“The monstrous is no longer the alien other” ….

stelarc third arm

This statement, made by Stelarc [‘Third Hand/Third Face: Alternative Architectures] immediately implies (erroneously) an aspect of some life-changing, tremendous, other-worldly adaptation, or growth.  Stelarc shares his opinion within a paragraph of scientific and technological facts.   It blatantly suggests that there is a natural progression towards the merging of man and machine without moral or ethical consideration.  However, rather than formulating an argument, this is merely a list of modern-day facts.  Facts which highlight very important questions not only regarding the future of man and his relationship with technology, but also mans’ relationship with himself and other human beings.  Stelarc has taken his thoughts of posthumanism and expressed them in the real world by the addition of a third arm (attached to his central nervous system).  This courageous action not only enhances his individuality but also provokes a collective need for consideration of what it means to be human in contemporary society.

The idea of animating human creations was the stuff of fairy tales.  Before Christ the Greek myth of Pygmalion  involves the animation of his sculpture which thankfully opposes Stelarc’s use of the word ‘monstrous’.  (click on image below for link to Ovid’s poem)

775px-Château_de_Versailles,_salon_des_nobles,_Pygmalion_priant_Vénus_d'animer_sa_statue,_Jean-Baptiste_Regnault

The myth of Pygmalion has been the inspiration for artists since the renaissance, his story was told by the poet Ovid centuries before that.  According to Ovid Pygmalion sculpts his perception of the perfect female, not merely as a visual pleasure but also (in his mind) a real human girl.  He falls in love with his ivory sculpture for her true beauty and the goddess of love instills his utopian fantasy with real life.  Although the thought of Ivory seems a little far-fetched now, this example shows there has always been a need to create the perfect human.

Perhaps more popular and in concurrence with Stelarc’s  ‘monstrous’ view would be Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein.  Many films have been produced loosely based around the actual novel, although they have been re-made to frighten, to amuse and to empathise.

frankenstein-1

The story of Frankenstein eludes the religious intervention by replacing it with technology.  Victor Frankenstein studies biology and physiology, and is obsessed with discovering what the source of life is.  He re-animates a dead body by using electricity, without due care it is Victor Frankenstein and his neglect of his creation that turns it into a monster.  In 1818, when this novel was written the idea of re-animating a dead body would be a ludicrous proposition, and yet today those who have suffered a heart-attack can be brought back to life using the same medium.

Somewhere in-between the extremes of the  Sculptural and Moving Image representations used above lies actual replication and amalgamation.  Pierre Jacquet Droz created himself a family of mechanical dolls in the early 1700’s.  The video below shows two of these.  One male child was a writer, another an artist and lastly a beautiful female who plays the harpsichord.

The writing boy above is the most interesting from a posthuman perspective because he writes “I think, therefore I am” a well-known philosophical phrase by Descartes, suggesting a relationship between the body and mind.  However intriguing these figures are (even today), there is something disturbing about the replication of human vessels in a mechanical way.  They not only reflect the possibilities of technology at any given time, but also the limitations of what it means to be human.  The mechanical boy achieves greatness in his thought and writing ability, but is suppressed and restrained by immobility and the need for someone to wind him up.

Hence, replication of the human being has always been a fascination and accomplishments of that goal are proven.   There are an infinite amount of myths, poems, literature, music, paintings, prints, photographs and moving image all revolving around the creation of the perfect human being, made by the hands of mankind.  And as technological advancements are made this ideal is recreated, remade and improved upon by artists, philosophers and scientists alike.  The possibilities are yet to be exhausted.

Nancy Burson, in an exhibition entitled ‘Alarming Visions of the Future’ using modern digital photography to manipulate the features of facial portraits toys with morphology and genetic codes.

Mankind Nancy Burson

This image is called ‘Mankind’, the person in the image is a fabrication of Nancy Burson’s imagination and the use of modern computer software.  Looking at the face it is difficult not to assume or create  a narrative.

However, there is no story hidden in his eyes, because he doesn’t exist in the real world.  Nancy Burson has succeeded, in collaboration with her audience, in creating a person who didn’t exist previous to her invention.

Remaining with the face, in 2012 Anna Dimitriu and Alex May collaborated to produce an exciting exhibition involving an interactive robot.

