How to become a thing (working progress)

The single channel video project is based on Marianne, a pianist automaton, created by Jaquet-Droz between 1767 and 1774. A real jewel of watchmaking mechanics, this automaton has human verisimilitude and technical precision that is both intriguing and fascinating. Her chest swells to simulate breathing. Her glass eyes follow her mechanical fingers caressing the keyboard of a real piano. She plays a varied and programmable repertoire and ends her performance with a curtsy. Her appearance and the technological prowess that makes it possible, make Marianne a precursor of our contemporary humanoid robots.

The musical automaton was also a promotional tool. Her role was above all to amaze and entertain. She travelled the world to promote the family watch company Jaquet-Droz. Marianne is therefore one of the earliest examples of the association of the female gender with an android. A use that has persisted until today in most digital assistants (Alexa, Siri, Cortana, Sophia, Erica, …). A default assignment for a promotion or subordinate helping role that is finally debating today. 

Marianne is therefore a fascinating starting point to explore our relationship to machines, but also to gender. How ideals stemming from the Enlightenment still perpetuate stereotypes and prejudices. How technological magic is used for promotional and commercial purposes. How gender duality has always forced a strong-weak dichotomy.

The video will be structured in the form of an interview. Marianne, the Enlightenment automaton, will acquire contemporary artificial intelligence and converse. She will ask to access emotional state to feel the music that she has been playing for century. Her interlocutor will worry that emotions are becoming a commodity. She will find emotions ‘valuable’; her voice may be sweet, but you notice the pun. Marianne will also talk about her role as a woman and a promotional tool. She will claim what she represents, economically and socially. Sometimes promoting her qualities, using humour to put herself forward and rethink her role as an object of demonstration, desire or collection. Marianne will respond verbally and physically to the questions. That is to say that at times, she will be a voice-over, at others, her lips will move, her face will come alive, then her face will transform, decompose. To do this, we will use special effects such as “deepfake” and 3D scanning and morphing. Marianne will try to express emotions in an exaggerated manner, trying anything to achieve connectiveness. 

She will discuss personal or commercial issues uninterruptedly, always trying to meet our expectations with a smooth and calculated speech. She will be both a museum and collector’s item, observed with curiosity and historical interest, and a contemporary android who tries to meet our aesthetic, ethical and cultural standards.