The ‘uncanny’ impression occurs when we are confronted with an object or situation which gives rise to fears hidden within the psyche being vaguely sensed. These primitive, animistic fears encroach upon the rational mind and momentarily test the stability and safety of objective reality. When a robot has a basic likeness to a human we experience a familiarity that is positive, but if a robot becomes too lifelike it may create an ‘uncanny’ impression. Roboticists seek to create likenesses of human forms that give no impression they may be artificial in order to avoid this disturbing response. Exploration into the ‘uncanny’ has led me to examine technology and its effect upon our identities as our bodies become more detached from their original state through surgery and body modification, and we reconstruct ourselves using technology thereby creating an artificial representation of ourselves.
Biophilia is a theme which is extremely relevant to my current enquiry and represents a natural progression in the development of my work. Biophilia is woven into the architecture of the human mind and research shows that nature can have an extremely positive effect upon our health and wellbeing. While we have an inherent affinity with nature it may be suggested that this becomes repressed through our environment, the media and ‘environmental generational amnesia’. Research also suggests that technological nature has a positive effect upon health and wellbeing but to a lesser extent than nature itself does. As our connection with nature diminishes within modern urban environments we attempt to create a false reality to satisfy our inherent need for nature. While there is little doubt of the positive effects of nature of any kind, there is perhaps something unsettling akin to the ‘uncanny’ experience in attempting to deceive ourselves with a counterfeit reality. A study has shown that monkeys display similar ‘uncanny’ responses to likenesses of other monkeys, while birds are easily convinced by an imitation of reality as they look in the mirror and believe they see another bird rather than themselves.
An initial idea for a hospital commission on the theme of Biophilia was to display a birdcage within the hospital environment. The cage would contain a stuffed bird on a perch and instead of a mirror beside it; this would be replaced by a screen showing a film of the bird in the cage. The film would mimic the role of the mirror, leading us to consider whether the bird would be fooled by the imitation and experience the benefit (or at least illusion) of companionship provided by a real mirror and also making us question the significance of the real and artificial and direct experience with nature becoming diluted and the effect of this.
The birdcage could be an aesthetically pleasing and fascinating object within the hospital environment with a subtle sense of unease in contrast in keeping with my exploration of the ‘uncanny’ impression. Positive responses associated with animals and nature and an audio recording of birdsong would evoke a natural, relaxing atmosphere in conflict with a sense of disturbance caused by technology being used to imitate or replace reality.


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