Surrounding us all the time and everywhere, social media and advertising boil down to a constant stream of images that influence our behaviour. The London-based artist and animator Anna Ginsburg knows that. Aware of the power of imagery, she decided to use this tool to make the world a more beautiful, just place. Forgetting – or rather, breaking – societal codes, she creates animations that tackle burning issues such as female empowerment, sexuality or migration in interesting, engaging new ways. 
Sensitive and bold, Anna Ginsburg is not afraid to work on issues oftentimes considered taboo. Drawing inspiration and ideas from what she sees in her everyday life as well as her personal experience, she uses poetry and humour to explore what she feels is wrong. Known for videos such as What is Beauty? and Private Parts, which went massively viral, the artist combines her personal projects with commercials, music videos as well as teaching. And it’s her love for teaching and being in touch with young, motivated students that brought us together in Barcelona, where we met after her talk at Elisava Masters’ Talks, a series of conferences organized by the Barcelona design school, of which she leaves happy because of the enthusiasm shown by the students.
Anna, you graduated from the Edinburgh College of Art, where you studied animation. Now, you’re an animator and filmmaker based in London, which means you’ve achieved part of your goals – from being a young student with dreams to managing a successful career. But has the in-between process been difficult and hard?
Yes, definitely. The process hasn’t been that easy, but I feel that now, the balance of my life is really good. I’m very content with my setup. I have a small studio space based in South London, where other creative people work. I go there when I’m not working on money jobs. It’s a small space where I start cooking up my ideas. When they are developed, I’ll be in the studio that is part of the production company that represents me and that gets me commercial works. I start working with a crew of other animators I am directing. It’s a good setup.
Besides, I also do a bit of teaching. It definitely keeps me hungry, it helps me remember the energy I had. These young people put fear into you, you feel that you have to catch the throne, to keep up (laughs). The project Private Parts really changed my life, it got me signed at Strange Beast. Passion projects are way more important to me rather than doing a lot of commercial stuff.
Your skills in animation are amazing. You’re specialized in many forms like stop-motion or 2D hand-drawn, for example. With the advancements of new technologies and media, are there other techniques you’d like to explore?
My work is still very traditional, it’s the only way I know to make stuff. However, I sometimes try to make something different. For example, I did a spinning objects interactive website. I really like that project because we’ve worked with CGI artists who did different objects and frames. I was fascinated with it in my early career, mixing digital with handmade. I just want to go back and do it more this year because I feel that CGI is developing. It’s quite an experiment. You almost don’t know what you’re looking at and it’s quite fun! Besides, as I grow older, I feel that I need to do more shortcuts, but it’s a bit mad because I don’t know how to use Aftereffects (laughs). So, sometimes, I feel that I need to be more open to learning more.
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Animation is a field that requires patience and persistence. Have you ever burned out?
Definitely! In my early career, I’d been working mainly in music videos. Budgets were so small and they expected so much. As much as I think it is an amazing thing to start off with (you’re just given a musical track and you’re led by it), music videos require money – that you don’t necessarily have – and you are put crazy deadlines. It felt exhausting and it didn’t seem to go in the right direction at the beginning.
At first, when you’re self-employed or freelance and you finish a job, you have some time off. But you can’t just enjoy it because you’re constantly anxious about whether you’re gonna be employed again, which is difficult. However, now, if I don’t have work, I’m more confident than I used to be. First, I’m more able to look after myself and rest, and then enjoy and have time to do my own stuff. It’s taken me seven years of working as a freelance to not panic when those periods happen, but it’s not easy…
Your film Private Parts, which explores women’s genitalia and pleasure, has been much praised. You highlight the lack of acknowledgement on women’s sex in our society. You approach subjects such as the clitoris, female masturbation or even pubic hair. Do you feel that all of these taboos hinder your own pleasure? According to you, how could we raise awareness of the women body and the feminine desire?
