UX and UI Design Consultant and Illustrator
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MFA Thesis Work

During my time at CCA, I concentrated on studying and making work about anthropomorphism and hyperrealism, subjects that come up frequently during my design process. On the off-chance you have any interest, below is my thesis abstract. (To see the entire document in a pdf, click here.) My thesis included a book and an installation of kinetic sculpture–images from both are shown here.

PATHETIC FALLACY; ARTIFICIAL RESPIRATION

By our nature, humans are compelled to reproduce ourselves. We see ourselves in other people, animals and even in inanimate objects. Call it biophilia, call it anthropomorphism, call it narcissism, we are determined to make connections to the things around us through the prism of our own image. 

 What makes an object anthropomorphic and how does that change its meaning and our relationship to it? Obviously, its physical appearance is the first thing one might look to for clues of anthropomorphism. Does it have a “face”? Is it gesturing? Does it seem to have emotions? What is its behavior? Is it in motion? Does it suggest motion? 

Much has been written about the ability of objects to evoke emotion. We are attracted to things because they call up some feeling in us, be it joy, humor, security, nostalgia, etc. We make decisions based on emotion, and it has been shown that we make better decisions when positive emotions have been elicited in us. Emotion is evoked most easily when we interact with another living creature, or something that resembles, in appearance or behavior, another living creature.

The phenomenon of anthropomorphism is abundant in our consumer products, especially in “designer” items. From Alessi to VW to Apple, companies have cashed in on our affinity to covet the cute, cuddly and candy-colored. These cheerful products flourished especially during the dot com boom, pre 9-11, when our worries were not as many. The blobby forms that these products took were part organic and part artificial: flowing biomorphic shapes made easily reproducible by the computer. Though the sweetness of these products may now be cloying, the simultaneously organic and artificial foundation on which they were built is something I’m interested in exploring, something that I think still warrants investigation. Indeed, saccharine as they may be, these products succeed in evoking a strong visceral response; it is this basic level of reflex that I find worthy of further inquiry. 

In particular, I would like to look at the motion and behavior of objects, to see what happens when an object is endowed with kinetic energy, allowing it to interact with the viewer, just as the viewer interacts with it. There is a particular feeling that is evoked when something that shouldn’t be moving is in motion. Freud describes this feeling as an “uncanny sensation,” and defines uncanny as “that class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar.” I’d like to explore this area long known to us, that seems now to be elusive. Perhaps our visceral response to the uncanny is a recognition of a basic indicator of life, movement–and despite our knowledge of technology, somewhere deep in our brains we still have trouble reconciling a nonliving object with movement.

I plan to evoke an uncanny sensation through the creation of breathing sculptures. Right now I picture amoebic, blob-like shapes harking back to a most basic life form, primordial ooze, but I plan to allow my process to inform the actual form. My reason for stripping the living object down to its most elemental occurrence is that I want to be as simple as possible, while still evoking strong visceral emotion, “maximal expression through the most minimal of means”. The sculptures will possibly consist of a simple mechanical endoskeleton and a motorized apparatus that mimics the movement of breathing, all covered with a translucent latex rubber skin. Each sculpture will have a unique breathing rhythm and accompanying sound. I’ve chosen to animate them through breathing because this seems to be the most basic movement associated with life. During our current era of relative darkness and fear of the unknown, it seems appropriate to look at the ambiguities of life and death, of the animate and the inanimate. For example, what relationship, if any, does an object being kept animate by a respirator have to a person being kept alive by a respirator?