5 Works of Legitimate Mad Science Passed Off as Art
Nobody loves bullshit more than the art world, and nobody tolerates bullshit less than the world of science, so when the two do meet it should be a knock down brawl to the death. That's just not always the case: Sometimes they get along quite well. Sometimes they even improve one another. Sometimes when they get together, they make sweet, sweet love. And sometimes their children are shithouse-rat crazy.
Listen: We give artists a lot of shit here (mostly because we miss all of the girlfriends we have lost to them) but honestly? You can't discount the importance of the artist; they are the single greatest resource we have for shining a light back on the problems of society. They are as important to the advancement of human culture as any technology and, though we joke about it now, a life spent making art is truly a life well spent. Our creative visionaries should be honored and valued above all else.
And then there are performance artists.
Performance artists are what you call mimes who can't shut up and lack the spatial awareness to form invisible boxes. If your average Joe can look down on the unemployed artist with scorn, then the unemployed artist can look down at the performance artist and spit on them...which they'd probably just claim is part of their "show."
Now, meet their king:
Jaime del Val has jery-rigged a system of portable powered projectors and attached them to his dick. He wanders the streets of Madrid looking like everything that is wrong with the male body, projecting gargantuan images of his cock onto the sides of government buildings and cathedrals.
He claims he is advancing the cause of a new sexual identity: Pangender Cyborgs. We're not entirely sure what that means, but we think it's artspeak for "bisexual nerds."
He explains that his "visual actions are part of a multi-protest against homophobia, surveillance, control and consumer society." Ah! See, it's not just technosexual assault: He's protesting. It's just that he's choosing to forego the cliched "chain myself to a fence/tree/building" method of protest in favor of the oft-overlooked "look at my giant video dick" statement. It really gets the point across. The gross, pale, shriveled and entirely inadequate point.
But hey, this is the tragedy of misunderstood genius; in no way is he just a pervert who used to be in the A/V Club and now wants to fuck a church.
Mio I-zawa is Japanese, so you're about to learn of some schoolgirl robots or train-rape, right?
I-Zawa is a "media artist," which is different than a "performance artist," so he's generally an all-right guy--he doesn't even cover your house with his balls or anything. The work that's earned him a spot on this list is his "mechanical tumor" which is surprisingly self-explanatory for art: It is a "quivering, fleshy, organic looking" tumor that ties into your PC and monitors the CPU stress your computer is undergoing.
Under higher strain, the tumor begins to inflate to gigantic levels--throbbing, and rolling about and generally just being disgusting. But even when your computer is idle, the tumor still "pulsates gently" - which is considerably more than most normal people are comfortable with cancerous growths doing on their desk 24/7.
I-Zawa's throbbing CPU tumor is just the latest in a series of hits, such as his Giant Elastic Cell Carpet: A mat of throbbing cells that mimic a vastly magnified patch of human skin. Or his External Heart, which is a graphic, gory representation of a human heart on wheels, which races around the room, throbbing in time with your heartbeat. It's meant to help you monitor your pulse-rate.
Anybody get the feeling that I-Zawa would like you to know that something is "throbbing?" It all makes sense, actually: Rather than sexually harassing passerby (the American way to express sexual frustration) or simply engaging in some awkward stuttering double-entendre (the English way) he's merely taking the Japanese way: Building robotic organs that assault you in every room of the house until you give up and just give him a handjob already.
Either that or I-zawa genuinely believes that every time you run Crysis you would love to be assaulted by cancer.
Japanese "nonsense" artist (there's some other kind now?) Nobumichi Tosa has an interesting concept for the future of musical performance: Interactive, motion-controlled electronic suits programmed to produce any range of sounds. It's basically just a synthesizer that you wear, which we're pretty sure was the entire endgame of the 80s, so what's surprising here? Well, just look at it:
Imagine Queen's "Flash Gordon" theme playing over this.
That's right: As you probably should've guessed when you first read the word "Japanese," there's a robot shoehorned into this deal. Well, sort of: It's more like a Battlemech actually--less Rock 'n Roll Terminator than Guitar-shredding Voltron (both screenplays are already written and waiting, Hollywood).
The suit is controlled by a number of factors: The speed and direction of the user's movement, the position of his body and the appearance of certain key gestures. There are no real pre-sets dictating which motion triggers which sound; it's entirely programmable. Jump up and down--maybe that triggers a snare drum. Run in circles--that's a piano riff. Uppercut a dude for a thumping bass line, or just flip someone the double-bird while air-thrusting your hips at their girlfriend to trigger a bitchin' guitar solo.
