Art and the Posthuman

‘Posthuman theory asks in various ways what it means to be human in a time where philosophy has become suspicious of claims about human subjectivity. Those subjects who were historically considered aberrant and our future lives becoming increasingly hybrid show we have always been and are continuously transforming into posthumans’. (Patricia MacCormack 2012, Pg.8).

During August I experienced the New Romance: Art And The Posthuman exhibition held at the MCA. The display culminated the work of artists from Australia and Korea which prompted it’s audience to scrutinise what it is to be human, visualising ideas of the future and the disembodiment of humanity as we decimate the equilibrium of natural and artificial – the ‘Posthuman’.

Curated within the collection was a short duel-screen film by artists Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho ‘El Fin Del Mundo’ (The End Of The World) projecting a post-apocalyptic future in which most of the world is submerged in water and majority of human civilisation is extinct. Divided into two screens, the film recounts a male artist pre-tense and a descendent hybrid-woman post-apocalypse, in a way which probes the societal function and duty of contemporary art now and within the future.

Harboured from the issue of climate change, both artists existentially question the purpose of making art in a world that could be destroyed by climate change.

Situated late in the 21st century, this possible seemingly nihilistic future spawns a societal alternative where a handful of corporations gather survivors together, screen them for “citizenship” and bestow upon them the benefits of cultivation for the price of labour. Conflict erupts amongst the companies over the acquisition of hegemonic jurisdiction of the posthuman world as all societal values and order were abandoned with modern humanity above the water.

In one screen, the male protagonist is poetically depicted ignoring the apocalyptic catastrophe through the practice of his sculptural oeuvre, trinketing with materials sentimental to the modern human. Beside him, the austere visual follows the narrative of a posthuman woman, dressed in a hybrid of technology and clothing, colliding with the relics of the man that transcended both time and space. As the film progresses, the woman becomes sensitised to the aesthetic materiality of seemingly superfluous objects, as she attempts rationalise the art of the decedent.

Aided with conceptual, supposedly clinical futuristic technology, the hybrid-descendant lacks a sense of human empathy, evident in her ignorance and sheer rationality when analysing the found objects. The cultural values and duties of the modern human were extinguished as a result of the apocalypse, eradicating an objects sentimental ability to emulate such morals.

‘Art’s capacity for fabulation and expression impossible in and not identically transferable to the real world is why we love art. Art should represent what is unrepresentable, bearing witness to the unspeakable that is in excess of language’. (Patricia MacCormack, 2012, pg. 46)

The future proposed by both artists forced me to question the defining qualities of humanity and post-humanity, comprehending that it is what we value that defines us as human.

Stills from the short film:

References:

Kyungwon, M. Joonho, J. 2012, El Fin Del Mundo, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.

MacCormack, P 2012, Posthuman Ethics : Embodiment and Cultural Theory, Routledge, Abingdon, GB. Available from: ProQuest ebrary. [26 October 2016].

Davis, A. 2016, ‘Curator Anna Davis on Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho’, Museum Of Contemporary Art Australia, viewed 26/10/2016 < https://www.mca.com.au/discover-new-romance/moon-kyungwon-jeon-joonho/&gt;

Image Reference:

Kyungwon, M. Joonho, J. 2012, El Fin Del Mundo, Museum of Contemporary Art, viewed 26/10/2016 <https://www.mca.com.au/discover-new-romance/moon-kyungwon-jeon-joonho/&gt;

Kyungwon, M. Joonho, J. 2012, El Fin Del Mundo, Universes in Universe, viewed 26/10/2016 <http://u-in-u.com/documenta/2012/photo-tour/documenta-halle/09-moon-jeon/&gt;

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Interview: Alex Carr – Artist and Educator

As a form of Primary research, I decided to interview an artist and educator and above all a dear friend, Alex Carr. Her creative oeuvre impartially responds to the homogenisation of pornography, the female figure and human sexuality – a fitting context for a conversation between the future and love.

When asked the reasoning behind her choice of media, Carr responded by telling me she was concerned with the issue that like most things that become capitalised, pornography was homogenised – it was predominately all white, heterosexual and young. Her artistic expression becomes an armature by which the standard of what is desirable, that polarises and ostracises people, can be abolished.

To begin, and to coalesce these ideas of love, sex, imagery, ethics and the future, I asked Carr what her relationship between pornography and love was:

People use pornography as a tool within their intimate, sexual lives. Porn, in a sense, removes ideas of love from sex.

Pornography is a vehicle of sensory release.

I still think there is a lot of pressure on people to have sacrificial, committed love. People put pressure on sex to be that perfect moment. Saturation of sacrificial sex and moreover love, has lost its validity – it is so perpetuated, the heteronormative doesn’t cut it anymore.

I don’t believe that porn, or sex for that matter must be performed through love.

Theres something exceedingly powerful about sex – this exchange of energy and tension.”

This idea of pornography as a vehicle of sensory release which removes ideas of love from sex is progressively evocative, projecting a future parallel to that suggested by Berlin-Based homoerotic photographer Matt Lambert within his zine ‘Vitium’. Vitium unapologetically revolts from the heteronormative overhaul of society, depicting men in moments of lust and love, which is viewed not as pornography but rather, like the work of Carr, as an armature by which the standard of what is conventionally desirable in terms of intimacy can be abolished.

