Hands-On Ideas 7 - Insects as Artists

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Brittany Ransom is an artist exploring how technology, nature and social creatures (like people, insects, and dogs) co-exist in today's world, and what we can learn from each other. By using insects, people and their pets, software, electronics and social media, she helps us all explore what it means to be a human in a multi-species world. In this Hands-On Ideas session, she shares her inspiration, how she goes about her work, what it's revealed, and how you can build on it to explore these ideas more deeply.


  • 1. 1BRITTANY RANSOMDigital / Hybrid Media Artist + ProfessorA part of the Hands-On Ideas seriesFebruary 21, 2013

2. 2Brittany Ransom // Creates interactive installations, electronic art objects, and site specific interventions that strive to probe the line between human, animal, and environmental relations while exploring emergent technologies. Using technology as a material, my work introduces concepts exploring the conflicted Relevant image here relationships between our culture, the concern for nature, and the way we interact with the natural world. Explores the paradoxical bond between human, nature, its inhabitants and the co-evolution between the living and budding technological innovation while questioning these technologies. Work invites the viewer to question how technology can concurrently invent, destroy, enshroud, and expose itself within our shared environments. Interested in art as a collaborative research based practice. 3. 3@TweetRoach // 2012 - 2013 (Prototype 1) 4. 4@TweetRoach // 2012 - 2013 (Prototype 1) Twitter Roach is in its first phase ofexperimentation. Utilizing a RoboRoach/backpackkit (produced and sold by Backyard Brainshttp://www.backyardbrains.com), customprocessing, arduino programming and circuitry, itallows people to log into their Twitter accounts tocooperatively affect the movement of a cockroachfrom anywhere in the world. The project made its Relevant image (if needed)debut at Life, in some form, an exhibition at the hereChicago Artists Coalition on December 7th. Twitter Roach is designed to parse specificcommands received through mentions andhashtags by stimulating one of its antennaeessentially making the insect feel as if it touchedsomething. In other words, the cockroach is trickedinto turning left or right based on specific tweets.The cockroach only wears the backpack for shortintervals and is only accessible to the Twittercommunity during designated times. The programis set up to only allow the cockroach to receivetweets every 30 seconds. 5. 5What inspired this work? I regularly work with insects in my artistic practice andresearch, often as a metaphor for human life. Theavailability of consumer based products, and so-calledcitizen-science, emergence, and technology arethemes that I constantly explore. Through this piece,Im asking: will the cockroach eventually learn toadapt to the stimulation and learn to ignore it? At whatpoint does its intelligence and ability take over? Howmuch does it take before we are all desensitized tooverstimulation? Most importantly what does it meanthat these materials are all open source and availableto us as consumers? Not only is it available but it isbecoming a regular trend, see article below. As we, ashuman beings, grow more cyborgian andinterconnected through social media, this projectcould help us participate in discovering the answer. We are heading towards a world in which anyonewith a little time, money and imagination cancommandeer an animals brain. Thats as good areason as any to start thinking about where wed drawour ethical lines. The animal cyborgs are here, andwell each have to decide whether we want a turn atthe controls. - Frankensteins Cat by Emily Anthes http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2013/feb/17/race-to-create- 6. 6Around We Go // 2012 - 2013 (Versions I & II)Image here 7. 7Around We Go // 2012 - 2013 (Versions I & II)Image here 8. 8Around We Go // 2012 - 2013 (DFW Versions I & II) Around We Go is anexperimental video andprojection series that recordstermites following the lines ofthe Dallas-Fort Worth majorhighway systems. The termites follow thedrawing (made with a bicpen) because ofpheromones. Thepheromones (smell) of theink mimics that of one thatthe termites excrete tocommunicate with oneanother 9. 9What inspired this work? Interested in the transition from movingfrom Chicago to Dallas, I have becomeobsessed with the amount of time I nowspend within my car commuting asopposed to using public transit. This pieceis a somewhat tongue and cheek attemptat observing our systematic tendencies ashumans (routines) and the way these alsoexist in other species. This piece was projected on a building indowntown Dallas (the central point of theroads connecting) and it was alsoprojected on a log sourced from Dallasthat was moved to Chicago. 10. 10#Tag // 2011 - ongoing Image here 11. 