Archive for the ‘Animals People and those Inbetween’ Category
For all intents and purposes, the title has changed to Body Island at the suggestion of someone who convinced me that it’s more interesting to have the elements in the work be seen as symbolic of other things. If it’s just about rats it’s not as interesting. Good suggestion for this piece, as well as a good reminder for how to approach things in art, in general.
Body Island (working title) is a live-recorded video piece created through an ensemble performance with live rats. The main objective is to produce a stand-alone video work that will outlive the performance, and can be shown in lieu of the performance. The structure of the event is similar to a television show with a live studio audience, except the live viewers of Body Island will not have ‘applause’ signs, only the quiet reflection of their own and others’ reactions. The event and resulting video work challenge the existing relationships between performance and documentation.
The main performer, a bodybuilder playing the role of demigod, is concealed inside a structure shaped like a quarter pyramid. The performer has no contact with the live viewers, and the viewers can only see the performer through live-feed video of the activities within. The camera crew shoots through portholes in the exterior; their actions and decisions are exposed. The camera crew has been directed to choreograph their movements to reflect the performance events emerging in the cinematographic style of wildlife documentary. Decision-making on their part is improvisatory, reactive. A director of photography is editing the video feeds in real-time, which are then projected onto the wall for the viewers to observe and discuss. The final video product will be the outcome of the event.
The opinions of the viewers are emphasized in the resulting video work. The viewers can see the activity behind the walls only through the camera feeds. Microphones are hidden throughout the space to capture the viewers’ conversations about the work. The comments and impressions will be overlaid as a soundtrack to the culminating video. The viewers of Body Island and their articulated opinions have a hand in the creation of meaning in the work. Thus, this performance serves two sets of audiences; live viewers, and the video audience who will then experience the camera feeds as well as the live viewers’ reactions. The performance setting and audience are there as a way to create a context, a driving external component contained within the frame of the video.
The final edit of the live-feed will be composed in real-time by the camera crew; the resulting video work will be the only substantial remnant of the performance.
HOW (60 min):
Viewers entering the space are confronted by set of cages containing brown rats. Two rat wranglers stand on the other side of the cages, in a fenced in area. A free-standing structure, a quarter pyramid, occupies the center of the space. Three video camera operators are situated in turrets built into the exterior of the pyramid structure at different heights, facing inward. Two more camera operators rove the space. A director of photography sits at a table away from the pyramid watching the feeds from the three pyramid cameras, editing them live, and directing the camera operators over headset. Video projections on the walls display the edited live feeds. The live feeds show the interior of the pyramid: a grungy, tiled room reminiscent of a miniaturized communal shower. A small Dutch door is set into one of the pyramid faces. Among miniature sailboats and bits of trash that litter the tiled room lies the bodybuilder, face-down and unmoving. The entire surface of his body is re-skinned in latex. A pig’s carcass pocketed with holes that lead into the chest cavity is strapped to his back with a tiny saddle.*
The bodybuilder plays little gestural games inside the communal shower. The scaled down tiles and shower heads makes him appear enormous. He mumbles to himself, and engages in a score of improvised micro-movements. The camera feeds show him from various angles.
As though staging a ceremonial rite, the rat wranglers put one rat after another down a tube set into the base of the pyramid like an anus. The projection of the live video feeds shows rats emerge one by one from a crack in the tiles and enter the shower room. The rats explore the contents of the room, returning to the obscured face of the performer over and over again. Some rats venture into the folds and holes of the pig carcass. The bodybuilder talks to the rats, asking them questions. He tries out different parts of the room. After some time, murky water begins to seep into the room through cracks in the tiles. To escape the water, the rats have no choice but to clamor aboard the performer. The water level rises to about six inches and stops, transforming the performer’s body into an island landscape, restructuring social interaction in the new post-catastrophe state.
The bodybuilder and the rats co-exist in the reshaped environment. Miniature sailboats float among the trash and echoing sounds. Over time the human island shifts imperceptibly, forcing the rats to adapt to the changing landscape. The rats have to negotiate the limited real-estate provided by the performer’s body. Time passes and the water eventually empties out of the shower room through a drain in the floor. The bodybuilder opens the Dutch door and plucks a towel hanging from the exterior of the pyramid. One by one he dries the rats and places them in an antechamber located behind several tiles. End.
Despite the limitations placed on the rats and the performer by the controlled environment, the core of the work rests on capturing the unpredictable interaction between the performers, the camera units’ adaptation to those interactions, and the viewers’ articulated impressions.
