Communication technologies and biotechnologies are the crucial tools recrafting our bodies.
– Donna Haraway
What happened in the middle of the twentieth century cannot simply be wiped off the table. It has fundamentally changed our relationship to what we can call (or want to or have to call) human.
– Gerburg Treusch-Dieter
The Intimate Perceptions exhibition, an integral yet independent component of the Digitized Bodies-Virtual Spectacles project, investigates the ways in which the rapidly developing technologies affect our perception of our bodies, our lives, our imaginations and our very future.
How is contemporary technoscience refiguring the dichotomies of nature/artifice, real/virtual, body/embodiment, as well as the current classification of gender? How can we decipher the ambiguities surrounding the documented data body? How can we obtain precise information about ourselves? How can we preserve our individual integrity without becoming mere electronic spectacles? And, perhaps most significantly, how can we use the term "intimate" (perception), in an age when, to quote Barbara Stafford, "the computer-mediated milieu renders the body nakedly public"?
The exhibition – and by extension the whole project – poses these questions, explores the unfolding growth of technologies and examines how artists, theorists and scientists have perceived the digitalization of our culture.
The relationship between mediated visual representation and medicine has a long history. Since the age of Enlightenment, the view of the human body has undergone significant yet inconsistent diversification. It is impossible to detail here the progress of these changes, but suffice to say that, lately, the body has been decentred from sensory experience and is today considered with scientifically supported objectivity. As a result of the extensive growth of enhanced visualization, the way we see ourselves and others is rapidly changing.
As Haraway reminds us in Cyborg Manifesto, the tools of technology embody and enforce new social relations. Consequently, the relationship between human beings and machines and between humans themselves has altered profoundly. The evidence of our own eyes became deceptive. We are being told that our bodies are not what we see, hear, smell and touch but a cyborgian mechanized data structure, easily translatable into code. In addition to image adjustments, the new visualization techniques contributed to a change in scaling, a minimization of distance, an alteration of space and a loss of physical and conceptual reference points.
The investigation of certain unresolved issues regarding the body politic – objectification of the individual, bodily ethics and the sometimes contradictory discourses surrounding certain experimental technologies – seems essential to reinterpreting the place of the individual as a corporeal entity in society. In the social and cultural analysis of the digitized body, artists offer intuitive yet comprehensive interpretations of the relevant debates. In films, videos, installations and appropriated medical images, contemporary artists have repeatedly challenged and provocatively interpreted the moral and ethical aspects of recent advances in biomedicine. Intimate Perceptions continues this investigation by presenting the selected work of eight artists and scientists. The works are all exploratory and focus mainly on the question of mediation.
Examination of mediated realities, scientific representations and the manipulation of relative truth characterizes the work of Jon Baturin and Orshi Drozdik, although the two artists approach these issues from a somewhat polarized position. Baturin's work often deals with issues of gender and gender identity. It has been postulated that in addition to evoking anxiety through the investigation of authenticity, there is also an implicit eroticism contained in works dealing with the newly forming spectacle of the body. "The intent is to position people somewhere along the continuum, to acknowledge that in science and in social structures, mankind is neither entirely male nor entirely female," says Baturin. Baturin also uses the external and internal images of the body as metaphors for investigating how truth is constructed. "How do we manipulate images, data, facts; how do we manipulate truth?" he asks. Deliberately using medical imagery because of its ability to deceive, corrupt, and reveal territories that are ethically questionable, Baturin provocatively expresses his concern for the political, aesthetic and social aspects of these issues in his piece Myths About Beginnings/Ends.
Drozdik shares Baturin's concerns about the new forms of representation. "I could imagine so many inside images of my own body and anybody's body, but the doubt remains – how will this digital imagery, digital representation or body representation be used?" Drozdik feels that science relates to human existence and human freedom very differently than art does, because art is often based on an extreme and protected individuality. In the course of her career, using a variety of mediums, Drozdik has – from a women's point of view – critically analyzed textual and visual models of reality. Adventure in Technos Dystopium: Embroidery from the Encyclopedia of Diderot, a silk embroidery in this exhibition, is an excellent and subtle example of Drozdik's deconstructionist strategies.
Mediation, communication, the modelling of cultural and physical phenomena, and the occurrence of cognition at the threshold of art and sciences-these are some of the issues that Nell Tenhaaf and Jack Butler investigate in their installations, which use video, text, photographic and sculptural materials, as well as the Internet.
