Week 4 Response –Blood Selfie

One project I recently read about that caught my attention is a multi-media work entitled Ghost In The Machine (blood robot selfie), by Ted Lawson, a 45-year-old artist residing in Brooklyn. Using a naked picture of his body as his starting point, Lawson set out to create a life-size self-portrait of himself using blood as his “ink”, utilizing a CNC machine, computer software, a needle, and a tube with which to pump his blood through in order to “draw” the original photo. Lawson didn’t collaborate with anyone else nor were there any institutional partners or funding involved in his artistic endeavor.

Ted Lawson’s robotic painting machine that uses blood as ink.

With regards to the materials and technologies involved, Lawson utilized a CNC machine (Computer Numerical Control machine), the graphic design software Illustrator, computer-aided design software Rhino3D, a syringe, and a medical tube.

Lawson IV’d to the CNC machine

Lawson’s process of creating the “blood selfie” entailed using the program Illustrator to transform a nude photograph of himself into vectors (which, when zoomed in on, are not pixelated) so that the Rhino 3D software could translate this photo into thousands of lines of coding the CNC machine would be able to read and consequently “draw” the final self-portrait with. He used a needle to draw blood from his arm that was channeled through a tube connected to the CNC machine that recreated the original naked photo of himself—in blood. Finally, Rhino 3D’s coding of the vectored picture from Illustrator allowed for the CNC machine to print the final portrait via a robot arm with a small brush in its hand.

Lawson, Ted – Ghost in the Machine. 2014. Blood on paper

A widely known colloquialism within the social context of the “Thumb Generation”, a “selfie” is a photographic self-portrait. Lawson never made any statements about the piece implying he intended it to have any deeper meaning than the piece’s face-value (a self-portrait rendered with blood using machinery and computer software).

There are no statements from Lawson asserting he had hopes his “blood selfie” would serve any purpose for the scientific or artistic communities, yet it doesn’t seem Lawson intended the piece to be one solely created for its shock value. He was quoted as saying that he hopes to “find the intersection between technology and existential human experience” with his artwork. One could argue that the “selfie” is an extension of the self and by creating one in one’s own blood, the resultant piece is quite literally an extension of the self.

Ghost In The Machine is an example of where art and technology can fuse together for one ultimate purpose, and both those fields are a central focus of our class discussions. The piece and the process in which it was rendered challenged me personally to think about how I could be more dynamic with my own artwork and to “think outside the box” regarding what counts as a medium for my art and the tools involved in creating art, whatever the form—writing, paintings, music, etc. Lawson’s “blood selfie” seems a prime example for what experimental art is. Quantifying what counts as art is open to interpretation but I believe whatever is created for the purpose of expression can be regarded as art.

Dorian Koehring


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