What begins as a saccharine, over-caffeinated children’s animation whips itself into an orgiastic frenzy of creative impulses gone wrong in This Is It Collective’s “Don’t’ Hug Me I’m Scared.” Directed by Becky Sloan and Joseph Pelling, “Don’t Hug Me” subverts the children’s genre expectations and in its transgressions plays with the perhaps imaginary line between creation and destruction.
The pairing of creation and destruction is commonplace. It has mythic faces in figures like the Hindu goddess Kali who Alice Landry points out “characterizes destruction or letting go of the past to make room for a more purposeful present and future. She stands for the concept of Mother Nature as not only a potent, destructive force but also a force that cleanses away the old to allow room for new, fertile ground.” Separate from art or material objects we might covet or seek to possess, in nature we see no line. We , most of us, don’t look at the sandy beach as the ravaged remains of rocks, the rocks as crushed mountains. What is, just is.
But in the realm of art, we invest in the line between creation and destruction. Something of this seems connected to the nature of creativity. I once saw a documentary about a sculptress – I believe it was Louise Bourgeois – who had an assistant whose major job was to follow the sculptress around and remove the sculptures once she was finished with them. If he did not, she would come back to the piece and nudge it off the table, watch it fall and shatter on the concrete floor, experience pleasure at seeing what she created now destroyed.
But when does the creation of the art end and its destruction begin? How did her assistant know when to remove the art?
This is the question the father in the play “Six Degrees of Separation” also ponders: “I remembered asking my kids’ second-grade teacher: ‘Why are all your students geniuses? Look at the first grade – blotches of green and black. The third grade – camouflage. But your grade, the second grade, Matisses, every one. You’ve made my child a Matisse. Let me study with you. Let me into the second grade. What is your secret?’ ‘I don’t have any secret. I just know when to take their drawings away from them.’”
Louise Bourgeois was aware of her place between these two forces, something she sought to understand through many years of therapy. Christopher Turner in The Guardian connects this creative / destructive complementary to Freud: “But, ultimately, Bourgeois felt that analysis had little to offer the artist. ‘The truth is that Freud did nothing for artists, or for the artist’s problem, the artist’s torment,’ Bourgeois wrote in ‘Freud’s Toys,’ as if in frustration with the process to which she submitted for so many years, ‘to be an artist involves some suffering. That’s why artists repeat themselves – because they have no access to a cure.’ Lowenfeld [her therapist] had died four years earlier, ending her analysis but evidently not her pain, which continued to fuel her work. In his essay ‘Dostoevesky and Parricide’ (1926), Freud himself admitted: ‘Before the problem of the creative artist, psychoanalysis must lay down its arms.’ Bourgeois and Freud both see these impulses as irreconcilably something part of the artistic process.
In “Don’t Hug Me,” in the wake of the destruction and mayhem, the narrative voice suggests “Now let’s all agree to never be creative again.” This is surely ironic. Though there can be no greater truth than the film’s assertion that “green is not a creative colour.”
This Is It Collective is a group 13 filmmakers who, in their own words, come “from a background of design and animation . . . and continue to build upon their collective voice that they have developed.” Their shorts have appeared on England’s Channel 4 and received more than 2.5 million views on line for their self-funded projects.
– R. W. Gray