Archive for August, 2010

The Quay Brothers

Posted in Uncategorized on August 31, 2010 by pauljohnwhite


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Gillian Wearing

Posted in Uncategorized on August 25, 2010 by pauljohnwhite

In the video 10-16 Gillian Wearing recorded interviews with seven children between the ages of 10 and 16, then taped middle-aged actors lip synching the children’s voices. The children’s faces were not seen and the voice of a 10-year old boy describing his treehouse came from the mouth of a man reclining on a couch, while a 13-year old boy plotting the demise of his lesbian mother and her lover is portrayed by a naked dwarf in a bathtub. The final interview comes from a businessman who painfully relates a 16-year old’s sexual confusion and self-loathing.

As the subjects are real and the contrasting voices are perfectly lip-synched the effect is uncanny. We may feel unnerved but the work is very effective as we are confronted to examine the identity and characteristics of both the voice and physical form more closely as we attempt to re-establish a sense of order within the disorientating contrasts. 

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Ants turned into ‘zombies’ by ‘mind-control’ fungus

Posted in Uncategorized on August 20, 2010 by pauljohnwhite

This article relates to themes I have been exploring; those of biological horror, fears of the parasite or alien/foreign object assimilating itself into the self and dominating the corpus to which it is attached. Stories of this kind may support Kristeva’s view of the Abject; that we are repulsed by that which is outside of the symbolic order as they may threaten our wellbeing, and these instincts are motivated by self-preservation. Similar fears could be stirred by false limbs or foreign organs surgically replacing the original. I recall watching a film which plays upon fears of this nature, where the hands of a murderer are transplanted onto a man who becomes a host to their murderous will.     


“The oldest evidence of a fungus that turns ants into zombies and makes them stagger to their death has been uncovered by scientists.

The gruesome hallmark of the fungus’s handiwork was found on the leaves of plants that grew in Messel, near Darmstadt in Germany, 48m years ago.The finding shows that parasitic fungi evolved the ability to control the creatures they infect in the distant past, even before the rise of the Himalayas.

The fungus, which is alive and well in forests today, latches on to carpenter ants as they cross the forest floor before returning to their nests high in the canopy.

The fungus grows inside the ants and releases chemicals that affect their behaviour. Some ants leave the colony and wander off to find fresh leaves on their own, while others fall from their tree-top havens on to leaves nearer the ground.

The final stage of the parasitic death sentence is the most macabre. In their last hours, infected ants move towards the underside of the leaf they are on and lock their mandibles in a “death grip” around the central vein, immobilising themselves and locking the fungus in position.

“This can happen en masse. You can find whole graveyards with 20 or 30 ants in a square metre. Each time, they are on leaves that are a particular height off the ground and they have bitten into the main vein before dying,” said David Hughes at Harvard University.

The fungus cannot grow high up in the canopy or on the forest floor, but infected ants often die on leaves midway between the two, where the humidity and temperature suit the fungus. Once an ant has died, the fungus sprouts from its head and produces a pod of spores, which are fired at night on to the forest floor, where they can infect other ants.

Scientists led by Hughes noticed that ants infected with the fungus, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, bit into leaves with so much force they left a lasting mark. The holes created by their mandibles either side of the leaf vein are bordered by scar tissue, producing an unmistakable dumb-bell shape.

Writing in the journal, Biology Letters, the team describes how they trawled a database of images that document leaf damage by insects, fungi and other organisms. They found one image of a 48m-year-old leaf from the Messel pit that showed the distinctive “death grip” markings of an infected ant. At the time, the Messel area was thick with subtropical forests.

“We now present it as the first example of behavioural manipulation and probably the only one which can be found. In most cases, this kind of control is spectacular but ephemeral and doesn’t leave any permanent trace,” Hughes said.

“The question now is, what are the triggers that push a parasite not just to kill its host, but to take over its brain and muscles and then kill it.”

He added: “Of all the parasitic organisms, only a few have evolved this trick of manipulating their host’s behaviour.

