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Animation, with human charm

Jake Fried’s “Free Fallin’”
Melissa Blackall
Jake Fried’s “Free Fallin’”

Curator Maya Erdelyi’s lively “The Skin Has Eyes: Animated Visions,” at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Mills Gallery, celebrates old-school animation techniques. The digital worlds of “Fortnite” or “Mortal Kombat” are visually engulfing. These works have more charm. 

Eric Dyer’s brilliant “Eadweard’s Menagerie” turns a post-#MeToo gaze on some of Eadweard Muybridge’s 19th-century photographic locomotion studies. The so-called “grandfather of motion pictures” shot nudes of women cavorting. Concentric strips of the frolicsome ladies fill most of Dyer’s rotating panel. A nude of Muybridge himself rings the perimeter. But look closely: one woman seems to help another cover herself; another stands up. Dyer has added heartening hints of resistance.

Animation injects static objects with kinetic life. Jake Fried’s captivating “Brain Wave” compresses the evolution of one drawing into just over a minute. Fried worked over the ink and white-out drawing and scanned it more than 1,400 times. In the swift-moving video, the eyes anchor us as the man grows hair and loses it, suffers, smiles, and transforms into other men. The drawing itself, all black now save the eyes, is also on view, evidence of Fried’s hard work.

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Erdelyi has set up a screening room with a host of videos. In Sam Gainsborough’s affecting claymation psychodrama “Facing It” a young man struggles growing up. His parents’ faces are dry, cracked, and hard; his is labile, as Gainsborough poignantly expresses the character’s emotions in morphing textures.

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Works here run from the psychologically fraught to calm and elegantly symphonic. In Laura Harrison’s “Little Red Giant, the Monster That I Was,” two-dimensional puppets like paper dolls, painted with bright, slashing gestures, tell the story of a social outcast. Gina Kamentsky draws onto found film footage; images and splashes of color run like memories and emotions under the antic, hand-drawn farm structure in “Silo.”

Digital animations can swallow us up. “The Skin Has Eyes” takes us to smaller, more intimate places. These pieces begin by meeting us where we are; the real-world labor feels like a handshake.

THE SKIN HAS EYES: Animated Visions

At Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts, 551 Tremont St., through April 28. 617-426-5000, www.bcaonline.org

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com.