“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)


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.


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.


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.












What is Visual Culture?

I consider this to be an ambiguous term which represents either historically or contemporary, the trends of a society in a visual way.  As suggested within the Exploring Visual Culture book:  “The idea of culture has a complex history, and debates about its meaning have been linked inextricably with the parallel concept of ‘civilisation’ …“.  Political, economic and social changes within communities and countries can be reflected in the visual culture that is left behind.

By Luke Jerram, Deadly Glass

A good example of this is when scientists announced the reconstruction of the genome of the Black Death, one of the most notorious diseases in history.  The medieval bacteria that wiped out half the population of Europe prompted hundreds of artists, when the disease was at its peak to show a life of well-being, and afterwards to chronicle the horror.

Although it has been hundreds of years since a serious outbreak of the disease, it has continually been represented throughout the ages, and even in contemporary times it remains a source of artistic inspiration, acting as a reminder of the fragility of the human species against unseen bacteria?

According to the Exploring Visual Culture text “The term ‘culture’ only began to appear in the English language in the late 18th century and came into use alongside a number of other ideas, i.e.,  ‘industry’, ‘democracy’, ‘class and art’, which are still fundamental to how society is understood.  Within Britain the idea of culture arose partly in response to the impact of the Industrial Revolution…“.  Although the Industrial Revolution created wealth and greater opportunity for stable employment, it also attracted very large populations to areas where the industries were situated.  Hitherto creating problematic living conditions requiring solutions to be found along the way to combat them.  Meanwhile contemporary artists observe, document and reflect back what is going on in the world around them, using every means at their disposal.

After serious contemplation I have decided to reflect on Architecture & Visual Culture.  I find this area especially intriguing as a universal necessity.  As stated in Exploring Visual Culture “Works of architecture frame our lives;  we inhabit them;  they define our movement through cities;  they moralize and discipline, or attempt to“.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1959), Fallingwater, Kaufmann House,
Bear Run, Pennsylvania, 1936

Industrialization & Architecture, by using new materials the purpose and function of a building could be transformed to reflect a designers’ imagination,  allowing a building the gift of pleasant aesthetics as well as meeting the needs of many topographical, environmental and social problems.  However, industrialization is also the dominating factor with regard to sudden surges of immigration, creating new social problems because of insufficient housing stocks.  This means that the population of a specific area can be problematic (Mumbai Slums:  1 sq mile = 1 million people) and this should be a matter of great importance, rather than the global community prioritising Olympic Stadiums over a basic human need for hygienic living conditions.

Photograph by Jonas Bendiksen

A slum in Mexico city with approximately 4 million people
Source: National Geographic

However, as you can see from the satellite image above, which is the largest slum on the planet, there is a method in the madness.  These areas are the pinnacle of innovation in an ever-increasing global population, without the 7-year training required to be an architect.  They live within an ordered chaos, created by recycling unwanted materials.

As people continue to migrate away from rural areas and into cities, cities that are growing to devour the land around it, the numbers of people living in slums, shanty towns and ‘informal settlements’ are sky-rocketing.  Currently, there are 200,000 of these communities across the world (according to the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing) most of them in and around cities, and that number is growing exponentially.  Even before the economic crisis of 2008, about one-third of all city dwellers live in slums, slums which will grow in size by 1 million more people within the next twenty years.”  Daniel Tovrov  http://www.ibtimes.com/5-biggest-slums-world-381338

Purpose of a Building:  Now & Then,  Cultural differences in building materials have been de-fragmented over the years due to cost-effective globalization of the building trade.  For example, now-a-days it is not uncommon to find an English Country Home in America.  Considering the knowledge, materials and technology we have at our disposal it is a relatively simple task to create surroundings reflective of a cultural identity anywhere in the world.  Much of Western society has been influenced by the superior skills of the Romans with regard to Urbanization.  Massive buildings created to last for centuries, built to an exceptionally high standard?  And yet these were not created for everyone at any point in history.  The most impressive buildings were reserved for Royalty, Government, Art Galleries & Museums or Places of Worship.  After investigating the slums of the world, and taking the rise in global population into account it would not be economically viable to maintain an exceptionally high standard of social housing in all the places that need it most.

Being a Paisley Buddie myself I find this interesting.

In the 19th century industrialisation advanced so rapidly that the provision of new housing failed to keep up. The population rose as immigrants arrived to work in the town’s booming textile industry, and the town became overcrowded. The available housing was gathered close to the town centre factories and living conditions were poor for much of the population. This photograph shows slum buildings clustered close to the abbey. To escape the squalor, the manufacturing classes built themselves villas on the outer edges of town, such as at Castlehead and Renfrew Road.

