Theriomorphic: adjective (of deities) thought of or represented as having the form of beasts.
Cyborg: noun a person whose physiological functioning is aided by or dependent upon a mechanical or electronic device.
Simone Ferracina’s other worldly project Theriomorphous Cyborg, was recently been selected as this year’s winner of the Animal Architecture Awards. We’ve asked him to share with us a little bit more about the project, his process and the forces that drive his creativity. You can find out even more about Simone’s work and project at simoneferracina.com Enjoy!
Firstly, we’d like to talk with you about your beginnings. How did you become interested in exploring the space between humans and other species?
My work explores immersive technologies and their potential for changing the way we go about our daily lives, with a particular focus on design, ecology and the presentation of self. Speculations about mixed environments—where physical objects and virtual overlays are blended in one cohesive perceptual reality—offer a particularly good outlook for critical work about ecology because virtual augmentations can reveal and visually translate aspects of reality we might otherwise choose to ignore.
In this framework, exploring the space between humans and other species seemed like a wonderful opportunity to question and displace human perceptions in the hope of discovering something new.
Where would you say your work began and are you where you thought you’d be? Where do you feel that you’re going?
Rather than a definitive series of proposals or answers, the Theriomorphous Cyborg (TC) really represents for me an open-ended framework for future explorations, a list of possible questions to look into, both by adding new game levels or carving out existing ones. The pairing of animal sounds to human voice emissions suggested in Level 3, for instance, materializes the incommunicability between species and undermines the narratives we substitute communication with, but also opens up questions about communication between different classes, cultures and peoples. The visual overlays of quills and feathers in Level 7 propose a spatial animalization of sorts, but also question the hyper-hygienic culture of contemporary architecture and design. And so forth.
What were some of the most important factors that you were considering while developing your entry for the Awards?
Uexküll’s wonderful illustrations in “A Stroll Through the Worlds of Animals and Men: A Picture Book of Invisible Worlds” allow for a certain imaginative freedom in dreaming up what it means to experience the world through the eyes of a bee, or to be activated —as ticks are—by the smell of butyric acid. I wanted to maintain that freedom, and to translate it into images and descriptions suggestive of worlds that would unfold differently depending on the parameters and modulations selected by the user, and capable of responding to their surroundings.
Another concern, only partially addressed in the final entry, was the predominantly visual nature of the game, which is also one of the limits of what we currently think of as Augmented Reality. Level 3 engages acoustics with the “mouther,” a device that transforms the gamers’ utterances based on data collected by GPS and networked sensors, linking sound parameters such as loudness and pitch to geographic and topographic information. Future game levels may increasingly engage the non-ocular senses, suggesting spaces that exude different animal odors depending on their function, or electronics capable of associating meat cuts with live sound transmissions from slaughterhouses, or haptic distortions that add the feel of hairs or scales to the texture of smooth objects.
Theriomorphous Cyborg offers a unique new collaboration with other species, asking questions and provoking alternative species perspectives - how does your creative process begin in bridging the species divide that exists between us and other animals? Moreover, why do you think it’s important to do so?
The more we wrap ourselves into our own beliefs and perspectives, the more we loose touch with the bigger picture, and with our responsibilities as consumers of goods and as inhabitants of the planet. Life is constantly re-framed for us with the specific intent of removing critical thinking. Foods, for examples, seem to magically appear on the shelves of supermarkets, far away from the processes and policies that brought them about, far from cruelty, disease, bleach, antibiotics and pesticides.
Stepping out of these pre-packaged narratives challenges the way we are used to looking at the world, reminding us that our choices affect ecologies beyond our direct experience, or just that we shouldn’t take ourselves (and our points of view) too seriously.
What kinds of choices go into the type of technology used for the collaborations you create? More generally, how do you view technology in your work?
Technology is a vehicle for change, one that permeates through all our actions and interactions. It is hard to deny the revolutionary effects of social media or smart phones, for instance, on how we present ourselves or communicate with friends and family on a daily basis. Despite this, however, technological progress is often incremental, and dwarfed by technical limitations and customer demands. Steve Jobs is quoted saying that customers don’t know what they want until you show it to them. Precisely in this sense I am interested in speculating about future technologies and their applications, be they utopian or dystopian. We cannot let developers, industry and sales projections alone determine the kinds of buildings, objects, electronics and software that structure our daily lives and understanding of the world.
More specifically, I am interested in Augmented Reality because it is a young medium and it bears immense transformational potential for both the interactions among living beings and those between living beings and designed objects and spaces/experiences.
How has your work been publicly received? Have you witnessed your projects provoking others to explore “natural” outlets in new and different ways?
I think the project was received with a lot of interest, particularly for its use of technology for displacing (instead of radially augmenting) human perception.
One of the most interesting questions that came up—at times not in congratulatory terms— was that of the relationship between TC and architecture: how can a proposal for a game (not a building) win an architecture competition? I was very pleased with this kind of commentary, because it indicates that the project was successful in promoting discussion about the nature of virtual/real merged space and its impact on buildings. In the foreseeable future I expect a lot more of these questions opening up and re-defining what we used to identify as the fixed bounds of the space-making professions.