The Butler Brothers continue with their very particular, dystopian vision of the world with their new animation Refusnik. Like J. G. Ballard before them, the Butler Bros. (aka John Butler) create speculative fictions out of present reality, and both share the author’s antipathy towards technology.
Technology is not our friend, their work says, it is created by corporations to imprison and enslave. This theme is touched upon in Refusnik, where drone technology is fused together with warehouse slavery to create a highly probable and deeply disturbing future.
For twenty-years, artist John Butler has been the driving talent behind an incredible array of short animated films and science-fiction series. As one half of the Butler Brothers, John has produced, written and animated original, speculative fictions that examine the nature of our relationship with Government, Military and Corporations through technology.
Animations such as Eden, The Ethical Governor, T.R.I.A.G.E. and Unmanned have reinforced John’s dystopian view of the world, where technology is primarily developed as a means of control, war and exploitation.
‘I don’t think we’re doomed,’ says Butler, ‘But we are stuck with it. I think the self checkouts in supermarkets indicate where we are going, towards a cybernetic transaction space. They should give us a discount since we’re doing all the work now.’
Butler’s latest animation Acrohym is a satirical ‘song of praise’ to DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency):
...the most exciting arts commissioning agency in the world today.
Acrohym stands for ‘Advanced, Central, Research, Organization, High-Yield, Markets.’ The kind of buzz words promoted by PR reps and technocrats, who are currently destroying language and democracy.
Butler is fascinated by this and the way in which organizations like DARPA, have become like art/science patrons developing new technologies for the military, while at the same time creating their own language.
‘I liked the idea that DARPA seemed to think of cool acronyms first and work backwards from that. Things like the FANG (Fast, Adaptble, Next-Generation Ground vehicle) challenge, the Triple Target Terminator (T3) and the Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition ( MAHEM). They ruthlessly torture language to create a new form of technocratic poetry.
‘I think weapons design attracts the brightest minds and can draw on limitless funding, so it’s no wonder they make such fascinating stuff. It is an art form of sorts, increasingly so, as the systems become more baroque and dysfunctional, like architectural follies.
‘Form Follows Funding is the first Law of Procurement.
‘I think Defense is the seedbed of all research, but it eventually trickles down to the civil sphere. If private enterprise had created the internet, it would be a lot of bike couriers with USB sticks. Only a military project could have had such a long range investment strategy.’
John is working on his next project, but I wanted to know when he would be makinga full length feature film?
‘As soon as I’ve secured Ministry of Defense funding.’
John Butler’s superb latest animation T.R.I.A.G.E. is a speculative tale showing how:
A sick and failing area is swiftly restored to sound financial health
T.R.A.G.E. is an acronym for
Of course, triage is “the process of determining the priority of patients’ treatments based on the severity of their condition.” With this in mind, any similarities between actual events is purely intentional.
Bonus animations by John Butler ‘Unmanned’ and ‘Sub Optimal’ after the jump…
Each year animator John Butler produces his own distinct Christmas image to send to friends. Rather than the traditional jolly Santa or nativity scene, John creates “a sinister festive image,” inspired by a work of classic science-fiction. This year’s image was inspired by John Carpenter’s The Thing and John has sent it to Dangerous Minds for all of us to share. Nice.
According to the dictionary, the definition of the word genius includes:
n., pl., -ius·es.
Extraordinary intellectual and creative power.
That’s good enough for me, for by this definition, digital animator John Butler is a genius.
If you don’t know John’s work, then here’s a good place to start - an article Richard Metzger wrote up for Dangerous Minds, taken from an interview carried out with Butler earlier this year.
John is that rare and distinct thing, a creative talent with a unique and powerful vision - one that informs his analysis of current events into original speculative fictions. Underpinning this, John uses the terms and language of the military and financial sector, subverting them to reveal their true meaning.
All of which can be seen in his latest presentation The Ethical Governor, described as:
This presentation demonstrates a prototype of the Ethical Governor, a key component in the ethical projection of unmanned autonomous force.
In an exclusive interview with Dangerous Minds John Butler talks about the ideas behind The Ethical Governor and how they reflect today’s political, corporate and military world.
“I’ve been very interested in all aspects of what is now branded as the Long War, which I see as a war between Finance and Humans, rather than East versus West, Capitalism versus Islam, or whatever.
A military invasion to secure resources and a financial austerity package to placate bondholders are all part of a unified process. It’s just that force is applied in a somewhat cruder manner in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Africa.
What I’ve done is transposed the action to the Homeland, where it will eventually arrive anyway. The Drones are Chamber of Commerce assets, part of the elite Milton Friedman Unit.”
