Portraits From an Ark is comprised of 55 videos of different people being painted to look like animals. Halfway into each video, after the painting is finished – the sitter is told – for the first time – what animal they have been painted to look like. At this point, they’re asked to enact the creature using only their head, face and minor hand gestures. The transitions and transformations each person goes through—from their everyday selves to painted subject to their creative creature-product to, finally, themselves once again—has more to tell us about humans and human creativity than it does about animals. The painters and actors/actresses have, for the most part, only a vague impression of the animal they are trying to imitate—and so we witness the excitement that comes from doing spontaneously what one doesn’t know exactly how to do.
Each video is treated with a simple, customized digital effect and soundtrack that works to evoke more of the animal. Additionally, these same effects advance the range of visual and sensual transformations always critical to artworks. The digital elements used to create the artificial nature in the videos begin to resemble the structure of nature itself, posing the always inspired philosophical question: do we unconsciously create in technology what we see in nature, or is nature itself consciously evolving into a different—in this case, digital—form.
In its final state, this collection of videos is placed on a database that uses voice recognition software, allowing gallery visitors to initiate projections of the video—to make them “happen” by saying the name of an animal into a microphone. This format allows the gallery viewer to partake in the work with creativity—the essential theme of this work—as well as to experience something of the immediacy of the original painting sessions. When shown in large projection format inside a gallery, the rough, goopy paintings done on the living, 3-D surface of the face highlight the connections between painting, video, and other new media formats.