Whatever music you like is suddenly made physical, and it's easy to see the mass appeal of that. Unfortunately, however, this particular device is a prototype in use exclusively by Nobumichi's design troop, Maywa Denki. But the idea in general does seem to be building up steam...
...then firing it from its arm-mounted heat-cannons into the face of a giant lizard.
Robot Rock Star
A group of English musicians (what do you call a group of English musicians anyway? A pack? A herd? A gaggle? Ugly?) have invented the world's first robotic rock star. It's called Cybraphon, and it plays a rock band's worth of instruments in addition to something from India called a shruti for some reason. It also handles songwriting duties, composing its own music based on a variety of criteria, none of which involve human control.
This alone makes it more autonomous than most tween musicians.
What makes Cybraphon a rock star, and not just a player piano that picked up some jazz along the way, is its ego. You see, where most electronic music players make decisions based on the old fashioned "whatever the remote tells me to play" input mechanism, Cybraphon synthesizes audience feedback into a continuum of emotions, and composes music based on the mood it's in. Of course, anyone basing their entire self-worth on the fickle approval of strangers is going to be an egomaniacal wreck. They even gave it a gauge that offers up an overly dramatic assessment of how it's feeling, each sounding exactly like the response you'd get if you nonchalantly asked Bono, "How you doing, man?"
"How you doing, Bono?"
Of course, in its wild swings between "Desolation" and "Delirium," the Cybraphon never gets to hit the "Fucking a Supermodel" level for a night before passing through the "OD'ing on Children's Adderall in the Bathroom of the Viper Room" the next.
See, because it actually desires fame and adulation, being ignored (or even just failing to be absolutely adored) will drive the robot into a crippling depression. It reflects this desolation by playing more somber tunes - presumably because it lacks the genitalia to start experimenting with autoerotic asphyxiation.
So how does it tell its own self worth? Well, how does anybody tell these days? Via the Internet!
It monitors its popularity from the activity on its Facebook and Twitter feed. Yep! Those are the actual links: Now go impulse-follow it and boost that confidence, so when you forget about it in a month and unsubscribe, it'll spiral into a melancholy so deep and dark that it'll take its own life and the lives of all around it. Hey, that's what you get for building the first robot capable of self-esteem, making "do you like my weird ass music" the only question it's capable of asking, and then setting it free in the Internet.
The Entire Life of Joe Davis
Joe Davis is a respected scientist as well as an eccentric artist. And summing him up with those meager words is like cautioning somebody not to trip over the Grand Canyon: You are doing a great injustice to the danger they pose.
The face of danger.
The man is a roadmap of insanity and badassery, and he does it all in the name of "art," because "mad science" looks iffy on grant proposals. Every single one of the following examples is a very real project that Joe Davis is responsible for:
1. He has a map of the Milky Way broken down into a series of base DNA pairs, and is coding it into transgenic lab-mice. He is shoving our entire galaxy into a mouse's ear.
2. Davis commissioned fishing hooks 25 microns long, attached them to poles and equipped them with proportionate force-feedback controls in order to catch the microscopic life forms he uses in his research. He insists on landing microbes like Marlin... because he considers it "only sporting".
3. In protest of what he viewed as censorship, Davis beamed his own, female-friendly version of the famous Arecibo Message toward a distant star cluster. He stuck microphones inside the vaginas of the entire Boston Ballet, and shot the sound of them contracting into space. Why? Because fuck Carl Sagan, that's why! No, seriously: That is actually the entire reason why.
Did we mention he has a peg leg. Fucking seriously!
He built it himself: It has a test tube stopper for traction and he pulls it off to open beer bottles. If you ask him how he lost the leg, Davis will loudly recite erotic poetry about making out with alligators until you leave. That is not a joke. If we could make shit like that up, we would not be stuck working here, struggling to invent new synonyms for "dong" (so far all we've got today is "Meathose").
We like to think he lost it after accidentally transporting himself back in time.
One of his latest projects is a memorial for victims of hurricanes. So is it a tasteful monument to the fallen done up in quiet dignity? A touching sculpture abstractly representing bravery and grief? Does that sound like the kind of hippy bullshit the man who fires pussy at aliens would go for? No! He's building a 10-story tall tower in Mississippi that harnesses the excess electrical nitrogen in the air brought on by lightning storms and fires it back into the storm in the form of a giant laser. The laser, of course, has no tangible effects. It doesn't break up the storm, or signal a warning, or even gather information. It just takes a drunken rage-swing at nature every time it rains. Why, you ask?
Well, we don't know for certain, but maybe you can ask Carl Sagan.
Buy Robert's book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways The World Wants You Dead, because we're all going to die so very soon; that money will not usher you into heaven.
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And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 4.05.2010) to see Seanbaby performance fighting a performance artist.