INTERNATIONAL NOTICE explores the intersection of technology and the body.
I’m watching two robotic Björks in a passionate embrace, the singer’s features mapped twice onto white technological surfaces. Chris Cunningham’s 4-minute, millennial sci-fi fantasy plays like a cyborg utopia: Björk’s breathing-, kissing-, singing-being fused perfectly with Japanese assembly-line mechanical limbs; All is Full of Love. I can’t tell where the tech begins, and the body ends. Black cables snake, pistons pump white fluids.
‘A cyborg,’ as I flick to Wikipedia, ‘is a being with both organic and biomechatronic body parts’ and note (unlike bionic / biorobot / android) that it applies to an organism that has enhanced, or restored, abilities due to an integrated technological component that relies on feedback. RoboCop. Darth Vader. The Bionic Woman. The term ‘cyborg’ wasn’t coined until 1960 by Clynes & Kline, but our collective obsession with technological bodies has accompanied waves of development and thinking since the sci-fi comics of the 1920s. Hopping across texts by key critical theorists, you gain a picture of our continued fear and fascination: Simondon’s On The Mode of Existence of Technical Objects (1958), towards N. Katherine Hales digital update How We Think (2012), and of course, Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto (1991, in Simians, Cyborgs and Women):
By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs.
I click more links, at the same time wondering about Hales’ theories: how much is this programmable machine on my desk working on me as I work on it, altering my technological unconscious? I am a cyborg – here with my arms outstretched, my fingers typing words that appear on an online cloud, a virtual extension of me, allowing disconnected bodies to read my thoughts in real-time. So are you, I imagine, as you scroll through this site, swiping across the glassy surface of the pulsing device resting in your palm.
Let’s embrace this. Click. Let’s borg ourselves. Click click.
Interdisciplinary collective Be Another Lab encourage us to don a pair of VR goggles – the bizarre and wonderfully named Oculus Rift – and step inside The Machine To Be Another, an experiment in Virtual Body Extension. With the black apparatus covering our ears and eyes, protruding from our faces as we look down, our body is altered. A middle-aged chest replaced by breasts. Skin tones swapped. In place of our limbs, we see someone else’s – a new hybrid self – and we wonder, inside this empathy machine, how it feels to be Othered.
Command-T. New tab.
Disruption Network Lab harness the deviant power of the cyborg – ‘the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism … [who] are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins.’ For CYBORG (2015) DNL brought together artists, hackers, cyberfeminists, (trans)gender activists, and transhumanists in a creative disturbance, responding to political sci-fi theorist Antonio Caronia’s The Cyborg: A Treatise on the Artificial Man. This restless gathering questioned: What does Cyborg mean today? The plural answers exposed those power structures embedded in both technology and daily life.
Performance artist Tiffany Trenda, dressed in haute couture 3D-printed drag or latex Leigh Bowery-esque catsuits, ‘interchanges’ her physical body with digital screens. In Ubiquitous States (2015), a reference to Paul Veléry’s The Conquest of Ubiquity, Trenda steps towards you, placing her gloved fingertips on your wrist and neck. This physical contact (and an embedded heart monitor) allows her to read your pulse, which is translated into a screen-image located on Trenda’s chest. Look where her heart should be. Trenda’s animated heartbeat appears alongside yours. Is it possible to synchronise? Rhythms match one another, this shared cyborg connection feeding back on itself in a loop.
I could keep going, down this rabbit-hole of queered, tech-body fusions. But the screen is quietly throbbing, my fingers itch to reach out, back to Trenda, or towards something new, something (a)live.
Here, at Performersion, we become cyborgs together. With TILT BRUSH we become virtual paintbrushes, arms outstretched, the body driving each stroke in 3D. SheShePop invite us to morph our physical selves, using tech-projection to re-compose impossible and utopic identities over our skin. Internil and Hylynyiv Lyngyrkz stimulate our nerve-endings with power pulses that choreograph our facial muscles. The Body becomes a stage.
Let’s dive in.
- APR 2016
Writer: Chris GYLEE for INTERNATIONAL NOTICE
Credits: Chris CUNNINGHAM (V #1) | Glenn CAMPBELL (IM #1)[ssba]