella alone could generate an animation on a smartphone. Consequently, I penned and patented the ombrellotrope’. While I wouldn’t have known how to produce and sell an engine, conceptualising the manufacture and sale of umbrellas seemed more feasible. 

Research on the ombrellotrope was conducted during the first lockdown, and the patent was filed on October 1, 2020. Above and beyond any commercial considerations, the ombrellotrope addressed my need to not stay at home’, ensuring my own protection (solar or otherwise), delimiting my space, and broadcasting my art where possible, be it on the street or on social media.

What emotions or reactions are you hoping to conjure with this new creation? 

Primarily, a sense of wonder, coupled with a deeper understanding of the smartphone’s pivotal role in my project. 

Additionally, I hope that all those who will experience the same illusion on their different smartphones, will engage in discussions about the artwork. This exchange should be facilitated by the tale’s reference, of Germanic in origin and more widely known in Luxembourg than in France.