We are living in an age of excess and indifference. Of prosthetic augmentation and extended operational systems. There is now a proliferation of biocompatible components in both substance and scale that allows technology to be attached and implanted into the body. A turbine heart has been engineered that is more robust and reliable than previous artificial hearts. It circulates the blood continuously without pulsing. In the near future you may rest your head on your loved ones chest. He is breathing and warm to the touch. He is alive. But he has no heartbeat. Organs are extracted and exchanged. Organs are engineered and inserted. The blood flowing in my body today might be circulating in your body tomorrow. Ova are fertilized by sperm that was once frozen. It is possible to take the skin cells from an impotent male and turn them into sperm cells. And more interestingly, there is now the possibility that the skin cells from a female body can be re-coded into sperm cells. The face from a donor body becomes a third face stitched onto the skull of the recipient. Limbs can be amputated from a dead body and reanimated on a living body. Cadavers can be preserved forever with plastination whilst comatose bodies can be sustained indefinitely on life- support systems. Cryogenically suspended bodies await reanimation at some imagined future. The dead, the near-dead, the un-dead and the yet to be born now exist simultaneously. We no longer die biological deaths but rather from either some catastrophic event or technological accidents. We increasingly die when we switch off our life-support system. This is the age of the Cadaver, the Comatose and the Chimera. The chimera is the body that performs with mixed realities. A biological body, augmented with technology and telematically performing with virtual systems. The chimera is an alternate embodiment of meat, metal and code. The body acts with indifference. Indifference as opposed to expectation. An indifference that allows something other to occur, that allows an unfolding- in its own time and with its own rhythm. An indifference that allows the body to be suspended with hooks into its skin, that allows an inserting of a sculpture into its stomach, that allows its body to be remotely accessed and choreographed by people in other places, and that allows an ear to be surgically constructed and stem-cell grown on its arm.

What we need is not a Second Life but a Third Life where our avatars can interact not only in virtual space but with their surrogate physical hosts in the real world. Circulating flesh becomes fractal flesh becomes phantom flesh.

THE PROSTHETIC HEAD was engineered 2002 by 3 programmers in San Francisco- Karen Marcelo, Sam Trychin and Barrett Fox. It was premised on two philosophical assertions. One by Nietszche who states that there is no ”being” behind the “doing” (it is the action in-itself that’s important) and also Wittgenstein’s assertion that thinking is not located inside the head, but rather it’s located on the paper on which you write or on the lips with which you speak (thinking is not simplistically located inside your head). The 3D model was constructed using a 3000 polygon mesh, with the eye balls, tongue and teeth being separate moving components. The Head was skinned with the artist’s face. The talking head is based on a modified and extended Alice Chatbot- has a database and a conversational strategy, so it responds to the person who interrogates it. It can respond to any question – it can be personal, informed and at times philosophical. The Head can also be creative. It can recite its own poetry and it can generate its own song-like sounds, which are different each time you ask it. Notions of intelligence, awareness, identity, agency and embodiment become problematic. Just as a physical body has been exposed as inadequate, empty and involuntary, so simultaneously the ECA becomes seductive with it’s uncanny simulation of real-time recognition and response. As the Prosthetic Head’s capabilities increase and as its data-base extends, it will seemingly become more autonomous in its responses. The artist will no longer be able to take responsibility for what his Head says.

As part of the Thinking Head Project (led by the University of Western Sydney between 2006-2011), alternate embodiments such as the ARTICULATED HEAD, the FLOATING HEAD and the SWARMING HEADS were engineered. With Articulated Head, an LCD screen displaying the Prosthetic Head was attached to the end of an industrial robot arm, and an attention model was developed incorporating sound location and vision tracking, creating a more interactive and seductive agent. The Floating Head was a collaboration between NXI Gestatio in Montreal and the MARCS Lab at UWS. The Head was embodied on a flying cuboid robot and a special behavioral vocabulary was developed for a much slower responding agent. The Swarming Heads is a cluster of 7 small robots on wheels each displaying the Head on a tablet computer. With a Kinect sensor mounted on each robot it is possible to communicate with gestures, with the Heads generating spoken sentences. A work in progress, Swarming Heads will explore emergent and flocking behavior. Another possibility is to use the Swarming Heads as multiple Skype platforms where the remote head can control his or her robot body and interact physically as well as visually and acoustically with others at a particular location.

The digital skin for the Prosthetic Head generated the PARTIAL HEAD project. We scanned the artist’s face and then we scanned a hominid skull. We digitally transplanted the human face over the hominid skull. So this face becomes the face of another, neither merely hominid, nor fully human. A kind of alternate evolutionary construct. Using this visual data we made a 3D scaffold and we attempted to grow a layer of living skin over this scaffold. It only survived for several days. The nutrient was drained at the end of the week and the specimen was fixed in formaldehyde for the remainder of the exhibition. Organ Printing is a hybridization of rapid prototyping techniques and tissue engineering. Imagine that instead of printing with colored ink, you can print with globules of living cells. This can be done layer by layer on biodegradable paper, resulting perhaps in a section of artery that could be transplanted. But if we could input all the 3D anatomical data (on cell types and tissue structure) then in the future Hewlett-Packard would guarantee developing a 3D printer that could print complex parts and organs of the body. Of course the difficulty then would be to animate an organ such as the heart. You would have to put it into a vat of nutrients, at 37 degrees centigrade, perfused with a circulating blood supply and providing intermittent electrical stimulation. Hopefully the heart would start beating and that could be inserted into a patient. So there is a possibility now that we will have a proliferation of organs- not through harvesting them from dead donor bodies and living bodies from third world countries but instead from stem cell engineering and printing organs. If that happens there will be an excess of organs. An age of Organs Without Bodies. Of organs awaiting bodies.

What we need is not a Second Life but a Third Life where our avatars can interact not only in virtual space but with their surrogate physical hosts in the real world. Circulating flesh becomes fractal flesh becomes phantom flesh. The realm of the post-human may no longer reside in the realm of bodies and machines but rather in the realm of intelligent entities, images that are sustained by electronic media. Bodies and machines have slow metabolisms and mechanisms and have to perform with weight and friction. Images are ephemeral and perform with the speed of light. Images are immortal. Avatars have no organs.


Comments are closed.

Copyright 2019 TEKS / A Matter of Feeling · Webmaster & custom web design: Espen Gangvik · RSS Feed · Log in

TEKS - Trondheim Electronic Arts Centre