Animation goes, in all its superficiality, deeply into the substance of being, the hidden realms, the crevices beneath usual exposure, the constructions and reconstructions. […] Film is the unknowing suspension of disbelief in stand-­ins, doppelgangers, avatars, things that only pretend to be real, full-­ blooded, breathing, but are in fact chemical confections, celluloid compositions.

Esther Leslie, 2014, p. 27-28.

Watch Your Lip! originated as a text performed to self
At home
In lockdown
In isolation

I set up my camera on a tripod
Got nice and close
and spoke into the surface of the lens
A mechanical device my only tool for retaining the
movements and any visual trace of my lips
beyond the present moment
so inadequate

Cold and intimate at the same time
those surfaces

Of glass
And breath
And flesh

It felt sensual
Until I caught myself on

She speaks,
So says Anna Mendelssohn.

The text is a mash-up
An amalgamation of extracts
From a short story by Anais Nin
Where she focuses on a male protagonist’s
Obsession with women’s mouths

I wanted to reclaim it
For these fictional women

And to assert a feminist perspective
Into these texts that were commissioned for an American businessman
For $1 each

So I began
With instructions

instructions to performer,
instructions to self:

*Speak erotic words void of eroticism to camera*

The result was too high res. but also too distant and removed.
I pulled out my phone
my main means of connection to the world at that time
I spoke
I spoke to myself
To my screen
“To anyone who cared enough to listen”

Smeared with breath,
my screen held my words
And my touch
Smeared with breath and my fingertips
The words existed only in my phone
(My own little secret)
And on the page
And in my mind
For years

Until I put it online
I layered the audio on it

I started to take it out with me
To lectures
And talks
It felt different when I showed it with myself present
My whole body
Not half decapitated but
Full but
Depending on the projection
Dwarfed by my own gigantic mouth

In real life, and in synchronised time,
I spoke the same words alongside my recorded, surface, performance,
Performed for screen and for life,

Through the body
mimicry, and

The words had a life of their own and I found myself breathless, trying to keep up with them

When the invitations came
I extended it
Added more screens
Extended the loop
And the length of the performance
I animated the screen
I put myself in
Inserted myself into the text
Physically and metaphorically

The surface was well and truly punctured.
Putting myself in the work
Broke the affect of the static screen
It activated my body
But also the screen

Breaking out of the page
Out of the screen

Animation is something I had reserved for nights in with the children. Studio Ghibli creating magical lands of danger and beauty, a haven for imaginations to grow. Kiki’s Delivery Service (Miyazaki, 1989) forming brave notions of girls who can do, and of flying, freedom and fun. It, therefore, surprised me how ideas from animation could be applied to an art practice rooted in moving image, the body, text and performance. Animation centres around how a surface moves. Screens are surfaces. A body has a surface.

In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive female. The determining male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female figure, which is styled accordingly.

Laura Mulvey, 1976, p. 19.

Incorporating Laura Mulvey’s feminist critique of the passive image of a woman  in film I wanted to activate my subject, my self.

The film Watch your Lip! (2021) is a 1.30 min clip of me reading an edited text by Anaïs Nin (2002). I layered audio so I was not in sync with myself, creating a discord between my moving mouth, the focus of the lens, and the words I am speaking, see figure 1. By introducing the live element of this work, I was able to become a more active participant than when I was shut inside the screen. As Leslie (2014) tells us, film is a field that suspends disbelief. In this case, even with my ironic treatment of the text, the screen was not enough. The discord was enhanced and exacerbated to much greater affect by the inclusion of the live body.

Figure 1. Still from moving image Watch your Lip! (2021) Image created by the author.

Breaking the surface of the screen by entering the installation space with my live body, expanded the notion of woman that was originally presented, see figure 2. Leslie states;

Animation depicts a nature that is hybridized: speaking animals, flowers that blush, fruits that ripen in the blink of an eye, people who shrink and twist and deform and swell. Animation’s nature does not obey the laws of physics.

Esther Leslie,  2014, p. 30.

By physically entering the space occupied by the moving image I was able to, as Leslie pointed out in the above citation, “not obey the laws of physics.” I stepped out of the screen. I hybridized the static screen by the inclusion of my moving ‘free’ body. My body comes out of the screen, activated by my physical presence, my autonomy to refuse the fixed and static position the screen offers me and to enter a field beyond moving image and the imaginary. I wonder now if my methods of mimicry, live art and repetition could be framed as strategies of animation? Leslie says “Animation presents a parallel world. It presents a nature recognizable to us processed through concept, imagination, and technology” (2014, p. 30). By creating a hybridized world of film and performance I present another world.

Live art as expanded animation strategy meant that I could change the dynamic of the screen, animate the subject and give my subject back her mode of resistance – her activism.  At the end of the 30 minute performance in Peckham I lay down and refused to speak this text any longer.

Figure 2. Photo of the live performance of Watch Your Lip! in Peckham 24, London 2023. Photography by Veronique Rolland.


Leslie, E. “Animation and History” in Redrobe, K. (ed) Animating Film Theory, Duke University Press, 2014.

Marling, L. I speak because I can, prod. by Ethan Johns, Virgin, 2010.

Mendelsohn, A. Speak, Poetess, Whitechapel Gallery, London, 2024.

Mulvey, L. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, GRIN Publishing,1975.

Nin, A. Little Birds, Penguin Classics, 2002.

Kiki’s Delivery Service, dir. by Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, 1989.

Sharon Young is an artist and lecturer at Glasgow School of Art. She holds a PhD from Royal College of Art with the thesis Once More with Feeling; A Reinvention of Hysteria using photography, performance and autofiction. As an artist she works with photography, film, performance and writing, using modes which constantly slip between fact and fiction. Her art works have been exhibited recently at The Freud Museum and Peckham 24, and her published writing can be found in Jaws Journal, MA BIBLIOTEQUE and Trigger magazine. She will participate in an upcoming CRASSH exhibition and events programme in Cambridge.