In my online interactive narrative piece, Comp-y, the main intent is to inform people about the concept of exploiting life for monetary gain. This is an critical issue happening in the American society. The project allows the viewer to explore this topic in an amusing way while also giving them a opportunity to explore the process of photo manipulation. As an artist, I use photography to create the majority of my art pieces, and I often work in Photoshop as a way of processing my images. Comp-y allows viewers to attempt photo manipulation and give them the opportunity to compose an imaginative story for their artistic creation.
The idea of life used for commercial profit is a concept that I have been interested in since I took a social anthropology class in 2009. I am also interested in this topic because my twin sister, Shannon Jones, is an environmental science major and is currently working on her Master’s degree at Texas Christian University. She was able to give me real life insight as to this how this idea is currently affecting our society. When interviewing her for information about my project, she gave me an environmental perspective on how commoditizing life – people, animals, and plants – have mainly negative consequences and encourages anthropocentric thinking. Some of the immediate consequences include a poor quality of life, pollution, and death. Long term repercussions include extinction and depletion of resources. Since modern American society is extremely structured around commercial industry and a Capitalist economy, I wanted to use this project to allude to these issues.
Nearly all of my art pieces are narrative and reference fictional literature. For this project, I was inspired by the fictional novel, Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton. The main plot of the story revolves around a paleontologist, Dr. Grant, who had been hired by a millionaire to impart information about the theories on the behavioral patterns of dinosaurs. Dr. Grant is kept in the dark as to what his information is being used for until the millionaire invites Grant and his colleague to visit a secluded private island. The paleontologist soon discovers that his benefactor has hired a team of geneticists, biologists, wildlife specialists, computer specialists, and others to engineer modern day dinosaurs and construct a zoo like theme park for the creations. The animals were developed using dinosaur DNA, which had been extracted from preserved prehistoric blood sucking insects fossilized in amber, and then combined with reptile DNA to fill in the missing parts. Dr. Grant is at first amazed by project but as the story unfolds, he soon becomes wary of the millionaire’s intent. Crichton constantly reminds the reader that since the project is largely driven by the want to maximize profits and by the scientist wanting to produce a lasting name for themselves, the operation ends up tragically failing. The investors had ignored the simple fact that life is not a commodity and that the dinosaur creations could not be controlled because life inherently wants to be free. The millionaire and most of those working for him did not view their creations as living creatures but rather as an investment in the biggest money making scheme in the world – a dinosaur resort vacation park. In the end, all of the short-sighted, profit-driven creators ended up perishing along with their gluttonous dreams. Those who survived were the ones who were able to understand the dinosaurs as a living creatures.
Throughout the novel, the author uses the absurd idea of creating a dinosaur theme park to demonstrate the short sightedness behind corporations, rich business men, and most scientist.
Ian Malcolm, a character that is a mathematician who was also employed to be a part of the millionaire’s team, is the sound of reason throughout the novel. He warns of the catastrophic failure that will befall the Jurassic Park project because its makers are only concerned with prominence and profit. He states that
“Science has attained so much power that its practical limits begin to be apparent. Largely, through science, billions of us live in one small world, densely packed and intercommunicating. But science cannot help us decide what to do with that world, or how to live.”
This quote insinuates the main theme of the novel that life is inherently free while also suggesting that scientist need to understand the consequences of their discoveries. I liken this understanding to the Utopian theory that information wants to be free and how the internet is based on this concept. The need for a critical view of scientific advances has also been written about since the origins of computing machines. Many of the founders of the computer movement and networking theories, such as Vannevar Bush, the administrator of the Manhattan Project, believed that computers should be modeled after the human thought process and used to further human intellect. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, expresses how the internet “was delved to be a pool of human knowledge, which would allow collaborators in remote sites to share their ideas” to work towards a common goal. Crichton’s warning about scientific negligence is also analogous to Norbert Wiener’s warning in his essay ‘Men, Machines, and the World About’. Norbert Wiener developed a cybernetic system about how humans and computers respond to each other and is often referred to as the “father of cyborgs”. In his writings, although optimistic about human and machines working symbiotically, he warns that “we should not worship the gadget and sacrifice the human being to it” but rather to be critical in our approach and understand of the machine. Jack Burnham, an artist and writer on art and technology is the author of “Notes on Art and Information Processing” which parallels Burners-Lee’s warnings and expresses how information technologies, such as software, needs a critical view from the art world in order to fully understand its applications. The interconnectivity between art, science, industry refers to my project’s use and evaluation of all three of these aspects.
