Student Spotlight: Simón Ortega

Simón Ortega is an Animation student at Edinburgh College of Art and creates fantastic moving pieces. After graduating from university in his home country of Colombia, Simón realised his passion and preference for animation and sought a course to continue this creative development. In addition to his animations, he paints and creates collages, often combining the two disciplines to produce trippy mixed media pieces. All of his work has a highly surreal, wondrous, and fantastical feel, with Simón’s imagination running wild, and taking you on a journey to another world. We asked Simón to tell us more about his artwork and animations, his creative approach, and current studies.

What makes you want to create art?

I am fascinated with the nature of change: in my experience, nothing is stable, nothing lasts, and the only way I’ve found of making sense of this overwhelming thought is through the creative process. By forcing myself to find relationships between things that otherwise might seem completely unrelated, I get a glimpse of a poignant and suggestive interconnectedness between things in the world, and can perhaps see myself as an element within a greater whole. I have found that art, in the general sense of making things, be it ideas or objects, is the most immediate, spontaneous ways of engaging with creativity, so I think I’ve naturally been attracted to it.

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What made you want to study Animation at Edinburgh College of Art?

After graduating from university in Colombia, I continued working on my personal work for about two years, during which I mainly did collage and painting. In this time period, I went to various exhibitions, including shows by Ryoji Ikeda and a retrospective of William Kentridge’s work, and realised my preferred medium in animation. Also, I was asked to do a music video for a friend’s band, which ended up being a project I greatly enjoyed and which I was completely absorbed by.

I realised that not only did I seem to have the patience required to do animation, but that I was also completely entranced by it as a medium that can bring together many different forms of communication. This idea allows the artist to engage with everyday life, where screens and mass media seem to have become ubiquitous, in a way the static image cannot. Apart from that, years ago I visited Edinburgh, and thought I could see myself living there for some time. Then, when I saw ECA’s program was one of the most reputed in the UK, it became my first choice.

How would you describe your work and your artistic style?

Many of the ‘automatic’ and spontaneous techniques of Surrealism inspire the way I approach making work. Furthermore, I identify with the detailed, dreamlike aesthetic of this movement, as well as its interest in the subconscious and how it can be brought into the surface of the mind through creative practice. I am intrigued by the question of our mind’s functioning under the lens of technology, specifically in terms of images and the role they play within contemporary media. I am intrigued in the enormous volume of visual information we consume constantly, and how we make sense of it. Thus, I try to create pieces that contain large amounts of detail in order to appeal to our over-saturated eyes, which sometimes leads me to think my work might be thought of as some sort of technological Baroque.

Your work feels fantastical and otherworldly – are you inspired by fantasy and science fiction?

Indeed! As a kid I loved video games, and I’ve always been an avid reader. I do a lot of daydreaming; I’ll let my mind run loose, imagining fantastic action scenes in my head, which end up seeping into my work. Sci-fi in particular articulates many ideas about humans’ relationship with science, technology, and progress in ways that resonate with my own personal vision, and which lead me to ask questions about the nature of storytelling and creation – in a poetic and practical sense – that are inspiring and provocative.

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Your work ranges from animation to collages, paintings and drawings – tell us why you enjoy each medium.

I think collage is a powerful tool, which allows a level of spontaneity and playfulness that is deeply engaging, and which makes hidden thoughts and intentions surface naturally. It allows me to create relationships I could not simply come up with otherwise, and once they have been made I can pursue and enhance them further. There is something entrancing about the act of slowly building up an image from a collection of unrelated material, and seeing how things which are apparently disconnected might forge a new meaning, be it through conceptual, formal, or visual links. It is a very physical, imaginative way of making, which I have found fits my intuitions and accomplishes things no other medium could. Most of my collage work involves painting as well, which allows me to edit and pinpoint certain images and relationships. It lets me control colour, shapes, and line in ways I couldn’t with collage alone, as well as enabling me to include images that are entirely my own, and make them exist within a world, rich in detail, enhancing their painterly nature.

Nowadays, I use drawing as a quick way of designing composition and rhythm, allowing ideas to flow rapidly and attain more interesting shapes. I do a lot of figure drawing, as I find it enhances my capacity to understand shapes and light, making me sensible to the way the world looks. Animation, on the other hand, requires a specific headspace, in which you’ll be immersed in a delicate, time-consuming task for hours. This becomes meditative and trance-like, letting the mind wander freely. When the moment comes in which you can begin to see the product of your work, it is almost magical; movement suddenly appears, and images become time-based, acquiring a completely new, almost musical nature. Apart from this, I think animation is a medium that reflects the extremely quick rhythm of our days, revealing innovative perspectives about our relationship with time both by making it, and by watching it.

How has your style and work developed while studying your degree?

I have only been here for a semester, so the process is only beginning. Nonetheless, it has been quite a challenge to move to a new place, settle in, and experience change within my personal and professional life. This has directly affected the themes I am exploring, making me lean towards more personal and emotional matters. Also, I have had to learn how to use equipment and software I had never had the opportunity to use before, which in turn has expanded my understanding of animation’s possibilities, leading me in new directions and inviting new questions.

What are you currently working on?

At the moment I am in the process of developing the project I will be working on for the remainder of my degree. I am still in the brainstorming stage, but I have come up with a conceptual skeleton about what it will be about: I am interested in using animation to illustrate the relationship between the ‘micro’ and the ‘macro,’ the ‘internal’ and the ‘external,’ and the way in which things of all scales and dimensions come into being, particularly within the body.

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What’s your creative process?

Usually I begin by writing – I’ll do stream of consciousness exercises, write down (hopefully) lucid poems, or do mind maps of concepts and ideas that my intuition points towards, but which I can’t completely grasp. This usually leads me to form rough images in my head, which I’ll try to sketch or make with collage. At this point, I’ll often have a more refined and clear idea of what I want to make, and it usually becomes a matter of working constantly and tirelessly, until things fall into place and the work reaches an interesting place. With animation, I usually follow a similar method, working without much concrete planning and letting things evolve naturally. I am trying to learn how to plan a bit more now that I’m here, since it is more often than not an essential part of the animation process! It’s a delicate balance between complete improvisation and very specific, time-consuming tasks; you can’t afford to animate a thousand frames only to realize they are essentially useless.

What has been the most valuable thing you’ve learnt on your degree?

I have had to do a lot of research-oriented work, which has been a completely new way of thinking about my practice. Usually, I’ll work intuitively and spontaneously, letting the ideas and concepts take form as I work. Here, I’ve had to develop a research backbone, which has proved to be fruitful and challenging, and has led me to analyse my decisions in a broad, conscious way.

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Do you have a dream project for the future?

I would love to do a project about the indigenous groups of Colombia, who I’ve had the fortune to live with, perhaps bringing their myths and legends to life, or illustrating the way they relate to the changing world.

View more of Simón Ortega’s work at simonortega.myportfolio.com.