Category Archives: Responses from us

The Animals Remain Silent

Throughout the course of The Sneezing Pandas Project, an open portfolio piece as an ode to the famous Sneezing Baby Panda video on YouTube, we were led in an ‘otherworldly’ direction; pockets of other worlds on the Internet where animals exist in alien spaces and complex networks. Images of animals and other representations of them have been adapted and moulded to our own tastes.

Fluid in our communal affections.

We explored our own feelings about the Sneezing Baby Panda and associated online animal content through human heads, sculpted from clay. We added water, paper, and personality. We considered the words they might say, the guise they might portray, and their manifestation of the experience of other species.

Others added to the project with their own distinct considerations for our investigation and we thank each and every one of them for contributing. We even heard from one of the owners of the original footage, Lesley Hammond of Wild Candy, and discovered they are currently shooting a feature film about the Sneezing Baby Panda pandemic, such has been its appeal.

We have worked with other artists, great in their work and even greater in their courtesy, allowing us to use their thoughts and ideas to enhance The Sneezing Pandas Project. Thank you.

And what difference could there be? The animals remain silent. Regardless of our artistic nuances or our conversation; our considerations and our talking heads, in fact we cannot find an ‘answer’ – not that there was ever one to find.

Our reasoning is reflected in comments we received this week from mellowhippet in response to our blog about animal voices and a Pancake the cat “meowsic” video:

“The main criticism here is of course, not being able to speak with animals, we speak for them. For me, the most exciting bit of the Pancake one is when he presses on one note for a long time and looks around wildly for the sound. That to me is more authentic than someone who has dubbed meow sounds over Pancake’s behaviour + his immediate environment.”

-mellowwhippet

In essence, we discover only ourselves.

Where the artists behind The Sneezing Pandas Project have worked with, studied, blogged about, and sculpted other animals, these endeavours merely tell us more about ourselves.

Here we begin. If we want change. Movement. Consideration.

To end, we’d like to give the Sneezing Baby Panda a voice. Thanks to Lesley Hammond we now know that the baby panda is a boy. He was born at Wolong breeding centre in China – sadly his mother, Mao Mao, who also features in the video is no longer alive, victim to the 2008 earthquake that hit the region.

Mao Mao

Mao Mao

You can read more about Mao Mao and her son at sneezingbabypanda.com.

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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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Paper Over the Cracks

We’ve been covering our clay heads in paper ready for the next artistic exploration. Covering up the cracks on the He/She Head as we went along the process became really satisfying. Just as the original head was neotenised to represent what is often more attractive to people, we papered over imperfections that often lead to less interest.

Cracks

Cracks

This very basic level of satisfaction that came from something as simple as covering over the dark areas of clay still showing on our domesticated head could be a physical representation of our lives online: papering over the cracks, escaping reality, and projecting something the way in which we want it to be seen.

Purifying. Perfecting. Beautifying?

Sculpting our own ideals.

Do we then take more pleasure from it?

Covered

Covered

With music playing in the background, along came what seemed like an optimal time to video the process. It is in no way meant to have a professional finish or represent anything in particular, it simply documents art in progress and for us a turn in direction with the project, having become quite fond of our talking heads.

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So, What of our Wild Man?

We’ve been working on the second head in our domestication pocket of the project; our He/She Head complete. The He Head, which could be seen in its neotenised state as a She Head is in need of stark contrast to help us reach further in to our thoughts about beauty and repulsion.

Why is juvenilisation in animals often more attractive to people?

Why are those animals shared, liked and commented on more?

We considered what is the opposite of neotony.

Besides the smaller eyes, the hairy face and the ‘wild’ exterior, we also considered the popular Mark Twain quote that sparked a number of comments, and the ideas we have already explored around parasites, dermatological diseases and other physical marks on a face that make it less appealing to others, both on and offline.

Our wild man is taking shape:

Wild Man 1

Wild Man 1

Wild Man 2

Wild Man 2

Wild Man 3

Wild Man 3

How do you feel about him?

