Jeremy Solterbeck b. 1973
Moving Illustrations of Machines (2000)
Consider Moving Illustrations of Machines a revisionist animation. It ignores all tenets of traditional animation: color, hypernatural movement, and the depiction of vibrancy and life. The only characters as such are machines.
Work began on this film as a commentary on the 1997 cloning of Dolly the sheep. The goal was to visualize a hybrid world where the distinction between organic machines (such as cells) and their man-made counterparts (such as microchips) becomes unclear. A duality has crept into our technological consciousness: first, the idea that a living mechanism such as an ovum can be described as a machine, and second, the idea that man-made mechanisms with extreme complexity must at some point be considered alive. For instance, the CPU of your average desktop computer can now outperform insects in terms of information processing power. Does this suggest that microchips are in some way smarter or more alive than insects?
This new paradigm of the machine concept is here applied to a narrative that encompasses many of our emotional perceptions regarding cloning. Setting a provocative tone, the film opens with the mission statement of scientist and entrepreneur Richard Seed:
God made man in his own image. God intended for man to become one with God. We are going to become one with God. We are going to have almost as much knowledge and almost as much power as God. Cloning, and the reprogramming of DNA, is the first serious step in becoming one with God.
The film introduces this machine world in a series of images that depict simple motion, consisting only of the benign spinning and turning of various mechanisms. The world is designed to lack a sense of scale and orientation, to be surreal and mysterious, yet to also be beautiful. The second sequence begins with an unsettling image of worm-like machines. They appear more complex in form and motion, but still seem to be metallic and man-made. Then the ova are introduced and the rest of this sequence details their journey from being “hatched”, to being inseminated by the mechanical worms, to being inscribed with information by the needle of an ominous cloning device. After we see a single egg being altered, the final sequence begins and we learn the rest of the eggs have been inscribed as well. They slowly conglomerate as the music builds, and in the end appear indistinguishable in a mass, an organic surface that is the accumulation of these hybrid organic machines.
Moving Illustrations of Machines wishes to reconsider what it means to be living. Has technology and cloning changed the definition of the word machine? Is the human machine open to revision by humanity itself? As our technology becomes unfathomably complex, will the human ovum become as eligible for alteration as any of our mechanical gadgets? This film doesn’t propose to answer these questions, only to present them for the viewer's consideration as cloning and related scientific issues continue to surge to the forefront of our ethical and moral quandaries.