Thursday, June 12, 2008

Anna Davis & Jason Gee | MIC Toi Rerehiko

Anna Davis & Jason Gee | MIC Toi Rerehiko

Anna Davis and Jason Gee, Bioheads (2005-2008)

Data is meaningless. Ones and zeros judge nothing. Puppets need masters. But still, when we encounter Anna Davis and Jason Gee’s Bioheads, digitally-animated ventriloquist dolls that sing pop songs and spit out psychobabble, we’re not exactly sure whose lips are moving.

Davis and Gee download the digital detritus of contemporary culture—snapshots of dusty ventriloquist dolls sold on eBay, self-help tomes hawked at, celebrity photographs with viral tendencies, and some of the catchy little numbers that populate peer-to-peer networks—and remix and reanimate the random data (with the help of easy-to-use animation software) in an absurdist attempt to make sense of it all.

Naturally the puppets get all of the attention. When George Bush and Osama Bin Laden sing a duet of Snap’s “I’ve got the Power” or Stalin, Hitler and Mao get together for a rousing rendition of “I Get Around” by The Beach Boys in Bioheads Karaoke, it’s a performance not to be missed. More than just a good gag or a clever juxtaposition, however, Bioheads pack a satirical punch because they are composite reflections of what really exists. The seeming humanity of Bioheads is all borrowed: we’re the ghost in the machine.

In Biohead Actualized, Davis and Gee show us what “greedy little dolls” (1) we’ve become. This new video installation holds a mirror up to the contemporary quest for self-improvement and perfection, and gives life to a post-modern Prometheus, a creature who speaks only the language of self-help, spewing distrustful, selfish and even silly advice at unsuspecting passersby. But the Biohead isn’t making any of it up—Everything he utters is lifted directly from a self-help audio book. The Biohead is the kind of personality that develops when fed a steady diet of actualization mantras —no wonder his psyche seems so sinister. He has been reprogrammed.

But as creepy as Bioheads may be, there is also a playfulness that stems from both the work’s humour as well as the empowerment afforded by sample-based digital culture. One can make George Bush bark like a dog if one wants to. The digital environment makes use a more powerful critical tool than production and turns consumption on its head. By agitating the media environment Gee and Davis exercise powerful artistic agency in the face of media hyper-saturation and proliferation. They’re pulling all the strings now.

While Davis and Gee may coax the Bioheads to come out and play, they also speak about the strange sense of autonomy the Bioheads exert, explaining that the digital dolls seem to develop personality partly on their own. The artists tease out subtle facial expressions and meaningful gestures from what’s already there, creating a life-like being from a single moment once captured in a photograph. That moment now has a life of its own and there is a palpable glee in watching as the image runs away from its past and into any number of digital futures.

Text by Margie Borschke

(1) From a conversation with Anna Davis & Jason Gee on March 8, 2008.

Photos by Alex Davies

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