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An Interview with Stefan Riekeles curator of Anime Architecture at House of Illustration

Date: 2017 June 1st Thursday [12:55] | Posted By: Voxie

Opening just last Friday 26th May, Londonís House of Illustration is holding Anime Architecture, the UKís very first anime backgrounds exhibition.

Yes, you read that right, itís a gallery dedicated to looking behind the scenes at the silent art within the anime world. This is no doubt a progression for the anime genre in the West, where anime and manga are still known for their big eyes, big boobs and science fiction. If there's anything that can justify the artistic finesse within anime, it's the background art. We quizzed Stefan Riekeles, curator of the exhibition.
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It's been exciting news to hear of a gallery featuring background artwork - literally a 'hidden' world that people have to look at twice to really appreciate, given the moving image they are fated to sit behind. What gave you the idea to bring them to a gallery?

The idea to present these illustrations in a gallery exhibition was developed around 10 years ago. At that time I had the chance to visit some animation studios in Tokyo and to talk to the creators. The passion of the illustrators for their work and these amazing illustrations made me think that I had something special in front of me which had not been seen by many other people so far. I hope that people who attend the exhibition will join me in that fascination and agree that it was a good idea to work on this. Because what followed was a lot of work, emotional and administrative. The artists were in no way prepared to the idea that their works would hang on the walls of a gallery. They were all quite reluctant at first because these works where only by-products for the final movie in their eyes. They said: "Why don't you simply screen the movie? These sheets are not what the whole project is about. We want to make animated films, not painting." I answered patiently for many times: "We know the films but now we want to see these paintings. They are beautiful and we want to have more time to admire them instead of seeing them passing by quickly on the screen." After two years my endeavour had some success and we shipped the first batch of illustrations to Berlin. In the following years, we toured the exhibition Proto Anime Cut in Europe. The current Anime Architecture show is an offspring of that earlier version.

(The Proto Anime Cut exhibition held in Berlin in 2011. It was the first to display original drawings from anime directors and illustrators, which included Mamoru Oshiiís works. You can learn more here).

You have quite a selection of classic anime titles featured. What influenced your decision in obtaining these images? Were you aiming for a specific scene or genre, and was it difficult to get hold of them? Do you have a personal favourite?

The idea to present these exact drawings through a process of negotiation roused two questions: "What do we want?" and "What can we get?". It was a long process of finding the appropriate answers. Sometimes we knew exactly what we wanted but nobody could find the drawings anymore. At other times we got something we did not expect and had to think whether this might be actually what we wanted. The final idea came by watching Mamoru Oshii's films over and over again. We were in good contact with his artistic crew (layouter, background designer, photographer) and had more or less access to interesting things. Then I discovered that Oshii's films rely heavily on the background world.

Furthermore, he sometimes gives the background the role of the protagonist. In Patlabor, Ghost in the Shell and GITS 2: Innocence, there are moments of meditation of the world in which the story takes place happening at around 40~50 minutes playing time. These are special sequences. These backgrounds are outstanding in detail and artistic quality. I wanted to have these! And we got them.

With Ghost in the Shell being over 20 years old now, how well do you think the images have aged? Do you believe they hold as much influence as when they were first released as a movie?

Currently Ghost in the Shell is shown at theatres as a live action film. A few years ago the concept designers of this movie contacted me and bought one of the exhibition catalogues. From that I know that the illustrations which are presented at House of Illustration now had a strong influence on the look of the current film. If you compare both films scene by scene you will notice strong similarities. The artists behind the Hollywood version did a really good job, I think.

Are there any images which didn't make the exhibition, or wish were part of it?

A great extension of the current exhibition would be to include the world of Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira. We tried to do that but did not succeed so far. Mr. Otomo is planning other exhibitions. But we'll keep trying again, in some years maybe. These works are classic now but I think they will become even more canonical over time.


And we would encourage Stefan to not give up on holding a future exhibition for the legendary Akira too!
Anime Architecture: Backgrounds of Japan starts Friday and ends 10th September 2017.

House of Illustration
2 Granary Square
Kingís Cross

Adult tickets start at £7.50 (£5 concessions).

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