Why go to the bother? Why are there not more of them?”

Scientists are not clear how the fungus controls the ants it infects, but know that the parasite releases alkaloid chemicals into the insect as it consumes it from the inside.”

Article accessed at the Guardian website: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/aug/18/zombie-carpenter-ant-fungus

Salon Automate

Posted in Uncategorized on August 14, 2010 by pauljohnwhite

The body horror of David Cronenberg

Posted in Uncategorized on August 11, 2010 by pauljohnwhite

David Cronenberg is a Canadian filmmaker and one of the principal originators of what is commonly known as the body horror or venereal horror genre. This style of filmmaking explores people’s fears of bodily transformation and infection. In his films, the psychological is typically intertwined with the physical. In the first half of his career, he explored these themes mostly through horror and science fiction, although his work has since expanded beyond these genres. He has been called ” the most audacious and challenging narrative director in the English-speaking world.” His films generally involve the horror caused by a mutation, by a parasite, or by particular medical conditions.
Over the arc of his career, Cronenberg’s films follow a definite progression, a movement from the social world to the inner life. In his early films, scientists modify human bodies, which results in the breakdown of social order (e.g. Shivers, Rabid). In his middle period, the chaos wrought by the scientist is more personal, (e.g. The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome). In the later period, the scientist himself is altered by his experiment (e.g. his remake of The Fly). This trajectory culminates in Dead Ringers in which a twin pair of gynecologists spiral into codependency and drug addiction. His later films tend more to the psychological, often contrasting subjective and objective realities.
Cronenberg become a sort of a mass media guru with Videodrome (1983), a shocking investigation of the hazards of reality-morphing television and a prophetic critique of contemporary aesthetics. The issues of tech-induced mutation of the human body and topics of the prominent dichotomy between body and mind are also present in The Dead Zone (1983) and The Fly (1986), both bright examples of a personal filmmaking identity.
“Since I see technology as being an extension of the human body, it’s inevitable that it should come home to roost.”
“When we talk about violence, we’re talking about the destruction of the human body, and I don’t lose sight of that. In general, my filmmaking is fairly body-oriented, because what you’re photographing is people, bodies. You can’t really photograph an abstract concept, whereas a novelist can write about that. You have to photograph something physical. So that combination of things suggests to me a particular way to deal with violence. And it’s not a bad thing that people really understand what violence is. It’s not, however, a politically correct thing I do. I’m not a big fan of political correctness. It’s very detrimental to art in general. An artist’s responsibility is to be irresponsible. As soon as you start to think about social or political responsibility, you’ve amputated the best limbs you’ve got as an artist. You are plugging into a very restrictive system that is going to push and mold you, and is going to make your art totally useless and ineffective.”
“If I were doing a comedy with somebody slipping on a banana peel, I wouldn’t show the reality of slipping on a banana peel, which could be quite horrific, involving cracked skulls and broken spines and crippling. You have to do what’s appropriate to the movie.”
“I think of horror films as art, as films of confrontations. Films that make you confront aspects of your own life that are difficult to face. Just because you’re making a horror film doesn’t mean you can’t make an artful film.”
“When I am doing art, I have absolutely no social responsibilities whatsoever — it’s like dreaming.”
Quotes can be found at: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000343/bio

Cyborg Manifesto by Donna Haraway

Posted in Uncategorized on August 9, 2010 by pauljohnwhite

Haraway has observed how the production of human knowledge encounters cybernetic technology and is increasingly determined by the operations of a new information order that disturbs the distinctions between natural and artificial, mind and body, consciousness and its simulation: “Microelectronics is the technical basis of simulacra; that is, of copies without originals…Communications technologies and biotechnologies are the crucial tools recrafting our bodies…We find ourselves to be cyborgs, hybrids, mosaics, chimeras…The machine is us, our processes, an aspect of our embodiment.” (P258 in Birringer, J: Media and Performance)