Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Pierre Julien Fieux: Are You Human?

The humanoids of Pierre Julien Fieux’s Are You Human? (CAPTCHA) project are, by turns, stolid, startled, and contentious. They expect the question, or they do not, and sometimes it incites in them a terrible rage. They catapult it back to the site and source of its emission, where they hope it will be expected, or where it will startle, and perhaps enrage.

These creatures do not rest: they prod and pull on their own elastic flesh, to see if the resultant body will land them in humanity’s box. A head splices and the portions fly apart; they come back together, and the head becomes a cube, or a wedge, with sharp edges that jar against the roundness of simple bodies.

I’m always saying that I admire people who work in ink and in watercolor (especially those who do it well). Both media are unforgiving when it comes to mistakes, and—especially as the complexity of the work increases—require a level of forethought I've never been able to manage. In the CAPTCHA series, the artist negates any such requirement, and the willful bleed of ink on wet paper becomes the frenzy of its figure. Stolid or startled, body and mind rebel against the starting question. It reverberates through invisible bones, and makes invisible teeth ache.

Some of Fieux’s creatures emerge from a harsher geometry: a complex of vectors and fractals that expand and contract on their own, alluding to the strange intelligence of the computer which measures humanity, but has none of its own.

In the short, animated film that accompanies and prefaces Fieux’s ink drawings, we witness some faceless creature’s (inexplicable) failure of the computer’s humanity check, and her subsequent imprisonment in a transparent cell, where further tests are performed. The viewer is made to understand that proving or failing to prove that one is human is not enough and is, perhaps, impossible. Despite being impossible, it will be asked of her again and again, with the singular, unmistakable effect of her submission—in the matter of her humanity—to the authority of the computer which is distinctly inhuman.

Poetry Wednesday


The train derailed/ turned into a

There were lessons,
sensations, and soot,

And on the railway, a suited man said,
“I’m just passing through.”

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd something not-mine that I love:

The Sharks
by Denise Levertov

Well then, the last day the sharks appeared.
Dark fins appear, innocent
as if in fair warning. The sea becomes
sinister, are they everywhere?
I tell you, they break six feet of water.
Isn't it the same sea, and won't we
play in it any more?
I like it clear and not
too calm, enough waves
to fly in on. For the first time
I dared to swim out of my depth.
It was sundown when they came, the time
when a sheen of copper still the sea,
not dark enough for moonlight, clear enough
to see them easily. Dark
the sharp lift of the fins.

Summer's End

It's unfortunate that I've come to measure the usefulness of time spent strictly by CFPs answered and syllabuses tweaked. This summer has been productive in so many other ways, as I must remind myself. I did my fair share of work, but there was also...(drum roll)...painting!  Running and novel-reading! Cooking and music! Largely fruitless dissertation plotting! Swimming in the sea! A birthday! It was much like last summer....and that's alright by me.

On my last day by the ocean, a pair of little girls was watching me draw mermaids and dinosaurs and planets and sunflowers in the sand. They were too shy to come up to me, but as soon as I went back down to the water, they started to draw; first copies of my own scribbles, and then their own fantastic creations. It was one of my favorite moments of the summer, not only because I got to watch somebody very small create something very great, but also because it's been a while since I've had the pure pleasure of creating something lovely, or useful, or something that makes me feel productive in a way having nothing at all to do with scholarly texts, or dissertation chapters, or the perfect flow of a good syllabus.

It's a feeling I forget too easily once fall creeps up again. It's my last semester of coursework, however, so hopefully (despite the looming dissertation), more such moments and good feelings lie ahead.