Before she became Head of Animation at the Royal College of Art in London, Birgitta Hosea worked for years as a house cleaner. Those two experiences might seem about as disparate as can be, but in Hosea’s new short film Erasure, she combines them into a fascinating study of how we exploit and ignore the physical labour that keeps the world turning.
Erasure features no dialogue, nor does it provide any explicit context for its jarring images. Instead, the film leaves interpretation up to the viewer as it shifts back and forth between two angles, each a different animation style, showing what appear to be the same action: one showing a rubber-glove-wearing hand in stop-motion as it carefully sprays and scrubs a smooth, dark surface, the other a 2-D looped animation showing the stenciled outline of a cleaner—perhaps Hosea herself—on her hands and knees, scrubbing a floor with a brush.
Over the course of the three-minute film, the tension builds to a climax as the stenciled cleaner multiplies into four stenciled cleaners, who in turn continue to multiply exponentially. Meanwhile, the disembodied hand works itself into a frenzy of erasure as it attempts to scrub violently against the black surface, eventually revealing a wall of computer code behind it. The film ends on a note of meta-textual suspense, as the hand continues to scrub away at the end credits overlaid on-screen.
For Hosea, now a London-based media scholar, filmmaker, and live performance artist whose work is archived in the Tate Modern, the image of a cleaner is loaded with symbolism. “Physical labour creates the world around us,” she explains, “Yet, all too often, this work remains unrecognized and invisible.” She points out that we are used to seeing the end-product of this labour—“the finished building, meal, [or] clean house”—while the process of creating these spaces remains hidden. Carrying us into this hidden space is the film’s colour palate, based in a dark, foreboding shade of blue, along with the rumbling percussion of José Macabre’s haunting sound design.
Hosea is careful to point out that much of this physical labour is gendered—in that historically, it has been performed almost exclusively by women. She hopes Erasure will serve as a reminder that these female domestic labourers, although “forgotten and taken for granted,” have played a valuable role in our society for countless generations.
I connected with the film on a visceral level, my preconceptions about domestic labour called into question by the film’s jarring juxtaposition of stop-motion with 2-D animation. It’s no surprise that Hosea lists as one of her favourite films Vera Chitilova’s experimental cult classic Daisies (1966), groundbreaking to this day for its bold interspersing of cut-and-paste collage animation as a metaphor for the way women’s bodies are transformed into objects, constantly deconstructed and reconstructed for the sake of men. With Erasure, Hosea seems to be gesturing towards Chitilova’s critique, while looking hopefully towards a more inclusive future.
“I am interested in how the movements we make–our gestures and actions–lead us to construct our identity, and in particular, our gender identity.”
Born: Edinburgh, UK, 1966
Lives in: London, UK
Recent festival appearances: Venice Biennale, Art Brussels, Holland Animated Film Festival, Animfest, Strangelove Film Festival
Countries in which she has been a visiting academic: USA, China, Azerbaijan, Romania, Austria, Sweden
Creative Media of Choice: Animation, Drawing, Shadow Puppetry, Video, Live Performance
Moonlights as: Freelance commercial animator
Top Five Film Picks:
Daisies (Vera Chitilova, 1966)
Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)
Noisy Spitting, Licking and Dribbling (Vicky Smith, 2014)
Yellow Submarine (George Dunning, 1968)
The Hand (Jiri Trnka, 1965)