Morphette is a short animated film about the iconography that represented femininity from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s.
Morphette is structured by using of a series of rich and visually dense scenes. Creating moving “paintings” that replicated or used elements from the iconic and well-known academic paintings of the time that depicted women as symbolic of the angelic, evil, real and metaphorical.
Essay By Rachael Watts "Magda Matwiejew | Morphette"
Exploring iconographic imagery of the female form, Magda Matwiejew’s most recent film “Morphette” (2013), lulls viewers into a false sense of security and calm. A sweet lullaby caresses the ears while a nude female figure tosses and turns in her bed. This opening scene is the prelude to an exploratory journey into an ambitious and far-reaching analysis into the evolution of the definition of femininity. It takes on a range of sinister turns punctuated by angelic musings.
Rich and complex imagery sourced from within the canons of art history is presented via fluidly connecting digital collages that deal with notions of femme fatale sexuality, vamp imagery, death, beauty, temptation and voyeurism. Mythological themes and fleeting narratives influenced by the neo-classical are presented, centring heavily on externalised fantasies of the female form. The male gaze in fin-de-siecle culture is implied in figures such as the temptress or she-devil; a pernicious force to be reckoned with. Women are depicted as evil creatures with powers of seduction that entrap men; sexual usurpers striving for male characteristics.
An ongoing tension between reverence and aggression towards the female sex runs concurrently throughout the work; between harmony and evil discord. Matwiejew seeks to address how we interpret 19th century images of women and gender relations within contemporary culture, and in doing so, examines how these historical sentiments contribute to ways of understanding the perception of femininity. Morphette expresses this shared cultural psyche.
As a platform for this discourse, Matwiejew utilises a contemporary ideal of the sexualised woman through the technique of 3D-modelling and virtual game culture. This virtual aspect via the techniques of tweening and morphing with the use of textured polygonal models, has replaced original use of stop motion and Matwiejew’s previous use of live models. With a combination of 3D and 2D frame-by-fame animation of illustrations, women are depicted as virtual 3D models and objects of desire.
From the bedroom a female figure appears overlayed, draped and exposed next to the dreaming woman as the content of her nightmare unfolds, mirroring Henry Fuesli’s “The Nightmare” (1781). The woman lies in the metaphorical bed where dreams begin and fantasies are conjured. The male figure represents Morpheus, who in Greek mythology is the god of dreams and brings dreams to both mortals and gods. The female body as spectacle is further re-iterated as a woman reclines on a pink chaise lounge transferred into a 1920s setting while a camera captures her every move. Birds, insects, fruit, and blooming flowers, inspired by still life paintings of Dutch painter, Balthasar van der Ast, and American painter, Martin-Johnson-Heade act as a natural backdrop for the nude.
Particular focus is given to the portrayal of women in the Victorian era. Viewed as naturally weak, the female form was often displayed as a helpless creature. One scene, based on Robert van Vorst Sewell’s 1896 painting, “The Garden of Persephone”, shows women lying listlessly in nature appearing almost dead. According to Bram Dijkstra in his book “Idols of Perversity” (1988), these images were created as permutations of male superiority. Dijkstra analyses the portrayal of women by intellectuals and artists throughout history depicting women as static unindividuated beings functioning solely in a sexual capacity. Matwiejew considers a range of historical explanations, observations and representations within literature, poetry, science and art history as the basis for her work. The book, like Matwiejew’s film, act as a compendium of anti-feminine lore, presenting a range of imagery that has historically been denounced as “perverse”.
Provocative semi-naked dancing women follow in feather like costumes. The dark side of excess and decadence begins to unravel as sin and sensuality come under the microscope. The female form transforms from innocent to threatening. Naked women gyrate with snakes on their heads and wrapped around their bodies, symbolising Medusa and the terrifying power of women. This interpretation is echoed in paintings by Arnold Boecklin and the German symbolist painter Franz von Stuck in the late 1800s. Sphinx surface intermittently as the use of animals are overlayed with human figures. In an evocative interpretation of William-Adolphe Bouguereau “the Oreads” 1902, a mass of beautiful naked weightless nymphlike figures take to the air, soaring upwards in an erotic procession to the astonishment of onlooking fauns. A woman in a cave poses as the “Penitent Mary Magdalene”, from Orazio Lomi Gentileschi’s 1621 painting, seeking atonement for her sinister ways.
In the final scenes, Matwiejew presents female figures being carved into stone, akin to the manufacture of the female image. Other women walk through large gates representing the dream world that opens out onto a sculpture garden. Morpheus re-emerges alongside the woman in bed and they simultaneously turn to marble. The dream is over and the truth of the story is brought into question.
Matwiejew’s Morphette operates as a series of scenes with its own symbolic language. The reality of the images and ideas produced are based within the context of a battle between sexes and as an inexorable law of nature.
©Rachael Watts May 2013