The rats are hired actors, brown rats identical to the kind of reviled rats one might see in the subway or on the street at night, but hand-raised and accustomed to direct contact with humans. Neither the bodybuilder nor the rats are playing to their stereotypes. Using rat actors, as opposed to city rats, lessens the tension between the hoard (rat) and the individual (human) while pushing perceptions of unsanitary and menacing conditions. The interaction is portrayed with as much neutrality as possible to elicit a range of responses from the viewers.
*The pig carcass may simply be a structure reminiscent of a carcass skinned with pig hide.
Looking for a space!!
Some criteria that would be great:
-Capacity for 50+ people
-A place to fill up a 45cu/ft cistern
-A place to drain water
-Walls good for projections would be great
-Animal friendly and food/drink allowed
-At least 11′ ceilings
-3 days install, 1 evening performance, +1 more day break-down
-February dates (2nd week is best)
-Central location is preferred, i.e. Manhattan, easy for people to get to
I’m thinking it could be a space that has a few dark days between shows. If it fits the criteria above it doesn’t have to be a notorious space– it could be a gutted apartment or whatever.
I almost dropped the entire rat project. The semester ended and I felt empty, like I hadn’t accomplished what I’d set out to do (rat costume, documentary, among others). Then summer started and lots of other tasks shifted my priorities away… but in the back of my head, and in my dreams, rats lurked on.
The rat dreams I’ve had this summer have had rats cast as independent friends, or as a group I’m responsible for, creatures to take care of and watch out for. In one dream I protected baby and adult rats escaping from two plastic bags from my parents’ cats, who are mouse killers. The rats in my dreams have been benign, even benevolent, yet uncontrollable.
The Rat Island video idea has percolated back to the front of my consciousness. I really want to do it, even if it’s the swan song of rats in my work. The peripheral logistics are not terribly complex. The most complicated part of realizing this project is designing and setting up the structure to ensure the safety of the rats, and myself, and to ensure that those practicalities do not interfere with the [undeveloped] vision for what the whole thing means. It’s not a very deep idea right now. I need to make some drawings…
New developments: While I’m still undecided about the details of the interior/exterior design of the structure I’ll build, and the costume, I’ve come to the conclusion that the video shoot should be a live performance. Basic elements of live performance are essential to how I choose to engage people as an artist. I’m interested in how live performance and documentation can be inseparable and rely on each other. I’m interested in residue.
The structure containing the rats, myself, and the water will be in the middle of the room, with three camera operators and two rat trainers positioned around. The interior of the structure will not be visible to the viewers. There will be a live feed from the three cameras projected into the space, or maybe onto the structure itself. The event will be treated more like an opening than a theatrical performance, serving stale or half-eaten food, and half-consumed wine and beer. Viewers will be able to walk around and converse however they like. Hopefully the video projections and structure will be conversation starters. The room will be mic’d and so those conversations can be layered onto the video composition I’ll create from the footage of the three cameras. I think I might move around a little more in the chamber as well.
Just ideas. Press onward.
“I know of no one thing so universally detested, or so unjustly charged with everything that is foul, treacherous, and disgusting, as the rat.” –James Rodwell (aka Uncle James), The Rat: It’s History and Destructive Character, 1858
(Link to the video on Blip)
What is it about rats that makes people hate them?
I’m asking you. Most people say it’s the tail, or disease, or that they’re greedy and quickly outnumber us, or some combination. I am interested in understanding rats as more than these fear-based surface attributes. I’m also interested in understanding rats as a threat to our way of life, and why efforts to eradicate them have been so wide-spread, long-standing, and unsuccessful. I don’t have any answers, even after all the research and work I’ve done in the last few months. If nothing else, I have more questions.
Rats, specifically Rattus Norvegicus (AKA the brown rat AKA sewer rat AKA wharf rat AKA the Norway Rat) live because we support them. They are our pets, our laboratory heroes, our dark half scuttling through our garbage. I have to ask myself, where does my interest in rats come from? Being our more uncivilized neighbors marks rats as a reflection of our ways and attitudes. Being a close genetic relative proves useful to our scientific quests. Rat bodies are boundary breaking. They fit neatly into the physical and analogous boxes we describe for them in some contexts, and yet we cannot control them in others. They have a dark vitality we cannot overcome. Simply put: they are awesome. I am in awe of them.
