Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Project DeathLike

The original video which inspired the work.
Electronic Visualization Laboratory's Project LifeLike documentation.

When I saw the clip from the Science Channel called "PopSci's Future of: Immortal Avatars", from their "Future Of" series, featuring Project Lifelike from the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at UIC, I got an uncomfortable feeling from it. The idea of big $$ science being used to make a former NSF administrator immortal seems like an egomaniacal effort of the sort evil dictators would commission. The spin of the real actual clip seemed to point toward the death-tinged joy of interacting with corpses.

The clip reminded me of Mary Shelley's 1818 novel, Frankenstein. The story is a cautionary tale regarding modern uses of science. In the story, a rogue scientist, Dr. Frankenstein, ignores the warnings of his more level-headed colleagues and works to revitalize the dead. In the popular 1931 movie adaptation, Dr. Frankenstein's monster is played by Boris Karlov. The monster goes on to kill an innocent child, and a mob of villagers eventually burns the monster.

In "Towards the Automation of Figurative Techniques," in Oliver Grau's book, Media Art Histories, Edmond Couchot discusses autonomous systems and their application to art. While on the one hand he discusses purely generative systems, he differentiates autonomous systems as specifically an extenuation of cybernetics and the body (via interactivity). He also says that autonomous systems have many applications in the sciences. I am concerned about the bad mojo and uncomfortable feeling I got from the clip. It seems as if the happy death imagery serves to distance a public from questioning the very creepy aspects of this work while being portrayed as fun, popular science.

Perhaps EVL should get a better handle on their public relations. The original clip which aired on the Science Channel and is linked on their website (www.evl.uic.edu)might actually be doing them a disservice. My pastiche video, on the one hand, exaggerates and twists the original video, but on the other hand, reveals, as the Yes Men do, that we should hold accountable those who serve in the public trust.

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