Anna Dumitiu Alex May Robot Companion

“My New Robot Companion” has all the features of a

robot physically.  Facially, it mimics whomever it sees.

There is an immediate visual comfort that this is

purely a human creation.  However, this knowledge does

not prepare the watcher for an uneasy sensation when

the observer’s face is reflected back at them.

This type of art installation definitely amalgamated  the theories of science-fiction and art.  It brings the two together beautifully while still retaining the imperfections of human capability.

Returning to Stelarc’s quotation, “The monstrous is no longer the alien other…”  after investigation the topic never was truly monstrous, nor was it an alien concept to improve or replicate the human species in an expressive way.  His addition of a third arm attached to his central nervous system is perceived as adventurous rather than monstrous.  However, what is disturbing and ethically dubious is what human beings can, do and will do in the future to exploit this idea as technology advances.  In her book “Posthuman Ethics” Patricia McCormack states “Posthuman Ethics asks not what the posthuman is, but how posthuman theory creates new, imaginative ways of understanding relations between lives.

Marina Abramovic explored the free will of humanity in a performance called ‘Rhythm O’.

marina abramovic rhythm o

As part of the performance the audience were given the choice to pleasure or abuse Marina.  They were provided a choice of  items from a rose, to a gun.

Marina herself was naked throughout the performance providing no threat to anyone.

By the end of the performance someone had put a bullet in the gun and wanted Marina to pull the trigger, killing herself.  None of the other observers made an attempt to prevent this from happening.

This performance revealed how inhumane all humans can become when given the choice to do so.

Bearing this in mind, how would the application of Stelarc’s posthuman ideal on the many be treated within contemporary society?

In 2007 a theatrical production answered the question quite poignantly, called ‘The Generic Opera’ it challenges the benefits of organ transplants in a modern capitalist society.  If you are unable to pay for your transplant it gets repossessed, more than likely killing you horrifically in the process.

Pavi-repo-the-genetic-opera-3815301-600-398

In a pantomime production the issue of a constant need to seek perfection is portrayed in a jovial, contemporary way.  As well as fantastical advances in technology to prolong a quality of life, married with the inability to prolong it indefinitely, through transplantation of  any faulty organ in the human body.  Hitherto, a society dependent on painkillers because of their addiction to surgery.

The target audience is a wide cross-section of the population, with parental guidance.

In conclusion, this topic is an example of true posthuman ethics.  The stories, poems, literature, paintings, prints, moving image, photographic, sculptural and philosophical theories obsessing over creating a vessel worthy of representing the human mind along with individual perceptions of perfection have transpired throughout time, just not by a singular individual.  One theory may be discarded for generations until another person reads, disagrees, experiments in practice and rewrites the thesis.  Is that not a genuine connection between two minds?  The theory itself is infinite.  Perhaps that is why as thoughtful human beings we strive to reach the same potential, our bodies however only allow the limitations of finite possibilities. “Then say not Man’s imperfect, heav’n in fault;  Say rather, Man’s as perfect as he ought:  His knowledge measur’d to his state and place;  His time a moment, and a point in his space.  If to be perfect in a certain sphere,  What matter, soon or late, or here, or there?  The blest today is as completely so, As who began a thousand years ago.”  [Alexander Pope esq.  Essay on Man, Verse II]

All images have links to further reading.

References:

http://www.alley36.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/stelarc.pdf

http://www.poetry-archive.com/o/pygmalion_and_the_statue.html

http://etiskraad.dk/en/Temauniverser/Homo-Artefakt/Artikler/Kulturhistorie/Cyborgen%20i%20den%20tidlige%20litteratur.aspx

http://etiskraad.dk/en/Temauniverser/Homo-Artefakt/Artikler/Kulturhistorie/Kunsten%20og%20den%20konstruerede%20menneskekrop.aspx

http://www.arken.dk/content/us/art/arkens_collection/photography_and_graphics/nancy_burson

http://annadumitriuarts.tumblr.com/

http://www.moma.org/explore/multimedia/audios/190/1972

http://www.ashgate.com/pdf/SamplePages/Posthuman-Ethics-CH1.pdf

https://notes.utk.edu/bio/greenberg.nsf/11b7b90a9fa8e19585256c76000ed30a/a41ea6f017abe5b485256db100676048?OpenDocument

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