[ISEA2016] Artist Statement: Elena Knox — Pathetic Fallacy/Occupation/Lamassu Kentaurosu Wagyu

Artist Statement

Pathetic Fallacy
Single-channel video, stereo sound 2014, 4’17’’, Continuous Loop

Single-channel video, stereo sound, 2014, 4’57’’, Continuous Loop

Lamassu Kentaurosu Wagyu
Single-channel video, 2014, 0’54’’, Continuous Loop

“Pathetic Fallacy” is an inter-generational dialogue about growing old. Youth doesn’t believe it will age. Age believes it knows best. Humans believe in the pathos of humanity. And the cycle continues. The screenplay wraps the empathic notion of kokoro around the subject of aging: aging of humans, of women, of technologies, of matter, of robotic or cyborg assemblages. The piece is a ‘two-hander’ between an elderly woman and a ‘young’ ‘female’ android. A conventional mother-and-daughter or Julietand-Nurse figuration is applied to an unconventional scenario, as the video explores a new familial paradigm. Pathetic Fallacy was the first two-handed dialogue drama created for film/video involving an actroid (see, since, Fukada’s 2015 feature Sayonara). The English term ‘pathetic fallacy’ denotes the ascription of human traits or feelings to inanimate nature. In keeping with this theme, Actroid-F’s simple face-detection and face-tracking software are employed in its acting. This robot cannot currently distinguish between individual faces or ‘decide’ to follow a face; its decisions are made by humans via computer interface. However, it often fools its interlocutors into believing that it can make these determinations. It mimics the human development of empathy via neurobiological mirror-learning: visual emulation in face-to-face situations. Framed as a fantasy, but yet endeavoring to strip back layers of fantasy and futuristic nostalgia, Pathetic Fallacy provides another snapshot of a point-in-time where science fact is not caught up with science fiction, and where speculation and education are based inelegantly upon what is known.
Elaborating a poetics of point-of-view, the actroid and the elderly woman discourse about aging in a dramaturgical möbius loop. Their dialogue comprises their attempting and not attempting to understand each other, and reveals a lack of clarity as to where one entity ends and the other begins. Insensibly entangled in a beatific human–robot mis/understanding, each character relies on what she perceives as empirical evidence to promote her own partial fallacy. Each character also relies on her typecasting with reference to specific cinematic emotions—the maternal fondness of the elder, the smart self-indulgence of the younger—and are unfortunately unable to break these time-honored molds (the gaze of the artist attempts to query, destabilize, break the molding for them). Mirroring the dialogue’s intersubjective mirroring, time is also on a loop in the video, which can seamlessly repeat and repeat; as long as each interlocutor is closed or oblivious to the other’s perspective, the loop remains closed and the questions remain open.
Pathetic Fallacy seeks to make explicit, and relate to technoculture, tensions between generational feminisms and non-feminisms in terms of claims to authenticity. In arguing about aging, even in their gentle, clichéd way, the old woman and the robot in the looping scene perform a claim-staking solipsism present in modern-day feminist discourse. They are both wrong, and they are both right. The gynoid will age, but not as the human elder thinks it will. The gynoid has the overconfidence of the (literal) digital native; the woman the overconfidence of the rational anthropocentric. The ‘child’ in the scenario is the burgeoning intelligence that exists in the mutual space between them, in their intersubjectivity: in the mirror.

Credits: Campbell Drummond: camera and lights, Lindsay Webb: sound mix, Transconductor: storm recording, Maggie Blinco: ursula, Kirsten Packham: actroid operator, Maylei Hunt: stills, production: Lull Studios, actroid and permissions: National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), University of Tokyo Creative Robotics Lab, National Institute for Experimental Arts, UNSW Art & Design

“Occupation”: A young machine-woman of the future wonders what to write on her immigration form: can a being be reduced to its functional identity? elenaknox.com/occupation.html

“Lamassu Kentaurosu Wagyu”: A posthuman mythical hybrid beast, the Lamassu Kentaurosu Wagyu, poses in a pastoral landscape, unaware that she is being groomed for consumption. elenaknox.com/lkw.html

Thanks to Tom Rivard & Ed Leckie

  • Elena Knox ’s works propose and disrupt embodiments of gender in media and technology. Live actors, puppets, and machines perform their own critique. Most recently she has worked with ‘very humanlike robots’, eliciting and complicating their embodied sociocultural codification. ‘Geminoid’ or ‘actroid’ robots—aesthetic copies of humans—are already a niche reality. It is evident, then, that at least some of us will be mediated and networked though prosthetic bodies that attempt to pass as human. This is a profoundly materialized, and material-bound, idea of a global network. It manifests all kinds of epochal anxieties: obsession with visual appearance and the ageing body; with dramatized sex; with cheating death. It fetishizes presence and drinks deeply from established wells of sociocultural power. Most actroids created thus far (since 2003) appear female and youthful; this ideal is culturally ingrained through ancient myths to sci-fi. But the public reaction to each new realistic gynoid model shows that the notionally comforting form also provokes panic and denial. In making robots conventionally alluring, we worry that they are seducing us. The six works in Actroid Series I feature ActroidF, developed in 2011–15 by Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories. They performatively provoke the urgent revision of gender stereotype, currently being reinscribed at the frontline of much humanoid R&D. Women and girls upon whom popular high-tech gynoids are modelled will be come to be further associated with slave labour and depleted rights. The Series’ artworks produce ambivalent versions of gynoid agency that are oxymoronically based in a chronic paradigm of control. They ask hard questions about sexism, stereotype, anthropocentrism, and labour. The fem-bot is usually unable to speak for herself. In this Series, Knox presented the world-first made-for-video scenes of an actroid being verbal: her gynoid ‘speaks its mind’. The project initiates action by working with one robot within and against modalities of feminist cyborg and biopolitical theory. Can the fem-bot aspire? Is that what we desire?  elenaknox.com

Full Text and photo p. 165-168