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.

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  • Twitter Roach is in its first phase of experimentation. Utilizing a RoboRoach/backpack kit (produced and sold by Backyard Brains http://www.backyardbrains.com ), custom processing, arduino programming and circuitry, it allows people to log into their Twitter accounts to cooperatively affect the movement of a cockroach from anywhere in the world. The project made its debut at “Life, in some form,” an exhibition at the Chicago Artists Coalition on December 7th.
  • The Track Series is an exploratory body of work comprised of photographic, videographic, and motion capture images, and rapid prototyped sculpture mapping the habitual travel patterns of bess beetles. In order to accurately capture such patterns the bess beetles are each affixed with their own trackable “backpack.” These are made from a self-adhesive hook and loop fastener, a small watch battery, and variable light-emitting diodes. Due to the beetle’s necessity to constantly burrow and make tunnels through hard woods, such as oak, elm, and other deciduous trees, these beetles have a unique, brute strength unrivaled by many other organisms. This allows them to carry their illuminated backpacks with little hindrance respecting their motion. This project is conceptually rooted to the notions of emergence, travel, and the revealing of formerly unrecognized path making. Additionally, it furthers the author’s persistent desire to  collaborate (albeit uninvitedly) with insects.
  • Hands-On Ideas 7 - Insects as Artists

