Portrait of a Posthuman

Curator's Note

What is real? As the world becomes increasingly artificial due to technological change, I find myself asking this question more and more. Or at least I think I do, presuming that I myself am real. Recently I’m not even certain of this; perhaps I see only what contemporary technology wants me to see.

Looking towards mass media advertising, fashion, and the surplus of images that surround us, the development of new moral and social infrastructures is evident. Figures without identity emerge from this background, frozen in awkward positions without a sense of themselves. In my paintings and video installations, I play with collaged materials and body-extending costumes to make hybrid textile “skins” that reflect these individuals.

Today’s foundation-altering technologies, such as nanorobotics and artificial life, are having an imminent impact on the fabric of human consciousness. I am a figurative artist, and I am interested in representing this contemporary reality. Or at least that’s how it seems to me, when attempting to paint a posthuman portrait.

Comments

Drew Ayers's picture

The Materiality of Posthumanism

I’m really glad that you were able to curate a post this week, Eva, and it’s fantastic to have an artist’s perspective on the ideas we’re discussing.  Thank you for sharing your work and insights with us.  (You can see some of Eva’s other work here: http://www.evarorandelli.com/  It’s really great stuff - both aesthetically and intellectually - and I strongly recommend you check it out.)

What fascinates me about your work is how you intuitively take the concerns of posthumanist theory - identity, boundaries, interactivity with an environment, technology - and make them material.  In particular, I’m curious to hear more about the different kinds of material you employ and how you make use of those materials.  What is often overlooked in discussions of posthumanism is the material basis of any changes in culture that we might deem "posthuman."  It’s easy to get caught up in theory and forget that theory’s material roots.  In art such as yours, we can see how materiality plays a role in posthumanist thought.

Your take on fashion and the ways in which bodies blend into their environment is particularly striking, and I wonder if you could say more about how you conceive of the (constructed) borders between bodies/entities.  I’m also interested in your take on gender, since you focus mostly on women in your work.  How do you conceive of gender and feminism in a posthuman world?

Ron Broglio's picture

Between Technology and Animality

Traditionally the human is bounded and is defined over and against animal(ity) and technology. Rorandelli shows the complexity of defining the human in these terms. We might ask: haven’t their always been technologies and the threats of animal nature? What is different now? Is it scale, complexity of the structures, the intimate intertwining of technology and animality with the human body? If technology feels more artificial now, then why now more than ever? Thought provoking post and image(s).

Eva Rorandelli's picture

Material Illusions

Thanks for your postings. To respond to Drew’s questions regarding materials and the borders between bodies in the Posthuman space, it probably makes most sense to start with my use of painting as a medium. Throughout history, painted materials have been applied to flat surfaces to make illusions of figures that we can relate to as representations of people. In the 20th century abstract painters became very interested in the material of paint itself AS a kind of representation (leading to action painting, postmodernism, minimalism, performance, conceptual art, and so on). What strikes me as particularly interesting is that figurative representations always have their basis in physical reality. Paint on a surface, just like the bodies of people and the chips inside computers, are made of physical material. In each of these cases, something happens when the right kind of material complexity is created that makes the illusion come "alive". The illusion of "life" becomes conscious reality. Living people and the people in paintings are both very real in this sense.

With regard to the relationship between figures, then, the bodies in my paintings are blending with the environment, because the environment is becoming increasingly "alive." There is also a symbiosis; the bodies are “fed” by the environment and the environment is kept alive by the bodies. To Ron’s point, what’s different about today’s technologies relative to those of the past is that (1) they are increasingly living, and (2) they invade/extend the body. The way images (in all of their manifestations) can be molded so easily today by technology has forced the "borders" and "material limits" between people to change. We are all increasingly the same person, and each of us is increasingly dozens of people. It’s the very real liquefaction of form into space, in which material figures begin to disappear into a purely aesthetic and technological world of multi-sensory experience.

Eva Rorandelli's picture

posthuman gender?

With regard to gender issues, this is a big topic but my work is not meant to be a feminist statement. The fashion, mannequin/body elements are there as a refection of the pragmatic hedonism of the contemporary ideal. This said, in my view gender (like identity) won’t be tremendously important in a posthuman future, since machines will reproduce themselves in new ways that are difficult to predict, mixing up their genetic information (or not) in the process to create radically new kinds of social/identity norms. One of the reasons that I’m interested in fashion is that it changes the identity of people and the way they relate to the world in this way, allowing all of us to become virtual illusions (whether we want to or not).

r.d. crano's picture

Agamben on fashion

In case you’re not already familiar with this, Agamben has some very interesting things to say about the temporality of fashion in his essay "What is the Contemporary?"

For him, fashion exemplifies a "special experience of time" as both "too soon" and "too late" — "Fashion can be defined as the introduction into time of a peculiar discontinuity that divides it according to its relevance or irrelevance…" 

Not sure if this is helpful, but I was reminded of it by your last comment about the posthumans’ becoming virtual illusions.

Thanks for the lovely post.

Timothy Welsh's picture

Individuals

Eva,

I really enjoy your pieces. They are captivating to look at. I was surprised, however, to hear you describe your women as "confused." That is not an emotion I recognize in the faces of your portraits. They appear to me strong, resolute in their posthumanity. Perhaps I am misreading their expressions. Even so, I think this tension relates to the relationship between the individual and the cyborg in your work. There seems to be a real desire to retain a concept of the "whole human being" even as that concept, that boundary of skin, is penetrated by our use of technology. As your subject’s dresses dissolve into the background, suggesting that fashion is itself cyborg technology, your pieces raise for me a question of whether or not these women, any women, any human, were ever "whole" to begin with. I think that is the context in which I read their expressions, as resolved and dissolved. 

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