Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Robotic Creatures : Anthropomorphism and Interaction in Contemporary Art

Ghedini, F.PERCRO Lab. Scuola Superiore Sant''Anna, Pisa, Italy. Bergamasco, M.

In the article Ghendini and Bergamasco state that there is a lack of research of robots in art. He discussed how robots in art create a theatre like event as the robots have an interactive element to them. Even by simply having anthropomorphic qualities. As soon as a viewer enters the room, a relationship begins and so this defines a new type of theatre. Any type of theatre has an acknowledgement of an audience. A robot cannot be too small so as to risk it being interpreted as an object and if it is too big, it will risk being viewed as a monument.

They discussed the history of puppets in different cultures and robots in science fiction. Perhaps the most interesting and relevant to me is the relationship Japanese people have to robots. They view them more as friendly helpers as opposed to the west where we see them as aliens and threatening. This can be explained with the native religion Shintoism. As discussed in Tylor’s book Primitive Culture, more primitive cultures’ religion project anthropomorphic and spiritual powers onto inanimate objects. Tools such as swords or axes came to have spiritual powers and in turn hold anthropomorphic qualities. The history of such practices in Japan had a big influence on their culture, even to this day. The Japanese obsession with cute characters and the ability to anthropomorphise most inanimate objects. Given reason as to why the Japanese are more welcoming to robots.
The new Japanese humanoid robot HRP-4C

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sir Edward B TyIor – Primitive Cuture – ReIigion in primitive cuIture

This was the main text I read and referenced when writing my initial proposal. He used the term animism and personification and I was confused about the difference to anthropomorphism.
Below are the definitions I found on Wikipedia.

Animism is the religious worldview that natural physical entities—including animals, plants, and often even inanimate objects or phenomena—possess a spiritual essence. Specifically, animism is used in the anthropology of religion as a term for the religion of some indigenous tribal peoples, especially prior to the development and/or infiltration of colonialism and organized religion.
Anthropomorphism, or personification, is attribution of human form or other characteristics to anything other than a human being. Examples include depicting deities with human form and ascribing human emotions or motives to forces of nature, such as hurricanes or earthquakes. Anthropomorphism has ancient roots as a literary device in storytelling, and also in art. Most cultures have traditional fables with anthropomorphised animals, which can stand or talk like humans, as characters.

Also on WiseGeek website they had an interesting explanation of what the difference was.
The difference between anthropomorphism and personification is a subtle one, as each term refers to a similar assignment of human characteristics to a non-human entity. Anthropomorphism is a literary device that an author uses to give traditionally human feelings or actions to an animal, plant, or inanimate object. For example, the sentence, "The wind blew angrily, expressing the full extent of his violent rage," applies this concept, because the wind retains its non-human form while taking on human emotions, intentions, and a masculine pronoun. Personification works similarly and occurs when the writer allows a non-human entity to fully embody human traits. The Easter Bunny is an example of personification, as an animal becomes a total embodiment of human characteristics and abilities.

Primitive Culture was a very interesting study of primitive cultures and the common thread of the spiritualisation of inanimate objects. Mythology, philosophy, religion are all discussed referencing different cultures. I was also introduced to the term Pareidolia, which is the tendency to see patterns in abstract phenomena, like seeing faces on inanimate objects. 

Shintoism from Japan was discussed and it explains the obsession Japanese culture has with cute characters and anthropomorphism. Many primitive cultures have a long history of evoking spiritual and human like powers onto inanimate objects especially favorite tools for either hunting or performing tasks. 

He discusses how the first thing we learn about is human beings. As children we naturally project human like qualities onto inanimate objects. It could be suggested that observing human nature is part of our human nature.

He talks about ideas such as the transmigration of souls into objects such as trees. Also, human like qualities within the sun, moon and stars and the spiritual qualities of certain landscapes.
He discusses language as having feminine and masculine meanings. 

