Carbon Creatures is an ongoing series of animations that explore industrial processes and their effect on the environment. Each animation is a reflection of one or more of these processes, bringing their effects to a gruesome extreme by replacing the environment with the human body. In doing so, the human body becomes a condensed, visceral representation of what’s happening on a broader scale. Because human life is already dramatically affected by the environmental changes industry causes, making us the direct casualty is not so much a stretch as it a removal of the middle link. Yet, the insertion of a human element on the receiving end blurs the line between victim and assailant. The placid figures are bystanders to their own predicament.
Just as there is beauty in cities and machine aesthetics, so, too, is there beauty in these animated amalgamations. Carbon Creatures toes the line between the macabre and the mesmerizing, resulting in gifs unnatural yet encapsulating. How this tension is executed varies in extremity. It is not a style or aesthetic that ties the body of work together, but rather the combination of industrial processes and machinery with the human body, the duality in darkness and beauty, and the undercurrent of environmental consciousness. These elements are all visible in the three animated gifs created so far: “Lightheaded,” “Jack,” and “Oil.”
In “Lightheaded,” the unsettling nature of the woman’s head opening up to light her cigarette is contrasted by the playful title and retro aesthetic. The allure of the bright colors and pin-up figure create an expectation that is quickly subverted, making the piece feel both enticing and dangerous, yet not necessarily environmental. In this way, “Lighthearted” sits at the more ambiguous end of the thematic spectrum of Carbon Creatures.
“Jack,” however, is much more contentious. The body horror is more prominent than in “Lightheaded,” with the man’s agape mouth creating a discomfort that immediately brings with it negative connotations. The stylistic contrast within the piece expands this discomfort: the man seems organic because he is hand animated frame-by-frame, unlike the mechanical oil jack. The visual juxtaposition continues with the collapsing of the foreground with the background, creating a broken perspective. What is left is a palpably living being caught at the mercy of an unrelenting machine.
“Oil” continues this confrontational approach, having the figure stare down the viewer with an unblinking gaze while being covered in oil. The viewer, staring back, only becomes more implicit in what’s happening as the process continues. While the subject of “Oil” is apparent, its exact message is illusive. It is concerned with oil, a substance organically made but industrially abused. Thus, the relationship between industrial materials and the human body is transcendent, the oil becoming the figure while also erasing them. The obscurity of what’s taking place makes the white figure a blank canvas not just for the pouring oil, but for the interpretation of the viewer, too.
Perhaps the strongest element of Carbon Creatures is their endless looping. Like the gifs, the push and pull of industry and the environment are cyclical, with the outcomes in nature and the animations still unknown. Until any of the factors change, though, the perversion – whether gruesome, beautiful, or both – is never ending.