On Post Human
Reflection on human territorialism and the reinvention of oneself. Published December 2016 in Bilkent News.
Here sits the good camera, poised as always to shoot. It is being manhandled by two extremely delicate hands, knuckles flaking with cold. As a mouth comes into focus it snaps with effort at the unnatural swell of the lips, then that of the hips, eyes narrowed in question of the body in relation to its origins; in relation to woman. “The matter-of-fact acceptance of one’s ‘natural’ looks and one’s ‘natural’ personality,” bold print reads over her breast, “is being replaced by a growing sense that it is normal to reinvent oneself.” This is an image straight out of “Post Human,” an art book made up of words, pictures and sober interjections that fashions from its predictions a possible future for humankind; the final assertion is thought-provoking and familiar, a conclusion strangely close to home.
The book centers on current and future forms of human interaction, both with oneself and with others. It draws from the way we’re coming to view and treat our bodies, and builds up in a series of photographs to predict how we’re likely to view and treat our entire species. It sounds like a simple prospect, this discussion of genetic modifications, of plastic surgery and in-vitro fertilization; perhaps that’s what makes “Post Human” so striking, the way that it shapes these personal decisions so they become serious, sterile and touchable, an evocative look into the years to come. But the desire to evolve into a preferred image is not a modern one; people have always tried in one way or another to modify their bodies into a societal ideal, demonstrated exhaustively by the prevalence of the Western corset, the foot-crushings of the early Chinese and the piercings and surgeries of tribal Africans: the image of the self was never really natural to begin with. What is different today is not this base desire to transform, but the object of transformation; instead of idolizing one singular look, people are changing to satisfy their own views of the world. Technology makes this all stunningly easier, as the book points out: “It is becoming routine for people to try to alter their appearance, their behavior and their consciousness beyond what was once thought possible.” “Post Human” thus concerns itself with just this aspect of self-construction – the ability to modify not only what exists, but what will exist; it speaks not only of the transformation of the present, tangible body, but also that of the unborn child. “The issue of using genetic engineering to ‘improve’ the fetus will potentially become much more highly charged than the controversy over abortion,” the book reads on a further page, bold black over white, superimposed on images of protest.
This part of “Post Human” borders on science fiction, but it’s not a very distant prospect at all. The book may concern itself with the future, but it also has very immediate implications, and as I flip through its glossy pages I notice something very interesting: this new conceptual construction of the self is not only physical, but also relates to individual identity. As identity is shaped, the ideal body is shaped along with it until transformation for self-satisfaction becomes an end in itself, with the individual becoming what they want to be perceived as. “Many contemporary people have little sense of past and little sense of future, only a sense of the present,” the introduction suggests. We are now voyagers in a dark wilderness, surrounded by new ideas and policies and opinions and perceptions, struggling against the great ease of isolation. This is today’s most damning human pursuit: the race to discover and define oneself, to delineate a role for everyone and everything within one’s own theorized society. In this frenzy to label and organize, we are drifting away from our original freedom; our communities are becoming more and more polarized by gender, by race and sexual orientation, by politics and religion. This is not to say that discrimination did not exist prior to this modern effort to define and redefine; rather, this is me being slightly amused and very surprised that despite all this evolution and self-construction we are still trapped by our oldest human errors: an inflexibility of opinion and a savage, undying territorialism. It seems that no matter how much we try to shed our early skins, we can never truly become post human.
The art is sober and straightforward, honest with every snap of the camera, every printed word. I read and re-read the book, pausing as I look again at some of the particularly striking photographs. The overarching purpose is to give a direct message and surround it with variable, pertinent conclusions; “Post Human” revels in the ambiguity of art, its changeable nature, and its content is correspondingly open to interpretation – but the main idea is clear. “Does the art presented in this book…warn of a world from which humanity has been drained?” the introduction asks. “Or, on the contrary, does it celebrate a world in which one will have unprecedented freedom to reinvent oneself? It is quite unclear whether the post-human future will be better, or worse, or whether it will even be post human at all.” I am left with a prickling expectation of present and future, an expectation that is – like “the new construction of the self” – “conceptual rather than natural.”