Animism is, in fact, the groundwork of the Philosophy of Religion, from that of savages up to that of civilized men. Pg 426

I found Tylor’s book to be quite enlightening. I am quite open with my attraction to the anthropomorphic but on a more personal level I am more restrained discussing any spiritual beliefs. I am, I would say, equally attracted to spirituality, specifically Buddhist philosophy, native spiritual beliefs and some new age ideas and concepts. It is something that has grown with me since child hood and was amplified when I went through cancer some 15 years ago. I found it comforting to realise there was link between anthropomorphism and spirituality. Putting faces on everything could be linked to some subliminal spiritual instinct. 

 An example of Anthropomorphism from Wikipedia. This illustration by Milo Winter of the Aesop's fable, The North Wind and the Sun, an anthropomorphic North Wind tries to strip a traveler of his cloak.

An example of Animism via Wikipedia. A tableau presenting figures of various cultures filling in mediator-like roles, often being termed as "shaman" in the literature. 

DELEUZE GUATTARI a thousand plateaus - capitalism and schizophrenia

A Thousand Plateaus is a 1980 book by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and psychoanalyst Félix Guattari. It is the second volume of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, and the successor to Anti-Oedipus (1972).

I only read the chapter, Year Zero: Faciality. From what I can gather they invented the terms faciality and deterritorialization. In this chapter Faciality was discussed as the symbolic nature of the face and its ability to define zones, areas to bounce off and other areas of shadows, white wall or black holes. They suggested we can interpret anything as having facial likeness. It works unconsciously. Faces as lanscapes. Choices guided by faces. They discussed dismantling a face could possibly make us go mad but could help us get out of our subjective point of view.

Quite philosophical and hard to follow at times but there are some interesting concepts within the chapter that provoke deeper thought and perhaps understanding of why I am attracted to and make anthropomorphic art. I like the idea of dismantling the face and in turn opening up different perspective, be it conscious or unconscious. I see some connections here with Freud’s Totem and Taboo.
The white wall, black hole concept intrigues me and I see that seeing faces in everything as one of initial and primal instincts.

On searching for an image in google for Faciality, I was attracted to this one. I immediately see a face, the big black shape as two eyes. On investigating a bit further, it is actually a still from a video by an artist called Dick Whyte. His images at first seem quite abstracted but on longer viewing, the slow moving, blurred black and white forms does remind me of some monstrous face. It also gives me confidence that animation or moving images do not have to be complex or fast moving to produce and anthropomorphic effect.

He states:

Silent abstract/poetic video reworking of the first ever television broadcast made by John Logie Baird in the 1930s, using 78rpm discs.
Part of a series of film adaptations of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's "Capitalism and Schizophrenia" I am currently working on:

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Bisous Les Copains

On the Smashing Magazine newsletter I found a link to a Tumblr page that has weekly animated Gifs by Guillaume Kurkdjian. They are based on characters from a virtual world and depict everday scenes from their lives.
Well designed and executed, they are simple, thoughtful and artistic. Together they begin to tell a story about the world where these characters live. A story of gif moments.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Doctrine of the Similar (GIF GIF GIF)

The Doctrine of the Similar (GIF GIF GIF)

This article written by Daniel Rourke. He is currently undertaking a practice based PhD in Art at Goldsmiths. His research explores human error and the digital through the ontology of writing.

