HUMAN+ The Future of Our Species

 

Exhibition Review by Nicole Afonso Alves Calistri, 2016.

 

The coexistence of artworks coined by different artists in the same exhibition creates a compelling influence on the audience’s perception. It deeply impacts the meaning of the sole theme which likely concerns various artists. For example, an exhibition about the Cubism would only be complete if it exposes Braque alongside Picasso; or Monet, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh, even though their diverse purposes and working shades, would generate different perceptions on illustrating the Impressionism more broadly. Many components and different points of view can create many facets of the same topic, enabling the observer to a deeper and polymath introspection. Human+ is the exhibition that better embodies the latter concept.

First exposed in Dublin at the Trinity College, HUMAN+. THE FUTURE OF OUR SPECIES was recently relocated at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB). Human+ house a conglomerate of work coined by surgeons, researchers, artists, designers, scientists, creative thinkers, inventors and entrepreneurs to intensely analyse the possible future of the human species. The reliability of the works exposed in HUMAN+ derives from the comparison with experts, like robotics or biomedical engineers, who give consistent information to observe and analyse the social, political and economic trends of our age. The outcome is an eclectic mix of artworks, historical artefacts, videos, scientific researchers and commercial products, which silently picture the complex, messy and contradictorily perspectives that these themes can suggest. HUMAN+ analytically investigates how emerging technologies might be used in unpredicted ways, and tests boundaries of what society find ethically and culturally tolerable. CCCB becomes the place “where art and science collide” (Pagès M. 2015 p. 140) to stimulate the audience to question, rather than answer, the direction of the humankind in the age of technology, amongst artificial intelligence, biomedical research, genomic revolution and virtual reality. The feature that makes HUMAN+ an exclusive exhibition is the involvement of people and interactive activities, like providing DNA, interacting with robotic research or experiencing virtual reality. HUMAN+ not only surprises but also inspires through the materialisation of the utopic concepts firstly coined and showed solely in sci-fi movies, from Brave New World to 1984, from Gattaca to I, Robot, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Matrix. Each of the examples cited above has opened a succession of political and social critiques towards the hitherto society. HUMAN+ likewise attempts to explain and understand the present studying the future. It is scientific as humanistic.

The main contemporary theories of evolution are two. The first one has no scientific basis and a fairy tale line. It asserts that the human species have a beginning and therefore an end, after a goal and a culmination (its appearance and expansion) (Villatoro V. 2015 p. 140). On the other hand, humans are just another species, therefore, part of the endless evolutionary process. However, we are provided with a biologically advanced brain that gives us the capability to accumulate knowledge and produce instruments and tools. The particularity of the human species is culture, which can be considered as a prolongation of its nature. Our species has become different because of an evolutionary process based on science and technology (Villatoro V. 2015 p 141).

The product of this process is progress, which, as stated by the Futurism movement, is dominated by speed and efficiency. However, progress has demonstrated side effects on humanity: anxiety, repression, mass production, wealth disparity, sufferance and so on. “Our definition of success needs to be recalibrated” (Kramer C. 2015). Technology and science can be the answer for our predicaments. Both can modify the human body, its capacities, perceptions and durability and impacts the environment, which in turn, powerfully influences people. HUMAN+ is divided in four main keys topic linked with each other to explore the potential of technology and science: Augmented Abilities, Encountering Others, Authoring Environments and Life at the Edges.

AUGMENTED ABILITIES illustrates the physical, chemical and biological methods for augmenting the mind and body. Telescopes, microscopes, speakers, glasses and so on, are the first attempt to enhancing human’s senses. Plato in “Phaedrus” said that writing was an augmentation that simultaneously extended and impaired human memories. This section focuses on the new technology of implants directly embedded in the human body and analyses the disturbing transgression of the boundaries of the latter. Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has the image of the future soldier as a cyborg controlled directly by the individual’s neurological system. Revolutionising Prosthetics Programme believes that brain implants should be the basis of future control over prosthetics, but this concept raises the familiar spectres of infection risk, and ease of maintenance and replacement (Gorman M.J. 2015 p 142).

Nowadays, impaired people and amputees are at the vanguard of enhancement technologies: cochlear implants, artificial hearts, and neuroprosthetics are just some examples. However, these are not affordable pieces of machinery. Fablab Low-Cost Prosthesis Programme is a micro manufacturing project aiming to produce simple prosthesis with local materials due to creating jobs and making an affordable product with a production cost below 50$.

