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Human bodies that are technologized, hybridized and connected have haunted imaginations and representations for decades. In novels, artworks, mangas and comics, film and advertising, these images have sensibly moved from the realm of pure fiction to projections of near futures. The phantasmagoria of these figurations of technological virtuality is now doubled by incarnated virtuality, currently brewing in the very real world of laboratories and enterprises.
Some artists tackle these issues in such a way that this crucial aspect is often relegated to the background, if not altogether absent. Meanwhile, the enhanced bodies of science-fiction literature and films are confronting political ideologies and industrial techno-scientific powers. In this regard, the cyberpunk world exemplifies this exploration of possible dystopias through the technological invasion of bodies and minds. The novels are set on our devasted planet, in a highly technological but poor society (a category reinvented by sociologists to describe the situation of Japan after Fukushima), excluding those who control the high-tech industries and have power and money. In this world adrift, technology has triumphed, leaving humans in misery.
Yann Minh - media 000 meduse: Yann Minh - media 000 meduse
Looking closely at Yann Minh’s work, we can only be struck by the gap between his chaotic and often post-apocalyptic societies and the distressed cyberpunk world he claims to be a part of. The gap is not only in form (clean-cut 3D for his films or Second Life and his retro video-game esthetics), but also in content, which is very optimistic about the ongoing transformation. The fusion between human and machine is perceived as a useful and necessary development. Techno-acceleration (cyberpunk concept of machines overtaking humans) is erased in favor of bodies with augmented capacities, as if this were obvious. However, watching his film Noogenesis, for example, calls to mind a scene of The Matrix showing the non-life of humans, used as energy by the machines, which have taken control and induced people into a programmed dream of life in the real world, rather than the powerful erotic trance, full of freedom and torn away from the industry, portrayed in his fiction.
Cybersex is one of the themes that inspires these artists (another example is Shu Lea Cheang’s I.K.U., an artist featured in Digitalarti Mag #10). It’s also a theme that should raise important questions about what makes us human, not only as pure matter and organism, but also as a being with desires and emotions. Here as well, the thought-process is short-circuited. In these projections, the fusion between human and machine in the aspects of intimate pleasure seems to result in a double hybrid, with both mechanical humans and humanized machines. But the powerful idea of the miserable object devoted to its master, which we saw in Blade Runner, for example, is absent. Instead, we have an ecstatic acceptance—a bit morbid in my opinion—of mechanized sexuality, not to mention paying for it.
Yann Minh - NooScapheX
Yet many thoughtful arguments have been expressed on this topic, even dating back several years. Of course, there is Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto (1985), which has the advantage of being independent and considers the matter of humans becoming machines from political and social perspectives that have largely been reinforced since it was published. Haraway imagines a technological future that would accelerate understanding and action, especially by breaking the binary grids of world analysis in order to reveal the creative complexities that lie in the cracks. Much more recently, Thierry Hoquet’s Cyborg Philosophie is accurately subtitled “thinking against dualisms”. I believe that this is indeed the core of the issue: getting rid of binary representations in order to bring into focus and appropriate techno-industry babble, without being dumbstruck by the evocative power of possible worlds generated by contemporary science. It’s up to the artists to interpret, clarify, disambiguate and reappropriate the propaganda.
Cyborgs in the Mist - Trailer from Stéphane Degoutin Gwenola Wagon on Vimeo.
In this way, Cyborgs in the Mist, a film by Gwenola Wagon and Stéphane Degoutin, is particularly successful and enlightening. Instead of creating a new fiction from the concept of cyborgs or connected bodies, they explored the effects of a “cyborg future” on a street in Saint-Denis outside Paris. The machines’ power of action is demonstrated by a simple guided tour of the various places and activities on the street: the first house made of reinforced concrete, a data center, an animal flour factory, an evangelist church. The voiceover analyzing these images offers a critical explanation of what links these apparently disparate spaces—in particular the LOPH (Fight against Programmed Human Obsolescence) Laboratory, which works on Transhumanism.
This is where all paths lead: to a post-humanism decided by some and perhaps tomorrow suffered by all. It’s a structurally intense, robotic and chemical project of transformation that shifts humanity into another future, another entity. Taking Timothy Leary’s idea of “enslaved body” literally, Transhumanism explores the feasibility of a “body-without-organs” as a pure cyborg. Cyborg is not the machine. (…) Strictly speaking, it would be the organism directed by the machine (Thierry Hoquet). This is the figure that seems to clearly emerge.
As a philosopher who is especially interested in sciences and techniques, I was nourished by authors who attested to the possible end of humans confronted by their own creations (from Gunther Anders to Jacques Ellul). Despite the deep respect I have for these often intense and prophetic analyses, I have also moved far away from them, as pessimism will get us nowhere. Nonetheless, the dumb fascination with technology that we see in certain artists leaves me more than dubious. We may think that Man is a god when he dreams, a beggar when he thinks (F. J. Ossang), but is that enough? I believe that when an artist’s dream calls upon the realities of our time, she must also confront the difficult exercise of critical thought. Otherwise she runs the risk of being an illustrator, or even worse, the bearer of the techno-industry’s sugar-coated message regarding the extreme experiences that are changing our world.
Manuela de Barros
Published in Digitalarti Mag #10
Digitalarti Mag, the international magazine about art and digital innovation
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anne cecile worms ARTIST, ARTWORK Cyborg dm_feature I. P. C. Jason Cook mathieu lehanneur Transhumanism Yann Minh by
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