What is the inspiration for the presentation?
“The piece is based on actual systems being developed in universities right now in anticipation of fully autonomous war fighting. What I’ve done is resynthesised an academic presentation to reveal it’s true intent.
The language comes from the Military Educational Complex, but has been rewritten by the Butler Brothers to fictionalize it, and therefore make it more effective.
Concepts like the “Ethical Adaptor” actually exist. I liked that aspect most of all, the calibration of guilt, and the option to override the Ethical Governor when convenient.
I think that says it all about battlefield ethics. I like the idea of robots being “in Harm’s Way”, one of my favourite phrases.
How does this relate to what’s happening just now in the world?
“The anti IMF riots in Greece and the protests in Ireland and here are attempts by Humans to react to the Process.
Young people in Britain have no access to home ownership now, which is a detail that might have been overlooked, so they seem to have less to lose that Thatcher’s generation.
What are you working on next?
“Thinking up a companion piece just now, provisionally called Triage. It would be great to project this somewhere soon, as part of a Forum for the Future.”
“A lot of people fear artificial intelligence,” said John Arquilla, executive director of the Information Operations Center at the Naval Postgraduate School. “I will stand my artificial intelligence against your human any day of the week and tell you that my A.I. will pay more attention to the rules of engagement and create fewer ethical lapses than a human force.”
Dr. Arquilla argues that weapons systems controlled by software will not act out of anger and malice and, in certain cases, can already make better decisions on the battlefield than humans.
Mesh was a digital animation scheme that brought together a diverse range of talented, young animators, who created twenty-seven award-winning works between 2000-07. Produced by Nicola Black, in conjunction with Channel 4 and Nesta, Mesh was a neat idea, one that is typical of Black’s imaginative and uniquely original approach to program-making.
It was also the kind of series that benefited TV, as it allowed anyone to submit an idea, script and storyboard for consideration, out of this a short list was drawn-up, from which 4 animators were chosen to develop and make their films. The scheme also involved seminars and courses, where the animators worked with established film-makers and script-writers to develop their projects.
Amongst the animators were Grant Orchard, whose Welcome to Glaringly was voiced by Little Britain’s Matt Lucas; James Merry who went onto work on Monkey Dust; Darren Price, who animated the true story of a bear who loved vodka; Yasmeen Ismail who made a simple animation about size and shape before going on to form Sweetworld and Rhumbaba: John Butler who created his clever, idiosyncratic consumerist fable; Stephen Cavalier who crafted a homage to 1950s sci-fi; and Neil Coslett, whose Killing Time at Home was used by Placebo as a back projection on their recent tour. All of have gone on to bigger and better things, but Mesh was where it all started. Here is a small selection of some of these animations.
In 2001, Channel 4 television, in the UK, broadcast a 20-part sci-fi short animation series called Workgroup Alpha. It starred Ed Bishop and dealt with a team of inter-dimensional consultants, lost on an intergalactic space mission. Bishop, with his association as Commander Straker from Gerry Anderson’s cult TV hit UFO, was ideally cast as Aquarius, the Enterprise Class Visionary, who with his fellow travellers explored “a whole new dimension in universal solutions.”
Though there is the passing hint of Frederick Pohl’s satirical sci-fi classic The Space Merchants, which imagined a world run by ad agencies, Workgroup Alpha offered an intelligent and witty critique of the growing cultural obsession with corporate speak, focus groups, PR consultants, and all those other anemic constructs that have depersonalized our world.
The end credit to the series was attributed to the Butler Brothers, the name by which John and Paul Butler operate. Paul is the co-producer, writer and conceptual consultant. John is writer, designer, animator, composer, co-producer, and director.
I first heard about the Butler Brothers through friends, though it was always John Butler who attracted the most attention. His name was mentioned with that hushed reverential tone and nodding head of respect that said we had touched on some sacred matter. It made Butler seem almost mythical – a great creative artist who lived somewhere (no one seemed quite sure where, or if they did, didn’t say), a garret most likely, where he created, with help from his brother, these incredible digital animations, of such intelligence and imagination.
I sent Paul a quick note last week that I had enjoyed his interview and he replied:
“Butler’s latest animation, Children of the Null, was inspired by Dennis Wheatley and to an extent, more Stephen King. When I asked him about it, he said the Children of the Null was about the occult practice of finance.
“I tend to think of Finance as an occult concern, hence the masks of the Transactors. The fact that during the collapse, derivatives were described as being too complex to understand confirms this suspicion.”
Though John is an atheist - he sees capitalism as an evil.
I think he just might have something there.”
Do androids dream of eclectic sheep? – an interview with John Butler (Planet Paul)