We spoke with artist and animator Danna Grace Windsor, also known under the pseudonym “Cult of Dang.”
Danna is known for creating other-worldly graphics that explore and intertwine themes such as violence, technology, illness, and femininity. She is currently furthering her education at CalArts after a recent move from NYC, gave us some thoughtful insight into her work, the future of animation, and exciting projects in the works.
CC: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got became interested in animation.
DW: I was fortunate to study Jan Svankmajer’s “Dimensions of Dialogue” during my 1st semester in art college, and it moved me in a way I couldn’t explain. I was on this old school “fine-artist” path in London, drawing in chalk and oil when this movie opened my eyes to the depths of where an animated story can take you.
CC: Your animations and illustrations seem to follow a very femme-centric narrative. Is the exploration of the female experience an important part of your work?
DW: I think that exploration happens organically as I subconsciously share out of my own experience… It’s this never ending journey. It’s important to me without even realizing it.
CC: It’s interesting that you choose to work in a more traditional medium like 2D animation because I see a lot of futuristic themes throughout your work. What draws you to explore the topics of technology and futurism?
DW: Yeah, 2D is so accessible for people coming from “drawing” & fine art background, so it seemed easy and funny to portray robotic things like that. I’ve wanted to explore more 3d-esque worlds and characters for a long time, but I didn’t have the means. This year I’m finally diving in, and it’s been so fun and liberating! Technology and/ or futurism mean – “hope” / “fear” to me. There is so much hope in the tech and the future and what might be invented or changed. Technology has this dark side (+effects) which may actually destroy the human race, the planet, and what-not. It’s an intriguing, complex thing to think about. I keep having new questions about it which I can address with my work.
CC: In a time of ever-evolving technology, 2D animators seem to be few and far between. What do you like about working in 2D and do you have any plans to explore different or less traditional mediums in the future?
DW: Very sad but true… I do hope 2D, and the power of independent creators will sustain and survive, but yes, like any time consuming detailed art medium, it’s difficult. I think the more animation creators (stop motion, 3d, 2d all as one) come together as a collective of hybridity and look at the medium in a new way; animation can keep evolving with great methods from the past into the future…
CC: I know you get a lot of your inspiration from watching anime. With anime series like “Ghost in the Shell” being re-made into Western movies, some people worry about the white-washing of Japanese culture involved in such re-interpretations. How do you borrow from another culture’s aesthetics while being respectful of its roots and giving merit to its original creators?
DW: So true. I think in the case of that film production specifically, it served the interests of the money making “Hollywood” machine and not of the original creator. I didn’t see this remake, and I don’t plan to. I think the original “Ghost in the Shell,” which is one of my favorite films, touches on big questions that are relevant for us today as a society being semi-controlled by tech and as an animator “creating” women on a screen – to be consumed by viewers. I am highly aware of cultural appropriation now (I was not, a few years ago) and so I feel very aware and sensitive to the thin line between being “inspired” by a culture and taking from it. As an Israeli, coming from a culture of constant background war, back and forth between a utopia and a dystopia I feel a strong connection to a lot of cyberpunk anime films that portray those themes and the slight distortion of a body within all that. Being weaponized, being sick, surviving in a state of chaos and being able to create a beautiful dream-like inner world is what I strongly care about.
CC: Being originally from Israel, a place loaded with complex historical narratives, do your origins ever seep their way into your work?
DW: Yes, they do. I try to shy away from labels… I don’t like being categorized as an Israeli artist or a female artist or any box other than “artist” because my work is intended to be consumed on a broad level. But there are certain themes that will rise within me forever because the past is always in us, no matter how far away we are from it.
CC: You are a woman working in the arts. Do you consider yourself part of the art and tech world as well? Do you feel that working in these fields has been a struggle because of your identity?
DW: don’t consider myself a part of anything really. I work alone and I create things regardless of if it fits a trend or a demand… so I don’t feel like it’s a struggle currently as I’m not pursuing those fields… I just want to create more advanced pieces of motion.
CC: What is your favorite project you have worked on to date?
DW: I love all my children, but… since my first independent short “Vicarious” has been such a labor of love with all my closest friends taking part in it… It’s probably the most important work I’ve made so far. I just changed and grew so much during that process of collaborating (with writer Tom Haviv), and I know it’s going to be as rare as falling in love to go through that again.
CC: Violence seems to be another subject that you explore throughout your work. Is this violence directed at anything in particular or does its existence have a different meaning?
DW: Isn’t it weird how, universal, violence is? It’s awful, and it’s around us. I think I’m scared of certain things and addressing that in my work helps me. There’s past violence on a memory level, yet we live in incredibly violent times, and it’s what we consume quite a lot in the media, especially here in the US where it’s more acceptable to showcase extreme violence than a woman’s nipple.
CC: Who are some people that really inspire you to create your work?
DW: Is it cheesy to say my friends? But .. It’s true. For some reason, I have quite a few of super close writer friends. I think it’s because we complete each other.
CC: Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process? Do your animations usually start with an idea and then blossom into artworks or do they start with a drawing or aesthetic and turn in a longer narrative from there?
DW: Lately I’ve been focused more on motion-based work, so an idea would usually stem from a certain animated thing that would happen. Something visually I’d like to see but haven’t seen yet… From then, it just kind of happens organically. Sometimes it takes a day sometimes a few weeks to fully generate an idea I love.
CC: You post a lot of your work on Instagram. Would you say social media plays a big role in distributing your art and in your development as an artist?
DW: It’s been so fascinating seeing what people.. “connect” with, what people press LIKE vs. what people ignore or seem to DISLIKE. It actually helps me understand things better that way. Sometimes I see a certain piece is not popular yet I get messages and job offers after posting it, so I try not give it too much weight. However, Instagram is not the final destination for my work to exist on I hope 🙂
CC: I know you made a move from New York to LA. Would you say your new environment has had any effects on your work?
DW: Yes, It’s a sharp contrast to the life I had in NYC. Going from being surrounded by friends or strangers to being surrounded by endless roads has impacted my state of being. The theme of isolation is on my mind a lot.
CC: Do you have any exciting projects coming up that we should keep an eye out for?
DW: Yes! I just started production for my next short film, and I’m so excited to share this experiment during 2018. It’s going to be my first time combining space and flatness. An animated 2d character in a utopian 3D space. Lots of personal feelings unleashed.