UPDATE: Published in issue 3.1 of Dandelion Journal, on ‘Brevity’
In two short essays – written in 1933 – Walter Benjamin argues that primitive language emerged in magical correspondence with the world. The faculty we all exhibit in childhood play, to impersonate and imitate people and things loses its determining power as language gradually takes over from our “non-sensuous” connection with reality. In a break from Saussurian linguistics, Benjamin decries the loss of this “mimetic faculty”, as it becomes further replaced by the “archive of non-sensuous correspondences” we know aswriting.
To put it in simpler terms… Where once we read the world, the stars or the entrails of a sacrificed animal, now we read the signs enabled and captured by written language.
From Benjamin’s The Doctrine of the Similar:
“So speed, the swiftness in reading or writing which can scarcely be separated from this process, would then become… the effort or gift of letting the mind participate in that measure of time in which similarities flash up fleetingly out of the stream of things only in order to become immediately engulfed again.”
The GIF – standing for Graphical Interchange Format – has been around since 1987. Their early popularity was based, in part, on their ability to load in time with a web-page. In the days of poor bandwidth and dial-up connections this meant that at least part of a GIF image would appear before the user’s connection broke, or – more significantly – the user could see enough of the image for it to make sense. In the mid 90s avid web hackers managed to crack the code of GIFs and use this ‘partial loading’ mechanism to encode animations within a single GIF file. Thus the era of personal web pages saturated with looping animations of spinning hamsters was born.
Brought on – ironically – by their obsolescence the GIF has become the medium of choice for web artists, propagating their particular net-aesthetic through this free, open and kitschy medium. GIFs inhabit the space between convenience and abundance, where an apparent breakdown in communication can stimulate new modes of expressing non-sensuous similarities in the internet world.
Sites like dump.fm4chan and ytmnd revel in the GIF’s ability to quickly correspond to the world. GIFs can be broken into their constituent frames, compressed and corrupted on purpose and made to act as archives for viral events travelling the web. A playground ofcorrespondences that at first reflected language and the wider world now looks increasingly inward. Finding meaning in the semiotic sludge of these GIFs requires a sensitivity to similitude bordering on the magical.
GIFs take a variety of forms, some of which I will try to classify here:
GIF Type I: Classic
Small in size and made up of few frames, this is where animated GIFs began. Corresponding to single words or concepts such as ‘smile’, ‘alien’ or ‘flying pink unicorn’.
GIF Type II: Frame Capture
Frame grab or video capture GIFs pay homage to well known scenes in pop culture. But as the ‘art’ of animated GIFs grew the frame capture began to stand for something isolated from context. This leap is, for me, the first point at which GIFs begin to co-ordinate their own realm of correspondence. An ocean of viral videos turned into a self-serving visual language, looping back on itself ad infinitum.
GIF Type III: Art
Leaking then directly into the third category, we have the Art GIF. Much larger in resolution and aware of their heritage in cinema, these GIFs are acutely refined in their choice of framing.
GIF Type IV: Glitch
A badly encoded or compressed GIF can result in odd, strangely beautiful phenomena, and with a little skill and coding ability these glitches can be enhanced to enormous proportions. Glitch GIFs break the boundaries of another non-sensuous realm: that of computer code. A significant magical order Benjamin was little capable of predicting.
GIF Type V: Mash-Up
Lastly, and perhaps most prolific, is the mash-up GIF. These GIFs are comprised of a combination of all the previous forms. The mash-up is THE most inner-looking species of GIF. It is possible to track the cultural development of some of these. Often though, the source of any original correspondence becomes completely lost in the play of images.
Here again, I think Benjamin’s essay can help us:
“Language is the highest application of the mimetic faculty: a medium into which the earlier perceptive capabilities for recognising the similar had entered without residue, so that it is now language which represents the medium in which objects meet and enter into relationship with each other…”
In other wordswhat these images MEAN I can’t tell you in words. But perhaps by showing you other GIFs I might go some way to helping you understand them.

This paper was originally delivered at Birkbeck’s, Flash Symposium, 24th May 2011
GIFs sourced from… rydertimbucnv / tumblr: iwdrmmaxcapacity,  ace calhoun / web: ryder ripps

I found this one by researching Animated Gif in Google Scholar.
Although quite short, I think is is quite interesting for a number of reasons. The reference he has to Walter Benjamin is basically trying to give credibility to this low art but highly popular digital cultural phenomenon that refuses to die. So far I am finding little research and analysis on Animated Gifs, especially in relation to contemporary art.
He gives a brief history of Animated Gifs with some excellent examples and begins to categories them. The first article that I have found where gifs have been categorised and timelined.
I have been a fan of Tumblr pages, blogs and Pinterest for a while now and have spent many hours getting sucked into such visual candy. Scanning and scrolling through these pages can be highly addictive as you search for a more perfect image or even better animated gif. One more page, you tell yourself.
But what is this addictive appeal?
Animated Gifs have no sound. They are purely a 1-5 second looped animation, usually related to popular culture. How can some thing so short and repetitive hold our attention for so long without us getting sick of it and how do these things have the power to go viral on the Internet?

