Updated: Oct 20, 2020
Being human in a more-than-human world?
The Manifestation of posthumanism in art through an ethical lens
Radical thinkers of the sixties generation rejected both the classical and socialist versions of humanism. Da Vinci’s study of Vitruvius (Figure 1), the standard of perfection and the pursuit of completion, was pushed off the pedestal and deconstructed.
In this aspect, dogs, cats and individuals from other companies sitting on the couch need to be rethought. The new kind of posthuman vectors depicts the animal on cyborgs (Figure 2) (in line with the science of biology, so is man, but not according to psychology). In 2013-14, the reinterpretation of Da Vinci’s golden ratio pose was given a significant role in his protest against the Da Vinci surgical robot used in America. Robots are becoming more prevalent as they work with robotics in areas where humans cannot or only find it very challenging to reach and where their presence can become life-threatening, such as deep-sea or military areas. Robots are also utilized to achieve tasks performed in high repetition in manufacturing and industry.
Posthuman is about perceptions revolving around eco-disaster, garbage accumulation and human self-destructive activity. The crisis of anthropocentrism affects the physical existence of all living beings, so rethinking the fundamental questions of human existence is its central theme.
Dmitry Kavarga is a Russian artist, one of the iconic representatives of posthuman art. In his 2012 work, Skeleton (Figure 3), or the physical destruction of the body, sculptures, reliefs, kinetic or interactive installations are made of polymers, mostly in 3D printing- reflecting upon the human society, modelling the processes of the present, the findings of human existential displacement and the forms of the posthuman age. In Kavarga’s system, the population and its products become a single, “biological” mass. Heads, human and embryonic bodies, cellular materials, umbilical cord-like wires, protrusions sometimes form bundles, nodules, and thin into fragile-straight sticks that almost sink into the post-apocalyptic landscape.
For the most part, the artist does not apply colours, mainly using white-black, grey combinations in the execution of his works, which are shades of the cosmic world. It complements the installations modelling events and processes with one of the shades of neon colours, which is an artificial colour. By this, he aspires to express that people are equal, uniformly and evenly adequate parts of the society they have created around us, regardless of their position, their ability, whatever their characteristics. As a result of this “work process,” humanity becomes one with natural and artificial waste by destroying itself through the consequences of its actions.
It symbolizes this malicious intervention by using different shades of neon colours. The activities of the new earth history age, the anthropocene man, have had and continue to have such an effect on the Earth’s atmosphere that artificial changes in geological and geographical conditions have repercussions on human lives. Kavarga visualizes his poisonous anthropocentric and dystopian creative conception without vision — as a process taking place in our present — in his installations that man’s action brings about the destruction of himself and the planet, a crisis of human-centred perception. The trap of this crisis is that even though we live in it, it is still difficult to grasp.
In high toxicity (Figure 4), he states in artistic language that we tend to identify people based on their characteristics and activities. Still, in actions as a result of social cohesion, such as garbage accumulation and actions to cause eco-disasters, the responsibility is general, as man is self-destructive: its actions affect everyone equally. Is a mixture of different concentrations of the myth of “salvation” characterizing today’s “civilized,” technocratic man, corrupted by a material interest in betraying his own original and more complex value system? Is commercial materialism interwoven with everyday life, in which we “roll our souls and minds,” and our connection to all of life seems like an opportunity promised by the “only” promise of survival for humanity? As a process that can be mobilized by man, Kavarga expresses by seeing the heads lined up on the conveyor belt (Figures 5-6) that we could look to the future, even with desire, that our world would not change, but our ideological views would be more like buttercups than real situation recognition. Freedom, self-determination, and independence are not merely spiritual and intellectual categories: have we found ourselves in a crisis as a result of our actions, from which our being has only become the role of those waiting in the limited space dreaming of their “old” everyday lives? In this role created by ourselves, can we no longer allow the details of our personality to filter through because the period of crisis is sad and embraces the unfolding of an aggressive change? Regardless of gender, age, position, or anything, we all get on the assembly line. Kavarga conveys this message with his interactive installation showing the social model shown in the image below.