It is this future free from heteronormative prejudice that both artists propose within their work that Carr believes to be probable and possible. When asked where she sees herself and her work in 50 years, her response was – “It is with great confidence and very slight optimism that I say the ideals I work within will be completely invalid. Race/gender/sexuality the hierarchy is already collapsing. This heteronormative, predominately white and young based spectacle will be totally within the past. We will all be having sex with each other and everyone’s equal.”

When asked: “What are your opinions of the future of love, pornography and sexual exploration? There is this pressing notion that humans will sexually interact with artificial intelligence.”

Carr’s response was:

“Seems so strange, because it is so far away. Though that being said, people have been having sex with dildos and vibrators for so long, and realistically, that was the beginning of sex and AI. I don’t know if its positive or negative, but its a probable thing.

Think about the instant gratification that comes with the interaction of humans and technology – and therefore wouldn’t be surprised it if happens.

Its potentially slightly sad.”

For Carr, this concept of human sexual interaction with artificial intelligence is partly preposterous, however, as proven by her statement above, it has already been occurring, and thus seems probable.

Casting aside the probable, possible and preposterous, love and the exploration of sexuality is and will continue to be intrinsically human, and as put so eloquently by Carr – “Its hard to talk about love as it’s a thing thats become a Hallmark card, people become cynical about it. However, I truly believe that it is important, in terms of people being good people, that its good to love.”

References:

Lambert, M & Birsner, J. 2016, Vitium, 1st edn, Bruno Gmunder GmbH, Berlin.

Firth, L. 2016, ‘Matt Lamberts Hardcore, Sex-infused “fuck you” to the establishment’, i-D, 16th March, viewed 26/10/2016 < https://i-d.vice.com/en_us/article/matt-lamberts-hardcore-sex-infused-fuck-you-to-the-establishment>

Image References:

Carr, A. 2016, ‘Study for the female figure’, private collection, Sydney, Australia.

Carr, A. 2016 ‘Falling for you Print’, own collection, Sydney, Australia.

Carr, A. 2015, ‘Fan Girls’, private collection, Sydney, Australia.

Is Sex Still Considered ‘Making Love’?

I was completely captivated by the Week 7 lecture presented by Nick Keys addressing the future of love through the retrospect of pop culture and music.

During the lecture, Nick proposed the idea of a post-romantic reality, that “see’s love as mostly an affair between the brain and the genitals”. Expanding on this hedonistic and sexually decadent future, Nick introduced the concept of commoditised sex, deeming Rihanna, among others, as a libidinal economist, exploiting and “weaponising emotions for power”.

With this sensually dissolute future in mind, or as Nick described it “messy complexity”, I couldn’t help but scrutinise this commoditised eroticism as separating the act of loving and the act of sex. It seems to me that the age-old decree of sex intrinsically bound to love, established by Western society and religion is becoming actively abolished as a shift in cultural acceptance has forged a bisexual explosion upon the heterosexual norm.

A new open structure of sexuality and eroticism is conceived within this “messy complexity”, autonomous from love, but rather derived from desire.

Lust, longing, lechery and lewdness are all “L” words that would suggest the act of making love, but are no more than aspects of desire which advocate a post-romantic form of love, or perhaps just sex – “a weird place between freedom and commitment” as phrased by Nick.

It is within this “weird place between freedom and commitment” that sex is divorced from love, and in a primitive sense, transitions into a fundamental characteristic of life, like eating, sleeping, or love for that matter.

I would like to clarify that I’m not implying that sex was never a fundamental aspect of human nature, but rather that western society has established a union between sex and love and hence amounted an ostracising demand on people to obtain the two, but not one distant from the other.

In this context, technology has the potential to completely commoditise sex and become the eventual libidinal economist. Futurist Eric Garland believes ‘sex in the 2020’s and beyond will offer an astonishing array of choices, facilitated by more-sophisticated communications and sensory technologies and less influence from organised religion’. (2004, page 41)

Supporting this statement is philosopher Blay Whitby of the University of Sussex, who believes not even human sexual intercourse is immune from potential technological obsolescence. “In some ways, a robotic lover may come to be viewed no differently from other service-oriented robots, such as caregivers for the elderly or playmates for children”. (2012, page 40)

This proposition of a service-oriented robotic lover suggests a future coherent in the commoditised erotic desires of humans, however love, by human standards could not be emulated on the behalf of the artificial intelligence. It is therefore that this materialised form of human sexuality is a direct response to the hedonistic desires of society, implying that sex can and will continue to exist without an establishment of love. Ideally this insinuates that sex in the future will no longer be considered as ‘making love’, but rather a fundamental human expression, detached from love.

References:

Garland, E. 2004, “Reinventing Sex: New Technologies and Changing Attitudes”, The Futurist, vol. 38, no. 6, pp. 41-46.

Empel, E. & Wagner, C.G. 2012, “The Future of the Commercial Sex Industry”, The Futurist, vol. 46, no. 3, pp. 36-40.

Week 7 Lecture – Nick Keys.