As Rourke states in his article, most animated gifs are taken out of context and stand alone as powerful short animations. They create their own meaning and serve as something highly desirable.
It makes me wonder if today's high technology, fast paced culture is the reason why animated gifs are so popular. But short looped animations have been around longer than the gif but I think it is the Internet that allows for their breakthrough.
So what is it then? Is it human nature to be attracted to the best bits? Like perhaps the exact funny moment when a baby panda sneezes?

That moment of being in the right place at the right time?
Is something so unbelievable we need to see it again and again?
The power of a chance occurrence.
Are our lives in need of a boost, a laugh, a giggle, some colour?
Is it like a joke that can be shared easily?


Hi there.
This is my new blog about my research towards my Masters thesis.
It enables me to start and keep up the reading and writing.
It will include articles, books and other thesis's I have been reading related to my topic which I have posted below.
I welcome any links or discussion.
I am interested in anthropomorphism, wonkiness or wabi sabi, uncanny valley, robotics, humor, animated gifs, animation, mistakes and humor all in relation to art.


Encouraging and enhancing explorative mistakes in a multimedia practice.

I am influenced by artists and popular culture that have an anthropomorphic, humorous and wonky aesthetic. I want to explore the relationship between the elements of error, chance, anthropomorphism and humour in my own practice considering how the connections and relationships between these elements can be enhanced? Traditionally, errors are discarded or covered up but I intend to challenge this aesthetic by highlight them through humour and inturn, make audiences (and myself) more comfortable with them. In my practice aim to make odd elements work together, be graphically striking and mix high and low cultural influences and in doing so, I hope to understand how animation can enhance anthropomorphic qualities and visual impact. Through an examination of the occurrence and ‘use’ of mistakes, chance and improvisation within my constructed props used in my animated films, I question, is such a spontaneous, improvised and serendipitous process translatable into a highly scripted and time-consuming process such as animation? Can the uptake of the unexpected be better facilitated through digital animation and video processes?

Anthropomorphism is commonly defined as attributing human characteristics to an animal or object.

By this definition anthropomorphism has been commonly applied to non-human characters in diverse media, but whether the extent of anthropomorphism in art influences its critical reception and empathetic response by audiences has not been widely discussed. The study of this has obvious implications for understanding the ways in which artists can exploit aspects of anthropomorphism to obtain particular audience responses.

Robotics researchers such as Brian Duffy and Masahiro Mori discuss artificial humans and our critical response to varying degrees of human characteristics. Mori’s notion of Uncanny Valley forwards that when a character gets so human-like we no longer see the human similarities and and instead focus on the faults that make it less than human.[1] In response, Duffy lists a series of social and anthropomorphic traits that that can be designed into characters in order for audiences to invest empathy in them.[2] Curator Kirsten Anderson suggests that  our human need to relate to others is so strong that, like our ancestors, we are able to visually grasp and empathies with a character represented in a simplistic manner.[3]

The first beings that children learn to understand something of are human beings, and especially their own selves; and the first explanation of all events will be the human explanation, as though chairs and sticks and wooden horses were actuated by the same sort of personal will as nurses and children and kittens.[4]
In this extract from Tylor’s Primitive Culture he discusses how from an early age it would seem that seeing anthropomorphic characteristics within inanimate objects is instinctual. Tylor also discusses how ancient ‘primitive’ cultures went beyond the personification of an inanimate object to projecting spiritual, animistic qualities upon them. ‘ ..What we call inanimate objects rivers, stones, trees, weapons, and so for they are treated as living intelligent beings, talked to, propitiated, punished for the harm they do.’[5] Tylor suggests that Animisim is the the groundwork of the Philosophy of Religion[6] suggesting perhaps that the power of anthropomorphism can be traced back to spiritual,  primitive origins.
If an object can display anthropomorphic qualities then it can also be argued that an object can seem humorous, as humour is also one of many human characteristics. Bergson writes, ‘The first point to which attention should be called is that the comic does not exist outside the pale of what is strictly human. A landscape may be beautiful, charming and sublime, or insignificant and ugly; it will never be laughable. You may laugh at an animal, but only because you have detected in it some human attitude or expression.’[7]
Humour is defined as the quality of being amusing or comic
Freud described jokes as: ‘a contrast of ideas’, ‘sense in nonsense’, ‘bewilderment and illumination’.[8]

