FUTURE BODY LAB
Lab Author: Laura Tripaldi,
Genetic essentialism recovers the biblical principle dictating that human bodies are but the manifestation of language, existing as a product of abstract information linearly encoded within matter. If material configurations and vestigial memories can re-code the language that defines us, generating retroactive feedback between bodies and information, what does it mean to be human?
Example: Nearly half of our human genome is the result of ancient viral infections that may still give rise to unpredicted effects.
Image: Massimiliano Pelletti, Diagenesi di una Venere, Pietrasanta, 2018
Will the body of the future simply be no body at all? Digitalized disembodiment unveils the problematic entanglement of matter and mind: as mind appears to be uploaded into ethereal virtuality, it rediscovers itself as entirely dependent on its material substrates (constructing interfaces between silicon and flesh is, after all, purely a matter of materials science) and their perpetual demand for dissipation through entropic deterioration, heat transfer and informational noise.
Example: American startup promises future mind-uploading by implementing a new process for embalming living human brains.
Image: Tony Oursler, Focus Booth, New York, 2018
As the spider spins her web, weaving her environment as a secretion of her body, so does the human produce her world by building viscous networks that entangle bodies and meaning. How can we define the material properties of the substance that forms the ultimate substrate of our reality?
Example: Artist Tomás Saraceno’s project Arachnophilia explores the spiderweb as a symbolic and material device to investigate the interconnectedness of our reality. http://arachnophilia.net/
Image: Tomas Saraceno, Spider/Web Pavilion 7, Venice, 2019
The most accurate form of simulation that can ever be achieved coincides with the exact material replica of the body being simulated. If there is no longer any boundary between a material configuration and its model, is the body anything but a perpetual simulation of itself?
Example: Human brain organoids, i.e. small-scale self-assembled aggregates of human neurons, may offer unprecedented opportunities in research and diagnostics, but raise ethical questions regarding their capacity to suffer. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/oct/21/scientists-may-have-crossed-ethical-line-in-growing-human-brains
Image: Tavares Strachan, Robert Henry Lawrence Jr., Venice, 2019
The future of materials lies in blurring the boundaries between living and nonliving, organic and inorganic, mind and matter, subject and object. Progresses in materials science underline the urgency of a paradigm shift in our approach to matter: from functional tools to adaptive bodies, from top-down design approaches to bottom-up assemblies, from hardness to softness.
Example: A new research initiative launched by the Royal Society of Chemistry challenges scientists to design “animate” materials, capable of self-repairing, growing, and adapting to their environment by engaging in a transdisciplinary approach to materials science. https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/animate-materials/
Image: Scarlett Yang, Decomposition of Materiality and Identities, London, 2020
The problematic encounter between bodies and virtuality takes place at the interface between our skin and digital technologies, where bodies become data and information is embedded within our flesh. What is the potential and what are the risks of the use of nanotechnology to build increasingly extended interfaces between our embodied selves and our digital selves?
Example: Quantum dots injected underneath the skin together with vaccines may provide on-patient record of their medical history. https://news.mit.edu/2019/storing-vaccine-history-skin-1218
Image: Frederick Heyman, Gentle Monster, 2019
Is our knowledge of the physical world biased by a pre-constituted conception of bodies as passive, molar and individual? Embracing the molecularity of materials as it manifests collectively through assemblies of self-propelled particles, instead of passive units subjected to external forces, allows us to understand the behavior of groups of bodies as they morph into colonies, packs, swarms.
Example: Physicists report a previously unidentified state of active matter, i.e. swirlons, constituted by ensembles of active particles which defy Newton’s Second Law of dynamics and self-organize into dynamic structures.
Image: Refik Anadol, Melting Memories, Istanbul, 2019
It is estimated that each human being currently produces approximately the equivalent mass of their weight in artificial, man-made materials every week. As the mass of nonhuman materials we produce and discard becomes much greater than that of our bodies, growing even bigger than the amount of organic, living matter on earth, should we extend our definition of the human body to include the artificial shells that we continuously build and shed?
Example: Beginning with 2020, the total mass of artificial materials produced by humans has become greater that the total biomass on earth. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-3010-5
Image: Nicolás Lamas, Archaeology of Darkness, Brussels, 2019
When carbon-based nanotechnologies will become embedded within our spine, offering inorganic scaffolds for our own neuronic structures and opening new physicochemical channels of communication across our bodies, our experience of ourselves will be radically transformed from within. Will we then still be able to answer the much-debated question: what is it like to be a human?
Example: Scientists successfully designed and tested a carbon nanotube-based advanced material that could repair spinal cord injuries by acting as a scaffold for human neurons.
