Every now and then, a story comes around that transforms the way that you see the world and makes you realize that it is a much more gross and frivolous place than you have ever imagined. For the latest epiphany of this sort, I would like to thank Business Insider for bringing me the tale of Bart Jansen, an artist-provocateur from the Netherlands who, in 2012, asked himself something that we’ve all wondered at one point or another during our respective dark nights: “I wonder if I could turn my dead cat into a quadcopter drone?”
Well, you can do anything if you put your mind to it, and Jansen busied himself installing a motor in his dead pet’s stomach and propellers in its paws. I won’t make you look at it, but the end result is like something out of a Tim Burton movie: the cat’s eyes bulging, its limbs splayed out like wings. But it flew, and Jansen was satisfied. “When Orville was killed by a car, I decided to pay tribute to his lost life by giving him a new one,” Jansen wrote on his website. “Electronic life. How he loved birds.”
The project inspired extreme reactions, with some Dutch animal lovers dubbing Jansen “the worst person in the country.” The criticism didn’t dissuade him from performing similar transformations, in collaboration with the engineer Arjen Beltman, on a dead rat, a dead shark, and a dead ostrich. (“OstrichCopter, half ostrich, half helicopter. Always handy to have around,” Jansen wrote.) Now, Business Insider reports, Jansen is working to convert a dead badger into a small submarine and is also mulling designs for a vague project called a “mancopter,” which, thankfully, does not seem to involve converting a human corpse into a flying machine. (As far as I can tell, Jansen wants to turn a large animal, like a cow, into a kind of wearable flying suit or something.)
So, to be clear, it is definitely possible to turn a dead animal into a drone. But is it art? Humans are sometimes fond of anthropomorphizing technological objects, and Jansen’s corpse-copters effectively satirize this tendency. If nothing else, Jansen’s imaginative transfigurations certainly make you think, even if the only think you’re thinking is, What in the world is wrong with Bart Jansen? I would also like to note that there is a USA Today transportation reporter named Bart Jansen who often writes about drones, and it would be wonderfully serendipitous if one day this Jansen wrote about the other.
This article is part of a Future Tense series on the future of drones and is part of a larger project, supported by a grant from Omidyar Network and Humanity United, that includes a drone primer from New America.