artists & participants
AIM V: SYZYGY (the human remix) Festival Statement
Written in 1875, William Henley’s “Invictus: The Unconquered One” describes the author as a ship sailing through the dark night, beset on all sides but unsinkable, and closes with the lines “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
While most of Henley’s works are long forgotten, this poem still resonates as a meaningful metaphor for the human condition; and its closing lines are still invoked as a rousing eulogy to the indomitable spirit of the individual. This circumstance speaks loudly to the depth to which the 18th Century notion of the human as an absolute self-contained subject is embedded in our inherited sense and understanding of “self”. The subject, that is, as a singular ‘soul’ embodied in a single biological unit who exists in a stable geophysical universe and must either maintain its essential independence and unity or lose its integrity.
Just over a hundred years after Henley wrote Invictus William Gibson’s Neuromancer depicted a very different human condition – that of a universe in which neither the physical nor the psychophysical hull of the individual human ‘ship’ is inviolate, and the ocean being sailed has become perpetually folded in on itself. This is a world in which clones and sentient artificial intelligences are commonplace; human physical and mental capabilities are augmented by nano-implants and genetic manipulation; and flesh and memory can be constructed entirely from DNA vats and digital data scraps. In this place, geophysical space has been layered into cyberspace, the concept of linear time is fractured, and the death of one’s organic body is no impediment to a continued sentient cyber-existence.
Hovering somewhere between Gibson’s dis-integrated vision and Henley’s description of integration and immutability, our contemporary experience is informed by scientific and technological developments that increasingly perforate the skin of Henley’s self-contained human ‘ship’.
Take, for example, just four such developments that have occurred in the last fourteen years: the 1990 births of the World Wide Web and the Human Genome Project, the early 1990’s advent of nanotechnology as a major scientific discipline, and the ongoing convergence of computer and communications technologies. Each of these events represents a breach in the boundary separating the self from other, inside from out, subject from object, that was so essential to the integrity of the Invictus vessel.
With over 400 million Web users worldwide and a proliferating market in network-accessing mobile devices, instantaneous tele-present communication has become the constant context of our lives. Consequently, we increasingly maintain a simultaneous presence in both the physical and the virtual worlds – and the once isolated and insulated individual is now ‘always potentially involved in a global net, and the world is always potentially in a state of interaction with the individual ’. At the same time the mapping of the human genome has opened the door to recombinant DNA technology, cross-species fertilization and pharmaco-genetics. Nanotechnology is bridging the space between computing and genetics – bringing artificial molecular machines and the internalization of telematic technologies out of the realm of science fiction and into the reality of tomorrow’s consumer market.
These circumstances do not necessarily herald the actualization of Gibson’s dystopia – though his tale might stand as a signpost to the paths these developments could forge; but neither has Henley’s ‘ship’ collided with the iceberg of scientific progress and sunk into the icy depths. Rather, as our actual experience of being human diverges from our inherited concept of what it is and means to be human, so two primary questions arise: What does it mean to be ‘human’ now; and what kind of world are we now ‘being human’ in? And, as we explore these questions, so new cultural metaphors, new representations of an augmented ‘reality’, and new means of subjective expression are emerging to modify and supplement those of our cultural inheritance.
Titled ‘SYZYGY (the human remix),’ the AIM V exhibition comprises a selection of (#?) diverse works, which address the shift away from the view of the human as ‘Unconquerable One’. Both reveling in and critiquing the ongoing bleed between virtual and physical, subject and object, and human ‘self’ and non-human ‘other’, these works include expansive visions of future syntheses (genomixer, Chrysalis) alongside focused examinations of our contemporary experience (The Whippoorwill). They include forays into, for example, the management of simultaneous presence in virtual and physical space (Nybble-Engine, Duplex); the potential for problematizing ‘authenticity’ with on-line fictive self-characterizations (mouchette.org, davidstill.org); the impact of technologically enabled co-presence on interpersonal relationships (Sealed, Couple) as well as on memory and attentiveness (Game Boys); and the capacity for machine-enhanced ‘Authorship’ (Buffering… , Mission to Earth).
The works included in SYZYGY position themselves as questions rather than answers and explore a view of the human as neither impervious nor entirely permeable, neither singular nor disintegrated, but rather as ‘node’ – a porous entity navigating uncharted and perhaps unchartable waters.
Lynzie Baldwin, Director, AIM Janet Owen, Co-founder, AIM
Art In Motion Presents
AIM V: SYZYGY (the human remix)
Kooperation: Armory Center for the Arts
Marsia Alexander-Clarke, Lew Baldwin, Bryan Jackson, Lev Manovich, Dennis H. Miller, Mouchette , Shauna Frischkorn, Shane Hope, Kit Hung, Eunjung Hwang, Margarete Jahrmann / Max Moswitzer, Toby Kaufmann-Buhler, Rick Mullarky, Jennifer Schmidt, David Still, Joseph Nechvatal, Meng Ting Yang, So Young Yang, Yeh Yen-Hsi, Takagi Masakatsu, Cruz , Woog , Choi Byoung-il, Stanza ; Sterling Ruby & Kirsten Stoltmann, Bruce Yonemoto, u.a.