Image: Daniel Arsham and Hajime Sorayama, “Arsham × Sorayama”, Tokyo, 2019
When virtual simulacra outnumber embodied individuals, as in the case of digital avatars, social media profiles, memes and endangered species, real bodies are transformed into the mere representation of something entirely other. In the age of information and reproduction, bodies become vectors that can be
infinitely transformed, transcending their original morphologies and pointing to a meaning that is always absent.
Example: Artist Irene Fenara used an AI algorithm to produce the digital image of a tiger. The algorithm was fed only three thousand pictures, matching the actual number of tigers still living in the wild today.
Image: Irene Fenara, Three Thousand Tigers, Bologna, 2020
Feminist thinking has been pondering the idea of full mechanization and automation of reproduction since its very beginning: what will happen when reproductive labor is definitively disentangled from the human body? As reproductive emancipation becomes a matter of access to technology, we should evaluate the impact of these new reproductive infrastructures on gender politics and consider whether they will result in emancipation or unprecedented forms of exploitation.
Example: Mice embryos were grown in a mechanical, automated womb for the first time, disproving the belief that embryos require a living uterus for their development.
Image: Isabel Alonso Vega, “Rojo”, Madrid, 2018
Now more than ever, fully immersive digital realities are readily available through computer and smartphone screens in videogames and streaming platforms, providing disembodied sensory environments that assist the separation of our minds from our bodies. At what point in the future will this separation become inherent to our existence, and what are the risks of implementing full mind/body segregation in a human being?
Example: “Reality shifting”, i.e. a set of techniques for shifting the mind to an alternate, imaginary reality, has become a popular trend among teenagers on TikTok.
Image: Nanotak studio, DAYDREAM V.2, Paris, 2013
BODIES WITHOUT MEANING
Speciesism refers to the ideology that assigns value to different animal and human bodies depending on their function in the regime of capitalist accumulation and consumption. We should be aware that who or what will make it into the narrow range of bodies that will be saved from patriarchal capitalism’s environmental annihilation will be purely a matter of linguistic identification: will you be livestock or fauna? A food supply or an ecological reserve? A living person or a disposable commodity?
Example: Netflix’s new documentary Seaspiracy illuminates the cruelty and devastating environmental consequences of industrial fishing throughout the world. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/24/movies/seaspiracy-review.html
Image: Olivia Erlanger, “And Now.”, New York, 2019
Regrowth of body parts is regarded as a typical capacity of primitive and unconscious animals, suggesting that our centralized consciousness is incompatible with the proliferation of bottom-up, delocalized assemblies. Will future human bodies be able to spontaneously re-assemble after being damaged, and what will be the impact of full-body regeneration on our experiences of identity and self?
Example: Elysia marginata sea slugs can self-decapitate and fully regrow their bodies from their severed heads. https://www.sciencenews.org/article/sea-slug-detached-head-crawl-regenerate-grow-new-body
Image: Haejin Lee, Memoirs of Image and Emotions, Vancouver, 2016
Our natural sensory organs are surprisingly advanced detectors that are designed to perceive the most subtle microscopic qualities of matter. How are quantum, sub-molecular effects amplified through the biological machinery of our bodies? How does the mediation between such inhuman phenomena and our human consciousness take place? To what extent and through what processes can we develop these psychic abilities?
Example: Human taste receptors can distinguish between ordinary water and “heavy water” by detecting subtle quantum, sub-atomic effects.
Image: Gil Yefman, TUMTUM, Performance at Ronald Feldman Gallery, NYC, 2014
Chemists have been dreaming of growing inorganic materials in the form of biological organisms for generations: although what was previously named “inorganic morphogenesis” is now known as “self-assembly”, the fundamental ambition has remained unchanged. Is chemistry still driven by the same vitalist concepts that fueled nineteenth-century synthetic biologists, and what will the future of vitalism look like in the age of nanotechnology?
Example: Professor Wim L. Noorduin has designed elaborate, self-assembling nanostructures from inorganic metal salts and sodium silicate that grow in the shape of microscopic flowers.
Image: Wim L. Noorduin, SEM image of self-assembled inorganic nanostructures, Amsterdam, 2016
Although we are used to thinking of time as a current that flows uniformly and independently from matter, our growing understanding of material configurations has unveiled the deep intertwining between temporality and bodies. The study of morphogenesis, i.e. the process of growth and transformation of self-organized matter, suggests that time may be ultimately intrinsic to bodies, to the point that changing their morphologies coincides with travelling through time. Are we running towards the future, or falling backwards into our deepest past?
Example: The first human-monkey chimaera embryos, produced by injecting human stem cells into monkey fertilized eggs, were artificially designed and survived in-vitro for 19 days. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01001-2
Image: Qiu Zhijie, Racing Against Time, San Gimignano, 2016
FUTURE BODY MUSIC
The notion that bodies and music are deeply interconnected has played a crucial role in the development of pre-scientific and scientific thought: from Kepler’s celestial harmonies to Schrodinger’s modelling of quantum particles as resonance, it is intriguing to think that what we perceive as the most abstract and immaterial of things may be so radically similar to the dense inertness of matter itself. The more we study and understand complex bodies, the more we are able to translate them into seemingly immaterial constructs, opening new pathways from matter to information and from language to embodied structures.
