Category Archives: Findings from us

Cats Watching Cats Watching Video

Looking back on our last post about this Infinitesimal, Inexpressible Internet we have become so enamoured by, we want to know why some tiny particles within eons of video content breaks through to go viral.

What are the ingredients for viral success?

David Joy shared with us a relevant TED talk from Kevin Allocca, who is YouTube’s trend manager. If anybody knows about what’s hot and what’s not on YouTube – he does.

Many thanks to David for sharing this with us all, it’s a talk as entertaining as it is informative:

Kevin Allocca: Why videos go viral

Kevin Allocca: Why videos go viral (watch in new window)

YouTube especially seems to be doing its job well; meeting a need that people have to share. Going viral is community based; an ‘in joke’ that we can all not only be in on, but also influence.

Animals feature heavily in our physical and virtual worlds.

Silly, unpredictable, unique content seems to be the link across many successful video virals. Who could have anticipated the reaction of the mother to her sneezing baby panda? Nobody. Not even the makers of the video who got in touch with us recently.

Pandas on a Bus | Viral Pandas

Pandas on a Bus

Torchlight Digital Solutions had great success online with this faked image of pandas on a bus. They found their timing was impeccable as the story was breaking about two pandas arriving at Edinburgh Zoo. They say being on trend is a key ingredient to viral success.

Trend is where it’s at, it would seem. So what happens when you are no longer in vogue?

The pandas simply get off the bus?

We’ll leave you to ponder that one for yourselves.

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Spider Sex

We’ve moved on to the next phase of our artistic creations with the Viral Pandas talking heads.

Having already papered over the cracks of our He/She Head, we’re now papering up the Wild Man for a closer inspection of skin. We blogged about skin and our interest in this area using examples from Kim Joon and a pig tattooist.

Look closely.

'Wild Man', Skin

‘Wild Man’, Skin

Whereas the He/She Head became synonymous with sculpting ideals and making things more attractive, our Wild Man became more and more grotesque with every layer.

We began to wonder at which point does the grotesque simply turn people away, and at which point does it lure people in.

For example, this week we saw an article from the Guardian go viral: Photographer Natacha Merritt’s best shot: ‘This is a spider’s erection. I boiled it in acid then added extra lighting for a romantic feel‘.

So, what is all the fuss about?

Here is the image, which strays somewhat in to the grotesque.

Or was it the words that caught our attention?

Natacha Merritt's Best Shot

Natacha Merritt’s best shot

Jimmy48 left a comment on the Guardian piece saying:

‘This is a spider’s erection. I boiled it in acid then added extra lighting for a romantic feel’

As a way to get the readers attention, few lines could come close to this.

AlexJones echoed these comments with:

If only there were a prize for Best Standfirst of the Year, this would surely win it. Perhaps someone should inaugurate it.

Exploring ideas around what goes viral around a World Wide Web infested with billions of images all fighting for attention, it’s interesting to see what wins and loses.

Is this about spider sex or is it about us?

We’ll leave you to make your own minds up whether you feel this piece is genuinely of interest to the Media or just a sensationalist stunt, but we certainly think it’s important to read the comment from the artist herself, which puts it in to context. As we considered with the WWF campaign and I Hate Balls campaign, does it leave people talking about the right topics, and those that the artist intended?

My professor was kind enough to let me avoid making an insect collection and instead I made identification to species based on the specimen’s genitals. That’s how I came to photograph spider genitals. I soon realized that of the millions and millions of insect species on this planet, thousands go extinct without ever even having been documented. So, if collecting some specimens helps us now they are there, we are one step closer to possibly protecting their “rights”. FYI as of now only a few species of butterflies have been granted endangered species status with all of its privileges.
The way I see it now, after many semesters of studying environmental issues, is that their needs to be as much attention given to spiders and insects as there is to “cuddlier” species. The fantastic complexity of this erection needs to be shared with the world. This Lycosid is a mascot. I think most viewers will think twice before stepping on a spider. And if you must, at least have a quick look to see if her has an erection.
Cheers!
Natacha Merritt

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Human and Animal Ink

Having previously looked at dermatological disease, Mark Twain, and also influenced by this exquisite work from Kim Joon, we’ve become very interested in skin.

The imagery from Joon that you see below is from an exhibition called Tattoo and Taboo, which isn’t altogether related to what we’re doing with The Sneezing Pandas Project, but the idea of controversy and a desire to stand out very much is.

The sense of *mutual* desire to see and be seen.

A skin is physical or metaphorical.

Viral Pandas | The Sneezing Pandas Project | Kim Joon

From ‘Tattoo and Taboo’, by Kim Joon

Joon has focused on the human body for his tattoo-based art projects, but we also discovered a Belgian artist who tattoos pigs.

Is this exquisite, and taboo?

