With the Eyes of Another: Zoomorph -– Exploring (the Perception of) Visual Perception of Non-Human Animals

Jevbratt will discuss the research for and the functionality and implications of Zoomorph – a distributed software art project currently in development.
Zoomorph consists of image and video filters generating simulations of how a large selection of non-human animals see, helping us experience the world with the eyes of another species.

The filters -– used in PhotoShop, an online Flickr based interface, and as an augmented reality iPhone app -– are developed with the help of vision scientists as well as “parascientific” experts on animal perception such as shamanistic practitioners and animal communicators. These two paradigms represent widely diverse views on the possibility of understanding the visual perception (as well as consciousness) of other species, and the investigation of these differences is fruitful in understanding issues of anthropomorphism, anthropodenial, and anthropocentrism.

Recognizing the difficulty in accurately approximating the visual perception of another species the project’s more modest hope is to make its users acutely aware and respectful of the ever-presence of a multitude of parallel experiences of the world (or Umwelten as described by Jakob von Uexküll).

In “The Gaze of the Animal” the New Zeeland scholar of English and Cultural Studies Philip Armstrong provides a plethora of literary examples from the antiquities to the renaissance of the animal gaze as a dangerous ray capable of bewitching, even killing, the unfortunate human receiving it. The response to the animal gaze today is very different, but equally troubling. The German filmmaker Werner Herzog represents this view in his movie “The Grizzly Man”, where he orates about the “empty stare” of the grizzlies, which according to him, reveals no kinship, only an “overwhelming indifference of nature” and a “half-bored interest in food”.

How could we end up believing that the gaze of an individual of another species is either a dangerous weapon or completely void of a presence behind it? Zoomorph intends to disarm and repopulate the gaze of the animal in order to make it increasingly difficult for us to marginalize the needs and rights of individuals of other species.

Lisa Jevbratt is a Swedish born artist and professor in the Art Department and in the Media Art Technology program at University of California, Santa Barbara. For more than a decade her work focused on the expressions and exchanges created by the protocols and languages of the internet and the web, often manifesting as visualization software. She is now applying her understanding of these unintentional collaborations onto exchanges with animals of other species and their experiences of the world around them. In her ongoing endeavor “Interspecies Collaboration” she invites students to collaborate with individuals of other species and her current distributed software art project Zoomorph consists of image and video filters generating simulations of how various animals see.

Her work has been exhibited extensively in venues such as The Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), Banff Centre for the Arts (Canada), The New Museum (New York), The Swedish National Public Art Council (Stockholm, Sweden), and the Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York); and it is discussed in numerous books, for example “Internet Art” by Rachel Greene, “Digital Art” by Christiane Paul and “Art + Science Now” by Stephen Wilson (all Thames and Hudson). Jevbratt also publishes texts on topics related to her projects and research, for example in the anthology “Network Art – Practices and Positions” ed. Tom Corby (Routledge). Her current project ZooMorph ­is supported by an emerging fields grant from Creative Capital.

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