Saturday, August 3, 2013


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

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