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Created for Tim Minchin’s 2020 single “Leaving LA”, the skill and imagination in Tee Ken Ng’s meticulously crafted zoetropes put Miranda Johnson in an admiring spin.

Leaving LA, Perth Festival, Tee Ken Ng and Tim Minchin ·
Art Gallery of Western Australia, 15 February, 2021 ·

Created by childhood friends Tee Ken Ng and Tim Minchin, Leaving LA is an exhibition that provides fascinating insights into both the music video for Minchin’s single of the same name, and the emotional weight behind the song.

Internationally acclaimed singer-songwriter, comedian, actor and director Tim Minchin probably needs no introduction. His long-time pal Tee Ken Ng might not be a household name but as an artist, graphic designer, director and animator, he is also globally recognised, for his work in advertising, music videos and other big corporate commissions, involving animation, film, and graphic design. The basis of this exhibition is his fascination with the zoetrope, an old-fashioned toy that creates an illusion of animation, which he used to make the video for Minchin’s “Leaving LA”.

A zoetrope is basically a cylinder with regularly spaced vertical slits around it through which the viewer glimpses pictures on the cylinder’s inside surface; when the cylinder is rotated, the pictures look as though they are moving. The exhibition comprises a live animation installation that combines Ng’s hand-made zoetropes, iPhone footage and video that together created the final music video.

I found it incredibly interesting watching the rotation of the various zoetropes, the still images gently whirling together to create movement and animation. The level of skill, commitment and time taken by Ng to create these works is laid bare, almost impossible to comprehend. Using iPhones to create the final footage framed the way viewers saw the zoetropes, a combination of technologies that is both simple – the old and the new – yet incredibly complex, requiring patience, skill, and artistry.

Despite the references to a lot of Ng’s other artistic output, particularly within Perth’s creative communities, Leaving LA focuses only on this single project. Minchin’s song is the emotional side of the work. It’s about his experiences of leaving Los Angeles (unsurprisingly) after a project had been cancelled, and his feelings of negativity towards a city that he felt was superficial and cold.

I enjoyed this element of vulnerability about the project, and it gave a bigger insight into the intention behind the video. But I would have liked to see this work in the context of Ng’s wider practice, or greater focus on how his earlier work culminated in such an ambitious project as the Leaving LA video.

A short documentary presented alongside the exhibition gives some insight into the enduring camaraderie between Minchin and Ng, as well as explaining Ng’s fascinating process. Both point out the slightly backwards nature of Ng’s approach to making the work: instead of starting with a still image, he filmed actors, cut out stills from that footage and reanimated the paper cut-outs via various forms of zoetropes.

Ng says you see all the details in a papercut – the paper edges and printing errors, the true two-dimensionality of the work are revealed. But this two-dimensionality feels like a deep and insightful approach to a good friend’s moment of vulnerability, capturing every detail and gently recrafting it into a new story.

Leaving LA continues its Perth Festival run at the Art Gallery of Western Australia until 22 March, 2021.

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