In 2004, I created a graphics program that simulated a population of stickmen and stickwomen through various iconic stages of life: birth, play, love, work, rest, travel, and death. The program is designed in such a way that the results are always unique. The balance of the population may favor women or men; depending on the birthrate, the population may explode or taper off; certain building sites may be full of workers while others remain untouched.
Two years later, I modified the program, attempting to capture the entire “evolution” of the Society of Stickpeople in one still image. Historically, chronophotography was one way that artists and scientists captured motion in this way. Pioneers such as Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne-Jules Marey captured unique images of motion that were scientifically revealing as well as aesthetically pleasing. Marcel Duchamp captured time in a different way in his painting “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2.”
Revisiting the Society
This latest iteration of A Society of Stickpeople, besides being reworked “under the hood,” pursues a stronger conceptual underpinning. In providing an interface that allows viewers to affect the outcome of the simulation, my hope is that the piece invites conversation about sustainability and related topics. A simple interface presents the viewer with a choice: A New Beginning (button 1), Will You Act Sustainably? (button 2), Or Not? (button 3). Button 1 resets the simulation, button 2 inserts a “sustainably-acting” stickperson into the world, and button 3 inserts an “unsustainably-acting” stickperson into the world.
When a sustainable stickperson builds, he will produce a gold-colored building. When an unsustainable stickperson builds, he will produce a black building that decays (shrinks) more quickly than the gold buildings. As the simulation progresses and the stickpeople eventually die off, the world is left with an empty landscape of black and gold buildings, the only remainder of the society’s existence. The viewers are invited to contemplate the rise and fall of their own lives and societies. What we build and how we build it – these things will outlast us and leave an imprint on those that follow, and on the earth itself.
While the differences between a sustainable and unsustainable population are subtle (in this simulation), they are noticeable, especially as the choices and inputs of many viewers aggregate. This points to the need for corporate action to affect appreciable change in our world – change starts with the individual, but a successful transition to sustainable practices will require action from a great many of us.