The Cyborgian Other
Cyborgian Other (2015) investigates how the remix and recomposition of information influences how we remix and recompose our self. Using Mylar, various sculptural elements, live-stream video, sound and light, I expose both the codependency we have as humans on our technological counterparts and the dichotomy between what is human, natural, and earthly and what is digital, data, and machine. I believe my generation is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality. Through the image-and-speech-laden Internet, our social media presence has created a tradition of reproducing and recomposing ourselves from the reflections of others. The relation between our human self and machine has been a border war. Drawing from Donna Haraway’s essay, “A Cyborg Manifesto,” I am interested in the human and machine coexistence.
Haraway writes, “By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs.” (Haraway 150). Self-representation is engrained in digital media usage. The surplus of information necessitates a person’s ability to locate, concentrate, navigate, and select sources from an infinite growth of material. Thus, innovation is born out of remixing and recomposing what already exists. I represent Haraway’s concept of the cyborg by creating an immersive sound and video installation uniting fragmented Mylar sculptural pieces with viewer. Through reflection I illustrate the dichotomy between the physical self, or human self, and the virtual, technological self. Essentially there is still the viewer’s one true body but through reflection I wish to suggest the reflexivity of self via technology. The doubling, the reflection, displays an infinite back and forth loop in order to perform and portray a separation between the ephemeral virtual self and physical human self.
"I think, therefore I am" is philosopher René Descartes' most famous quote. I am interested in how our online and digital presence situates itself within the philosophy of substance dualism. As we become co-dependent of our technology-complements, we become one with technology- cyborgs. Defended by Descartes, substance dualism is a type of dualism, which states that there are two kinds of foundation: mind and body. The mind cannot exist outside of the body, and the body cannot think without the mind (Descartes). Substance dualism is important when contemporaneously regarding the physical realm, mental/psychological realm, and virtual/technological realms of existence. By having information online at our fingertips, the way we obtain, preserve, and process information has fundamentally changed. We have become one with technology.
My project heavily engages with Jacques Lacan’s concept of the entity. In his essay, “The Mirror State as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience,” Lacan describes the very moment an infant recognizes himself in the mirror. Lacan writes, “This jubilant assumption of his specular image by the child…would seem to exhibit in an exemplary situation the symbolic matrix in which the I is precipitated in a primordial form, before it is objectified in the dialectic of identification with the other, and before language restores to it, in the universal, its function as subject” (Lacan 503). The entity, the I, is constructed through the mechanisms of the unconscious, language, and desire. Lacan, like me, is concerned with how human beings come to imagine themselves as unique individuals even as they are given identity within the social structures of Western Capitalism. The Cyborgian Other considers the role of technology as yet another mechanism that constructs our ideas of self. We are all but “subjects” which is an implication that individuality is a construction that takes place through ideology, language, and representation. In the first component of my installation, I employ Mylar as reflective mirror referring to Lacan’s “mirror phase” which is defined as the developmental stage when the child establishes fundamental aspects of self hood and separateness from other human beings (Adams). I would like to treat the viewer as a child, still forming their identity. We cannot speak of a singular universal spectator because viewing circumstances are influenced by the psychic structures (and online structures) that inform our formation as subjects, as entities.
The multiplicity of reflections created by the Mylar sculptures illustrates Haraway and Lacan’s concepts surrounding the intangible “body.” Since the reflections are not real, they are intangible; they represent mere conceptualizations, reconfigurations. The viewer’s body participates in the installation as Lacan’s “entity”- to be defined by the viewer and by the context that I have created. By blurring the image of the viewer’s external body (the physical self) I hope to bring forward the dualistic distinction of the immaterial mind from the body; I do this by incorporating the soundscape. I consider the immaterial mind as co-inhabitant with technology and so through sound I seek to invite the viewer to spend at least 1 minute in the space. To extend the notion of the virtual, technological self, a live stream video camera is installed next to the sculptural display. As voyeurs, viewer’s can watch the viewer’s inside the Mylar sculpture and hear the soundscape from the outside. Like security footage, the image allows the viewer’s to watch the viewer’s inside as they are participate in the space on screen. Furthermore, the video monitor demonstrates how we are constantly watched and archived through digital data and serves as an allusion to the living archive of which we are a part.
Overall I wish to emphasize the disjointed and imperfect nature of the perception/understanding of our self. Donna Haraway is my source of inspiration for this project because, like her, I see our being as cyborg. It is my hope that the viewer will feel a merging between computer and human self as they stand within the Mylar sculpture and listen to my soundscape (for however long as they want to). As they experience the installation, they may or may not be aware of the live-stream video, and therefore their participation and integration within the project is almost forced. As a participant of my project, the viewer’s existence is emphasized as a cyborg, a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, and a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction (Haraway).
Adams, Hazard, and Leroy Searle. Critical Theory since 1965. Tallahassee: Florida State UP, 1986. Print.
Bell, David, and Barbara M. Kennedy. The Cybercultures Reader. London: New York, 2000. Georgetown University. Web. 9 July 2015.
Descartes, René, Valentine Rodger Miller, and Reese P. Miller. Principles of Philosophy. Dordrecht, Holland: Reidel, 1983. Print.
Grebowicz, Margret, Helen Merrick, and Donna Jeanne. Haraway. Beyond the Cyborg: Adventures with Donna Haraway. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton, 1977. Print.