    1. 1. 1BRITTANY RANSOMDigital / Hybrid Media Artist + ProfessorA part of the Hands-On Ideas seriesFebruary 21, 2013
    2. 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. 3@TweetRoach // 2012 - 2013 (Prototype 1)
    4. 4. 4@TweetRoach // 2012 - 2013 (Prototype 1) • Twitter Roach is in its first phase of experimentation. Utilizing a RoboRoach/backpack kit (produced and sold by Backyard Brains http://www.backyardbrains.com), custom processing, arduino programming and circuitry, it allows people to log into their Twitter accounts to cooperatively affect the movement of a cockroach from anywhere in the world. The project made its Relevant image (if needed) debut at “Life, in some form,” an exhibition at the here Chicago Artists Coalition on December 7th. • Twitter Roach is designed to parse specific commands received through mentions and hashtags by stimulating one of its antennae— essentially making the insect feel as if it touched something. In other words, the cockroach is tricked into turning left or right based on specific tweets. The cockroach only wears the backpack for short intervals and is only accessible to the Twitter community during designated times. The program is set up to only allow the cockroach to receive tweets every 30 seconds.
    5. 5. 5What inspired this work? • I regularly work with insects in my artistic practice and research, often as a metaphor for human life. The availability of consumer based products, and so-called “citizen-science,” emergence, and technology are themes that I constantly explore. Through this piece, I’m asking: will the cockroach eventually learn to adapt to the stimulation and learn to ignore it? At what point does its intelligence and ability take over? How much does it take before we are all desensitized to overstimulation? Most importantly what does it mean that these materials are all open source and available to us as consumers? Not only is it available but it is becoming a regular trend, see article below. As we, as human beings, grow more cyborgian and interconnected through social media, this project could help us participate in discovering the answer. • “ We are heading towards a world in which anyone with a little time, money and imagination can commandeer an animals brain. Thats as good a reason as any to start thinking about where wed draw our ethical lines. The animal cyborgs are here, and well each have to decide whether we want a turn at the controls. “ • - Frankensteins Cat by Emily Anthes • http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2013/feb/17/race-to-create-
    6. 6. 6Around We Go // 2012 - 2013 (Versions I & II) Image here
    7. 7. 7Around We Go // 2012 - 2013 (Versions I & II) Image here
    8. 8. 8Around We Go // 2012 - 2013 (DFW Versions I & II) • Around We Go is an experimental video and projection series that records termites following the lines of the Dallas-Fort Worth major highway systems. • The termites follow the drawing (made with a bic pen) because of pheromones. The pheromones (smell) of the ink mimics that of one that the termites excrete to communicate with one another
    9. 9. 9What inspired this work?• Interested in the transition from moving from Chicago to Dallas, I have become obsessed with the amount of time I now spend within my car commuting as opposed to using public transit. This piece is a somewhat tongue and cheek attempt at observing our systematic tendencies as humans (routines) and the way these also exist in other species.• This piece was projected on a building in downtown Dallas (the central point of the roads connecting) and it was also projected on a log sourced from Dallas that was moved to Chicago.
    10. 10. 10#Tag // 2011 - ongoing Image here
    11. 11. 11 #Tag // 2011 - ongoing• The #tag project was developed from the official release of Twitter’s 2010 Year in Review. In Twitter’s 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 particular Relevant image (if needed) installation, a commercially available product here 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 five twitter hash tags of 2010. Thus the plant literally becomes a participant in the twitter community, however, physically and not virtually.
    12. 12. 12What inspired this work?Each seedling has been modified 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) of“tweeting” plants.
    13. 13. 13PARTNERED: We Are All Pests // 2011 Image here
    14. 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 planet’s 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. 15. 15What inspired this work?• The installation is a 9 foot by 9 foot pine floor that houses three termite enclosures. Each enclosure is filled with sculpted paper forms that are primarily made from human paper waste products (newspapers, paper cups, plates, phonebooks, copies of the artists electrical and gas bills, etc.) that are structurally reminiscent of termite colony construction. The termites are concurrently housed in these enclosures and naturally eat away at the paper forms. As the termites consume the paper forms they ultimately digest them and naturally release hydrogen gas thus taking human wastes Relevant image here and transforming and recycling them into usable materials. The pine floor is most importantly surveyed by custom audio equipment. The viewer is invited to stand, sit, or lay on the custom sonic floor.• As they become immersed in the installation by standing on or engaging with the piece, the sound of the termites decomposing the paper waste forms is amplified through digital vibrance resonators and heard acoustically by the viewers in real time. The floor literally becomes a sonic plane. Each termite enclosure is built around two custom microphones that allows the termites chewing to be made audible to the human senses. Conceptually I am interested in exploring various levels of decay through this piece.
    16. 16. 16HOST // 2011, Hyde Park Art Center Image here
    17. 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 exploring Relevant image (if needed) the idea of human beings existing as the planet’s 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. 18. 18What inspired this work?• Conceptually the surveillance of these beetles serves as a metaphorical place to contemplate our own existence, reproduction, and participation in an existing pest / host cycle. Be it consciously or unconsciously, the installation ultimately calls to the notions of humans “eating” our own holes through the planet and its given resources just as the beetles live, eat, and die within their bean host. This piece aims to brings to the front the grotesque nature of the beetles cyclical relationship with their host and directly Relevant image here references the overall ‘parasitic’ activities of the human population existing directly outside and in the greater world. The residential area across the street further exemplifies, in a less direct way, the home also existing as a temporary host for the human pest, built upon the skin of the earth in most cases with little regard to its potential detrimental effects. The installation at large intends to bring to the surface our seemingly mundane routines as humans in an effort to pose a larger conversation about the transformation, consumption, and progression of our larger host, the planet.
    19. 19. 19How Will We Build // 2011 Image here
    20. 20. 20How Will We Build // 2011• How Will We Build is an exploratory ongoing process involving laser etching selections of google maps of the city of Chicago that are historically rooted in famous travel designs, politics, and highly populated areas. Termites are introduced into a controlled environment and begin Relevant image (if needed) to form their own city patterns by eating here through the traditional human grid system and creating or “building” their own society against the grain of our own. I am interested in investigating what human forms the termites begin to build against or with first in regard rectilinear forms or organic forms created by the topographical building view of humans.
    21. 21. 21What inspired this work? • The maps are surveyed by 24 hour web cameras that capture an image of the termites destruction twice a day indefinitely. • Inspired by the way that various species build their societies. Curious to know if termites would eat against a human planned urbanism / city design.
    22. 22. 22Tracks Series // 2010 - ongoing Image here
    23. 23. 23Tracks Series // 2010 - ongoing Relevant image (if needed) here
    24. 24. 24 Tracks Series // 2010 - ongoingThis research-based project focuses on patterns and voyagepaths made by Bess beetles (Odontotaenius disjunctus),classified under the insect order Coleptera. Bess beetles arean imperative species that aid in the decomposition of wasteand dead vegetation, specifically within forests. They are aninsect commonly found in decaying logs from Texas to Floridaand as far north as Canada. Arguably similar to humans andhuman societal systems, Bess beetles live in pairs within acolony and are a semi-social insect. They pair for with oneother beetle and share housekeeping and larval care over 14-16-month period of time. They are also able to communicatethrough acoustic signals. Most importantly, they travel in andoutside of their ‘homes’, which are excavated galleries andtunnels within rotting timber, to feed and to care for theiryoung. Their external travel (outside of the interior of their loghomes) and pattern making have thus become the basis ofthis research-based series of photographic work.
    25. 25. 25What inspired this work?• The beetles were carefully introduced into various wooded environments in Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin after they were affixed with the LED ‘backpack’. Using a Nikon D700, and remote shutter, the beetles was tracked both individually and in groups via long exposure taken between the hours of 10:00pm and 3:00am central standard time. Each beetle (sometimes grouping of beetles) was photographed for a minimum of 3 hours. Each beetle wearing a different color LED ‘backpack’ denotes groups of beetle movements. The current results of the Tracks Series experiments and research are presented as digital photographs.• This project is conceptually rooted to the notions of emergence, travel, and the revealing of formerly unrecognized path making. Additionally, it furthers my persistent desire to collaborate (albeit uninvitedly) with insects. This began as a project where I was GPS tracking myself and seeing if I had similar patterns to the beetles
    26. 26. 26Subsequent Sight Series // 2008 - ongoing
    27. 27. 27Subsequent Sight Series // 2008 - ongoing• The Subsequent Sight series was realized through the implementation of a wearable micro camera and recording mechanism that was placed on a dog. I felt this would help to capture the perspective of the dog’s world and concerns. This system supported a wireless high-resolution recording unit and a covert micro camera, weighing less than one pound. This lightweight product was housed in a wearable vest constructed almost entirely out of soft fleece and nylon fabrics that allowed the dog to comfortably carry out its daily functions.
    28. 28. 28What inspired this work?• This system aided in illuminating a first hand account of the visual and auditory perspective of dog’s lives when we are and are not present. In order for one to understand the behavior of the dog while the owner was not present several hours of footage was taken while the owner and their respective pet spent time together.• The footage was collected from eight dogs ranging in age, size, breed, gender, and temperament. Their primary environment (indoor, outdoor, or a combination of the two) was also greatly considered. Relevant image here
    29. 29. 29Only a Mother Could Love // 2008 - ongoing Image here
    30. 30. 30Only a Mother Could Love // 2008 - ongoing
    31. 31. 31What inspired this work? Relevant image here • Only a Mother Could Love is a digitally manipulated photographic series that humorously investigates the notion of pet owners taking on the facial characteristics of their animal companions and vice versa.
    32. 32. 32Post-ProjectNow What?
    33. 33. 33How approachable is the tech &concept?• The methods of material and code that I use in the interactive works are all open source and consumable commercial software and hardware.• Think about the way changing technology situates our species within the context of the natural world
    34. 34. 34Questions and Answers

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