Neighborhood Watch #1

“Neighborhood Watch #1” is the first of a series of works I am developing inspired by depictions of animals and natural bodies I have encountered in Estonian animistic folktales. In these tales, the non-human organism is often a watchful, moralizing arbiter of human fate who villagers encounter or seek counsel from when they venture into the forest. The fortune of the villager depends on their conduct in these encounters with the non-human gaze. Behaving well begets good fortune, and behaving poorly begets bad fortune. The gaze of the animal as an "other" in the wild has been and still is a strongly empathetic, humbling experience, but it is one we rarely confront anymore in urban environments.

This work presents three AI generated incarnations of animals common in the Bremen area – a rabbit, a crow and a beaver.

A webcam watches viewers as they approach the installation and tracks their position relative to the installation. As the viewers move around, the animals’ gaze follows the viewers, keeping viewers in a state of constant surveillance. These AI constructions reflect the ambiguous position of “wild” life in urban environments today. These animals have been reduced to human constructions – fabricated from an artificial intelligence’s recombination of human images describing what a rabbit, a crow and a beaver should look like. In the controlled, anthropocentric environments we live in today, “wild” nature has lost much of its agency and has become little more than a decoration for our daily lives. Yet, through the AI images, a glimmer of each animal’s former aliveness persists, and raises the question: What judgement do they have to offer?

Spring 2023

© 2023 all rights reserved Mohar Kalra.