Rat Island, the video above, is an effort to show rats (as represented by an individual) in what I hope is an unfamiliar light. The tub is grungy. The rat is a fancy rat: Russian Blue, rex fur, Dumbo, yet still Rattus Norvegicus. I am an island upon which the rat is trapped. The island is also a boon for the rat, who would be swimming in the water otherwise, with drowning as a real risk. For the first time, as a performer I disappear with little effort, all the focus is on the rat.
This video will be scaled up, with more rats and a larger container. It may be a companion video rather than treating this first one as a sketch. I may be looking to have the scaled up video emphasize different elements, for example, the interaction between the rats. Their reaction to me as an inanimate object, and their reaction to their situation will still be important. Will they fight? Will males and females mate? I am less concerned about my own well-being, though I will likely spread a bad-tasting ointment on any exposed skin to prevent tasting/biting. As Molly aptly put it, “swarming creatures can easily become disgusting.”
(Link to the video on Blip).
We all have an inner rat. I understand my own inner rat through practicing not-knowing. To enable a different part of my consciousness I must restrict my anatomy and my orientation to the earth. Resistance and limitation beget new ideas. Self-knowledge through experimentation, I am the test subject. I cannot write a script, or build a structure to understand the inner rat, rather, those conscious choices are stripped away and replaced with action and reaction. Pre-conceived sets of boundaries, closed systems that elicit behavior, are the materials. Through repeated daily practice of these boundaries, for a duration, an understanding emerges. What at first might have seemed unfamiliar becomes habitual, what felt shallow becomes deep. I am creating a repository for new behavior, accessible at any time, that communicates the cumulative involution concerning all things Rat.
This video was the result of an hour or two of recording video in the forest with Sofy Yuditskaya. The next step for this part of the project is to work consistently in the studio, or another private space, until I have achieved a certain level of Ratness. At that point I will move the practice to the streets of NYC. This work is under development.
I intend to create a series of interactive sculptures and performances that double as footage for a video documentary about the problematic relationship between humans and wild rats in New York City. The performances will be informed by observing rats in their urban habitats. I will collect field data about rats through immersion. I will spend time watching rats, recording their activities, imagining the world from a height of three inches. In my preliminary plans one exciting question about creative research has already emerged: to what extent does the artist/researcher go to understand the subject? Once raw data has been collected, how might it be used in an artistic context? I will explore the notion of wildlife ethnography by embodying the data.
I plan to inhabit an anatomically correct rat costume and engage the public. The costume will be used for improvising behavior in a variety of contexts, from street interaction to installation, enacting scenarios that deal with duality in contemporary rats as perceived by humans: hated vermin or clever pet, intelligent adversary or negative force of nature. In chapter 10 of A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari develop the concept “becoming-animal” to capture the notion of human-animal relationships based on affinity rather than identity or imitation. I will inhabit this costume daily for a specific duration. Video and sound equipment embedded in the costume will provide me with an augmented reality, with all first-person POV encounters and activities recorded wirelessly to a computer, and possibly streamed live to the web. My assumption is that building a new skin will enable me to physically expand the boundaries of the data-conscious body as it exists in space. The broadcast performance, in addition to the live-stream rat burrows, will take the data collected in a specific site and distribute it virtually, thereby recasting the information as a non-local phenomenon.
Another aspect of the rat costume will be explored by making rudimentary rat body parts out of garbage and raw materials. These parts will be worn all at once, or alone, to help understand the form factor of a rat as it exists in space, to reference the ways in which rats sense and influence the environment around them, and comment on the problematic relationship we have with rats in New York– they live off of our trash. Their existence and ability to propagate directly correlates to our inability to keep our own environment free of refuse. As humans, refuse and waste are endemic to our existence. These garbage elements are a more poetic approach to embodying the rat, they don’t hide the human underneath, rather they seem to bring attention to the human condition of lower sensory resolution (except sight). One example is a oblong shape reminiscent of an analog TV antenna jutting from the top of my head: it speaks to the science fiction of human mind control (which is currently being done to rats in labs), as well as referencing the direct neural stimulation rats receive when their whiskers encounter an object in their environment.
Here is a link to my budget as of now. The project will move forward beyond the end of class, thus some elements are not included because they are as of yet unknown.
These are previous posts to my blog that outline a bit more detail for some of the mechanisms and wearables that I’ve been working on.
