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Ornitorrinco Project

Ornitorrinco in Copacabana  "Ornitorrinco on the Moon"

“Ornitorrinco in Copacabana,”1992           “Ornitorrinco on the Moon,” 1992

Note:  The text about the “Ornitorrinco Project” in the book Art and Electronic Media actually describes “Rara Avis.”  In his essay, “Ornitorrinco Project: Exploring Telepresence and Remote Sensing,”[1] Kac writes:

“Ornitorrinco (“Platypus”, in Portuguese) is a project that explores remote sensing, improvisation and teleoperation as elements of the work. Materially speaking, the project is composed of two telephone lines, four telephone sets, a one-eyed robotic creature (which gives the project its name), a transcoder, and two modems….

Here is the basic structure: in one location, the artist …. will use the sounds produced by pushing the numbers on the dial keypad to control Ornitorrinco’s motion in a distant place. The artist also has a monitor and a modem (to receive slow scan video stills every eight seconds)…. Without previous information about the environment, the artist only sees what Ornitorrinco “sees”….

Ornitorrinco was experienced for the first time in January 11, 1990, in a link between Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, and Chicago….

In Ornitorrinco, the enigmatic idea of ‘telekinesis’ is embodied in electric and electronic parts, to unveil new paths for telecommunications as an art form beyond the exchange of images. This project is meant to express some of the possibilities of an out-reaching vision, in particular, and an extended body, in general, as a consequence of the cultural impact of telecommunication systems.”

Commentary:  It is important to recognize Kac’s use of animal metaphors even in his earliest telepresence works, an element that ties this set of researches to his later bio-tech art.  The ornitorrinco, or platypus, he notes, is popularly thought to be a “hybrid of bird and mammal,”[2] and the artist’s work typically involves hybrids that transcend the limits between species and between sentient and non-sentient beings. In this regard, the presence of the white toy rabbit in “Ornitorrinco in Copacabana,”1992 (depicted above), uncannily anticipates his famous and infamous bio-art project “GFP Bunny,” a hybrid being that joins the genetic material of a fish (jellyfish) and a mammal.

[1] Leonardo, Vol. 24, No.2, 1991, p. 233.

[2] Eduardo Kac, “Ornitorrinco and Rara Avis: Telepresence Art on the Internet“, Leonardo, Vol. 29, N. 5, 1996, pp. 389-400.