Figure 5 - 6
In his installation Tunguszka Matter (Figures 7-8), he depicts the event that indeed took place on June 30, 1908, in central Siberia, between Lower Tunguszka and the Lena River: the becoming of a fireball then explosion in the atmosphere. He burned the animals grazing at the site of the blast to ashes, uprooted every tree within a 30-kilometre radius, and the sound blast broke the doors and windows of the houses in the town of Vanavara, 65 kilometres away. (Source: https://tinyurl.com/yckx8hw4)
In Nicolas Deshayes’s Vein Section (Figure 9), he uses elements of the urban environment to illustrate that materials perform not only similar functions in the fabric of a city as the organic materials from which we are humans, but also have identical features and similar looks. For example, polyurethane foam images evoking skin and intestines and a vascular system made of red enamel paint that is also used in public transport are the inner panorama of man. The substances introduced into our body are absorbed into the bloodstream and have a spectacular effect on humans as throbbing phenomena in the tissue of the city.
In Stewart Uoo Security’s Windows Grill VII (Figures 10-11), he places decoratively arranged hair and silicone meat on racks reminiscent of bicycle storage grids to keep unwanted people away from big-city buildings. It is a reflection against our world to be globalized that evokes the strange feeling that instead of the “naturalness” of tribal brutality, society decides who is dangerous to whom, who counts as “man” and who is not. The atmosphere of cyberpunk stories swings around the work.
Figure 10 - 11
Last year, for the fifty-eighth time, one of the most significant army parades in the world of fine arts, the Venice Biennale, was held entitled “Live in Interesting Times”. At the exhibition held at the two locations, which can also be called the plateau of fine arts, 79 living artists created in various media. The title can also be interpreted as a kind of curse that creates uncertainty and times of crisis. We could call it confusing, “interesting times,” precisely as we lived in a world of pre-Corona. At the same time, the term “interesting times” draws attention to a challenge or even a “threatening” thought. Still, it can only be an invitation to consider the course of human events in their complexity, interpreted as an invitation that seems particularly important in those times when excessive simplification often occurs because conformism generates fear in people. We live in one of the subspecies of contemporary art, the posthuman era when we can see the simplified expression of attitudes, and at the same time the manifestations of the most energetic possible intention to raise awareness.
I can’t help myself - by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu (Figures 12-14). In the centre of the windowed box, unlike the zoo cage, a robot has been programmed to sweep viscous, blood-like fluid multiple times inward, ensuring it doesn’t leak through a certain perimeter. The artists have programmed the robot to perform 32 human manoeuvres randomly, while the unsustainable fluid itself represents the fundamental viability and indeterminacy of art.
Art has never had a politically primary or significant influence, yet in terms of its social function, it has always represented joy, its invitation to critical thinking with an attention-
grabbing force that reflects objects, images, gestures and situations present in a unique, artistic way. Sun Yuan and Peng Yu want to give prominence to the phenomena taking place in the world by pairing seemingly contradictory and incompatible concepts that summarize several perspectives. A machine that perfectly sweeps fluid as a symbol of human blood can replace 32 sweeping techniques based on observed human movements that trigger social, physical work. Everyone has a specific opinion about this process, which does not necessarily coincide, but it is worth thinking about both where the world is going and how the artistic trends are evolving or why they are stumbling.
Figure 13 - 14
Many creative artists who prefer posthumanist thinking believe that traditional thinking is an epiphenomenon, and the body is nothing more than a prosthesis that can be repaired, or a specific component replaced. For many, there is no significant difference between physical existence and computer simulation, the cybernetic mechanism and the biological organism, robotics, and human purposes. Various advances provided by industrial science and artificial intelligence are being created, even though this raises several ethical questions about whether this should be an option. The “cyborg of the Cyborg Manifestation (Figure 15) questions the dividing line between humans and robots. The cyborg is in many ways a “beta” version of the posthuman. Entities of posthumanism are potent agents of ontological status that seek to penetrate new ideological categories of society through metaphors, metonymy, seduction, and representation. The study of “otherness” is not a novel presupposition; at the end of the 20th century, postmodern critics were preoccupied with the intellectual instability inherent in the knowledge system and revealed the repressed identities of the institutionalized structures of society. Just as postcolonial studies took “otherness” into account, so did the study of new ontologies, new materialisms, to bring non-human beings to the forefront of theory and practice. Research has shown that humans communicate more conveniently with a humanoid-shaped robot and that the human-machine interpersonal relationship is more strongly experienced. The analysis of the unexpected entity stems from the interdisciplinary, theoretical intersections of philosophy, robotics, psychology, aesthetics, and posthumanist art. It explores the role of technology in society, more specifically, how artists explore the themes of posthumanism. The hybridization of technology and art raises challenging ethical and ontological questions: why do art examples depicting hybrids, cyborgs, chimaeras, and transgenic phenomena attract people’s curiosity about visual exploration? Because they look like strangers? These entities appear to be alien only in part because their visual representation oscillates between cognition and ignorance, in which a sense of insecurity calls into question human thoughts about traditional definitions of robots, gender, humans, and other things. Do these new interpretations not come from within the human being (through consciousness, reason, will) as independent, individual thoughts, but rather do new systems of ideas from outside create these structures, discourses? In Foucault’s formulation, “the subject is a changing and complex function of discourse, deprived of its creative role”. According to Lyotard, “it is just a point through which different messages pass”.