Example: Scientists have transformed the three-dimensional structure of a spiderweb into music, which could help us decode the language of spiders.
Image: Tomás Saraceno, ON AIR, Paris, 2018
POST_019: POSTHUMAN BODY
Posthumanism in its different variations and trajectories has shown that the body is central to our thinking of futurity, whether the body is completely discarded in future visions where the mind rules and the body dissipates, or professing the different mutations and connections which tie the body’s morphism with social, political and technological networks. To think “futurity” we need to consider the bodies produced by “futurity” not just as a distant possibility, but “futurity” as a theoretical laboratory which effects how we think of bodies now. As the future folds back on to the now, it revolutionizes how bodies are thought, treated, codified and transformed. Contemporary art is such a laboratory where the posthuman body of the future is folded back on to the present, exceeding the traditional constraints of sci-fi genres and typical fantasies of the future, the experimentation which contemporary arts provide allow for an approach to materiality and space that has an actual concrete effect.
Example: The work of artist Wang Shui “Dripping, crackling shards of laboratory-made materials emitting, like alien shrapnel, low-frequency groans. Silkworms mating on a horizontal television screen. Drones flying through gaping holes in Hong Kong high-rises. Teen lips on bubble-tea straws. These are some of the objects, images, and moments that we find in Wang Shui’s work.”
Image: Mindful Witness, 2021
Oil on aluminum honeycomb panel
Post Author: Dana Dawud
POST_020: CYCLICAL BODY-TIME
“And in still another grandiose episode the myth suggests that the "cycle of time," the "aeon," is for Ohrmazd the instrument of his victory over the Antagonist. Taking up Ahriman's challenge, Ohrmazd inflicts upon him a vision of the future, which Ahriman rejects but which nevertheless overwhelms him: in this vision he beholds the destruction of his demons, the coming of the Resurrection and of the "Future Body" (tan i pasen)."
Henry Corbin, Cyclical time and Ismaili gnosis, 1983
This passage of cosmic metaphysical myth suggests that a future vision can hold immense powers which would overwhelm forces of darkness, create a rupture in a cycle and bring forth future bodies. The importance here lies in this continuous thinking of this future, the vision is not a science fiction, nor a projection, it is an ongoing activity that takes place in the present, it needs to be sustained, and it needs to be powerful. The body in the present would inhabit this future vision of a land with no walls or barricades, by continuous acts of thought and resistance, leading to liberation from constraints and violence: this is a future body to which one aspires.
Example: The vision shouldn’t fit into our idea of a commodified futuristic aesthetic. The other day I went to see a show by Palestinian painter Nabil Anani titled “In Pursuit of Utopia.'' The paintings show landscapes which appear to be returning our present gaze, they are these reflections from the future which strike us with possibility. Despite the “naturalness” of the paintings, they embody a future vision, they are not realism but a break in the cycle.
Nabil Anani, In Pursuit of Utopia #2 (2020), mixed media on canvas, 100 x 110 cm
Post Author: Dana Dawud
POST_021: THE OBSOLETE BODY
The image of a healthy anthropocentric human “future body” has been pushed for and propagated for ages and has shaped our relationship to our body by dictating what regimens we need to consume, forms of exercise, types of chemicals and radiations to avoid. There’s an entire market around this idea, and it keeps changing at a faster pace, every trend that comes out does away with the trend before it and what we conceive of as “self-care” changes, while for past civilisations “self-care” was an art most probably practiced by a few people who were privy to that knowledge of themselves, today “self-care” is the main consumer ideology. Each individual is responsible for their mental and physical wellbeing in an impossible race against all the conditions which are deteriorating our bodies at an accelerated pace, from environmental changes, to strained work schedules, to all the other products we are encouraged to use and consume. It is crucial to rethink what a practice of self-care mean in a collective manner, since the industrialization and unequal distribution of calamity has rendered self-care obsolete.
Example: The Sky Oscillates Between Eternity and Its Immediate Consequences, Nadim Choufi, 2021
Set in a space colony on Earth, this new sci-film explores how the future of smart cities relies on the promise of “sustainable” closed systems in the face of health and ecological crises. Two protagonists narrate how the control and exploitation of environmental life cycles and organisms become a blueprint to achieve such futuristic visions.
