Prosthetic Ass (Latteier, 2000)
Interview/Article by Jonah Brucker-Cohen
In the world of creative interventions into popular technology, projects that make us question how we consume and use digital devices are often those that maintain our attention. Using this credo as a starting point, Toronto, Ontario-based artist, Amos Latteier creates work that explores the lighter side of technology. Poking fun at everything from corporate software presentations with his PowerPoint performances to creating homebrew prosthetic limbs with the Prosthetic Ass , his work examines the subtleties of DIY culture and the potential emotional impact of simple devices. Re-purposing consumer electronics in inventive ways, his project, Calculator Haikus , creates poetry from upside-down calculator displays to emphasize how a playful approach can often yield unexpected results. On the software side, his inquisitive PowerPoint lectures employ the bland presentation software to create absurd relationships between viewer and speaker. Gizmodo caught up with Latteier to discuss his artistic practice, creative philosophy, and aim to infuse mild absurdity into standardized teaching methodologies and mass-produced software and hardware. Interview and photos after the jump...
Name: Amos Latteier
Education: BA Brown University, dropped out of a MFA program at SFSU
Affiliation: independent artist
GIZMODO: How did you first become interested in building mechanized objects?
AL: I like to teach myself things and to experiment. That said, I am not a craftsman, and I'm not very good at building things. Like most people, I have a lot of stupid ideas, but what makes me different from most people is that I sometimes have the time and energy to try and follow those ideas up. Most of the machines that I've built have the flavor of humorous and low-tech high school science projects. In addition to building machines, I also do PowerPoint performances. In both practices I am drawn to ideas of teaching and learning, humor, and an absurd and optimistic inventiveness.
GIZMODO: Your project, "The Prosthetic Ass", (which uses a chainsaw motor as a walking aid) is an interesting comment on the use of electrical devices as human aids in public space. What were you trying to achieve with the project?
AL: This project is based on a cartoon depicting a robotic "prosthetic ass" in the 1978 book on cybernetics, "Robots On Your Doorstep: A Book About Thinking Machines". The cartoon expressed to me the excitement and absurdity of a walking cybernetic backpack. I also liked the pun of ass as donkey and ass as butt . I wanted to see if such a machine could be built, and what would happen when the pun was made physical. It turned out to be a dangerous and ungainly machine that couldn't really carry much weight. However it did make a big splash at the science fair where I first demoed it. Happily it didn't hurt anyone.
500 lb Potato Battery (Latteier, 2000)
GIZMODO: With "500 lb. Potato Battery", you hooked up 500 lb. worth of the vegetables to a small sound system. What was the impetus behind this project and did it actually function the way you meant it to?
AL: For this project, I took a well-known grade school science experiment and blew it up to a huge scale. Originally I wanted to use the potatoes to heat oil to make French fries, but I couldn't get nearly enough energy out of them for that. I ended up having them make sound when a friend offered to carry my project around in the back of a U Haul truck. Having the potatoes make sound turned out to nicely accompany the experience of exploring the potatoes in the enclosed space of the back of the truck. One problem with the project was that the electrical connections between the potatoes were very delicate, so when the truck hit a pothole I had to spend a long time finding shorts and fixing the wiring. Another sad part of the project is that the potatoes were rendered inedible by being used as a battery, so I couldn't eat them at the end of the project.
Call of the Wild (Latteier, 2004)
GIZMODO: In "Call of the Wild", you were attempting to use the cell phone as an enabling technology for audio nature tours. How important is the use of mobile devices in natural environments?
AL: This project has more thought behind it than some of the others that I've done. I love pigeons and other urban wildlife and I wanted to create a project to help people learn about and appreciate these animals. I also wanted to address the ways in which people and animals are connected by weaving together human history and natural history. Cell phones were a great choice for a few reasons. Cell phones are very similar to audio tour machines. Many people already have them, so this project made use of technology without requiring me to build anything. Finally, cell phones are normally used to take people away from their surroundings, so it was fun to create a way to use them to connect people to their environment. You can listen to the audio tours on my web site.
Calculator Haikus (Latteier, 2000)
GIZMODO: "Calculator Haikus" takes the simple display of the calculator and makes haikus from the upside down display. What are you trying to say about the simplicity of technology?
AL: This project comes from my memories of spelling HELL (7734) and BOOBIES (5318008) using calculators in middle school. I wondered what other words could be spelled, so I wrote a very simple computer program to check the dictionary. It turns out that there are about 100 words. Given this strange and small vocabulary, I wondered what could be written. The obvious choice of text was haiku, since they are so short. The project explores what happens when you push a stupid calculator trick as far as it can go. I really enjoy the fun ways that people can misuse everyday technologies.
30 Minute Hovercraft (Latteier, 2000)
GIZMODO: 30 Minute Hovercraft was an experiment in building a hovercraft from cardboard and a vacuum in under an hour. What was your impetus for building this project?
AL: This project is basically just a high school science project presented as art. In fact, I didn't originally think of it as art. At first it was just something fun do to with my roommate's shop vac. At the time I lived in a warehouse so there was lots of room to ride a hovercraft. Then I bought a leaf blower and started taking the hovercraft to parties. As you could imagine, it was quite a hit. Later I entered it in an art show mostly because they were only accepting two-dimensional artwork, and most of what I had was sculpture. I figured that if you hung the hovercraft to the wall it could count as two-dimensional.
GIZMODO: What projects are you currently working on? How are they similar or different than your past projects?
AL: One project that I'm currently working on is a telephone project where people use the phone like a karaoke machine to record their own protest songs to the tune of Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It". You can record songs about serious things like the war in Iraq, or stuff like how your landlord won't ever repair stuff. Then you can choose politicians to send your songs to. This works because most politicians have comment lines where you can leave them messages about your concerns. The project will also have a website where you can listen to songs that people have recorded.
Another project I'm working on is a performance about the history of zoo architecture. I'm really interested in a guy named Karl Hagenbeck who revolutionized zoo architecture early in the Twentieth Century. He popularized the use of moats rather than bars, and showed animals in naturalistic settings. I want to compare this history with many other things including the videogame Microsoft Zoo Tycoon, and this history of animals in film. I'm really interested in how spaces for animal display have evolved over the last century.