The elements contained in Tenhaaf's Machines for Evolving challenge the notion that we can comprehend our own bodies. In this work and other works from the same period, Tenhaaf deals directly with the concept of the body and how it fits into the rapidly developing biotechnological landscape. The integrity of the body has always been of primary importance to her, and her work, by her own admission, has "held a kind of warning against breaching that integrity."
Tenhaaf's latest work often links virtual and physical spaces, and proposes alternative ways of understanding the role of communication processes in shaping consensual realities. Tenhaaf brings extensive Internet-based research to her current projects, which address the issues of identity and social relations. To attract and involve her audience, she puts forward a variety of questions instead of providing ready-made answers. In dDNA (d is for dancing), a storefront installation presented as an important component of the Intimate Perceptions exhibition, Tenhaaf raises questions about natural abilities and learned behaviour.
Butler's work, situated at the crossroads of art and science, has always required a high degree of cognitive involvement. His innovative contribution to both these fields has been realized in performances, texts, Internet-based works, and especially in his mixed-media installations.
Genesis of Breath, Butler's installation piece and website for Intimate Perceptions, serves as an outstanding example of his analytical explorations into the theoretical, ethical and pragmatic consequences of bioscientific imaging of the body. According to Butler, enhanced biovisualization (and its resultant images) are inherently politicized. Consequently, any critique of the enhancement of images has to be viewed in the light of the ideology of aesthetics and the history of theories of the physical or art object. "I think digital technology extends a practice that was well established in painting centuries ago – to inform each individual as to who we are and how we fit into the world at large, ... We have always started with a visual body map and I think our bodies respond to this."
Inspired by her background in the biosciences and her involvement in media arts, Nina Czegledy's interactive Digitized Bodies–Virtual Spectacles CD-ROM presents options for participants to investigate conceptual, ethical, sociocultural and pragmatic issues pertaining to themes of extended consciousness and mediated representation, as well as the questions of how digital technologies are changing the perception of the human body. Over twenty scientists, clinicians, cultural theorists and art historians from three countries (Canada, Hungary and Slovenia) contributed their views and their work to the topics addressed on the CD. Selected work of several international artists whose art is based on scientific and biomedical concepts can also be explored on the CD.
Issues of mediated representation – both in the embodied, sculptural medium and in digitized format – inform the work of Eric Fong and the collaborative team of Tibor Vamos and Hilda Kozari.
Fong's current work focuses on the body as a technological, ideological and aesthetic construct. Trained as a physician as well as an artist, Fong brings to his work both elegant aesthetic considerations and a distinct analytical point of view. His new installations, showing a departure from his previous photo sculptures, are made from steel with a dark, imperfect surface. "Some of these works have the same bodily dimensions as myself, like a self-portrait." Fong cuts out parts of these closed structures, and inserts backlit images of the body into the open areas.
Threshold1, selected from the Threshold series by Vamos and Kozari, depicts an image of a wound. Vamos comments: "I have been very interested lately in the wound as a point of entry and also in the skin, the bodily boundary of demarcation and permeability. To me, the wound is something that contains certain possibilities. Specifically, the wound image that I have in the new sculptures is at a stage of healing. So at the same time, it conveys both a sense of violation and regeneration."
"I am curious how we represent the world in our computers," he adds. A scientist of international reputation, Vamos has been working for many years with system science and with questions related to artificial intelligence. Through his fascination with philosophy and technological progress, he became interested in problems of representation, and initiated collaborative projects with Kozari.
While Kozari feels that such collaborations are often difficult, since "scientists have their own vision and they only want someone to illustrate it," the cooperation with Vamos in producing the game-like interactive Artificial Intelligence and Scotland Yard has been particularly fruitful. Applying creative imagination and ingenuity rather than high-tech solutions, this CD-ROM is a highly involving piece and functions as a multimedia textbook for students of artificial intelligence.
Intimate Perceptions embraces shifting notions surrounding body perceptions, material realities and current forms of visualization. The works in this show challenge established paradigms and point to debates in contemporary art, medicine, communication, ethics, and technology, questioning the role of the body, both past and future. The debates continue, but the questions remain: What will an approach closely connected to digital technology offer for the future of individuality? How will we accommodate our new radicalized vision of the human body?
Czegledy's work was designed and programmed in collaboration with C3 Centre of Culture and Communication (Budapest) and the Ars-Wonderland Studio (Budapest). The CD is produced through the support of the Daniel Langlois Foundation and it premieres at the Intimate Perceptions exhibition.