Portraits in Motion creates simple human magic with old-school flipbooks

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      A PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and Cultch presentation. At the York theatre on Tuesday, January 24. Continues until January 26

      In his travelling flipbook-cinema-storytelling show, German artist Volker Gerling talks about why his low-tech creations hold such magic.

      Part of it, he says of his luminous serial photographs, is the idea of stretching time. When he flips through a scene, he can slowly extend a moment, a subtle, revealing shift in his subject. And then, as he does on-stage, he can repeat it a few times so we can fully appreciate those tiny seconds. It's like defying physics and grabbing on to the ephemeral and fleeting.

      The other part has something to do with the mysterious power of leaving space between the shots—creating a wonder you wouldn't get if you shot the scene in seemless video or celluloid.

      Whatever the reason, he's right: watching his subtle images works a power over the viewer, as witnessed in the rapt audience that took in his mesmerizing yet totally nonshowy presentation at the York Theatre on Tuesday night. Gerling is not a natural entertainer; he is a humble photographer and nomadic artist who simply stands up, shows his projected work, explains his process, and tells stories from the road in his quirky German accent. And yet it's spellbinding.

      First, there are the images themselves. Gerling says he's interested in getting at some "truth" in his subjects, a trick that happens because they think they are posing for a single shot or two when he sets off his madly clicking Nikon. Somewhere between the first frame and the last, the person reveals something about him or herself, or about a relationship with another person in the photograph: an wise, older mother might hold her gaze, while her young, expressive daughter starts to laugh; a boy might try to look tough until he breaks into a smile; an elderly, sickly man might start to reveal his fatigue and the weight of mortality. Or a young woman might decide to shock onlookers. There are moving sequences, and funny ones too.

      The second level to the show gets at what it takes to be an artist. Gerling's stories are quietly fascinating; he carries his flipbooks by foot around his home country, pitching his tent in farmer's fields, beer gardens, and cemeteries, and living off small donations. What's beautiful about Portraits in Motion is that he takes us along on these journeys, describing what it's like and showing us pictures of where he's been. Somehow his walking travels echo his flipbook "movies", not just in the steady rhythm required but in the way of slowing down time. On foot, he says, you get to know yourself. 

      And getting to know Gerling is well worth the trip out to the York Theatre. He's only there for two more nights. You've never quite seen a show like this—and, as with so much on offer at PuSh, might never again.