Post Author: Dana Dawud
POST_022: FUTURE EYES
I have been magnetically drawn to any painting or figure of St. Lucy, holding delicately a plate of two eyeballs. She is the patron saint of the blind, and there are two versions of why eyes are her emblem. The first version relates to her persecution by guards who ordered her eyeballs to be removed, and the other more interesting version which concerns us here in terms of futurity, is that she took her own eyes out to discourage a persistent suitor who admired them. By taking her own eyes out, she obliterates the gaze of the other and her own sight, and by becoming the patron saint of the blind holding a dish of eyeballs, a displacement of the position and function of the eyes has occurred. Through this mystical shift, the eyes have become both everywhere and nowhere, disjunctive but purposeful.
Example: In a sense the eyes on the plate can serve the aesthetic purpose of the prosthetic eye, while no technology is aimed at the bionic eye, bionic lens and mechanical eye implants which can actually restore vision.
Post Author: Dana Dawud
POST_023: INVISIBLE MATERIAL
Example: Laura Tripaldi, Future Body Lab author, writes article in Il Tascabile, working her way through identity, differences and punctured cards.
Translated Excerpt: "One of the most interesting aspects of contemporary computer science is the tendency to conceal interfaces. If, in the early days of computer technologies to communicate with a computer, it was necessary to go through a series of burdensome material operations, which allowed the difficult translation of human language into an information understandable for the machine, today we are surrounded by human-friendly technology systems, which they understand and speak our own language. But if the interface of modern technology devices became thin enough to appear almost invisible to us, the material processes underlying the technologies we use have always been working in the shadows."
Image: Frame of CD-ROM All New Gen (1992–1993) of collective VNS Matrix.
POST_024: THE NEW FACE
The face has a long history which traverses multiple disciplines, in science it could relate to evolutionary biology, in philosophy it has taken multiple facets as either a window to the soul or a representation of a crumbling humanity, and we have seen how faces traversed the arts as a locus for portrait painting and the frames of cinema. A friend of mine, artist Nada Zanhour posted a selfie on instagram with a filer turning her into a blue eyed elf asking “Seriously, what is a face? It’s a body area where sensory organs hang out and suddenly it’s a site of selfhood? I will never get over this.” In his book on Francis Bacon’s work, Deleuze reveals this power of the face as a locus for emotive sensation rather than a surface of representation. The face has been effaced and is in motion, the technologies which are arising have been trained to recognize our faces and add a layer of representation and identity to them, but we are also changing our “faces” all the time with masks and avatars.
Example/Image: FRANCIS BACON, POPE, CIRCA 1958
Post Author: Dana Dawud
POST_025: FUTURE HEARING
Sound distorts our sense of time, if we hear our own voices when we speak, it is only a sound wave that had to travel in time and space to reach us, there is always an element of delay, but when we are thinking the sounds in our head making our thoughts always somehow seem ahead of us, when sound merged with thought futurity begins to take hold.
Example: Article by Thomas Birtchnell titled "Listening Without Ears: Artificial Intelligence in Audio Mastering" explores artificial intelligence in "sound formats and listening environments".
Post Author: Dana Dawud
POST_026: BRUISED ROBOTS
You can’t make robots feel, but now you can bruise them. There will be lengthy research efforts until robotics and AI can fully implement a functional simulation of the nerve and neurotransmitter infrastructure that is analogous, but not on a one-to-one scale, to the human model, but in the meantime we can shuffle in the mirroring game to pinch the simulacra. Considering that our intellect feeds on inflicting looping episodes of viciousness to our own kin, these episodes now scathingly expand beyond our very narrow horizons. In the not-so-far future we can bruise, maim, gash and carve without repercussion. The robot is now red, now purple, now black, but it ‘…has no mouth and it cannot scream’.
Example: Engineers have developed an artificial skin that shows its colors to make an analogy when being hit or damaged.
Post Author: Federico Nieto
POST_027: FUTURE HEART
Before the brain, the heart used to take a central role in how thoughts, emotions and vitality are processed, it used to be this missing link between the polarity of the body and soul. Despite the changes in how science and philosophy situate the “heart”, the idea that our emotions and deepest desires, the most authentic impulses come from the heart still persists. It could have been watered down to simply a linguistic metaphor but it is used in psychological discourses and popular culture, to follow one’s heart and have it lead the way is always seen as a more noble cause. Monitoring the heart in modern and contemporary medicine is a measure of health, all our habits and histories are tied to the intricate parameters of the heart. Almost all smart devices and watches monitor your heart all the time, it is still physiologically the vital organ, your brain might die but your heart could still be beating. Transhumanist traditions have a place for detaching our mind from our body to achieve immortality, but do we cease to have a body if the heart is still there?
Example: Now, Artificial Intelligence is used to analyze the heart and predict its turbulences, researchers are working to create the first artificially intelligent stethoscope system, which can analyze heart and lung sounds to build a unique personal biometric signature, while it also tags geo-location and environmental data to each sample in real-time.
Post Author: Dana Dawud