I come from a quite unique context: my mom is a lesbian, she’s a real feminist and she’s a single parent, so I don’t feel that these taboos have hindered the exploration of my body. The only exception was when I experienced shame when I first masturbated and girls at school thought it was disgusting. I was just trying to be like, ‘No!’ Besides that, I’ve only had really good sexual experiences and I haven’t had much shame surrounding my body and pubic hair and stuff. But I think that it’s very unique… I feel uniquely lucky based on my context! I also have a good formative experience of sex: my first love relationship was a good one.
When I was about 23 years old, a lot of my female friends hadn’t had an orgasm with a partner; they weren’t able to connect with their body properly and weren’t able to relax enough to enjoy sex with someone. It made me very sad, and that’s what kinda motivated me for making that film. I do think it’s a massive problem. But I think that, as soon as you start having open conversations about it with men, you will probably be pleasantly surprised. That’s what came out from the research of that film in terms of how much men obviously find female pleasure incredibly sexy but also are insecure about not being able to deliver on that, not knowing the complexities of how a vagina works.
It’s about getting to know your body and learning how to make yourself feel good. That will be helpful to yourself but also to your partner. That’s what I got from the whole experience. In interviews, people would come in, so shy and anxious, and then, after half an hour, started coming down and telling amazing things. They’d be like in ‘confession mode’ at the end. They’d feel free from being able to speak about those things, they’d feel better. So I think that starting a conversation is the best way to begin breaking taboos.
Your animations combine many different styles but are somehow harmonized and made cohesive. Can you talk about your creative process?
I love collaborating. I’ve worked with a lot of incredible illustrators who design and work out the movement; they create sort of storyboards. I love working with movement and I find it nice to have an amazing designer giving me all the different assets so I can focus on the movement rather than working constantly on the design. With my process, I think it depends on what the project is about. In What is Beauty, for example, all the design was by me, but it was all about references. The process was me seeing images that I find iconic and recreating them. I wanted it to be so clear. I wanted the communication to be as simple as it could be. I was trying to make it bold in terms of forms and make them sculptural. It wasn’t an aesthetic-led project but something that makes you get it.
You released the short film What is Beauty on International Women's Day, which has received over fifteen million views. The film focuses on beauty and female empowerment. Do you feel concerned about this issue on a daily basis?
That film came from my little sister having anorexia. She was really ill, it was very extreme as she was being in intensive care. It’s something she had for ten years or so, but three summers ago, I started thinking about what images she consumed when she was 12 that managed to trigger those tendencies. That’s what got me thinking about imagery and how powerful it is, changing beauty ideals. I’ve got another little sister who’s four years younger than her wanting the body of the Kardashians. With that age gap, it’s such a huge shift in terms of what they aspire for. So it’s also about the pace of change.
It was a very simple idea. When I started the research, I found mad interesting things! For example, in Ancient Greece, a man would be put on a pedestal through painting or sculptures. If a woman looked manly physically – would have tiny hips, big shoulders and an athletic look –, she would be considered beautiful. There is no form of beauty, I was just trying to remind people that it’s a massive waste of time because it’s constantly changing. It’s very dangerous and can lead to suffering. This is just now, and this is just one culture at one point in history; this is not the truth.
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As a female artist, what did you want everyone to understand, both men and women, about how the female body has been perceived and treated throughout history? Is there a main message to convey?
I always want my work to be inclusive. I wanted Private Parts to have positive male voices. I never wanted to make it feel like I’m preaching or I’m blaming contemporary men. All of these things are part of a huge, long history of sexism and female repression; all the shame surrounding different parts of what it is to be a woman. I wanted to make it accessible to men because it is so important, especially What is Beauty?, which had amazing reactions. There were a lot of men that came up to me with fear in their eyes asking what could they do, just feeling so overwhelmed about women in their lives and asking how to protect them.