Recent Internet Art, mainly categorized as Software Art, is a response to the corporate world and how it wants to control the flow of information. I wanted to create an online fictional story that becomes a parody of the idea of life as a commodity. My work illustrates the post-millennium internet because it focuses primarily on the commercial aspect of the internet, as opposed to 90’s net.art, which is mainly centered around the functions and interface of the world wide web. Today, many websites that are created for the purpose of categorizing information and aiding in research also help to fund multinational corporations through ad space or business partnering. The project is also grounded in the current time, 2012, because the concept of creating hybrid animals is already a topic that is currently being explored. The idea of creating a dinosaur-like hybrid species does not appear to be something that is too far beyond today’s technological reaches. Recently a hybrid lizard that is an all female species that reproduces though cloning itself was bred in the lab. Scientist Aracely Lutes bred the hybrid lizard by crossing the Chihuahuan Spotted Whiptail with the Western Whiptail. Many other hybrid animals are generally extremely rare in the wild but have become increasingly more common because of human influence. Not only scientist have explored the idea of creating new species, artist have also explored the idea of generating new species through computer coding that references DNA (biological coding) and the evolutionary process. In “SERIOA2A”, artist William Latham composed prints from a genetic based program that produces artificial organisms that are the result of mutation and natural selection.10 My project also explores genetics and allows viewers to create a still image. Another artist who explores genetic mutations is Michael Rees. In his project “A Life Series 002”, Rees uses rapid prototyping to create sculptures that are abnormal yet strangely familiar in the sense that they reference the human body. Likewise, my project takes two easily recognized animals, the chicken and the lizard, and combines them in a strange way while also attempting to create an animal that is familiar enough to be believable. I created this digital animal to create a new life form that relates to the storyline. This process also references Nancy Burson’s “Beauty Composites” created in 1982. The artist generated digital prints from morphing actresses faces together to question the idea of beauty and identity. Similar to my project, Burson’s works also questions the Capitalist economy and like many artist working during her time frame, her projects can be seen as a commentary about the artistic process and how much it is informed by the commercial industry. This alludes back to Norbert Wiener’s writings about how science, art, and the corporate world are so closely related and how together they give meaning to our society.
Comp-y is comprised of a fictional story about how a genetic company created the Gallosaurus in a laboratory. The title of my project was chosen so that it can have significance and add insight into the project’s objective. Comp is an internet slang term and an abbreviation for computer. Since computers are essential to my project, and to the Digital Art process as a whole, the title is referencing that correlation. With computers came the birth of the digital image which I also use in my project. Geoffery Bachen, a curator and professor at Victoria University, comments on how the widespread introduction of digitally processed images allows for fake photographs to be passed off as real ones. Although the picture I created through photo manipulation was meant to be a believable animal, I understand that my users would most likely be novices in the process and therefore their resulting image will look artificial and computer generated. The title is also a play off the word “Compy”. In Jurassic Park, one of the dinosaurs recreated by the millionaire’s genetics team was the Compsognathus. The Compsognathus was a small chicken like carnivore of the late Jurassic period. In the book, the dinosaur was often abbreviated as “Compy”. The animal I have created was a dinosaur-like creature that is approximately chicken size. I fabricated a story about how a genetics lab, generically titled A-Genetic Research Laboratory for comical purposes, engineered a creature called a Gallosaurus. Gallus16 is the Latin word for rooster and in biology, Galliforme is the the scientific classification for the species order of ground feeding birds, which includes the chicken and the turkey. “Saurus” is Greek for lizard or reptile and commonly used in dinosaur names. I created a composite animal on Photoshop by combing images of a chicken and a blue collard lizard. I chose these two animals because of the common scientific theory that both birds and reptiles are have evolved from the same prehistoric ancestor – dinosaurs. My twin sister also suggest this idea of combining chicken DNA with lizard DNA since these species are genetically very similar and a comparable project could be attempted by real geneticist in the near future.
My project is published as a story, http://kjon172.wix.com/comp-y. The front page of the website is simple layout. The top left-hand corner of the page has the company name, A-Genetics Research Company, displayed. Centered underneath the title is a menu navigation which includes the buttons “Home”, “About”, “Publications”, and “Invest & Contact”. The center of the website welcomes the viewer to the site and has a brief one sentence description about the company itself. The “About” section has a mission statement for the company, and the “Publications” page has two news blurbs, published in the future, that give a little bit of background about the project. On the “Invest & Contact” page a description of Comp-y is given. The page also provides instructions on how the project works. Users are able to download a .jpg file of my composite creation by saving the file to their computer. Users are then encouraged to manipulate the image with photo editing software. I have provided a link to a website where users can download free versions of photo editing software if they do not already have access to a program. I then instructed the reader to go to a Facebook page to post their picture and story of their creation. Included at the bottom of the all the pages is links to “Contact Information”, “Legal Disclaimer”, and “Private policy” which all open up to the “Invest & Contact” page. This website linked to another website I created which aims to sell the creature I assembled. This site, http://kjon172.wix.com/gallosaurus, mimics pet stores and dog breeder websites. The Home page has the exclamation “Dinosaur Pets!” in the top left-hand corner and also has a navigation menu underneath with the buttons “Home!”, “About Gallosaurus!”, “Get Your Own!”, and “Blog!”. On the home page, underneath a clip art stegosaurus image, is a paragraph reminding the reader how it is every little kid’s dream to own a pet dinosaur in an attempt to persuade the viewer to buy a Gallosaurus as a pet. The commercial aspect of my project references another art project from Etoy. Etoy is an artist group that resembles a corporation. They issue etoy.SHARES which mimics the stock market system and allows viewers to buy and sell fake stocks. The bottom of the page has hypertext that say “Contact Us”, “About Us”, and “To Learn More” that are linked to the “Invest & Contact” page on the A-Genetics Research Company’s website. Under the tab “About Gallosaurus!” I offered an image as well as behavioral insights, such as species specifications, food, and care, from “breeders” when the creatures were observed in the research labs. The tab “Get Your Own!” states that the animal can be ordered only in the contiguous United States and takes about 4-6 weeks to ship. I included a “buy now” Paypal button that is not linked to anything so that the viewer can not actually go through with the purchase. I included this aspect to emphasize the idea of purchasing this new life form. On the last page in the website, “Blog!”, I direct the viewer to read other’s experiences with their pet. I include a link to a Facebook group where users can easily post pictures and stories about their creations.