In order to bear the weight of my body and the entire rat costume without getting exhausted and TOTALLY sore, I’m building a partial exoskeleton that will relieve some of the load, even if it does end up limiting my ROM a bit. It’s still really basic. I have to make a wrist joint (I’m thinking torsion springs– from a rat snap trap!), secure things, and make a ball-and-socket-esque joint for the part that goes on my chest.
This mechanism will only bear my weight when I’m in a specific position, with the stock of the modified crutch aligned perfectly over the base, making a pillar. That’s tough to build onto a body that’s going to be moving around and changing orientation in relation gravity. Refining the relationship between the massive tension springs (Ace Hardware, $10) and the aluminum tubing will help the springs lock and prevent buckling. The shafts inside the spring are about 3 inches apart to allow for more flexion, with loose bolts preventing spring slippage along the shaft, but allowing slippage around the rotational axis. That means at the wrong orientation the springs easily buckle. Too many degrees of movement… must find the happy balance.
The spring on the rear side is placed lower on the shaft to allow for spiraling around my arm, similar to how our muscles spiral/wrap around our bones, which are also spirals. The whole dang human body is a collection of spirals. Eventually I want my hand to be completely free, not holding on to the handle of the crutch, so thumbs can operate the pan-tilt camera eyes and the fingers can puppeteer the rat fingers.
I’m imagining something similar to chest armor, but without the faux leather pants and pads, though I like the rigid plastic spine– good for mods. Right now the center of gravity falls into the crook of my arm, but if I modify that part into an L shape going towards my center, with a joint that allows weight bearing and a quarter sphere’s worth of ROM, and increase the surface area that interfaces with my chest, I can spread the load from one point to possibly my entire upper torso.
Below is the demo-video with a free stand. Imagine both arms having this mechanism.
General sketches, not much detail– it’s hard to imagine the detail of specific parts without having built much. Gotta start building. Four weeks left!
Inside the rat suit I’ll need supports and struts to build up the bulk that my body doesn’t have. The proportions of a rat are very different than that of a human. One-to-one from top to bottom, my feet end up in the rat’s balls, my pelvis in the stomach. The mobility and expressiveness of a rat’s head and upper torso are very important to maintain, so I will try to fill those spaces as much as I can with my own body parts. The lower half will not need to be as expressive. It’ll serve me well to create an ease to the functionality of the hind legs. My feet will be in the ankle, flexed on the toes, and the rest of my legs off-set from where the rat’s legs would have to go. I may have to fudge the position of my knee just to make it feasible to walk around in the suit. Then my ankle would be the rat’s ankle. The foot/leg joint would have torsion springs to make me bouncy and relieve strain. In order to sit upright as the rat without putting excess strain on my ankles and knees, I’d build in a hard chair-like block that I could sit on, and that would lend a rigidity to the lower spine/sacral area. The tail will likely need to be controlled by servos, and the servos in turn controlled by my hands.
Each hand will have a set of dual-axis potentiometers and buttons encased in some material (silicone most likely, for the flexibility and shock absorption) casted to fit my hand. One pair of potentiometers would control the pan-tilt servo camera eyes in parallel, and the other pot would control the expression of the ears, flat back to erect, rotate. The switches, or another pair of pots, would control the tail. The tail would have articulated vertebrae with excessive recoil controlled by torsion springs or extension springs, or both. The fingers will be articulated by track-wire system such that each of my fingers will have direct control over the tip of each rat finger. The hands, without electro-mechanical elements, will be gloves made of some durable, flexible, expressive material– silicone? Or something lighter weight with just the ground interfacing a really tough material. The back feet will also be made of this. Whatever part of the rat interfaces with the abrasive ground will need to be robust. Time to make a trip to the Materials Connexion…
Drawing human bodies over photos of rat skeletons or xrays is a good way to understand how the two anatomies intersect, or don’t.
After making two laps of the ITP floor on all fours, imagining I was in the heavy costume, getting out of breath and thirsty, pausing to listen and look, sniff and feel, I realized that I’ll need some kind of lightweight exoskeleton to relieve my arms of some of the strain and lactic acid build up that will occur quite quickly. In each of the joints will be a high torque torsion spring that will want to make the arms straight. It’ll add a spring to my foreleg steps. I shall need to train, as well. Cardio, strength, endurance, stamina. I guess it’s time to get back into shape… I hate the gym.
In 2006 I spent a lot of time as a dog. It was a different sense of the world. Not acting, or imitating, but actually being a dog. Becoming-dog. This was well before I’d heard of D&G (Deleuze and Gottari, not Dolce and Gabana). This will be good to do for rats too.