Astrid Ensslin Curator of Stories in Flesh and Bytes, Dyscorpia Team Member
What does the word “dyscorpia” mean to you?
To me it means anthropocenic and -centric post-cyborgianism. By that, I mean we have gone beyond the idealistic image of the cyborg as a potentially feminist and liberating concept. Humans today are confronted with the puzzling co-existence of old-fashioned, phallocentric-modernist navel-gazing (see the results of the recent provincial elections), of teleological, technological determinism, and of the realization that humanity is finite and quite possibly doomed for extinction, if we continue "business as usual." Our bodies have become so irreversibly tied to technological prostheses (think of smartphone nomophobia, for example) that we have lost the ability to think of and connect to our bodies not as autonomous but as symbiotic elements and historical products of nature. We live in a posthuman paradigm, where our bodies are the original prosthesis (N.K. Hayles), extended by additional, more or less bionically integrated accessories. The cyborg has become our species' destiny, one that we keep lamenting, celebrating and naturalizing in denial of climate change and its likely effects on our embodied selves.
As one of the curators of Dyscorpia, what were you looking for in terms of diversity of talent and vision?
I wanted to present our visitors with a diverse array of digital-born fiction and poetry as a form of contemporary verbal, multimodal and interactive art, and to showcase the radically diverse ways in which different artists/writers deal with the idea of "intersections between the body and technology." The digital writers and artists represented in the Stories in Flesh and Bytes gallery come from different parts of the world (Europe, North America, and Australia), and they take very different approaches to the body on a two-dimensional screen. Christine Wilks, a feminist digital writer from Yorkshire, UK, focuses on the female body across time and age, on the gender biases in which it is entrenched (now and in the past), and the implications of women's historical and social environments for their body image and embodied experience. American hypermedia poet and artist Jason Nelson’s abstract, surrealist e-poetry poses a sharp contrast to Wilks’ realism and historically inspired work in that it confronts us with an abstract and puzzling array of avant-garde game art, where paradoxical play embodies criticism of contemporary consumer culture and ubiquitous (toxic) waste. Finally, Austrialian artist Mez Breeze’s 3D cyborgian sculpting takes us on a journey along a robotic body that is imbued with personal memory and insomniac musings, thus triggering and enacting personalized stories as we interact with the work on screen.
How does your work speak to the body and our relationship to technology? What is the crossover between the ethics and aesthetics of your work?
In my SSHRC-funded Writing New Bodies project, my team and I work with young women aged 18-25 from diverse intersectional backgrounds on a co-designed, interactive story-app, which resonates with their diverse body image concerns and helps them envision a future where they feel at home in their bodies. Technology thus becomes a tool for narrative, multi-linear self-expression, resilience and cognitive-affective re-figuring, one that enables young women to "play out" different possible life scenarios through digital-interactive stories, and to discuss and engage with them on various meta-levels. Ethical considerations thus directly inform the aesthetics of our work: ethics and aesthetics merge into "aesthethics."
What do you believe are the limits of the body in 2019? Can you envision how it will be different in 50 years from now? 100?
The limits of the body are its mortality - and by that I don't only mean the mortality of the individual specimen, but rather the mortality of our species as a whole. Recent environmental and geological research suggests that, if we continue with business as usual, i.e. if we don't significantly curb carbon dioxide emissions around the globe in the next decade, we may well see the end of humanity as we know it by the end of this century. This is due to increasing food/resource shortages and migration around the world, all in relation to the planetary effects of climate change. What adds to this irreversible trend in considerable and yet unforeseeable measure is the fact that the permafrost in the Arctic is melting at breath-taking speed, releasing massive additional quantities of naturally stored carbon dioxide and, what is worse, methane into the atmosphere.
I'm aware of how bleak and gloomy all this sounds, but the way most of us (and our politicians) act and behave at the moment, this scenario will likely happen in some way. Humanity is mortal; the earth isn't. It'll probably renew itself at some point, long after the demise of our bodies. It'll forever preserve the physical traces of the anthropocene - think of the plastic particles sedimenting in the oceans that have begun to form an additional geological layer. The limits of the body in the decades to come will have to be self-imposed, in trying to mitigate and reduce our normalized consumption habits and expectations, and in finding new ways of cooperating with Gaia in supporting its self-renewal so as to facilitate human survival.