On the other hand, Limb Project Sculpture Prosthesis intends to create an elite of high standard prosthesis which has been already adopted by pop stars and fashion exponents. Viktoria Modesta’s music video “Prototype” evidence an attitude of rebellion against the society’s approach to disable people, suggesting a determined insight of the impaired people as a tough individual, heightening aesthetic. The future prosthesis will possibly modify the general conception of beauty, enabling impaired individuals to expose themselves positively.

 

 

Evidence prove the influence of technology towards the correlation between humans and nature. Neil Harbisson, a colour-blind artist, embodied an antenna directly in his skull to hear the spectrum of light thus detect colours through sounds, including invisible shades like infrareds and ultraviolet. Moon Ribas, Harbisson’s collaborator, inserted sensors in her elbow that are connected online to seismographs able to identify earthquakes around the world. When the crustal plate moves, she senses vibration internally to her elbow.

Humans use technology to fill the lacks of nature regarding capabilities observed in other species.

ENCOUNTERING OTHERS is the consecutive section of the exhibition. It illustrates how technology is changing the ways we encounter and communicate with each other. Furthermore, it reveals the current role of humans in the industrial process throughout the age where robot become more like humans and humans are expected to become more like robots.

The video “Whose Utopia” by Cao Fei opens the area showing the dreams of Chinese factories’ workers. The images are composed of repetitive movements and mechanic tasks which thousands of workers perform ensuring that the manufacturing which sustains global consumerism proceeds smoothly and efficiently. Amongst types of machinery and mass production, the videotape transmits a feel of human presence enclosed within the worker’s desire of personal expression and creativity.

Adjacent to Fei’s video is exposed “Optimisation of Parenting” by Addie Wagenknecht, a mechanic arm which gently rock a baby crib. The machinery suggests the use of robotic technologies on a daily practice to cover dreary commissions. We have broadly utilised machines on the manufacturing scale, although it implies the exploitation of millions of people. This work tries to expand the latter concept to some parenting tasks which are likely considered tedious, but it also questions the role of technology in the lifespan that defines the identity and personality of a child. Are not kids already growing in front of screens?

The Oculus Rif is the first affordable virtual reality which has been already introduced in the Sex industry to define commercial products. Kiroo rebranded the concept of Teledildonic (use of sex toys to cause pleasure between individuals through the network). He invented a dildo for young couples in a long-distant relationship.

“Machine to be Another” is an interactive installation where anyone can have the sensation to have another body. This section exposes the current utilise of visual reality, such as in the roller-coaster experience. However, on the other hand, it critically analyses the positive and negative results that may occur if virtual reality enters into our daily lives. In March 2016, Samsung launched the new device Galaxy J1 consequently with Samsung Gear VR, a virtual reality box. How will we use it? Business travels are likely to disappear due to the virtual reality performance which will enable people to attend meetings and conferences around the globe sitting on the sofa of their properties.
We will possibly be able to visit places and meet real or/and virtual people, but will we be able not to exchange virtual reality over facts? Are we going to use it as we are currently using our devices filled with apps, social media, and selfies?

Time is going to answer these questions. However, it has been observed that technology has revolutionised the way we communicate and have relationships. It interfered into the most private and intimate interactions, that have become networked and digitalised.

AUTHORING ENVIRONMENTS comprehend artworks and projects that observe the  consequences of progress in the environment. Humans have always manipulated and been manipulated by the surroundings, consciously or not. Laura Allcorn, for instance, took into consideration the present issue about the extinction of bees and made the “Human Pollination Project” which imagines a future without these insects where humans need to pollinate plants on a daily basis.

The scientific community stated the beginning of the Anthropocene Age. Human activities influence the ecosystem creating a permanent and identifiable geological evidence. The opinion regarding the precise start of this age is yet under approval, but there are currently two main theories that collocate the latter into two different epochs. The first theory believes that the Anthropocene Age had started with the mass manufacturing when chemical vapours changed the composition of the atmosphere while the second one supposes the Age began when agriculture was invented, and the ground began to be reticulated and defined. However, humans have not only aesthetically changed the environment but have gone further into its biological composition. “The Center for PostNatural History” is an artist-initiated museum that collects, catalogues and interprets biological specimens that have been manipulated and modified by humans, such as lab rats, mosquitos, and plants which cannot be found in nature at their original natural stage. This section shows how vastly humans have interfered in the biodiversity of our planet.

