Within, Above and Beyond


August 30, 2018


Within, Above and Beyond is the recent interactive multimedia piece by multimedia artist Yulia Lanina. In the piece, Lanina interacts with projected animations of her paintings in a narrative that chronicles Lanina’s journey to find clarity amid the noise of disconcerting news, images and social media.

Yuliya Lanina is a Russian-born American multimedia artist. Her projects are collaborative in nature and exist at the intersection of visual and performing arts, technological innovation and social issues like gender perception, sexual objectification and violence, loss and motherhood.

Her recent interactive multimedia piece Within, Above and Beyond combines a projection created from her own paintings, original music and dance with a live performance by Lanina. The Journal of Design and Creative Technologies caught up with her recently to discuss this project and her work more broadly.

What can you tell us about the genesis of Within, Above and Beyond? What was your inspiration for the piece?

Within, Above and Beyond is a journey inside the mind of an artist. It begins with me writing in a journal, the discordant thoughts and scribbles presented as static and white noise. I get sucked into it and encounter a world filled with strange, funny and bizarre creatures and situations—the amalgam of memory and fantasy. The piece explores the symbiotic relationship that can exist between the artist and her work. Through creativity, I am able to explore the seeming overwhelming noise and look deep into my psyche. Toward the end, I meet my onscreen alter ego, who leads me back to the real world, which I am now ready to face.

These days when I feel constantly bombarded with breaking news, upsetting images, oversaturation of social media information, it is easy to become overwhelmed. This piece is my attempt to sift through all the noise to find a clearer sense of purpose and identity.

Still from Within, Above and Beyond by Yuliya Lanina.

In Within, Above and Beyond, your paintings come to life through animation, and you interact with the projected animation. How does animating your paintings bring a new dimension and meaning to the work? What about interacting with them through performance?

I have a soft spot for painting in my heart—it was through painting that I first fell in love with art. Later, I experimented with animatronics, installations and films, and compared to these mediums, painting felt too static and too silent to be satisfactory. I felt that it had to move, to live. I then began animating my paintings, having them interact and dance to music. A few years ago, I approached Fusebox Festival, a citywide celebration in Austin, Texas, featuring performance artists from all over the world, with the idea of making a performance piece with video. The festival organizers liked it and agreed to fund the project, which became Not A Sad Tale. That was the first time I came out on stage as both the performer and the artist. The experience was so gratifying that I decided to follow it up with another one, this time refining my movement and interaction with the animation. I called it Within, Above and Beyond, which borrows James Joyce’s famous words about the relationship of the artist to her work. 

What kinds of technologies do you use to animate your paintings and create the projection design?

A lot of planning went into this piece. First, I painted all of the images, then deconstructed them in Photoshop before putting them together and animating them using Anime and AfterEffects. I had to plan the animation around my body, anticipating how I would interact with the images and how I would be lit, and which images would be projected onto me. In this piece I chose to wear white so that the color palette of the frame would create the illusion of my inhabiting that world. For example, in one part I merge with the flower to the extent that the audience cannot distinguish between what is real and what is projected.  

As I write in my air journal, my movements are motion tracked by Russell Pinkston’s application in Max/MSP, creating a synchronous blend of scratchy and whispering noises.

For Within, Above and Beyond, you credit two collaborators—composer Russell Pinkston and choreographer Andrea Ariel. What was that collaborative process like for you on this project?

The animation and the story came first. However, in creating the animation I had to factor in my body and how it is placed within the frame. So Andrea Ariel and I traded ideas early on, and once the animation was done, we began work on the actual choreography. Not everything worked smoothly, and I had to go back and change my animation to be proportional to my body. I should point out that I have zero formal training in dance, and Andrea was great at coming up with the kinds of movements that masked my limitations as a dancer.

Sound is essential to this piece, so once the animation was done, I showed it to Russell, explaining the mood of each scene and where certain aural cues needed to happen (I rely on these cues, being unable to see the projected image while performing). Russell had full freedom to interpret my work the way he wanted to. I enjoy tremendously this part of collaboration, since every composer adds their own style and meaning, thus providing a parallel narrative to the piece. Russell has a great way of musically enhancing what is happening on stage, making the images richer and fuller.

The animation and paintings in the work often move between whimsical images and the darker, more menacing images. Where do you draw inspiration for this imagery and these themes?

Inspiration comes from everywhere: from old Soviet-era cartoons to David Lynch. It also comes from personal experience of dealing with trauma, but also experiencing awe and wonder. I often draw on humor as a catalyst for expression, especially when exploring dark themes. Humor has always been cathartic to me. Perhaps it stems from my childhood. Telling jokes is a favorite pastime in Russia. The harder the times, the funnier the jokes.

Read more from the Journal of Design and Creative Technologies

Yuliya Lanina is an Assistant Professor of Practice at the School of Design and Creative Technologies at the University of Texas at Austin.

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