Animal Cams

June 22, 2012 to August 19, 2012

Click images to enlarge
Sam Easterson, Animal Cams (still from "armadillo-cam"), 2012. Video, 25 minutes. Courtesy of the artist.
Sam Easterson, Animal Cams (still from "turkey-cam"), 2012. Video, 25 minutes. Courtesy of the artist.
Sam Easterson, Animal Cams (still from "duck-cam"), 2012. Video, 25 minutes. Courtesy of the artist.

Sam Easterson's Animal Cams are on view in MMoCA's New Media Gallery, across from the main galleries (enter from the second floor landing). Eighteen different "animal cams" are shown on a continuous loop.

Sam Easterson’s videos investigate the natural environment through the perspective of animals. Attaching specially designed video cameras to various animals—including an armadillo, alligator, and even a tarantula—the artist captures footage from their unique vantage points. Although not approximating an animal’s vision completely, the videos show how different creatures experience the world.

Easterson’s work, however, is less aligned with nature documentaries than with experimental filmmaking. He takes his cue from the structuralist film tradition, an approach to filmmaking that demystifies the process of creation by drawing audiences’ attention to technical aspects of cinematography most often rendered invisible. Through Easterson’s “animal cams,” for example, the artifice of the documentation process is present at all times. Since the camera is attached to the animal, it is nearly impossible for the recorded compositions to exclude parts of the animal itself, such as ears or the top of the head, or to avoid typically undesirable recording techniques, such as jarring angles and shaky footage. Lasting anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes, each video is an unpredictable journey that concludes when the camera falls off the animal.

Easterson’s interest in pushing the boundaries of experiential video predates his animal cams. In Blowout (1995), which was featured in the 1996 Whitney Biennial, Easterson attached a camera to the top of a hot-air popcorn popper. The resulting video—a POV of the machine—shows the kernels wildly bouncing in an abstract dance only to be ejected from the popper. Recognized for his earlier innovations with video art, Easterson was commissioned by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis to produce A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing (1998). For this project, he outfitted a sheep with a custom-fitted, helmet-mounted video camera and successfully recorded footage illustrating flock behavior from an entirely new orientation. Since then, he has been designing cameras for pigs, goats, toads, and other unlikely videographers—each animal recording its own characteristic rhythms and body movements, in addition to its particular relationship to the environment. 

The videos in this program open the potential for reframing our relationship to nature. By allowing animals to be their own documentarians, we can begin to understand their daily interactions with the landscape, their encounters with other species, as well as their intimate gestures and sounds. Indeed, Easterson sees his videos as a means of protecting animals and their surroundings, stating, “If you’re able to see from the perspective of these animals, you’re far less likely to harm them or their habitats.”

This video compilation includes the following "animal cams": armadillo-cam, turkey-cam, scorpion-cam, sheep-cam, American alligator-cam, fly-cam, duck-cam, caribou-cam, leopard frog-cam, wolf-cam, chick-cam, tumbleweed-cam, cow-cam, tarantula-cam, goat-cam, Eastern mole-cam, bison-cam, and pig-cam.