I spent the first few years of my life in one of these temporary flats in the 1970’s.  Today many people are still shocked and surprised when I tell them we had a shared toilet in landing outside our flat.  We did not have a bathroom, and were bathed in a Belfast Sink (which was great when there was a St Mirren match on, or on Guy Fawkes as the window overlooked Love Street).  Blythswood Drive itself has been refurbished since then, now with toilets.  But the quality of the temporary flats still out-does the new-builds.

To re-iterate a previous statement from Exploring Visual Culture “Works of architecture frame our lives;  we inhabit them;  they define our movement through cities;  they moralize and discipline, or attempt to.”  The purpose of a building has not changed.  However, our knowledge about the social problems that can be created due to overcrowding and lack of amenities has.

In conclusion, the knowledge attained from the past shows there is an increased risk of disease in densely populated areas if there is a lack of sanitation, that potentially can become a global pandemic.  Hence it is a global incentive to ensure that affordable housing is created for those in densely populated areas.  This is Visual Culture at it’s best, a single image can provoke emotions strong enough to inspire change, hopefully for the better.  Obviously the solution for those more affluent would be to expand into outer areas.  As seen in the article about Paisley, this is not an entirely new concept, but thanks to technological advancement and innovation, where new buildings can be created is.  This poses an interesting challenge for contemporary design and architecture.

Tafline Laylin: Inhabitat

The image above represents a building made solely from recycled materials.  Could this be the future?  Obviously there has been a lot of thought put into the design, and it shows that with a limited budget and element  of expertise recycling can provide a higher standard of housing than that of the slums discussed previously.  The re-use of unwanted objects is also not a new concept to contemporary artists, but has evolved on a grander scale and provides innovation and inspiration for an uncertain population growing in a capitalised global future.

All photos are linked to further information.

​Fine line between Fine Art & Autobiographical Artwork…

… considering whether art should require prior knowledge of an artist, or whether an artist should be able to maintain anonymity while their work is appreciated, it’s impossible to reach an impersonal conclusion.  Some artists, such as Robert Rauschenberg thrive off the fame of their acknowledged pieces and almost become a walking artistic medium of their own work.  Others, such as Ray Johnson have actively avoided being recognised as the artist in a visual way, their name being the only link, leaving an impersonal stain on the work of art.

It’s impossible not to infect a piece of art with the personality, or even mood of the artist themselves.  Fine Art has the liberty of not needing to be advertising, it doesn’t have to reach a cross-section of the population, it will appeal to those who are similar in personality to the artist perhaps?  Or despised by those with a personality clash!

Goya’s ‘Black Painting Series’ were not released to the general public, but instead became his own private exhibition within his own home, painted on the plaster of his walls and reflecting his perception of what was essential for developing and understanding the human condition in his ‘modern’ time (please click the link below for an atmospheric viewing of these works).  In contrast, he created around 80 prints illustrating the ‘follies of civilised society’ in a satirical and macabre fashion for the public eye, as you can see below illustrating a tamer version of his real perceptions?  No-one can question the talent behind Goya’s work, however does knowledge of his personal life improve the aesthetics?

As another example it may be best to think of a song you heard played at some point, you liked the harmonics of the song very much.  Then you see the song played live by the same musical artist you heard, but your perception has changed.  Boy George is a great example, most could accept his songs aurally, visually he raised questions about his sexuality and created a different fan-base, which later became the bands undoing because his character became the work of art instead of the music.  There was a movement towards acceptance for homosexuality at the time and Boy George’s persona was a pioneer in popular culture to represent that.

Barbara Kruger’s prints and were also inspired by ‘how we treat one another’ as a collective human species.  Through a combination of collage and typography to express the interrelationships between people, domination and control.   Had that not been explained in a card beside the work I doubt I would have figured that out myself.  I did immediately sense that there was cruelty involved, but by what or whom was not immediately clear.  However, the description remained impersonal, simply explaining an intent (unlike Tracy Emin who likes to let the world know her very personal experiences).  But as the observer are we truly interested in the autobiographical work of someone we don’t know?

I can only conclude that the knowledge of when and where a piece of art is produced is fundamental, it allows those with greater curiosity about a work to explore the history of the time and gain an individual understanding.  Ultimately, unless the artist is using the art to sell themselves then the auto-biographical is surplus to requirement.


P.S., all images have links to more information on the artist.