January 27, 2023

The body without organs, Cyborg Artists and the question about body and its identity

From Da Vinci’s anatomical sketches to Rembrandt’s The anatomy lessons of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632) and even the recent creation Virgin Mother (2006) of Damien Hirst, the anatomy and the exploration of inner body has always been a favorite topic for many artists that arouses questions about human body and its identities. But what is happening when machine is becoming one with the human body? How art is changing when artists use their own body as medium, when finally they end up turning into Cyborgs?

“Cyborg’’ is a metaphoric term used first by Haraway. She defines it as an “ironic political myth about feminism, socialism and materialism” and comes as a result of “otherness, difference, and specificity”. One artist that plays with these meanings in her performances is Orlan. By using biotechnology and plastic surgery she transforms herself and her identity again and again. In one of her most famous performances called The Reincarnation of Saint – Orlan she made her face to look like Mona Lisa’s. In addition, at her photography series Hybridations Africaines she is adopting on her body characteristics of the African tradition and culture. With her “carnal art”, Orlan says that she “swings between defiguration and refiguration”. In this way, we meet again the classical sense of self – portraiture, but more than that, it seems that the body itself, is being used as a modified ready – made. The information and the identity of the body can be transformed, changed and transmitted transforming the human body into a hybrid. Moreover, we cannot talk about an identity any more, but about many identities. In her performances she usually looks disfigured, at least in regards to how our culture perceives a normal body. By presenting such images as art, Orlan is commenting on the body as a construction that has not a specific gender or identity. And this construction can always be modified and re – constructed.

On the other hand, it would be quite interesting to take also, a look at the performances of the Australian artist Stelarc. He works in an interface between the body and the machine, employing virtual reality, robotics, medical instruments, prosthetics, and the Internet. Where do the borders between human and machine end, and where do they begin? It seems difficult to answer to this question because machines and robotics during Stelarc’ s performances are becoming an impartible part of his body. He, in addition to Orlan, understands the body as an object. However, the stelarcian body is not performing so as to acquire a new identity. Rather it is a work about the structure of the body that can exist only when it function according to the performance. The body is a biological reality, but still it is able to augment its capacities and to be put into a process of continuous “becoming”. It seems that the cyborg body of Stelarc comes really close to Deleuze’s and Guattari’s descriptions about “the body without organs”.

The technological age in which we are living, estates a landmark point in the evolution of mankind. Art and artistic creation is also an act of evolution. It goes on according to the historical, cultural and social changes. Cyborg and the arrival of Post-Human in art is not a hymn over the futuristic arising of machines. On the contrary, it is a way to question about the abilities of the human body and the identities that are constructed depended upon cultural circumstances. When we can understand that a body is not being born with specific capacities, but rather it obtains later different characteristics the appropriation and the acceptance of the “different”, of the “Other” as Lacan might say, is more achievable.

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