If the artistic movement of Impressionism brought the etheric down to earth, Gauguin's symbolist elevation of the human was a deeply rooted reminder of our selves. As the central figure in his painting Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? grasps vertically towards the heavens, the only thing separating the hand from the limit of the canvas is an apple. It is in that moment of alternately reaching upwards while acknowledging the fall of man, that summarizes a previous binding of our self-conception and thus explorations in identity. Gauguin completed this painting in 1898, just on the cusp of the twentieth century and therefore defined by what would become Modernism, began and ended with the revelatory existential questions of its title.
If the classic binary subject/object has both delineated and diffused the boundary between self and world, then notions of identity have also subsequently mitigated this distinction. Put in a different way, we have swung between the maintenance of a totalizing view in order to ameliorate stability, while the other a proclaimed emancipatory individualism in the face of such totality. As such, our notions of identity have been distilled from these structures considering both belonging and exile. Thus, if identity resides in identification, than logically it would relegate the exchanges thereof to externalized level of appearances, as in for example ‘identity politics.’ However, we also internally speak to ourselves, we negotiate within ourselves to know ‘where we stand.’ But this correlation has traditionally followed an all too human trajectory.
In this era where there is no place on the planet that is not environmentally affected by our hand, it is debatable to articulate a world outside of us. In turn, in a time where technology networks, reroutes, and splices our self-projections while systematically atomizing our immaterial labor, we are challenged in the way we map our self-legitimacy. Thus arises the opportunity to argue on the means of obtaining and defining identity in the time of trans-human, post-human, inhuman and companion species.
Fall Semester has structured its second iteration around four thematic lines: Written by the body: on body, gesture, marks and space; Let’s get deep: The space of the systemic: on power bases as medium; Imaging me and you: on image and performativity; and Intimacy with the cosmos: on ecologies of the non-body.
Written by the body
The body has been perceived as a reservoir of projection, gaze, cultural and political presence and absence. Yet the body in space is not limited to receiving such pressures, it can also generate them. If the twentieth-century body was embodied by Kafka’s inward metamorphosis, the twenty-first is marked by an outward inversion. There is multiplication, dispersion and circulation of our bodies through the immediacy of digital and networked platforms. Our bodies are no longer ourselves, but our selves. I can be everywhere and nowhere. Not only are there forms and/or formations of the transmissible body in space, but potentials in marking these territories in new ways. Rather than our bodies conforming to traditional modalities of space and architecture, our bodies generate new cartographies, new spatial systems, and new infrastructures where ‘I’ can be located. Consequently, we can raise questions on what transformations and permutations occur to our original body.
Let’s get deep: The space of the systemic
In Elaine Scarry’s The Body In Pain, she articulates the limitation of expressing pain, both personally and politically. If expression limits not only the conveyance but the emancipation of pain, then we must go deeper. The spaces of the systemic are where social and material transformations occur. Beyond sympathy, beyond criticality, and beyond the reflexive mirror of subjugating power structures, lies the origins of structures themselves. Maybe these roots, wires, and flows of power can be considered mediums: perhaps we should use them. The institutional, the infrastructural, the technological, etc. are symptomatic of societal control and market capitalization. But there is always contingency. Those unpredictable moments when there is a market setback, an unexpected virus or feedback loop. The smooth mesh of entanglement can pull, bend, fold, or perforate as productive forces that are unassimilable, or at the least cause a resetting of the protocols. If one considers the systemic as spaces of practice, than these spaces outside of contemporary art may afford us not an exit from art but an expansion.
Imaging Me and You
Public access to the internet enables anyone to break down the idea of singular authorship via self-publishing, peer-to-peer file sharing, and the open-sourcing of intellectual property. People therefore –in direct dialogue with typography, photography and other visuals traditionally associated with graphic design– propose that we might also play as commoner designers while blogging, chatting, uploading and branding our way to a new social prototype. We are reshaping our physical bodies by building and editing the way we digitally present and advertise to the world, strategize public relations, build transparency and visibility, and channel politics on how to be liked. We should then speculate on this face of human transformation as well as the direction of the organizational model such platform leads us to.
Intimacy with the cosmos
The scales beyond the grasp of the human – the micro and the macro and the proliferation thereof – is not a fixed object, a self, or even an other. It is matter organized extensively and intensively in such arrangements as trajectories, vectors and modulated fields. They are simultaneously local, global and universal. These forces in and of themselves may not be either purely corporeal or transcendental, but they pressure us and we feel them. We may care more about them than they do of us. Somewhere between magnetic resonance and cognitive dissonance exists our interface with the cosmos. Since where the Real begins and ends is no longer for us to decide, we must give in. Maybe we should love the alien and find such a thing as a post-human manifesto or a post-human post-manifesto. The what and where are the means and ends to speculating on what we don’t know. Lurking there may be fissures, mutations, grafts and splices into things becoming other things. We could then speculate on how inhabitable those spaces are and if we want to go there. Thus, we should discuss–at least for the course of three days–on whether or not there is a place for a non–body politic.