The project could have been improved in several ways. One of the main manners in which the project could have been improved would have been through allowing myself to gain a better understanding of coding before executing the project. Since I am a visual learner, my experience with coding is limited and I find it difficult to decrypt. I have done some very basic coding in the past, but it usually took me a few days to complete a relatively simple task. More complex codes would take me at least a few weeks to produce. For my project I used the website, wix.com, to create both of my sites because this allowed me to use visual cues rather than code to create the websites. However, there were drawbacks to this approach. I could only use limited templates and could not manipulate the websites to do specific task, such as have a download box for the image or post a blog directly to the website. If I were more familiar with coding, I would have liked to create my own website on Dreamweaver. I would also like to write a code for a photo manipulating software program specific to my project. Another idea that I would have liked to execute was to create a 3D version of my animal so that it could be seen in 360 degrees and modified so that the user can manipulate the animal easily and merge into their background image more seamlessly. I also had trouble with the blog aspect of my project. I could have benefited from taking the time to better understand blogs. I was originally going to use the blogging website wordpress.com to allow users to post their stories and photos. However, I did not realize that users could not create their own post to the blog without being an Administrator or Contributor. I also did not realize that users could not post pictures into the comments section until one participant notified me of the problem. After researching more about blogs and how to correct the problem without making it too complicated for people to participate, I decided to use a Facebook group for the blog postings instead. However, before I did this, I had to think about the benefits and consequences of adding a social network component to the project. Since the project already has comical overtones about keeping a dinosaur as a pet, I thought that the social network aspect could add to this humor by alluding to how some Facebook users religiously post pictures and updates about their pets. Some users have even created Facebook pages for their pets and create updates and friend requests for them. Since I am using a fake animal and requiring users post blatantly synthetic images, it also brings to mind false profiles and bogus information that can be posted and shared through such sites. Although users may be friends in real life, Facebook generates an artificial and counterfeit extension of that friendship. Social networking also creates an artificial perception of being social. During a discussion brought up in a Digital Art History class I am currently taking, I realized that people who use such sites are narrowing rather than broadening their access to new information when using the internet. They fulfill this by only adding “friends” who share a similar views about the world on social networks and by accessing websites that confirms their worldly view rather than challenges it. My project attempts to blend reality with the synthetic by manipulating real animals into an imaginary one, and then having real people put the creation into a real life setting, followed by the people using an avatar (or an artificial extension of themselves) to post the image to a social website. The social network aspect of Comp-y also brings to mind one of the main questions of my project, which is how the commercialization of life – specifically people when referring to social networking – is affecting our society. Most people using social networking sites such as Facebook do not realize that they are being used to add money to the paychecks of the extremely wealthy. By using social networking in my project, I added another layer of meaning to farther reference theses problems of commercialization.
The project is meant to be a fun interaction but also a reminder to the viewers to question and consider the consequences of a Capitalist economy and how the internet is currently established to fuel the system. The project also brings to mind the question of life and it’s exploitation through the profit-driven American society. Like the millionaire in Crichton’s book, I also wanted to create a modern day dinosaur. However, I modeled my creation from Ian Malcolm statement so that my artistic creation can be a warning to my viewers about the effects of unregulated science and industry, as well as the repercussions of American consumerism.
Below are examples of images viewers uploaded:
To create your own:
Right click on the image download your own Gallosaurus:
Save image as. Save the image to download it.
Take a cropped screen shot of the image:
Mac Users – Command-Shift-4
Windows Users – press the Print Screen Key, then use (command + v) to paste the image.
2) Use image editing software to manipulate the image to recreate a story of your Gallosaurus.
-You may also use your own Chicken and Blue Collared Lizard images to create your own Gallosaurus image!
-If you do not have photo editing software already installed on your computer, I have provided a list of
free photo editing software available for downloading.