Animating Identity: Artist Chloe Cooper on Expression through Collective Creativity

Last month our artist Chloe Cooper ran an animation project in collaboration with Richmond Young Carers as part of our inspired:arts programme for young carers. Chloe told us about working with the young people and how stop motion animation as an artform allows for creative collaboration.

“Young carers don’t always have the lives that their friends who aren’t carers have. Understandably, this can be seen as something to feel sympathetic towards. But it’s also important to see this in a positive light and to recognise that actually they’re advanced in so many ways. Young carers’ roles give them skills that other young people don’t have.

“Working with Richmond Young Carers, we set out three days of animation workshops centred on the idea of ‘superheroes’, a theme that felt fitting in honouring the skills and roles that young carers possess. The group, aged 5-13, came together to explore their abilities and personalities in light of this theme, reflecting on what they were proud of and that perhaps they might have an Achilles’ heel.

“Focusing on these ideas of personal strengths and weaknesses, the young carers created their own characters. Seeing how they linked into these fictional figures things that they really loved and disliked from their own sense of self showed that these was coming from them. They were expressing personality, their unique identities and everybody had their own individual investment in their character.

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“Each participant’s character was developed visually through experimenting with a variety of materials; exploring textures; and collaging with different coloured paper, foil and cellophane. Taking their individual creations, each with differing attributes, the young carers introduced their characters to one another in groups of three, working together to ask: What would happen if these individuals met? Would they get on? How would they help each other out? These questions formed the basis of the plotlines from which the films would grow.

“It was amazing to see how they managed to work together. On the first day, the group was notably quiet and reserved, but soon a difference became very apparent: new friendships started to form between participants through the interaction of their characters and stories that they had created together. The result of the young people’s collaborative work – the negotiating, the sharing – was a really mature working relationship.

“Stop motion is great for collaborative projects because it’s a repetitive process and involves many different skills you can try out, sharing and swapping the roles. This allows you to find the aspect that inspires you the most. In this case, one participant got really into choosing the sounds to accompany the animation, another identified doing voiceovers as his strength, whilst one, who wasn’t as comfortable in communicating verbally, was absolutely in love with the digital cameras.

“Stop motion animation is so engaging because of the visibility of its method. What children can enjoy is how rebellious you can be with it – they can learn and understand the techniques behind the artform and then subvert that understanding. They have the licence to make these sudden drastic movements between frames and ham up the crudeness of it. I think that playfulness in subversion is really important, especially in this case, where young carers are on their school holidays and taking time away from their caring responsibilities. The workshops enable them to learn all these artistic skills whilst having a good time and making a humorous film.

“None of them had made stop motion animation before, so in the space of a few days, they were learning how to use MacBooks and iMovie, record voice overs and add their own accompanying soundtracks to their films. It was so good to be able to show the work and all that they’d learned to their families who were totally shocked – they just couldn’t understand how it had all been done in three days. They’re not being told what to do, just guided with the techniques. I think that’s vital to Create workshops – not just participating in a creative project, but leading it.

“One of the benefits of collaborating with young people is how much I’m always learning from them. It really opens your eyes to what’s happening in contemporary youth culture. Different young people work in different ways and all of them will come up with ideas that, as an adult, you would never think of. The way in which they will question everything – I find that such an exciting thing to be around. Exposure to that imagination and inquisitiveness gives me a passion for making art that can easily be lost if you’re not surrounded by it: learning from young people’s ideas re-teaches you as an artist again and again.”