Lost in the Playroom: Obscurer
Obscurer is an absorbing, disturbing 19 minute stop motion animation by Kiera Faber. It is a surreal, elliptical story of a woman trapped in her own world, a room with blue walls, a cross between a playroom, a library, and an artist’s studio. Here, she obsessively explores her psyche using several puppets as stand-ins for aspects of herself. Faber works with a beguiling and innovative form of stop motion technique, which combines live action, animated objects and puppets, drawing, and printmaking. Her own performance as a real woman, surrounded by animated playthings, creates a powerful sense of an artist exploring her inner world. Her inventiveness constantly presented me with animation ideas I’d never seen before: puppets wearing masks, or puppets as puppeteers, putting on a puppet show. At one point, a puppet even sews herself.
In the opening scene, the woman uncovers a book, hidden in a bed of straw. Instead of reading it, however, she lies down on the straw and covers her face with it. Apparently, she intends to absorb this text directly into her dreams. Later on, the written text creeps up her arms, like a spreading rash. The action in Obscurer often involves a kind of stealthy infection: mites crawl out of a book and infest the straw. The woman’s hair winds around her doll’s arm, engulfing it like a kudzu vine. An army of locust tree seed pods, looking like eels or leeches, swarm over the puppet’s body.
At key moments in the film, we see a scintillating light, shining through the straw or twigs. This light is always accompanied by wind chimes, or by a strange, muted ringing, as if hearing a glass bell. This light suggests a kind of mystical voice that beckons the woman into her imaginary world.
Her bookshelf is filled with titles such as The Fear of Being a Woman, and she’s being haunted by nightmares of big-breasted women puppets, who secretly plot to recruit her into their feminine realm. We watch marionettes, enacting a puerile scene of domestic bliss, an idea of motherhood derived from children’s stories. Later, we see that the puppeteers are the big-breasted women, dwelling on their agenda of motherhood. The parents in this scenario, of course, are both women.
Because of the precise and exacting animation techniques, it’s clear that these films take a very long time to make, requiring a lengthy immersion in the painstaking work. This story about an artist who gets lost in a strange, singular world of her imagination clearly resembles the world of Faber and her artistic process. Perhaps inspired by her own experiences, absorbed in her animation studio, Faber exaggerates this idea until it becomes a tale of someone who has lost touch with the external world entirely. The artist in the film ticks off the days, as they pass, in chalk on her wall, in the manner of prisoners. Like anyone who is trapped in an interior world, her inner life, after a while, takes on the sickness of a mind constantly talking to itself and feeding back on itself, lacking the opportunities for growth and expansion which come with practical, everyday encounters with other people and the larger world around oneself. It’s like getting lost in a wood, unable to find the way out. What or who is being obscured? Not only is the artist hidden, she’s forgotten that a door ever existed. Meanwhile, thanks to Faber’s sensitive artistry, we get invited along for a trip to this world as well, a world of haunting beauty which both obscures and reveals the conflicts and anxieties which are enacted there.