As we begin to grimace by the wild man’s appearance, Katherine explains more about the process of creating him and the thought process behind her work:

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Communication Confines

Katherine and Natalie discuss where the project is heading. We’ve been looking at neoteny (juvenilisation) and are using two portrait heads to examine domestication. Katherine has now successfully domesticated, or neotenised, one of these in to the He/She Head.

Now, how about we start a conversation?

If one of our figures is ‘wild’ and one is domesticated, what would they say to one another?

How do the issues we’ve been discussing relate to one another?

Attractive vs Repulsive | Online vs Offline | Cyborg vs Human | Robot vs Real

Do we idolise the perfect, robotic, manipulated ‘reality’ of one world, but prefer the flawed, human, down to earth reality in everyday life?

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The He/She Head

The result of the domestication of a clay head is altogether removed from the starting point:

Viral Pandas | Clay Head | Domestication Studies    Viral Pandas | Clay Head | Domestication Studies

You’ll see that in relation to our neoteny studies, the eyes are larger, the skin smooth and hair free, the forehead larger and the nose smaller.

Is it just me, or is the domesticated head more appealing?

Are you drawn to look more at this one?

To look for longer?

Does it look more female to you?

Katherine explains more about the proportions of the domesticated head and, as she was working on it, the influence of the Uncanny Valley submission on making things look hyper real. In the digital world it seems the more neotenous and the more familiar (domesticated) an animal is; the more popular.

You can watch the morphing of the original head in to the domesticated head in this video:

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Domestication of a Clay Head

The Covenant of the Wild by Stephen Budiansky is a book both Katherine and Natalie have read and enjoyed. It leads us to Viral Pandas ideas around domestication and appeal.

What draws us to certain animals over others?

What is it that attracts us most?

Budiansky describes the climatic and environmental changes that set the stage for domestication. He provides evidence that domestication, like the development of agriculture, was a gradual process and not a revolutionary idea. He also describes the mechanisms by which domestication may have taken place, centering on the phenomenon of neoteny (or juvenilisation). This is a characteristic of domesticated animals where juvenile traits, like docility, are sustained in to the adult life of the animal [Source].

Physical features play a part in juvenilisation and pugs are a classic example – incredibly popular for their large, wide eyes; small size, and look of vulnerability, they can often inspire mothering instincts from human owners. In the same way, human adult features like a small nose and jaw, a hairless body and face, larger eyes, and a flattened, broader face are all considered neotenous, inspiring the same instincts.

We decided it might be interesting to domesticate a clay head.

Because Katherine‘s teaching methods are demonstration based, she often has unfinished portrait heads in her studio, and so she sets to work with this one, shown here in its original form.

Viral Pandas | Clay Head | Domestication Studies

There are two of these heads, which will be used, as part of The Sneezing Pandas Project to explore domestication and wild; perhaps attraction and repulsion at the same time.

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Parasitic Perfection

Popular animal imagery is usually humorous or cute and we’re very much interested in the idea of perfection. In all walks of life the flawless, easy-on-the eye vision is oftentimes accepted more easily over what is deemed unattractive. For animals it is no different. Large eyes and lots of fur, therefore vulnerability and a ‘cuddly’ appearance makes charismatic megafauna like panda bears, polar bears and gorillas – that is animals with enormous appeal to humans, incredibly popular viewing.

Is this just a reality or is it shallow?

Crossing over many disciplines and a subject with many age-old questions, we’ve become most enamoured by the idea of repulsion and rejection.

We’ve been considering the antithesis of beauty.

We’ve started to look at imagery of animals infected with mites, ticks and other parasitic organisms. Why? Well, the parasitic organisms essentially feed from the animals that are unwittingly playing host to them. This starts to beg questions about infestation, virus, and contagion – the very idea for the Sneezing Pandas Project. These animals we see online are not shared and cross-posted around the web; viewing figures tell us what others wish to see and this is clearly not it. Such images won’t get the social networker a Repin, a Like or a Retweet and advertisers know this too.

The Cadbury’s advert with the drumming gorilla immediately springs to mind.

Is this advert a parasite in itself? Feeding off our own affections?

Is it just a clever piece of marketing?

Or is it both of these things?

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