One of the threads running through the Unbound Project is a celebration of womxn who have made a difference for animals in previous eras. So often their stories are forgotten over time, and we want to change that. We want to celebrate these womxn and share their stories with the world. We were absolutely thrilled when we received a grant from Brock University that allowed us to hire Brittany Brooks to make a short animated feature about Ada Cole, an English womxn who fought against the cruelty of the live horse export industry in the early 20th century.
Ada Cole did not set out to be an activist, but once she came face-to-face with the cruelty of the live export industry she knew she had to do something about it. She was an ordinary citizen who took matters in to her own hands. She witnessed cruelty and refused to look away. Cole used photography and film to document what she saw and hoped that the resulting images would get others to join her campaign against these cruel practices. As one might expect, she did not receive a warm welcome from those working in the live export industry and her efforts to take pictures were often thwarted. Cole hired a painter named Kurt Peiser to go undercover dressed as a dock worker so that he could sketch and paint what he was seeing as horses were unloaded from the ships that had sailed from England to Belgium.
Given the prevalence of visual encounters (witnessing, photography, film, art) in this story, we knew that we wanted to tell it in a very visually appealing way. We think that Brittany’s work is a perfect fit for The Unbound Project!
Brittany created over 100 hand painted water colour pieces for this animation and those paintings were then animated in Adobe After Effects.
We asked Brittany to tell us a bit about her involvement with this project.
Was there something about Ada Cole’s story that really stood out for you when you were doing the research for this project?
I was immediately drawn into Ada Cole’s story because of her ambition and determination. In a day and age when womxn did not even have the right to vote, Ada was driven to better the world for animals. I also found her story very inspiring because she used her camera as a tool of social justice. As a visual artist, it was exciting to see Ada use photographs and paintings to show the truth that people chose to ignore.
What did you learn by doing this project?
Before this project I had never heard of Ada Cole so I was very keen to begin researching her. Not only was I unfamiliar with her story, but I was also unaware of the way in which animals were being treated in the late 19th century. I learned how important activists like Ada were at this time who chose to question vivisection practices and were interested in animal welfare.
From a technical perspective, I learned many new animation techniques that I had never experimented with before. I used a process that required both analogue and digital methods. I began by using the research I had conducted to create a storyboard outlining the key points of Ada’s story. I then hand-painted all of the characters, backgrounds and scenery using gouache and scanned them into Photoshop where I separated each element from it’s background.
Using Adobe After Effects I was able to digitally animate the elements by layering and mapping their movement paths. Since I had never used a digital technique like this before I relied heavily on After Effects video tutorials and online forums. Combining my previous analogue animation experience and these new digital techniques I was able to create this work using an entirely new approach.
How important is art in connecting viewers with the past?
I think that art actualizes the past and is an invitation for viewers to look at a historical moment through a new lens. With Ada Cole’s story, information was not very easy to find and this required me to do some deep research. Hopefully this artwork will make Ada’s story more accessible and present viewers with a snapshot of her life and work in a via visuals and sounds.
What do you see as being the connection between art and activism/social justice?
Both artists and activists question boundaries and challenge cultural issues. Art becomes even more powerful when it is used as a tool of social justice as it acts as a vehicle that empowers individuals and communities. Art belongs to everyone and helps give a voice to those who want to share the truth and advocate for what they believe.
Why was this a project that you wanted to take on?
There were many reasons I signed up for this special project. It began by being very inspired by the mission of the Unbound Project and my desire to help celebrate these womxn who are interested in animal welfare.I listened to Jo-Anne McArthur give a lecture on her work and was absolutely taken by how powerful her photographs are. I also enjoyed that Unbound was a multimedia project and was open to using a variety of mediums and art forms to share these stories. I am so excited to be a part of Unbound, as it was a huge learning opportunity and a wonderful new challenge for me as an artist and activist.
Brittany Brooks is a multidisciplinary artist who splits her time between St. Catharines and Toronto, ON. Her practice includes, but is not limited to; visual art, performance and music.
Brittany recently earned her undergraduate degree from Brock University, majoring in Studio Art. She has participated in residencies at Spark Box Studios, White Rabbit Arts, and The Green Belt Gallery which cultivated her solo exhibition Rutabager and her original handmade layered projection show The Fireside Book of Fictitious Folk Songs. Her band Creature Speak released a full length album Shadow Songs, which has since drawn international praise from Bandcamp, Bitch-Media, Exclaim, Folk Radio UK and more. She is a Jr. Programmer for the In the Soil Arts Festival and is currently working at the Art Museum at The University of Toronto.