With a full audience anticipating the arrival of acclaimed identical twin stop-motion puppet animators known as the Brothers Quay, the lights dimmed as Peter Steeves, professor and Director of the DePaul Humanities Center, walked on stage to establish an intellectually reflective tone for the evening in the Student Center Wednesday night.
“It’s hands that gets things done,” Steeves said in his introduction which consisted of an impressive philosophical treatment on the symbiotic relationship between hands and objects.
While older local residents took the most space in the audience, there were a few students intently watching Steeves’ introduction and some taking notes. Other students were busy on their phones.
Steeves concluded on the power of hands and objects in relation to the Quays’ work as “filmmakers alchemy … so beautiful it makes me want to pull out my eyes”.
After Steeves finished his introduction, two of the brothers’ short films were screened. The first one shown titled “Unmistaken Hands: Ex Voto F.H.” is their newest short film based on the work and life of Uruguayan writer Felisberto Hernandez, an inspiration for the filmmakers and often referred to as the father of ‘magic realism’. The second one was a retrospective of their work which was recently shown in their exhibition at MoMa in New York City.
Following their new film with a retrospective, which spliced together previous work on a rhythmic score, gave the audience an in-depth view of the brother’s aesthetics and breath of work. The puppets, decors, and designs have a sense of antiquity and nostalgia but are used as tools in the hands of modern experimental filmmaking. There is a tension and underlying sexuality to their work palpable in the films screened.
The retrospective began to loop, as films shown in art galleries often do, and there was a moment of confusion before the crew stopped the film. Though awkward, it lightened the mood of the audience which just heard brash noises like an increasing telephone bell ring and watched thought-provoking images like sewing pins in a bodily organ from their widely praised “Street of Crocodiles” or the gritty praying mantis.
Steeves presented the two identical brothers with the 2013 Humanities Laureate Award as he brought them to the stage to start the interview.
For how suspenseful and dark the films are, the Brothers Quay were witty and insightful. Timothy had a trendy man-bun and Stephen was wearing all black. From an audience distance, they were unmistakably identical. When they began talking, their microphones were not turned up making for another comic relief. The interview started with how their parents impacted their artistic career. Their father was a machinist and supported their decision to go to art school.
They said the difference between their work and their father’s was that “none of our decors needed plumbing.”
Their humor was consistent throughout the interview but they also gave insightful advice on the creative process. They only allow one other person in the room while they animate and know each other well enough to create with mostly non verbal communication.
“We never look at the script but the film grows organically,” they said.
Steeves elaborated on this point saying that because they make their films “organically”, the films feel “alive.” They gave the example of starting off with an idea for a scene and then a miscellaneous factor creates a new direction.
“It’s what we do with our lives” Steeves said.
The interview ended with some questions from the audience. Some audience members were curious about the various influences on their films. One man decided to list an extensive group of philosophers which though impressive made much of the audience laugh at the thoroughness. He did receive a standing ovation after his long winded list ended.
Another audience member praised their retrospective and said, “it felt like someone reached into my soul, my body, and my heart.”
The Quay Brothers shared their work and experience as visionary artists in an engaging and comedic interview.