Facebook drops a lot of creepy things into my feed because it knows me (unfortunately). Usually I glance, chuckle, and move on, but this one STAYED with me, so I had to share it.
It’s a kinetic sculpture by artist Tim Lewis. He calls it “Pony,” but I’ll just show it to you so we can all live the same wonderful nightmare.
How perfect is this? Bird and human and transportation device all at once. I know it’s not cool to ask for the commercialization of an art piece, but I really want one of these.
The use of human hands for both feet and the “head” is brilliant, and the choice got me thinking about Freud’s writing on the psychological concept of the “uncanny.” In a nutshell, the uncanny is something that looks familiar to a human but that is “off” in some important way that causes a sense of unease.
You’re probably most familiar with it in terms of the “uncanny valley,” a concept often used when describing humanoid robots or CGI attempts at realistic portrayals of humans. They look human, but something—the eyes, waxy skin, or jerky movements—betrays the false nature and gives you the creeps.
Kubrick was a big fan of the uncanny. Many of his films employ the concept to spark the viewer’s inner sense of yeesh. Like two men trying to kill each other inside a mannequin factory, for example.
The uncanny—and the uncanny valley—has been a big deal in robotics and popular culture for at least a couple of decades now. But we are rapidly approaching the moment when designers climb out of the valley and give us fully realistic false humans.
Sophia the Robot is close—not quite there yet, but capable of certain facial expressions that make you go “awww” instead of “ahhhh!”
Lewis’s sculpture isn’t anything like that—there is no pretense of looking human. But by using a hand for the head—and specifically having it make a common human hand gesture—it triggers something inside us.
Aside from the eyes and the face, the hand is perhaps our most recognizably human attribute. We use it for communication and symbology, to greet each other, to perform almost all complex physical tasks. We can make shapes with it and even mimic other animal movements.
So when we see this one twisting around, making the “horns” gesture, it signals to us that there is a human somewhere inside.
Tim Lewis’s sculpture didn’t just remind me of the uncanny; it brought to mind another great use of the human hand to inspire unease—the “helping hands” of Labyrinth. Freaked me out as a kid.
She chose down!
Lewis’ sculpture made my day. I love finding bits of weird like this. If I’m allowed to really reach, it suggests there will be divergent tracks in humanoid robotic design; one that seeks to perfectly mimic our form, and another that says screw it and swings for the fences.
When the tech is advanced enough to have that thing actually carry people down the street, I’m going for it.
P.S.: I ate a vegan donut at a wedding on Saturday. It was ok.