Everyone makes an occasional jaunt to the uncanny valley, a term connoting the profound, atavistic fear we feel in the presence of robots that look and act like people: of objects flitting around in the vicinity of personhood. Though it’s been around since 1970, when it was coined by the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori, the phrase has seen a noticeable surge in usage since 2000—the natural byproduct of humanity’s deep reckoning with the unstoppable rise of our android overlords.
The sculptor Duane Hanson lived deep in the Uncanny Valley. He bought a lot of property there. And he didn’t have to bother with robotics, either; he provoked our disturbed wonderment with earthier stuff: you know, like polyester resin, fiberglass, polychrome, oil paint. Hanson made eerily, maybe even virulently realistic sculptures of American Everymen and Everywomen. When he died, in 1996, he left behind a small army of joggers, tourists, cops, cafeteria-goers, and sunbathers, all seemingly straight out of Disney World in 1985, and daring you to call them fake. Your typical Hanson sculpture is jauntily dressed, with sagging flesh and a pouchy pallor around the eyes not unlike that of our president. As I’ve written before, his blue-collar men and women are often found in repose, loafing or catching their breath, vaguely bruised by the world around them. They’re both delicate and vulgar, walking a fine line between the avuncular and the repellent—tailor-made, it seems, to arouse our deepest class anxieties. Read More