Comment: Cows Belong in Fields

Thanks Nicola for a fantastic comment on our WWF post. She posts the recent Compassion in World Farming video, Cows Belong in Fields, and looks at the comments. Great find!

Nicola’s comment

Looks like Compassion in World Farming was more successful than the attempt by WWF to go viral for animals… almost a million views of their dancing cow video to show how “happy” cows are when outside…

And they’ve got lots of media coverage too…

La Republica
Huffington Post
Right This Minute

Comments interesting…

“Ahhh! I don’t want to eat cow anymore! They’re adorable!!”

directly underneath this comment:

“They look so delicious”

But I guess the video at least gets people thinking / talking about their relationship with cows… one way or the other…

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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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Cyborg Conversations in Uncanny Valley

Contributor, David Joy, has shared some videos with us about Uncanny Valley, which we find fascinating. The term was coined by Masahiro Mori, a robotics professor who designed and built a robot to look and behave exactly like himself. The robot is, for want of a better word, freaky.

The uncomfortable sensation that hits us when watching the robot, which looks just like a human, moves like a human, sounds like a human, but we know definitely isn’t a human, puts us in the Uncanny Valley. It’s the gap between successfully attributing something that isn’t human with familiar human features that people find endearing and the total inability to tell the difference between a robot and a human. It’s the ability to tell that something so close to being human is not human, which jars the mind.

The following video was a particularly interesting depiction of Uncanny Valley and relates well to our project. The video, although it is not about a real human being, is really quite sad.

Perhaps it reflects our view of watching animals online?

Don’t think, and we don’t want you to feel.

Perhaps watching animals digitally online distances us so far from the real animal being that we needn’t be concerned for its welfare, we simply want it to entertain us. Does all sense of reality slip under the radar in our digital, cyborg conversation?

More about Mori and Uncanny Valley at WIRED.

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Breaking the Herd

We’ve received our first submissions from David Joy. Thanks David for diving in and getting us started! He references a video that was also on our list of ‘greatest viral videos ever’ … and I need say only one word:


This video of a dog chasing deer in Richmond Park went viral at the end of last year, but perhaps the male owner of the dog was the real star of the show.

We’re accustomed to a high level of control and social order, especially in public spaces like Richmond Park, and rules are written for animals too. To see such a blatant shunning of these regulations by a dog, who is of course oblivious to any notion of public order is perhaps alarming at first, but unexpected and thrilling viewing. However, it is the strong reaction from the dog’s owner who recognises and is panicked by this break away from order that most entertains us. He knows what lies ahead; he sees the cars, he visualises the fallout – he surely feels responsibility for the potential disaster that looms ahead. A comment on the video from one viewer suggested that dogs can be shot here if they aren’t under this expected control and whether or not this is correct, just the idea of it is enough to send the owner in to a frenzy. So habitual is our understanding of this sense of order that any move away from it escalates a sense of chaos.

The dog is meanwhile carefree and tearing across the field.

Do we all enjoy a break from social control?

Do we all want to be Fenton?

'Dogs must be kept on a lead' by Natalie Gilbert

‘Dogs must be kept on a lead’ by Natalie Gilbert

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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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Sewing Machine and a Paper Panda

What does a sewing machine and a paper panda have to do with animals and the Internet?

At the beginning of the project we spoke a lot about viruses spreading, spiders webs, and interlinking threads, and wondered if these threads created any patterns. Like a tapestry or like the chains in a spider’s web, do links across the Internet form a sequence? This is something we’ll examine alongside the development of the project.

As these threads form with each new upload or each new Share, what does this mean for the animal featured in the post. Like fame, does the thread feed popularity? Like a placenta, does the digital thread feed interest in the animal – concern, even – to keep it alive? And just like fame, when this interest subsides or when a new star is featured, does the once famous animal suffer at the hands of a fickle fad?

Following our initial brainstorm for the Sneezing Pandas Project, we created a paper panda and dug out an old sewing machine from the back of the cupboard. We connection the panda to the sewing machine and set the scene to music. When the light started to flicker we built this in to the scene. Then, since the sound of a sewing machine drumming felt so melodic, yet threatening at the same time, we recorded a second video using only this sound and the flickering light.

Will panda live or die?

Consider how our online activity affects an animal offline.

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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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