11#Tag // 2011 - ongoing The #tag project was developed from the official release of Twitters 2010 Year in Review. In Twitters year in review they provide the top hash tags, trending topics, celebrities, and re-tweets that were posted over the course of the year. This review is released annually. In this particularRelevant image (if needed) installation, a commercially available producthere called the Magic Message Plant is able to reveal a special message or image as the plant sprouts (see attached conceptualizations and drawings). In this case, the Magic Plants have been specifically ordered and designed to literally grow and reveal one of the top ve twitter hash tags of 2010. Thus the plant literally becomes a participant in the twitter community, however, physically and not virtually. 12. 12What inspired this work?Each seedling has been modied to become a plant thatreveals text on itself (a #tag) as it grows, thus it becomes aphysically tweeting plant. The lighting given to each plant is acalculation dependent on the amount of tweets that incorporatethe specific hash tag that the seedling reveals. The more eachspecific hash tag is posted, the more light that specific plantwith the corresponding hash tag is given.#tag is meant for the viewer to consider the rapid rate at whichtheir tweets and hash tags can be shared online in comparisonwith the time at which it takes for the magic plant to grow andreveal its tweet. The overall plan for this installation is that theseedlings are grown, reveal their own hash tag, and then are tobe planted into gardens of willing participants and artinstitutions. #tag gardens will exist as markers of not only socialtrends and topics but as a physical network (or garden) oftweeting plants. 13. 13PARTNERED: We Are All Pests // 2011Image here 14. 14PARTNERED: We Are All Pests // 2011 Partnered: We Are All Pests is a sonic floor installation that ultimately explores the notions of the definition of the term pest and the potential for accessing termites as possible partners in the production of renewable energy resources. This installation proposes several conceptual tracts with the main idea being the consideration of the human species existing as the planets most expansive pest through the hypothetical perception of other species points of view. The second is the potential partnership with a species that we consider a grotesque pest (termites) to create inherently usable hydrogen through naturally occurring biological process within their tiny bodies. The work explores several issues including biomimicry, emergence, sustainability, what it means to be an artist and researcher, the role of citizen technologists, and uninvited collaborations with other species to help solve environmental dilemmas that we has humans have developed and are solely responsible for. 15. 15What inspired this work? The installation is a 9 foot by 9 foot pine floor thathouses three termite enclosures. Each enclosure isfilled with sculpted paper forms that are primarilymade from human paper waste products(newspapers, paper cups, plates, phonebooks,copies of the artists electrical and gas bills, etc.) thatare structurally reminiscent of termite colonyconstruction. The termites are concurrently housedin these enclosures and naturally eat away at thepaper forms. As the termites consume the paperforms they ultimately digest them and naturallyrelease hydrogen gas thus taking human wastesRelevant image hereand transforming and recycling them into usablematerials. The pine floor is most importantlysurveyed by custom audio equipment. The viewer isinvited to stand, sit, or lay on the custom sonic floor. As they become immersed in the installation bystanding on or engaging with the piece, the sound ofthe termites decomposing the paper waste forms isamplified through digital vibrance resonators andheard acoustically by the viewers in real time. Thefloor literally becomes a sonic plane. Each termiteenclosure is built around two custom microphonesthat allows the termites chewing to be made audibleto the human senses. Conceptually I am interestedin exploring various levels of decay through thispiece. 16. 16HOST // 2011, Hyde Park Art CenterImage here 17. 17HOST // 2011, Hyde Park Art Center HOST is a site specific 5 channel sight video installation with a single live feed that ultimately explores the notions of what it means for animals and humans to act consciously and unconsciously as both pests and hosts. In conjunction with similar conceptual threads that exist through my work, I am currently exploringRelevant image (if needed) the idea of human beings existing as the planets here most expansive and destructive form of pest; Inhabiting nearly every niche of the planet, building into and ultimately altering the environment, and disrupting the natural flow of land, sucking it dry of non-renewable resources and space, and polluting the air through colonization of industry. The host, our planet, acts as an organism that nourishes and supports us, but does not benefit from our existence. The human pest at this rate will extinct itself, running out of clean air, water, space and resources from its host to survive. 18. 18What inspired this work? Conceptually the surveillance of these beetles serves as ametaphorical place to contemplate our own existence,reproduction, and participation in an existing pest / hostcycle. Be it consciously or unconsciously, the installationultimately calls to the notions of humans eating our ownholes through the planet and its given resources just as thebe