Panel: Body Narratives
“Although humanity has fashioned a system of powerful, immaculate machines and products, in their presence the human subject can only feel a sense of belittlement, incompleteness, lack-a feeling [Günter] Anders calls ‘Promethean shame’. [….It is the human body itself-comparatively unadaptable, vulnerable, mortal – that is felt to be the ultimate obstacle to the perfection of the machine environment.” _Christopher Phillips
In the age of smart houses, art that manipulates the perception of artificial intelligence downward gathers a critical importance. Why are divine or demonic powers of omniscience and immorality so often projected onto the bodies of machines in the popular imagination? If the Greeks had three levels of social interaction – between the divine, the human and the realm of the sub-human (in their eyes, the comic world of servants and slaves – then, the mythology of machine-human interactions is tragically organized around divinity. “Cyborg envy” (cf. Allucquere Roseanne Stone) is another aspect of this tendency to attribute perfection and the aura of futurity onto our own artifacts. Meanwhile, our own everyday experience tells us that even the smartest machines are pretty dumb with their one-track literal-mindedness and their tendency to break down at every contingency. Why are we humans being inculcated with an inferiority complex or feelings of ‘Promethean shame’ about our own bodies in relation to machines? The pressure on artists to master the very latest software on the most advanced hardware is equally part of this endless and fruitless human quest to match purported machine progress and perfection. While pride in electronic craftsmanship should not be dismissed, the arts are not just a part of an electronic culture, they are also about it. An interactive art work that embodies a metaphor or meta-interaction about the relations between humans and their machines must be free to adopt any level of technology appropriate to the statement to be made. Art that demonstrates the dependency, solipsistic behavior, lapses of intelligence and the tendency toward fatigue and obsolescence and general overall stupidity of machines is welcome here.
- Margaret Morse writes on electronic culture and virtual environments, and teaches at the University of California Santa Cruz (USA).
Full text p.203-205