Title of Paper

Bearing Witness: Autobiographical Animation and the Metabolism of Trauma



My research investigates animation’s potential as a medium through which survivors of psychological trauma can helpfully process their experiences. Traumatic memory is characterised by sensory disturbances, heightened or flattened emotional arousal and fragmented narrative capacity, which often make it difficult for a survivor to work effectively with purely verbal therapies.

This paper advances the hypothesis that the symbolic, non-indexical, metamorphic nature of animation facilitates the metabolism of traumatic memory by providing a generative space within which the psychological overwhelm, the unarticulated horrors and the taboos of interpersonal trauma may be safely explored.

I suggest that by using autobiographical animation to explore trauma, the reintegration of previously dissociated aspects of the trauma survivor’s personal identity is facilitated. The historical splintered-off victim, the fragmented survivor and the assimilating filmmaker reconnect during the animation process, and audience screenings of the material produced give trauma survivors a voice where once they may have been silenced, and crucially enable them to publically bear witness to their experiences.

Reference will be made in this paper to film experiments exploring personal trauma currently being conducted as part of my practice-based research.



Trauma, Animation, Autobiography, Mental illness



Susan Young is a BAFTA nominated animation director based in London. Carnival, her Royal College of Art graduation film, features the fluid, dynamic line that defines her commercial work. Commissioned films include: The Doomsday Clock, a film about multilateral disarmament for the United Nations, Beleza Tropical: Umbabarauma for musician David Byrne, and Jimi Hendrix: Fire, for producer Alan Douglas. 
Young’s films, titles, promos and commercials have been screened extensively worldwide and she has served on several international animation festival juries. 
Young’s career stalled in 1997 due to a series of traumatic experiences including an overwork-related hand injury, but she has recently returned to the Royal College of Art to research animation’s potential as a medium for processing mental distress and psychological trauma. As part of this research Young is using autobiographical material to create a trilogy of film experiments and explore new animation techniques.





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