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Max Hattler: Shift

We talk Random Acts, film experiments, abstract fever dreams and the apocalypse…

Mad hatter of digital media and experimental animation, Max Hattler has been twisting, turning and looping our brains since graduating with an MA in Animation from the RCA in 2005. Since then, he has collaborated with the likes of Basement Jaxx, The Egg, Ladyscraper and Noriko Okaku, besides showing at hundreds of film festivals and galleries everywhere from Brazil to Japan and beyond.

I don’t choose my topics, they choose me. Seriously

Works like the ever-shifting stop motion AANAATT, the toy soldier satire Spin, the Buddhist temple wonder meets Darth Vader's nightmarish helmet in the Augustin Lesage-inspired sibling pieces 1923 aka Heaven and 1925 aka Hell, or the Big Bang-powered Sync have already amazed - and driven us slightly mental in the dark with headphones on. Now, with the opening of his first solo London show, we speak to Hattler about his apocalyptic Shift...

Dazed Digital: What attracted you to filmmaking and animation? When did you start experimenting with them?
Max Hattler:
I grew up in a musical family, my dad being a founding member of Krautrock band Kraan. I was always slightly more interested in all things visual. But everything changed when I got my first computer. I started making music, incessantly, freed from the tyranny of having to practice actual instruments. I ended up spending most of my teens cutting up beats. But when it came to deciding what to study, I was confused which way to go and opted for a wishy-washy halfway house BA in Media and Communications at Goldsmiths. And it was there that I stumbled across animation. 

DD: Where do you find inspiration? What or who has influenced you the most?
Max Hattler:
Music definitely is a huge inspiration, not least in terms of process. My approach to making films borrows heavily from how I used to make music, layering, looping, building structures up organically through trial and error, in search of serendipitous moments. Same goes for painting. Design aesthetics also plays into it, as does the whole idea of abstraction. I love Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s Light-Space Modulator (1930), and the abstract film experiments of the 1920s by the likes of Duchamp, Man Ray, Walter Ruttmann and Hans Richter. First discovering the work of animator Oskar Fischinger, who took over Richter’s legacy, was a real eye opener. I’m also a big fan of the tripped-out 1960s mandala films of John Whitney and Jordan Belson.

DD: Your work explores amazing topics - how do you choose them?
Max Hattler:
I don’t choose my topics, they choose me. Seriously.

DD: You have done so many incredible collaborations. Which has been your favorite?
Max Hattler:
The best collaborations are the ones where there’s mutual respect for each other’s work. Working with Basement Jaxx was one of those. They approached me as they had seen and liked one of my films in a festival. When I created the Where’s Your Head At concert visuals for them, they trusted me enough to leave me free reign over the images – just as I love the track and wouldn’t ask them to change it. 

DD: Tell us a bit more about Shift… why did you decide to explore the apocalyptic theme?
Max Hattler:
The theme of a dimensional shift is a progression of sorts from 1923 aka Heaven, 1925 aka Hell, and Sync, which all deal with meta/physics. I’m currently very interested in exploring these ideas on the overlap between sacred geometry and spirituality, looking at existence, physics, time and universe as a multi-dimensional machine that can be represented in an abstracted way. Animate Projects approached me about making a film for Channel 4 with them on the subject of 2012 Apocalypse, and I immediately jumped at the chance. After the Tenderpixel show, which contains two more smaller works apart from the film proper, Shift will be broadcast as part of Channel 4’s Random Acts and shown online at and

DD: These works have a strange tribal, ritualistic feel that is so digital but almost pre-historical at the same time. Is this duality something you wanted to convey?
Max Hattler:
In all my work, I’m interested in how abstraction can open up spaces for different kinds of audience engagement, how a detachment from the instantly recognisable can open up a space for reflection. The tribal, ritualistic aspect is definitely part of that; repetitive patterns, basic geometry and kaleidoscopes are all instruments in this endeavour. How we respond to geometric symmetries, how we have abstract fever dreams, or what we see on hallucinogenic drugs, It all taps into hard-wired circuits deep inside our brains. In a world over-saturated by the same images, I think that abstraction offers some space to negotiate new meanings, and meditate and reflect on the world around us. 

DD: What are you going to explore next – and what will 2012 bring you?
Max Hattler:
At the end of this month, I’m off to Lithuania for five weeks to do an artist residency on a beautiful remote peninsula on the Baltic coast. I’m very much looking forward to this. The plan is to make a film inspired by my surroundings – I’m curious myself to see what will come out of it!

Max Hattler: ‘Shift’ - From the 9th of March to the 28th of April 2012 at Tenderpixel, 10 Cecil Court, London WC2N 4HE. The exhibition will premiere the work completed by Hattler through his Animate Projects commission for Channel 4’s Random Acts