Thursday, March 8, 2018

Time and the Embodied Text

In 1997, the artist Eduardo Kac tested out a form of cyborgian art in his project, 'Time Capsule' (Time Capsule Record), which involved the self-injection of a microchip, allowing viewers around the world to 'read' his body.

Images of Eduardo Kac's self-implantation from 'Time Capsule'
This artistic performance, more than twenty years ago, is perhaps a watershed moment, when it became possible to incorporealize digital technology outside the lab. Now, such body modification comes in many forms: from boundary-pushing piercings and subdermal implantation to voluntary biohacking (practised by Grinders) and the transhumanist movement. Some of this body transformation is aesthetic, some ritual or religious, some--as with Kac--artistic. The body can be 'read' in terms of its data output, with internal chips linked to computer networks thousands of miles away. Such experimentation is lauded (See Professor Kevin Warwick's work) and at the forefront of (neuro-)engineering research; or modified bodies can find themselves at the center of legal cases between employer and employee (Cloutier v Costco).

Starry subdermal implants
Motivation for body modification might be the individual pursuit of self-expression, or a collective impulse--to identify as part of a community. A body modifier may deliberately reject society's insistence on bodily perfection; conversely, some of the most curious body transformation attempts to reflect impossible conceptions of beauty (Valeria Lukyanova, 'Russian Barbie'). Efforts to mark the body as one's own canvas, writing a text of oneself in effect, is as old as the British Museum's Egyptian mummy recently identified as having of one of the earliest known figural tattoos (Gebelein Man); or it can be as socially and cultural significant as the lip plates of the Mursi tribe (Afritorial on the Mursi). For longer than recorded time, then, the embodied text has been a means of self-identification, or noting a communal belonging, a resistance, a compliance. Yet all such efforts are transitory (despite the grandiose objectives of Ray Kurzweil and his followers [Immortal by 2045]), for each of us is, and should remain, ephemeral and time-bound.