Posthuman Art (in reference to the MCA New Romance: art and the posthuman exhibition)
Posthumanism is a concept within the fields of science, art and philosophy that is concerned with the speculations of how humanity will evolve and how humans may exist beyond being human (transhumanism). The concept of the posthuman is one that has dramatically shifted in the last several decades as advancements in technology challenges common societal concepts relating to the human body.
“the 21st century has ushered in a redefinition of the body by cybernetic and biotechnological developments…the concept of ‘human’ has been broadly challenged while ‘posthuman’ and ‘transhuman have become terms of philosophical and scientific enquiry” (Francesca, 2014).
Artists have been exploring the idea of the posthuman ever since technological expansion in the 21st century became pervasive and as a result it is a key topic in media arts. In addition, analysing the concept of the posthuman also forces us to examine the role of technology in today’s modern society, where in which is saturates due to its ubiquitous nature.
“This saturation is so complete that we are not even fully conscious of it all. It has become so much a part of us: our ties to smart phones, virtual games, and social media are becoming increasingly umbilical and routine—so much so that these digital artifacts alone are changing the very fabric of our society.” (LaGrandeur, 2016)
This saturation is an integral attribute of posthumanism and very common issue that media artists often like to commentate on.
Many media artists today aim to answer the key philosophical and existential questions often associated with posthumanism and transhumanism, such as what does it mean to be human? and what would the ‘futuristic human’ look like if pervasive and unbridled scientific advancements were made?
These questions were among the few that were presented by media artists from all over the world in the MCA exhibition – New Romance: Art and the Posthuman.
Manoeuvres (2015) – Rebecca Baumann
One of the works from the exhibition that really caught my attention was the work Manoeuvres (2015) by Rebecca Baumann. This for me was a highlight simply because I was impressed by the level of technical expertise that is required to create something like this. I was intrigued by the creation process as this work did not use traditional modes of media but rather unique pieces of technology that would require it to be built from the ground up. The work is rather crude in that there are no screens which one would expect when viewing this work from afar. In fact if you get up close to the panels and view between the cracks you can see the circuit board. It’s this contrast between the crudeness and simplicity of the medium and the complexity of the entire work itself, that in my opinion makes this work unique and great.
In addition to the impressive technicality of the work, there is a also powerful conceptual aspect. The work has been described as a “chromatic narrative”. This is evident in the way one would experience the work, as they move through the space, panel to panel, closely examining the way the dots would flip and the little animations they produce. Further immersion of the narrative experience is reinforced by the loud accumulated, synchronised sound of every panel’s dots flipping over, making it such a powerful work.
El Fin del Mundo (The End of the World (2012) – Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho
El Fine del Mundo is a video installation made up of two screens, each depicting a separate piece of film. The film projects a somewhat dystopic envisioning of a chaotic future Earth, one that has been ravaged by the harsh effects of climate change. Conceptually, the film is a visual representation of an accumulation of existential questions and moments the artists had in the lead up to its creation. As a result, the film questions the purpose and role of art in today’s contemporary setting, this idea that “art these days seem to ‘end’ at pay checks rather than discourses” (Lee, 2013). Among other questions relating to what a post-apocalyptic Earth would look like and how humanity would function.
“El Fin Del Mundo adopts a futuristic setting of the apocalypse and its aftermath to pose questions about the social function and role of contemporary art. The film is based on our post exhibit conversations expressing doubts and regrets about contemporary art.”(mca.com.au, 2016) – Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho’s artist statement.
Stelarc & Nina Stellars (2005 – 2016) – Blender
Stelarc is well respected in the field of media arts as he has had a long history of creating weird, daring and often controversial artworks pertaining to the concept of posthumanism. Usually his works are graphic and visceral, to which as a result they have great impact on the audience often provoking conversation. “Blender” in this case is no different as this bio-artwork consists of four pressurised gas tanks which are all connected up to this sphere-like structure housing human fat and other humanly liquids. Every once in a while the gas tanks start operating the device causing the liquids inside to stir as if it were inside a blender. ‘Blender’ is a work that embodies the main concerns many people (including artist) have associate with posthumanism which is the absolute loss of the human physical form; where technological augments of the human body go so far, humans no longer need a tangible form and can solely exist as an entity.
“In Blender, the body is not present in its recognizable form. The body has been extracted and recreated, given new life through non-human mechanizations. The body as material, not as subject matter, is a theme Stelarc has emphasized throughout his career.” (Smith, 2012)
Conceptually, the work asks its audience ‘what does it mean to be human?’ as it proposes the concept that perhaps what makes us human is not our physical form but rather our minds.
LaGrandeur, K. (2016). Posthumanism and Contemporary Art. [online] Ieet.org. Available at: http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/LaGrandeur20160408 [Accessed 18 Oct. 2016].
Ferrando, Francesca. ed.,(2014). “The Body” In: Post- and Transhumanism: an Introduction. Frankfurt: Peter Lang. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/10395183/_THE_BODY_IN_POST-_AND_TRANSHUMANISM_-_Printed_Version
Lee, S. 2013, ‘News from Nowhere: Chicago Laboratory’, Afterimage, 41(3), pp38
http://www.mca.com.au. (2016). [online] Available at: https://www.mca.com.au/discover-new-romance/moon-kyungwon-jeon-joonho/#galleryModal. [Accessed 18 Oct. 2016].
Smith, K. (2012). Stelarc | Art Practical. [online] Art Practical. Available at: http://www.artpractical.com/column/stelarc/ [Accessed 18 Oct. 2016].