Annie Briard’s Cyber Claymation Doll in “The Woods”
An experiment in agency, defiance and creativity
Written by Hailey McCloskey
Photographs provided by Annie Briard
I am a foreigner in the world of computer programming. The little I know resides in the realm of rudimentary word processing with an offshoot in social media. This is precisely what made me want to see Annie Briard‘s show. I was also drawn in by the opportunity to see a depiction of “the woods” as an entity of the imagination, a product of cultural misgivings and ideals. What I saw was an animated girl who exercises agency in the world of the woods and is programmed by us, the audience in the now, the folks who walk in off sparsely tree lined urban streets.
Inside VIVO Media Arts Centre, a small room contains a smattering of people chatting, drinking beer and texting random words into their phones. These words attempt to alter the moments of action of large scale claymation, and each movement of girl, tree, bird or mushroom bares the mark of tiny fingerprints.
The psychology of agency and rebellious obedience are what comes to mind in engaging with this technological art piece. A large screen fills the dimly lit gallery with light. The image of a black-haired girl, hair and dress softly blowing in the wind, stands above us. She looks huge. Annie tells me that she is in fact minuscule, and that the animation was painstaking due to the discrepancy between Annie’s true human sized hands moving the sculpted material in tiny increments over and over and over again. She stands facing us, looking out at us, blinking, waiting for our provocations. If we do not provoke her through sending her text messages via cell phone, she fixates on someone in the crowd, follows them and sometimes mimics their movement.
The woods stand behind her, and though elements of the woods engage with her, she does not enter into that space. The two images that stick with me, which were cued in via a handful out of the 200 words she recognized, were a mushroom fuelled bird transformation and a masturbation scene. The myth of the woods, a dark place, the primordial sexual atmosphere, lives through her in these images – she is impulsive and defiant in a pleasant, creative fashion. The mushroom becomes her as she kneels to smell and pick it, licks it several times, grows a crow’s beak, and becomes enveloped into a pea-like pod by wings.
This piece was precisely programmed not to respond to messages or words in the obvious ways. It played with our expectations. Sometimes texting her “tree” would make her go crazy, and get mad. Other times, texting her “go into the woods” would make her lie down and masturbate, her eyeballs rolling out of her sockets, dividing into four, and scurrying up the trees.
I am left with the feeling that the piece provokes the competitiveness, righteousness of the art audience: audiences who want to know what’s going to happen, who are resistant to the ways that art can change us, the discomfort this uncertainty might bring. Annie tells me that the purpose of the piece is to provoke audiences to see art as engaging, as something that they have the power to shape and be shaped by. Through computer programs, we can live out our desire to dictate what an art piece, a cyber being, will do. Pathways in the woods are almost always unexpected, and this cyber character reminds the audience/participant that we have the power to affect the process of how we engage with art and it us, but we may not be able to predict what that might look like.
The artist would like to give a huge shout out to her programming team at Limbic Media.