“We are never fools. It’s always the others, ”says Kvium, explaining that it’s extremely difficult for a person to define themselves. (Source: http://blog.aros.dk/?p=796)
“Postmodern elevates the individual to arbitrary sovereignty and absolutizes his right to choose. Global postmodern morality celebrates otherness, the difference of choice.”
With the fall of communism in 1989, the paradigm-shifting thinking of the New Age began to prevail, which presupposes that reality is a social construction, that truth and reality have no objective content. Before that, humanism put man at the centre, and now the posthuman offers his theory of freedom and an infinite wealth of possibilities for humanity. Trends in contemporary art: transhuman, posthuman, anthropocene, poststructuralism, body art, neo-materiality (post-internet) and others have complemented contemporary art, which has not yet been precisely defined, with a collection of anti humanist views.
The Posthuman trend can also be seen as straightforward speech in art, which accuses and judges, but at the same time encourages action. Which path would be the right one, is there a correct system of ideas that can describe the exact nature of contemporary art? Is it necessary to humanize nature, or to notice that man is also a part of life? If we look at the spread of networks, which are favoured not only by social media and insurance companies but also by commercial, economic and social systems, it has been modelled on the human microbiological, neural network. Is it time to transcend the ideal of man being able to rule and exploit everything? Should we try to live in friendship with nature and keep in mind how the order/trend that wants to rule compulsively becomes built into the realization of the expected directions that also want to define our present world?
About the author:
Orsi Domoszlai is a creative artist and a master teacher of drawing and visual culture at the Eszterházy Károly University, where she also completed her Master of Arts in Education degree. Masters: József Szurcsik, Munkácsy Prize-winning artist; Dr Gerda Széplaky PhD, esthete, philosopher; Dr Kiss Virág PhD, associate professor, specialist mentor. She studied painting restoration from Judit Sztrakai, a prominent painter-restorer artist. At the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, her master was Antal Nemcsics, professor of colour dynamics, creator of colour dynamics and the Coloroid theory, colour designer, painter, environmental designer, candidate of technical sciences, doctor and student of István Szőnyi, the legendary Hungarian painter. She graduated from the Eszterházy Károly College, Teacher in Drawing and Visual Communication, where her masters were: Péter Földi, Kossuth Prize-winning painter; István B. Nagy (student of István Szőnyi, Noémi Ferenczy, Aurél Bernáth) and László Kovács (student of Aurél Bernáth), Munkácsy Prize-winning painters. Before beginning higher education in Hungary, she participated in an intensive summer language and culture program at Arizona State University, Phoenix, USA. This Spring, her photograph series entitled Quarantine Ring- Yes or No received the special prize of the Hungarian National Museum at The Museum Quarantine Competition, organized by the Pulszky Society - Hungarian Museum Association. As a volunteer, she participates in art training for disadvantaged, segregated Roma youth. Her research topic is U-shaped fracture avoidance methods; discovering and developing talent; and the importance of interdisciplinarity in arts education.
2: The Posthuman Page 81
3: Photo Credit: Deim Balázs
4: The Great Toxicity, Photo Credit: Deim Balázs
7-8: Tunguszka, Photo Credit: Deim Balázs
15: Donna Haraway: The Manifestation of Cyborg; https://www.widewalls.ch/posthumanism-contemporary-art/