Viral Pandas | The Sneezing Pandas Project | Wim Delvoye

Art Farm, by Wim Delvoye

Viral Pandas | The Sneezing Pandas Project | Wim Delvoye

Artist, Wim Delvoye, at work

Online breeding grounds for creative visuals, like Pinterest for example, have a strong ‘ink community’ – that is, lovers of tattoos. Delvoye extends this circle to include animal ink. Since the pigs we see here have no opportunity to object or give consent, you have to wonder whether the audience is encouraged to the pig, the craft, or for the artist himself, and why.

In human subjects, these self-made marks on the skin are interesting to us because they are blemishes on a clear-skinned perfection so many people aspire to; be that the physical or the metaphorical skin – a covering; protection, or display. The inked narrative and the meaning of individual tattoos is far more complex than we can go in to here, but the online community that follows and shares this craft is ‘anti’ or ‘other’ to the usual rules.

In effect, they turn this process on its head.

Upside down.

So where are the barriers we cross in what we want to see and what we do not?

What goes viral and what is suffocated?

We’ll continue to use our talking heads to explore such desire. Katherine talks a little here about where The Sneezing Pandas Project is going next.

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I Hate Thigh Knockers

HumaneSpot.org circulated an article last week called Should You Share This Video?, written by Caryn Ginsberg. It questions whether humour is an effective transmitter for more serious animal causes like neutering and focuses on a viral video campaign featuring actress Katherine Heigl.

The question posed by Ginsberg is timely for our project and its conclusion is that this kind of video, which we’ll show you in a minute if you haven’t yet seen it, is not effective:

“Save the Katherine Heigl video for the folks that you know will enjoy the laugh … and have already had their animals spayed or neutered.”

Caryn Ginsberg, 2012

I Hate Balls video clip

The I Hate Balls video went viral and sparked off many debates in the Funny or Die and YouTube comments. We’re not so interested here in what they’re saying, more in what they’re not saying and also how they say it. Comments are vicious and rarely about neutering.

Are these thoughts from behind the computer screen a valid reflection of real life?

Are these the same words that would be spoken offline?

How does this discharge of candid emotion affect the animal subjects?

We see from viewing figures that humour is an effective tool to encourage sharing, but like the WWF Sneezing Baby Panda video the I Hate Balls campaign doesn’t seem to have spread a serious message. We’ve seen little evidence from the video viewers that they’re talking about neutering and most are more concerned with other arguments around feminism and ball bashing.

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Kate Clark: Human/Animal Heads

Exploring faces, both human and animal, as well as the distinctions between domesticated and wild; attraction and repulsion, we came across this wonderful work from sculptor, Kate Clark.

Sculpture by Kate Clark

Sculpture by Kate Clark

The beauty in her work speaks for itself, so please visit her website for more.

Clark’s artist statement is as below:

“Studying the tension between personal and mythical realms, I create sculpture that synthesizes the human face into the body of wild animals. Initially, these forms can be shocking and repelling as viewers both recognize and reject their presence. The disruptive alignment of the intimate face and animal body asserts that human experience is mostly contained, a mask which is incomprehensible and psychologically complex.

We bring assumptions to any contemplation of the wild. We project unease, a response to what we understand to be primitive, unrestrained, even dangerous.

The tamed face, our face, is a mirror reflecting safety and cultivation. Emotion is caught in the eyes, the mouth, the tilt of the head. A single life, with its private and unique history, gazes back at us.

The visible seams themselves are there to remind the viewer that I’ve undone the exotic and wild to construct portraits which ask you to embrace contradiction. One can seek out themselves in the vulnerability of expression, while confronting a shifting and uncertain relationship: underlying violence beneath a guise of control.”

Kate Clark, Artist Statement

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Still Creepy

The wolf image we blogged about in Look and Listen reminded Katherine, as a sculptor, of Point Cloud. This is a technical process using a laser to pinpoint areas on a subject that can then be used to create a 3D model of it. Like the wolf, it traps the subject within the laser image, which can then become a clay model or something else physical. In a way, the distance that sits between these two forms of the same object or being, separating them, creates an area of non-existence.

Two interesting findings have come out of ideas around Point Cloud and trappings:

1. King Kong

The third King Kong film used CGI to recreate the famous gorilla and extra scenes on the DVD revealed how this is done using a real person as the basis for his actions. Here’s a clip of some facial expressions showing the actor and the projected image of King Kong. In the same way we all represent a version of ourselves online, characters are created to digitally portray a version of a truth.

These characters are released in to the digital wild to live their own lives.

2. Changing faces

Thanks to a Viral Pandas submission we’ve been looking at the Uncanny Valley and found it very relevant to the Sneezing Pandas Project. It involves us being able to detect when something that looks very real is actually not real, but robotic. We also feel it applies well to a cyborg persona – that is, who we project ourselves to be online, what we share and the comments we write.

Are we empty beings in the cyborg world and merely a reflection of a human form?

Do we project this on to the animals we watch?

