Interview: Floris Kaayk, the Visionary Creative Mind Behind Human Birdwings

Floris Kaayk is an innovative and visionary Dutch artist and filmmaker who focuses on futuristic visions, fantasies and concepts. His work visualizes technological progress, showing both positive and negative consequences.

You may know Kaayk as the mind behind Human Birdwings, the online prank in which the imaginary character Jarno Smeets developed working, DIY “wings”. Kaayk collaborated with Next Nature Network on the Rayfish Footwear Project, a fictional company that offered personalized sneakers crafted from genetically modified stingray leather. In 2006, he produced Metalosis Maligna, a speculative documentary about a bizarre disease that affects patients with metal medical implants. A group of researchers from the university of Groningen actually took the term Metalosis Maligna and used it to name a new class of pseudo-tumors caused by the friction of the metal in patient with a metal knee or hip.

We recently talked with Kaayk about pranks, activism, what he thinks about technological change.

How did you get in touch with Next Nature? 

I learned about the Next Nature network back in 2005, when my first short film The Order Electrus was part of a Next Nature event in Utrecht. Since that moment I started following their blog posts and events. Although the work I create doesn’t start with a very clear philosophy like that of Next Nature, their way of thinking has subconsciously influenced my projects.

Where does the inspiration for your projects come from?

Developing ideas for new projects usually start with one image, an atmosphere, a new item or a dream. It’s more an intuitive way of working instead of following a philosophical path. Looking back to my work of the past six years I recognize a clear narrative and realize that it has many connections to the next nature philosophy.

How would you define the Rayfish Footwear Project: a starting point for a debate about emerging bio-technologies, a social denunciation of the manipulation of nature for our benefit, a social experiment, or all three?

It’s a bit of all the three elements, but it was also an experiment in storytelling. Using online and social media with a compelling storyline made it push the discussion to an international level. By introducing various chapters in which the perspective of the story continuously changed we were able to stimulate different kinds of discussions.

At first a lot of people were upset about the idea of using living organisms as a product. Later in the story, when animal rights activists released the stingrays in the ocean and CEO Raymond Ong gave a passionate, intelligent monologue about our relationship with animals and products, the discussion turned and our audience suddenly showed empathy and understanding. Looking back to the project, these various angles of discussion, the possibility to spread out a fictional story over a course of months and to make an audience participate in those events was very exciting and valuable.

How did you feel about duping people with the Human Birdwings project and then again with the Rayfish Footwear fictional company?

It didn’t feel like duping people, because that wasn’t the intention. Within both projects the most important element for me was to explore the internet as storytelling tool, to present futuristic fantasies and to visualize consequences of technological development.

Do you see yourself as an activist?

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