Monday, April 28, 2014

Artist Paper - Human Race Machine and Web of Life

      In the growing age of digital media, there are many different types of digital artists that have grown to create outstanding pieces for the world to see. Some of these pieces hold a meaning and moral for the world to understand; others, a personal reflection for themselves. Nancy Burson and Helene Kippert are two digital media artists with different approaches to a similar general goal: gaining a bigger understanding and reflection of ourselves as individuals.

Nancy Burson is a photo manipulator that has been working on many diverse projects and designs since the 1980s with one of her most famous being the Human Race Machine. Having been first made for the Millennium Dome in London in 2000, the Human Race Machine became very popular to the public, and more were made around the Unites States specifically in colleges and universities. The process of the Human Race Machine is easy to follow with some help. The Human Race Machine first takes a headshot of the person in the booth. From there on, the person can toggle with the features of the headshot and figure out what they would look like as another race. There are 6 races to pick from: White/Caucasian, African, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Hispanic. As years went by, new features came into play in the machines as well. For example, people could see how they would look with certain disorders. A person can also see how they might look in a few decades, and Nancy Burson has had much experience in manipulating a photograph to mess with their future age. The Human Race Machine plays with the concept of race as a genetic factor rather than a social factor.

Helene Kippert is both a fractal digital artist and a mixed media artist in Western California. Fractal art is a strange and unique kind of art where an artist used mathematical formulas to make the fractal objects displayed in the image resulted. The most common form of a fractal is a spiral. However, Kippert doesn’t take the common approached with her work and instead decides to create more abstract and original designs. She uses this as a form of self expression for her own thoughts and reflection coming to be known mainly for her fractal art. With every piece she makes, she adds in a poem as a description to express her thoughts while making the piece. Only a few of her pieces have been shown in exhibitions and magazines some being due to coming to be a finalist in some contests. One of these pieces is “Web of life”. Made in 2009, it was one of Kippert’s art pieces to be published and made as postcards in Australia. Like many of Kippert’s fractal art pieces, “Web of life” holds an outstanding form and energy to it. In her description of “Web of life,” Kippert adds a poem by Rumi with the strongest line being, “You breathe, and new shapes appear.” (“Web of Life by Helene”) The work itself truly looks like a web of boundless, bouncing energy with streams and spirals of energy flowing through it as well.

Both The Human Race Machine and “Web of life” hold a value to a sense of connection to one another. Though people divide themselves by different means, there is an overall connection between every person that makes everyone the same. The Human Race Machine does a brilliant job in defining this within its meaning as it means to have people think deeper about themselves. Race is truly a social standard not a genetic case; in all honesty, we are genetically all 99.999% alike (“Human Race Machine”). It aimed to dispel stereotypes about races and speak out to say that we are all the same in the inside although we may be different on the outside. People who sat in the booth and played around with their features had a lot to think about after as even their own race may not have fit in with the stereotypical look. It asks the real question of who we are and the true connection between us all as people. “Web of life” conveys this connection in a more hidden and subtle way. As Kippert says, this world and everything in it, including ourselves, are surrounded in an invisible sea of energy (“Artist Statement”). People are connected to not just each other but the natural world as well through this energy, and Kippert uses fractal art as a means to give this energy a visible form and life. “Web of life” plays with the idea of that energy that gives form and breath to every life in the world whether it be the world itself, the plants, the animals, or the people. The work of art stretches out its web, entangles everything in its many strands, latches to every place in the world, and lets its energy flow and stream through every natural form in the world. Both works hold an important value to a deeper understanding of ourselves, and they use lighting to help them in conveying this message.

The form and aspect of light is an important part of both the Human Race Machine and “Web of life”. As a creation of photography still, lighting plays as an important aspect of The Human Race Machine particularly since it helps to show the face and all of the face’s features along with it. Too dim of lighting or too bright and the camera can’t pick up all the features of the face. It works within the standards of photography; the lighting has to be set just right in order to get the best results for the headshot that appears. Without the lighting, the Human Race Machine would never be so effective in its approach and meaning. Lighting in “Web of life” held both a similar and different approach. The light in “Web of life” helps to give the work of art the feeling of its boundless energy. With its different, ever-changing, vibrant colors, the differences in light in areas help give the lines a sense of almost child-like energy and life. The light is strongest in the areas where a multitude of strands touch which, in a way, could signify a stronger energy in the connection of different lives in the world. The web itself in the center that courses throughout the piece is well lit as well as if to give a bright sense of light to the world. 

There are many differences between Burson’s Human Race Machine and Kippert’s “Web of life”. To begin, the approaches Nancy Burson and Helene Kippert took to each of their works almost reaches to opposite planes. The Human Race Machine is pretty straightforward and realistic in its design. The method is simple: enter the booth, take a headshot, and experiment with the settings to see differences in appearance. It is meant as an interactive process for anyone in the public to go and try out. On the other hand, “Web of life” is a simple design and digital piece of artwork. There is no interactive play for the audience to take a part in, and the work itself is heavily abstract. Though both pieces leave the public to think deeper on the topic, “Web of life” works like many abstract designs. To each individual that sees it, they see something different and think more deeply on the hidden meaning behind the work itself. Also, the level of popularity between the two is massively different. The Human Race Machine is well known in both the United States and Great Britain. There are booths in museums, universities, and colleges that people can walk to and try out. It has even been featured and used on shows like Oprah. There are also volunteers who show others how the machine works and help them understand and go through the process. “Web of life” is in the opposite area. Although it has been published, it is not known at all in the United States and is now used as a postcard in Australia. Finally, the general audience differed for each work. The Human Race Machine is meant for the general public with an emphasis towards students. On the contrary, “Web of life” was more geared towards Kippert herself as a means of personal reflection and awakening.

Overall, The Human Race Machine and “Web of life” are two great examples of the difference in digital media. The Human Race Machine, meant for more educational purposes and awareness, gives the public a very interactive and fun experience in discovering a little more interesting information on ourselves as people. “Web of life”, a statement to personal reflection and connection, gives people a new and unique type of art that comes alive in its vibrant colors and boundless energy. By all means, these two pieces are extreme opposites in approach, but they share a similar goal in display a higher connection to ourselves in life. Unfortunately, neither of these artists contacted back as to their own words on the matter.

Works Cited

"Human Race Machine." Nancy Burson RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2014. <>.

"Publications and Exhibitions." Fractal Worlds: Energy Art for the New Earth. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2014. <>.

"Web of Life by Helene." Redbubble. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2014. <>.

"Artist Statement." Fractal Worlds: Energy Art for the New Earth. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2014. <>.

"Skin Deep." N.p., 16 Feb. 2006. Web. 26 Apr. 2014. <>.

"SEATTLE FRACTALS DIGITAL ART." What Are Fractals? Northwest Web Designers, n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2014. <>.

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