The over population on earth has also interfered in the way the planet moves forward. “Our Daily Bread” illustrates the contemporary agricultural practices. The scenes of this video show how we rationalised efficiency, eliminating any romantic notions of the pastoral farmlands as our main source of sustenance.

LIFE AT THE EDGES shifts definitions and the increasingly fuzzy edges of birth and death , and illustrate our endless fascination with these topics.

“Transfigurations” by Agatha Haines is an artwork composed of sculptures of infants with invasive body modifications that prevent future diseases or pre-operate to augment the future performance of the baby benefitting the latter. Haines raises the issue of taking decisions on the behalf of who yet has no power of will. How far can humans go?

 

“Euthanasia Coaster” by Julijonas Urbonas explore a similar issue. Her caster, in fact, was designed to thrill and kill. It is a provocative answer to the human longevity which is constantly increasing, or also an option to die having minutes of enthusiasm and thrill instead of spending the last moments of life in a hospital.

Euthanasia-Coaster-rostros

A simulated face shows the porcess of going from consciousness (left), to becoming drowsy and finally dead (right) after succumbing to cerebral hypoxia, or lack of oxygen to the brain, during the ride (Gavaghan J. 2012)

Nowadays there is a great debate that questions if either technology makes us human or not. Many theorists say that technology has divided people and made them more apathetic, careless, lazy and idle. The opposition instead, relates technology to our deepest expression as human beings. From the stone ages to our days, the tools we invented allowed us to create, discover and imprint knowledge. Kevin Kelly said that technology is the real skin of our species, the exteriorization of our nervous system, our extended mind. Jason Silva, the Emmy-nominated host of National Geographic’s hit TV series, Brain Games, associates the role of technology to humans as the web to the spider or the nest to the bird (Silva J. 2015). Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian philosopher, futurist, and communications theorist, said that “the most human thing about us is our technology” (McLuhan M. 1974 p.19). Technology is an extension of our nature itself which increases our capabilities and fills our biological lacks. In fact, it has allowed us to breathe under the water, fly into and beyond the sky, cross oceans and so on.

However, technology has also increased our anxieties by destabilising our conception of what it means to be human, existing and acting in the world. Technological change is inevitable, but change does not imply progress or improvement. The scientific discoveries during the Second World War, such as the atomic bomb and the vanguards on the experimentation fields, have proven how cruel humans can be when empowered by technology.

Time will answer our questions. However, it is our decision to mentally and practically embrace the technologies of our age, and utilise them to improve people’s lives and the ecosystems on the planet Earth. HUMAN+ opens our mind to the positive (+) direction of the future.

 

 

References

Gavaghan j. (2012), “From HERE to eternity… Take a seat on the euthanasia roller coaster that promises to literally kill you” MailOnline, online source available from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2111051/Euthanasia-Macabre-concept-roller-coaster-thrills–kills-you.html accessed on 5/04/2016

Gorman M. J. (2011), “HUMAN+ explores the technologically enhanced future of our species: Michael John Gorman, Director of the Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin, introduces the HUMAN+ exhibition – ‘a combination of a sweet shop and a pharmacy, an Alice-in-Wonderland world of pills, promises and prosthetics”, Science, Notes & Theories, The Guardian, online source available from https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2011/apr/22/human-plus-technologically-enhanced accessed on 4/04/2016

McLuhan M. (1974) Man and the future of organizations, Volume 5, School of Business Administration, Georgia State University, 1974, p. 19

Pagès M. (2015) “HUMAN+. THE FUTURE OF OUR SPECIES”, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona – CCCB, Litografia Rosés S.A., p 140

 

Biography

Gibbs S. (2016) “US military aims to create cyborgs by connecting humans to computers: Researchers hope to develop a high-bandwidth, implantable neural interface to open the channel between the human brain and modern electronics”, Research and Development, The Guardian online source available from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jan/20/us-military-cyborg-connecting-humans-computers accessed on 6/04/2016

McLuhan M. (1974) Man and the future of organizations, Volume 5, School of Business Administration, Georgia State University, 1974.

(CCCB, 2015) “HUMAN+. THE FUTURE OF OUR SPECIES”, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona – CCCB, Litografia Rosés S.A.

Silva J. (2015) “Technology Made Us Human”, Shots of Awe online source available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIR0nwhesGw&index=3&list=PLoUmAUQ32nak1fIlJC3IuXselvBa5vwtQ accessed on 8/04/2016

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