Jennifer: This title refers to an international event which will be held in November 2009. The Super Human Revolution of the Species investigates collaborative art and science practices, and their relationship with the human body.
The symposium outline poses a series of questions: How do scientific and artistic bodies of knowledge intersect with human, social bodies? Does art serve simply as a representational tool for the sciences or is there more to the picture than that? And finally: Does research into bodies and their systems offer an insight into aesthetics, or is it confined to the purely functional?
I felt that a good starting point in constructing possible answers was to consult my artistic friends; two of whom are jewellers, and one of whom is a textile designer. It was in discussion with these women that I was introduced to the fascinating work of Orlan and Stelarc– the former a French artist, the latter Australian, both internationally renowned for their collaborative art and science projects.
Following prompting from my expert friends, I discovered that Orlan has been active in video, sculpture, installations and performance since 1965. She is arguably most well known for authoring the “Carnal Art Manifesto”, a publication based on a series of nine performances during which her lips, nose, forehead and chin were surgically altered. The procedures appropriated the goddess Diana’s eyes, Europa’s mouth, Psyche’s nose, the Mona Lisa’s forehead and Venus’ chin.
Entitled “Carnal Art”, this project can be interpreted as simultaneously reinforcing and opposing idealised beauty and the notion of female identity in relation to the body. Indeed, Orlan was criticised as anti-feminist for embracing surgery for aesthetic purposes. She negates the feminist ideal further, in refusing to define her own identity, preferring it to be “nomadic, mutant, shifting, differing”. However Orlan maintains that she chose her models of ideal beauty based on the feminist values of independence and strength- the Mona Lisa, for the standard of anti-beauty that she represents, Diana, who refuses to submit to the gods or to men, and Europa, for her adventurous spirit.
Australian artist Stelarc has used modern technology extensively in his performances, which explore its relationship with the human body. For Stelarc, the body is obsolete, or rather, “biologically inadequate”, in the information age. His performances have included using a third, mechanical, hand, and implanting a third ear in his arm.
Super Human Revolution of the Species, which is to take place in Melbourne from 22 to 25 November 2009, is the ideal floor for works of such nature to be featured and discussed. Keynote speakers and collaborative research projects will engage with the symposium themes of Augmentation, Cognition and Nanoscale Interventions.
I consider that Orlan’s “Carnal Art” examines Augmentation of the human body through surgical alteration, and that Stelarc’s work can be related to Cognition- he does not believe in making distinctions between the brain and the body, which suggests that if the latter is obsolete, so is human thought. I find this concept unnerving yet captivating.
According to Orlan, “Carnal Art” is self-portraitist in a classical sense, but realised through the technology of its time. “It puts the naked body in spaces opened up by scientific discovery” (“Carnal Art Manifesto”). Reflecting on Orlan’s work, I wonder if it is scientific discovery and our medical and biological technologies that question the status of the human body. Could science actually be generating the social pressures that are exerted on the body today?