We found this video, which demonstrates how close we are getting to changing faces with technology. Regardless of how good or bad this effect is…

It’s still creepy.

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Howl: Look and Listen

We recently saw a wolf drawing that is really intriguing. It was posted on Pinterest by Visual Graphic, but drawn by Paul Wischnewskl and posted to his Behance profile. It’s interesting in relation to Viral Pandas in two ways: first, because of the way the image has spread around the Internet, and secondly because we’ve been formulating ideas around animals in the ether – a place where they are almost frozen; framed within a digital window.

Here, it appears that the wolf is trapped in this drawing with pen points pulling at every muscle – pulling at every corner of skin around the jaw and behind the ears.

The wolf will always appear this way and time will change nothing.

Is this wolf unable to howl?

It’s a beautiful image, full of tension, which of course is something we focused on in our influences for The Sneezing Pandas Project.

'Wolf. Size A3.' by Paul Wischnewski

‘Wolf. Size A3.’ by Paul Wischnewski

This image is perfectly matched with The Wolf, a favourite song of Natalie‘s by Eddie Vedder. It needs no words. The song emanates tension and intensity; trappings. It comes from the film, Into the Wild, directed by Sean Penn, which covers this very subject. We highly recommend it.

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A Disagreeable Condition

We’ve been considering the romanticised view of nature that is often portrayed online – dramatic skylines, beaming sunsets, perfectly sculpted silhouettes, and animals as well as humans placed majestically in the centre, airbrushed and beautified. Worms, bugs, and mites do not seem to exist often in this cyborg world; rarely acknowledged, spoken of, shared or liked.

We appreciate beauty, we understand.

But still, we were quite taken with this eloquent quote from Mark Twain’s ‘Letters from the Earth’; a poetic, beautifully written description of the very thing that usually makes us squirm.

Perhaps it still does, just a little, but we’ve taken it as inspiration for the opposite of our domesticated head – the ‘Wild Man’ (coming soon!).

Mark Twain

“Noah and his family were saved — if that could be called an advantage. I throw in the if for the reason that there has never been an intelligent person of the age of sixty who would consent to live his life over again. His or anyone else’s. The Family were saved, yes, but they were not comfortable, for they were full of microbes. Full to the eyebrows; fat with them, obese with them, distended like balloons. It was a disagreeable condition, but it could not be helped, because enough microbes had to be saved to supply the future races of men with desolating diseases, and there were but eight persons on board to serve as hotels for them. The microbes were by far the most important part of the Ark’s cargo, and the part the Creator was most anxious about and most infatuated with. They had to have good nourishment and pleasant accommodations. There were typhoid germs, and cholera germs, and hydrophobia germs, and lockjaw germs, and consumption germs, and black-plague germs, and some hundreds of other aristocrats, specially precious creations, golden bearers of God’s love to man, blessed gifts of the infatuated Father to his children — all of which had to be sumptuously housed and richly entertained; these were located in the choicest places the interiors of the Family could furnish: in the lungs, in the heart, in the brain, in the kidneys, in the blood, in the guts. In the guts particularly. The great intestine was the favorite resort. There they gathered, by countless billions, and worked, and fed, and squirmed, and sang hymns of praise and thanksgiving; and at night when it was quiet you could hear the soft murmur of it. The large intestine was in effect their heaven. They stuffed it solid; they made it as rigid as a coil of gaspipe. They took pride in this.

Their principal hymn made gratified reference to it:

Constipation, O Constipation,
The Joyful sound proclaim
Till man’s remotest entrail
Shall praise its Maker’s name”

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A Silent Message Goes Ignored?

The sneezing panda is no longer just ‘a video on YouTube’, it is its own entity. Still just as popular six years after it was posted, it has been copied and mimicked, described and deciphered, adapted and moulded, gazed at, shared, and consumed. The sneezing panda has become so commonplace that to millions of people all around the world it is instantly clear which sneezing panda you are speaking of, such is the tidal wave of interest.

The original Sneezing Baby Panda video has been watched millions of times on YouTube and some of the copycat videos or edits of the original have also been viewed by the thousands in their own right. However, when a message is added to the video and a serious subject raised, viewing figures struggle to take off.

This video from the WWF is an excellent example. They have been a receiver of the sneezing panda video and understood its power. Having watched the video surge around the Internet for five years, in 2011 they took this energy and used it to hold up a mirror to this activity.

Their video is simple, sophisticated, and beautifully executed.

Watch right to the end.

Also read the comments. Compared to the 125,000 comments so far on the original video, this one only has eleven comments in one year and there are positives and negatives in equal measure: from “f*** off mate, i wanted to see a sneezing panda!” to “Nice meme appropriation! :)”.

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Copy Cat Sneezing Pandas

As paulmkelly says, you know when an animal video has gone viral because it inspires a multitude of copycat videos. Here’s his ode to the Sneezing Baby Panda and there are many, many more…

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