SEDUCTION OF A CYBORG
Elen Braga, Eli Cortiñas, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven
opening Thursday September 7, 5-9pm, during Brussels Gallery Weekend
September 8 - October 28, 2023
What is it like 30 years from now?
Last weekend you were born. Now is 2023. We’re in a glitch, trapped between rampant technological advancement and a growing fear of what we’re creating. A hungry monster eating its own tail. Very well aware of its monstrosity, but too horny for power, money and fame to stop it from getting bigger, smarter and more autonomous. Enablers of this growth are starting to call it out, warning us for our own potential decline. “Who owns the narrative” asks Eli Cortiñas in Not Gone with the Wind (2020). As a female gendered robot talks us through her own existential ponderings about the dehumanisation of humans and its subsequent detoriation of the collective emotional landscape, I’m wondering Ada, what are the myths in your day and age? Is humankind still reigning? Are humans still exploiting? Are they themselves being exploited by other forms of life? Do cyborgs exist and have they managed to abolish dualisms - dualisms resulting from processes of othering, allowing for exploitation to thrive in the first place? In our day and age, despite my own cynicism, I’m trying to remain positive and keep my hopes up for cyborgs and their possible capacity to overcome simplistic dichotomies, to foster fluidity, fragmentation, decentralisation. Can they over-throw oppressive systems? Have they?
The thing is, those engineering our biological evolution and the development of mankind into a cyborg reality, are tech bros and multinationals. An image of Zuckerberg wandering a room of people wearing VR-glasses. He’s the only one not wearing one. His audience appears like a group of passive corpses: obese, connected to a plug with electricity cables like arteries, apathetically being fed whatever Zuck’s machine is cooking up for them. Data leak, data theft. Data manipulation and shifting tastes and appetites. A new market. The protagonist in Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Seduction of a Cyborg (1994) is portrayed like a victim herself, a blind woman who is finally able to see thanks to a technological procedure. Since her new ability only applies to the digital sphere, she finds herself glued to the screen, addicted to rendered imagery of a reality larger-and-more-magnificent-than-life. Because it is reality as well. A forebode to our current times? I find the world to appear blurry and pixelated when walking around town after an office day of exclusive screen time.
The body as machine. Life in labour. The dog in Elen Braga’s Schatteke (2023) is barking gently, almost with a sense of despair. Its a special force dog, traumatised by a life of coded labour on demand, readjusted by its new owner. The dog as an automated machine, slowly regaining its ‘humanity’, is positioned across from the artist, repetitively trying to familiarise herself with the Flemish word for sweetheart. What does it mean to be gentle within the harsh confinements of digitized and binary structures? And what is gentle when behaviour is imposed? Braga’s moving tail shrugs it off: the gaze of the predator. It moves to elope surveillance, in a final fugitive attempt to retain some opacity, some freedom perhaps.
Or maybe another form of freedom comes with foregoing the individual, with allowing the ego to implode amongst these shifting paradigms. Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven’s Re-pain (1999) depicts arbitrary forms and shapes, shifting place and colour over time. Random numbers punctuate the figure plane, while a soundtrack transports us to the insides of robotic bodies. “Cosmic nothing” as the artist proclaims: an eroticism that comes with complete surrender. Though one cannot help but subsconsciously try to decipher the hieroglyphs entering and leaving the screen. The Age of Nihilism (2008) epitomises this strand of thought, featuring womens’ bodies as decoded messages from the past. Appearing along-side abstract forms, they obliterate every distinction, every hierarchy, turning everyting into one mass of imagery, of information, of signs and messages.
Where are you in all of this, Ada? I hope my concerns are irrelevant by the time you read this. I hope you’re in full control of your own mind and body, and that you’re surrounded by creatures who hold similar agency over their lives, whatever they are. I’m sorry if this letter reads as fatalistic pessimism, I don’t mean to discourage you, though I doubt you’ll be easily discouraged by a remnant from the past while living in a reality I don’t yet understand. I wish you the best of luck."
Exhibition text by Evelyn Simons (independent curator and writer)
Image: Lynn Hershman Leeson, Seduction of a Cyborg, 1994, single channel video, 6’00”, sound, color, 4:3, still
The title of the exhibition refers to a video from 1994 by Lynn Hershman Leeson and was recently on view in the groundbreaking exhibition ‘Signals. How Video Transformed the World’ at MoMA (March 5 - July 8, 2023). The video ‘Seduction of a Cyborg’ is part of the MoMA collection, and on view at the gallery until October 28.
photo credit: Luk Vander Plaetse