Q+A with new media artist Max Hattler

Max Hattler's 'Divisional Articulations' at Ars Electronica 2017

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German new media artist Max Hattler works primarily with abstract animation, video installation and audiovisual performance. His work explores relationships between abstraction and figuration, aesthetics and politics, sound and image, and precision and improvisation. Max Hattler studied in London at Goldsmiths and the Royal College of Art, and received a Doctorate in Fine Art from the University of East London. His work has been presented worldwide over the last decade and a half, most recently at Beijing Minsheng Museum, Sonar Hong Kong, MoCA Taipei, Exploratorium San Francisco, and a retrospective at Filmfest Dresden. Awards include Cannes Lions, Third Culture Film Festival, Bradford Animation Festival, and several Visual Music Awards. He has performed live around the world, including Playgrounds Festival, Seoul Museum of Art, EXPO Milano and the European Media Art Festival.

Hattler has been on the jury of over 25 film festivals including Animafest Zagreb, CutOut Fest Mexico, Punto y Raya Festival, Animex Awards, and Tehran International Animation Festival. He is an Assistant Professor and ACIM Research Fellow at the School of Creative Media at City University of Hong Kong and is represented by Logan & Sons.

Divisional Articulations (2017, audiovisual collaboration with Lux Prima)

Divisional Articulations has recently won the following awards:

  • Grand Prize Award, SUPERNOVA Festival, Denver, CO, USA, 2017
  • Best Experimental Film, ReAnima Festival, Bergen, Norway, 2017
  • Moving Image Award Shortlist, Lumen Prize, UK, 2017



How do you balance your career between academia and artistry? Does one field inform the other?

The two are closely linked. I take projects into the classroom, and also employ my students as animators and researchers. I teach them what I know and learn what they know. Research projects inform my art making, and my art making informs my research. Sometimes I wish I had more time to just faff around, but all in all it’s a pretty good arrangement.

When did you realize that art was your calling?

My father makes music, my godfather is an abstract painter, and my surrogate granddad was a design professor. Growing up, I was torn between these three fields of influence and for the longest time felt like I had to choose one. Eventually, I realised that I don’t have to.

Though your portfolio essentially defies categorization, what initially sparks your creative process with each project? Is there a similar pattern?

While some pieces stand out as oddities, there are strong threads that hold my body of work together: An emphasis of abstraction over figurative representation, synaesthetic experience derived from tightly interlocking sonic and visual tracks, the use of temporal and visual symmetries, the exploration of abstraction as a meaning-making device, and resulting open-ended narratives.

The creation process from one work to the next is also similar: I tend to feel my way from a vague starting point to the final version through a discovery-led process of trial and error, and continuous editing. I rarely have a clear picture of what I want to achieve, but instead have a research question, or a visual, sonic, kinetic or other cue from which to start, and then let the work lead me through iterations until a finishing point is reached. This keeps the making-process interesting—and scary.

Can you please describe “digital photographic reanimation” and how it is incorporated into your work?

Digital photographic reanimation refers to the sequencing photographs into movement. Stop-motion animation or pixilation sort of covers that, but, in my understanding, it refers to the movement of objects under the camera. Digital photographic animation, for me, is more about finding new movement within pre-existing single photographs, or from one photograph to the next, and sequencing that into something that makes visual-kinetic sense. Works such as Nachtmaschine (2005) or All Rot (2015) are examples of this approach.

What have been some of your most challenging projects, from a technical, creative or production standpoint, and why?

Spin (2010) was one of the more difficult projects as it required a mixture of 2D and 3D animation involving a bigger team over an extended period of time. Managing people, holding resources together and helming the whole thing, while I was going through personal difficulties at the same time, was exceedingly taxing. For most projects—this is another commonality among most of my work—I try to keep the technical side as simple as possible and focus on exploring one or two techniques only. This gives the work stringency while also keeping it manageable.

III=III (2016)


As your work has been shown across the globe, from San Francisco to Beijing, which cities have been most receptive – or surprisingly receptive – to your form of audiovisual, neomedia work?

My former long-time hometown of choice, London, has always been very supportive of my work. There is a small yet vibrant scene for artistic experimental animation work, which to a large extent stems from Channel 4’s championing of this kind of work throughout the 1990s, and the Royal College of Art’s Animation Master’s program. While public support has all but disappeared now, and the RCA has become unaffordable to most, there is still a good support network of artists and the appreciation that goes with it.

My second choice would have to be Tokyo. I self-organised a big Japan tour with fellow German abstract animation artist Robert Seidel in 2008, mainly to test the Big in Japan Theory. And, to our surprise, they received us like new media superstars. I suspect that this was less because of our awesomeness, though, and more to do with the Japanese’s fad-ishisation of the new. My educated guess is that, just as the Morning Banana Diet, we’d very much be yesterday’s news if we returned a decade later. Nevertheless, amazing times were had.

How often do you collaborate with others from either a creative or technical standpoint? What type of work necessitates collaboration, and what is the collaborative process like?

I almost always collaborate with people on sound or music, and often on the visual side too. While I expect and encourage creative input and exploration on the part of collaborators, I like to keep tight directorial control. As my process is discovery-driven and open-ended, this only works well with people who are very much open to that.

What are some of your career highlights/proudest achievements?

It’s hard to pinpoint highlights as it’s more about sustaining an artistic practice, and enjoying the weird and unexpected things that come out of that, which make this journey worthwhile. Like being on festival juries in Batumi, Tehran or Transylvania, or performing live visuals in the Caribbean, or doing artist residencies on the Curonian Spit, a Lithuanian sand dune peninsula in the Baltic Sea, or in the Norwegian fiords.

But if you want tangible proud achievements, here are a couple recent ones: I was pretty stoked about my retrospective at Filmfest Dresden this year. Also my gig at Ars Electronica Festival 2017 where my work was featured in an hour-long In Personam screening, a lecture at their Expanded Animation Symposium, and a presentation of several of my films in never-seen-before, stereo 3D, UHD and 4K resolutions in Ars Electronica Center’s super-awesome Deep Space 8K.

Receiving my doctorate in 2014 is also one of my prouder moments for sure. I did it part time over five years and thought about throwing it all in many times. So finally wrapping it up with a solo exhibition and making it through my defence gave me a massive sense of achievement. It led directly to my employment at School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong and departure from London, which has opened new and super exciting chapters in my personal life, artistic and academic trajectories.

What artistic avenues would you like to pursue that you haven’t already?

Two research projects I’m about to start will hopefully lead to outcomes which I have been pondering but not sufficiently pursued. The first one looks at the adaptation of stereoscopic content dealing with binocular rivalry and random dot stereograms—what I started with III=III last year—into a 360-degree immersive environment. The second project is an inquiry into the narrative potential of abstract animation (something I’ve been interested in since I started making films). The prime example would be Collision (2005), which will lead to a medium-length film. I’ve been thinking about making longer-form work for a while, and recent/ongoing Gustav Mahler visualisation Five is a first step in this direction.

Spin (2010)


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