I think we must raise awareness on all the pressure put on women so everyone tries to be mindful of that as they move through the world. I think many men got emotional with this film. When it’s put on you like that, it’s quite a violent way of showing how the body ideal is constantly changing. I also feel that the scrolling at the end had an impact. The power of art shouldn’t be underestimated, even if you say something that everyone knows. Reactions from men on that made me feel really excited and just showed me deep empathy.
Your film Ugly, in collaboration with London-based painter Melissa Kitty Jarram, and with the voice of Warsaw Shire, was another huge success. Released on World Refugee’s Day, you tackle migration from a female refugee’s point of view. Would you describe yourself as a social activist? Do you feel that your art plays a political role?
I think you could say it’s political, but I don’t really know the proper definition of an activist, so I can’t say that I am one. I feel like I don’t campaign on a daily basis but I make works that tackle themes I find unjust in society and try to add some beauty to them, which is important to me. The process of making Ugly was very interesting. Considering that I’m not a refugee, it was the first project where I tried to visualize someone else’s experience and translate those feelings into words and images. It was a new challenge because, at that point, I had nothing to say from my perspective, so it was about thinking how to add beauty to the world through this subject rather than just showing that I had something to say.
By the way, that film was a real pleasure to make. The process was highly intense because of the painting style, it was real labour. For example, it took an hour to make just a frame and twelve more hours to make the second! But I feel it was poetic, aesthetic and beautiful. I wasn’t desperate to make it very clear – compared to What is Beauty? –, it was a totally different process. On another hand, I think that people who make totally silly art are just as important. I don’t think there’s any hierarchy in art. The people who just want to entertain other people are just as important. Sometimes, people feel that they need to escape and not think too much.
You work on different types of projects: music videos, commercial stuff, short films. What is the type of work that stimulates you the most?
I feel that you learn a lot from everything you do. I learn from commercials, music videos, short films… I bring elements from everything to the next thing. But I don’t think that making commercials over and over is good. Constantly working with clients telling you ‘no’ and then having to change the whole thing, I feel that you start not being able to generate your ideas anymore because you are so worn-down from the external feedback. Treating your creative mysterious drive to make stuff is dangerous. You get to a point where you’re 35 and you burn out. You can’t think of any more ideas, it kind of turns the spark of creation off.
Annoyingly, we live in a capitalist society where advertising is the only big way to make money, so try to do advertising that doesn’t go against your ethics, find a middle point. It doesn’t feel like I necessarily need those commercials, money doesn’t motivate me. I can do one or two advertisings a year, and then use the money to take time to make my own stuff. It’s just a balance. I would say to creative people that go into advertising: don’t take your creative impulse for granted because it might just go out.
You mix and tackle a wide range of themes, from politics to migration to female empowerment. Where do you get your inspirations?
My work is always very organic. Sometimes, it’s an idea that I develop for a long period of time. For example, Private Parts, it was just something that has been bubbling since I was like 14. But most of the time, ideas just kind of pop up and when it comes I just go with it. I get my inspirations from what I see, and from the collaborations, like when I work with other people. While some people put a lot of pressure on themselves, I just don’t plan at all! I don’t feel that I have always something to say.
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As an animator and filmmaker, what is your absolute favourite video and how is it related to you?
Weirdly, I’m not a fan of animation! (Laughs) I just loved painting, drawing, storytellings, sounds, and all just came together and made sense. But there are certain films that I love, like Bellville Rendez-vous by Sylvain Chomet, which is so good. I also love Creature Comforts, a UK stop-motion modelling clay series made by Nick Park; really funny. There’s also Laura Jayne Hodkin, who I find inspiring. I really like her work, like Hot and Tasty, where the dialogues are so funny and realistic. She is the one to watch!
What are your projects for the upcoming months?
I have a project coming up that I can’t talk about but it’s gonna be a good and big one. The American film director I’m working with is doing live-action series. It’s going to be documentary and I’m doing the animated section. It will be on massive online streaming platforms. It’s a big project, it will probably last six months. I’m very excited about that!
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