Jacob Wamberg


The Faculty of Humanities

Department of Aesthetic Studies

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Jacob Wamberg

Cyborg Art in the Light of Aesthetic Theory and Evolution

At the same time as the cyborg phenomenon – the blending of organic and machine processes – is gaining ground in postmodern culture, the clear localization of the interface, or the meeting place between computer technology and the human body, is being challenged. On the one hand, implantations for improving sensory and communication abilities are soon to become likely, and on the other, the computer is breaking out of its “box” in Pervasive Computing. The thesis of this subproject is that this dislocation of the interface also concerns and is countered by developments in art, for while art in its classical-modern definition has been dependent on clear interfaces between art and non-art – interfaces that some places were manifested in precursors of the interface like the book page and the painting – these surfaces are broken when art admits organic and high-tech elements. In this way its imaginary representation of life is displaced toward actual organic and functional contexts.

In this subproject I shall thus examine new artists and groups of artists that make visible and challenge the meeting place between machine mediation, artistic image and organic reality: e.g., Stelarc (an Australian performance artist who, based on a notion of the obsolescence of the human body, explores its interaction with prostheses, computers and remote-controlled agents), Orlan (a French performance artist who via electronically mediated plastic operations transfers ideals from art history to her own body), Eduardo Kac (a Brazilian-born artist who among other things creates transgenic art, which are creations developed through interventions in existing organisms’ gene masses, and art based on telepresence, i.e. physical interaction at great distances), and SymbioticA (an Austrialian research laboratory that cultivates semi-living sculptures made up of artificial and organic components).

Since these art phenomena all concern how reality is mediated, translated and changed – in the field between biological DNA, technological bits and aesthetic images – part of my research will treat the relationship between medium and reality, which includes the question of whether art survives as an autonomous sub area of the media or whether the aesthetic experience becomes so dispersed in technological-organic reality that the concept of art loses its topicality. Another central field of my research is historically oriented, in that I consider cyborg experiments symptomatic of the beginning of a new age, the posthuman age, in which all organisms, including the human body, become potential objects of technologically mediated evolution. Beyond placing these experiments in an overlapping perspective of cultural and natural history, in which the posthuman is described as a fusion of biological evolution and culturally controlled development, I shall also place them in a narrower genealogy of art and cultural history that starts around the year 1900 with the avant-garde serving as reference point, the media of the avant-garde already being characterized by challenging the value of art with fields apparently foreign to it: physical and social space, mass production, actions, institution, body, concepts – i.e., areas of reality. In particular, in many places in avant-garde art it is possible to find linkages of technology and raw nature that anticipate the cyborg.

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Revised 2010.02.17