“This is a dark time, filled with suffering and uncertainty. Like living cells in a larger body, it is natural that we feel the trauma of our world. So don’t be afraid of the anguish you feel, or the anger or fear, because these responses arise from the depth of your caring and the truth of your interconnectedness with all beings.”—Joanna Macy

Even though I come from a background in animation and collage, the inception of the surreal and dreamlike worlds I create are imagined through my body. There was always something I was searching for internally and physically, rather than just visually.

I often incorporate my body—as a rotoscoped hand, an eye, or as a full figure—into my animated short films: my hands as machinery in a factory, a large eye looking to the stars as part of a radio telescope dish, my lips folding space to kiss the surface of the moon. My inspiration comes from asking myself: How does my body feel to imagine and embody the physicality and perspective of something outside of myself, both animate and inanimate? It’s a natural progression that I now insert myself into the space of projected animation as a live performer, repeating these gestures and re-living these questions for each audience.

 

Sketch by Miwa Matreyek

With This World Made Itself, I emotionally and physically investigate the geological history of the Earth. The inspiration for This World Made Itself came from all of the flying I was doing on tour. I became obsessed with taking aerial photos, and really trying to read the landscapes. Fault lines, water drainage patterns and dry river beds, sand dunes pushed up against a mountain range, land sliced down by rivers. What did these landscapes look like millions of years ago, and what will they look like millions of years from now? Also, I was seeing human effects layered onto these landscapes—not only cities, but also open pit mines, fracking patterns in forests and on desert surfaces, grids and circles of agriculture, bald mountains. These looked like wounds and grafted skin. I wanted to lean in on the sensation I felt in my body when I saw the Earth from above.

Joanna Macy’s writing talks about the “‘Greening of the Self’—about the process of replacing one’s ‘skin-encapsulated ego’… by wider constructs of identity and self-interest—by what you might call the ecological self, co-extensive with other beings and the life of our planet.” This is about feeling and experiencing the larger world as part of one’s body. Macy’s writing is a recent personal discovery, but there is much that resonates deeply—things I find exciting both personally and as an artist. I can shape-shift and embody various scales of consciousness as a shadow silhouette in the worlds of my animations: the just-forming fiery Earth, life’s first steps out of the ocean, the biosphere’s panic as an asteroid strikes.

 

Composite of aerial photos taken as part of the artist's research

A year ago, I came across this Neil deGrasse Tyson quote about storytelling:

“In the case of the Artist, I don’t want them to represent reality, because I have that via my own telescope—I want and I need the Artist to take me to new places…the new place Van Gogh took me is not the sky as it is, but the sky as he felt it—and the more of us that feel the universe, the better off we will be in this world.”

This quote gives me courage to push myself as an artist.


Miwa Matreyek is an animator, director, designer, and performer based in Los Angeles. She studied experimental animation and integrated media at California Institute of the Arts, where she earned her master of fine arts degree in 2007.