Traditionally humour and high art are not regarded as allies. This changed with the first act of the Dada group in Zurich at the Cabaret Voltaire, an outlet from which to criticize the war culture.[9] The alienation the Dadaists felt from the horrors of the war manifested as an absurdist type of humour.  From there, as Higgie states, humour has been central to the cultural politics of movements such as Dada, Surrealism, Situations, Fluxus, Performance and Feminism, and of course much more recent art practice that’s defies categorization. Indeed, if humour has a common characteristic, it is to thumb its nose at pigeonholes.[10]

Mistake is defined as an act or judgement that is misguided or wrong.
Within the craft of using different materials (from ceramics to animation), there are certain techniques that are taught and adhered to. I would like to challenge some of these techniques to produce work that could be seen as traditionally or technically ‘wrong’ or as a mistake. These will be nurtured and highlighted as a way to challenge stereotypes and introduce any humour within the media used.

Crude is defined as a natural or raw state that is unrefined. It can refer to something constructed in a rudimentary or makeshift way and can sometimes be seen as offensive, coarse or rude.
The nature of the media being used will be respectful of its natural state so as not to over complicate the work on a visual context. This is not to say that the thought process is simple but has a complex thoughtfulness behind it. A basic, almost instinctual process of construction will be encouraged.

I have a background in Industrial Design, Fine Art and Multimedia but the common thread with all my work has been the influence of anthropomorphism and experimentation with various media. This diversity will be reflected in the work I plan to produce, ranging from jewellery, illustration, sculpture, ceramic, video and animation.
I expect theory regarding the answers to these multiple questions to emerge from research. The animations will have varying degrees of narrative, so that aspects of anthropomorphism may emerge. It is anticipated that making of the artwork and the production of the animations will be the main tasks to be accomplished in undertaking the project.

In conclusion this project will be useful in redefining the capabilities of different media and establishing anthropomorphic appeal. It will also discover and make use of spontaneous and less time consuming animation processes and techniques.

[1] Mori, Masahiro (1970). Bukimi no tani The uncanny valley (K. F. MacDorman & T. Minato, Trans.). Energy, 7(4), 33–35
[2] Duffy BR, Anthropomorphism and The Social Robot, Media Lab Europe, Dublin 8, Ireland, 2003
[3] Anderson K, ' Not Just a Contemporary Phenomenon', ibid. pp.111.
[4] Tylor, Edward B. Primitive Culture: Researches Into The Development Of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art and Customs, pp. 285 Vols. I and II, New York: Gordon Press (1871 and 1974).
[5] Tylor, Edward B. ibid pp. 477
[6] Tylor, Edward B. ibid pp. 426
[7] Henri B, ‘Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic ', in The Artists Joke Edited by Jennifer Higgie, Documents of Contemporary Art, pp. 22, The MIT Press, Cambridge, 2007.
[8] Freud S, ‘Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious', in The Artists Joke Edited by Jennifer Higgie, Documents of Contemporary Art, pp. 26,7, The MIT Press, Cambridge, 2007
[9] Kuenzli R, Dada, pp 16, Phaidon Press Limited, London, UK 2006
[10] Higgie J, ‘The Artists Joke Edited by Jennifer Higgie, Documents of Contemporary Art, pp. 12, The MIT Press, Cambridge, 2007