Karolina Sobecka's WILDLIFE

Curator's Note

I'm a sucker for spectacle.  I used to work near Times Square.  They wrapped videoscreens completely around 745 Seventh Avenue.  Imaginary Forces designed the project.  The screens changed everything around them – the sidewalks, the buildings, my walk to the subway and the faces of the tourists around me.  All of it was gorgeous but, at the bottom-line was the bottom-line.  “The signage and 24-hour content that we created … is a living, branded surface…” The screens were selling the building and what was in the building:  Morgan Stanley. 

How about some non-commercial spectacle?  I love Doug Aitken’s Sleepwalkers.  I love Krysztof Wodiczko’s big projection projects involving communities – making architecture and neighborhoods speak.  But these are not cheap undertakings and they are not flying under the radar.  Good for them.  Big projections and screens need big money – just a single video projector is not cheap for those without institutional support.  Video projectors with powerful lamps are much more expensive to rent. 

My punk-rock heart is always looking for something else.  Karolina Sobecka’s WILDLIFE is “a projection from a moving car onto buildings in the city. The tiger's movements are programmed to correspond to the speed of the car: as the car moves, the tiger runs along it speeding up and slowing down with the car, as the car stops, the tiger stops also.”  I like the movement of the piece, I like that she takes an ephemeral medium and makes it even more fleeting, even more difficult to pin down – like the animal itself – adapting to new habitats, shifting size, speed and strength.  From a DIY perspective I love that she didn’t wade through oceans of permissions and lakes of bureaucracies and floods of public opinion.  My one wish for WILDLIFE is that Sobecka had used a mountain lion or a jaguar instead of a tiger - some large cat semi-native to Los Angeles.  Combining a tiger with a car - it’s hard to not think about Exxon.  All the same, I wish I had seen WILDLIFE in the street. 


 First of all how great to see some critical writing in in media res that isn't about broadcast television.  What a great essay and a beautiful project.  The running tiger is guerilla television, out of bounds in several ways.  Your thoughts on animal indigeneity and how it would have been interesting to have a kind of big cat native to California made me think about another use of big cats in digital projection, which is in the new smash Microsoft Kinect game Kinectimals.  This game, which is advertised as a "virtual pet" rather than a game, lets the user choose between four African big cat-kittens: a lion, a leopard, a tiger, a snow leopard (more endangered, and thus better).  I am convinced that this is a tie-in with the new Disney 3-D "African Cats" film, advertised as a celebration of "earth day."  Yet the minerals such as Coltan which are needed to make Xboxes and other digital entertainment platforms come from the Congo, a place in Africa where genocide, various forms of environmental degredation, and globalized resource, particularly mineral, extraction have made the future of big cats as well as people extremely precarious.  

Yeah, the Disney lock on animals is intense - Earth Day movie releases, decades of kids (me) giving human voices to animals, dark scary movie music anytime a predator comes on screen.  Disney is very conflicted, sort of like BP and it's "green" logo.  The coltran/Congo/gaming/cellphone/environment connection is grim. 

For me, Sobecka's WILDLIFE has hints of Bladerunner and Neuromancer - a not-so-far-in-the-future Los Angeles where creatures that aren't human or made by humans are exoticized and fetishized to the point where they are status symbols of the very rich (might as well toss in Tyson's tiger in The Hangover), kept in rarefied gardens.  For those of us without tickets to the gardens, we're left with looping, choppy videos of what used to be (here's a toot of my horn:  a couple of virtual animals on my blog from a while ago).

The wildlife project--which is very intriguing--has hints of William Gibson's recent work about it  as well, precisely because the tiger is "out of place." As most large mammals are now, in effect, living in curated spaces, rather than "wild" (whatever that would mean exactly), it's resonant to depict the iconic animal of big oil in LA.

Sobecka's WILDLIFE inspired a "copy cat" (pardon the pun) work here in Atlanta called Lima Lives, except the striped creature became a zebra instead of a tiger.  In Lima Lives, the artists were concerned with the context of the animal . . . the projected zebra is the reincarnation of a real zebra, Lima, that escaped a traveling circus and ran amok in the city.  My favorite part of both works is the way the virtual animals instantly and seamlessly adapt to their surroundings (which raises interesting thoughts about the displacement of real wildlife).

 Micah, your comment about Lima reminded me of another escaped wildlife celebrity: a cow escaped from a meat processing plant by jumping over a 6 foot fence and survived on her own for almost two weeks before being recaptured.  She was named "Cincinatti Freedom" and given her freedom for her daring act of rebellion and independence.  She lived out the remainder of her life in an animal sanctuary after being given the keys to the city of Cincinatti.  Meanwhile the Ohio slaughterhouse from which she escaped continues to process animals for meat.

Animals which burst their bounds and become heroes or villains figure in Deke Weaver's brilliant performance work which I have had the privilege of seeing: his piece Elephant has some great material about an elephant who escaped from a circus and had to be hunted down and killed.  Animals who escape their bounds because something other--not quite virtual, but transformed in some way.  They become spectacles/spectacular.  Even the most quotidian of animals--cows--can become heroes and objects of admiration, as did Cincy. 


The cobra which recently escaped from the Bronx Zoo has become a virtual spectacle with an anonymous source personifying the animal through Twitter: @BronxZoosCobra. The cobra's virtuality is afforded by the actual cobra's current invisibility. In the absence of footage or images, the @BronxZoosCobra is living an imagined celebrity lifestyle as it virtually travels through NYC while @mentioning famous public figures to gain attention (along with some late night tv style humor) while building a following.

While the ultimate goal of the writer is unknown, the account is both a reenactment of and a possible critique of the direct-to-consumer spectacle that Twitter is a platform for, as the cobra's Twitter account has as much news coverage as the actual missing cobra.

Thanks for the plug Lisa.  The stories of Animals Running Amok and Animals Breaking Out are so intense.  I just heard one in Salt Lake City about an 1800's elephant that ran through the city brandishing an ax with her trunk.  And there's the battle for the top of the food-chain in the Florida Everglades between indigenous alligators and pythons that have escaped zoos.  But I don't think any of them have Twitter accounts.

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