*By Devon Tincknell
In 1970, Japanese robotics professor Masahiro Mori coined the phrase “the uncanny valley” to describe the revulsion human beings generally experience when they see an incredibly realistic replica. If a robot, 3D model, or statue looks overblown and cartoonish, like the old man in Pixar’s Up, the viewer feels fine. But once the replica approaches the realism of Polar Express, audiences get creeped out by the dead-eyed human imitators.
Treating the uncanny valley like a ski resort, sculptor Duane Hanson crafted startlingly life-like simulacrums out of fiberglass resin, based on actual human models. While his early work tended towards groups of sculptures arranged in shocking and often violent scenes, starting in the 70s Hanson began creating full sized statues of average, ordinary people. From janitors to tourists, Hanson captured the mundane in a manner that was easy to miss at first simply by falling for the illusion. But beyond the drab wardrobes and sleepy postures, Hanson’s sculptures are exquisitely detailed works of art. Realize that traveler sleeping by his luggage isn’t really the real thing, and your emotions might trend towards awe or anxiousness, depending on which side of the uncanny valley you end up on.