A Precognitive Selfie

Selfportrait with bacteria harvested from my daily routines and body.
Medium: Acrylic, Agar, Living Bacteria fitted on a base of timber with Arduino temperature
sensor and light.
Size: 20’x12’x10’

Client

Parsons MFA D+T

Skills

BioArt
Art
Design
Physical Computing

Category

Art
BioArt
Physical Computing


We are entering a period in time where the polarities of flesh and information, natural and artificial and mind and computer are coming together. This begs us to redefine the notion of self. Who we are and who we are becoming is being affected by information, by artificial alterations and prosthetics enhancements and the body as primary mediator of agency, identity, perception and subject is being questioned.

As I enter into a field of study where I will be designing for, and in a way designing, the Posthuman self, I wanted to explore this by means of a self-portrait. Looking through a lens to see versions of myself that explores the notion of the precognitive affected self, the biological physical self and the perceptive self. The tradition of self-portraiture is nothing new. From the antiquated paintings noble men commissioned to the current trend of self-portraits on mobile phones (the ‘Selfie’), self-portraits have been used as a means of self-promotion and preservation of a version of the self that one feel will best represent the self to the outside world. The reality is that this representation is purely an avatar of one dimension of the self and does not represent the ontological self or even a physiological self.

The ‘selfie’ or self-portrait might not be who we are, but represent only a moment in the complex mechanism where biology, information and consciousness meet in becoming the self. Theorists have been grappling with this process of becoming and are proposing that the potentiality of being is ontologically more fundamental than the actuality of being in this day and age. Their nomenclature for their thoughts might be different but the message is the same: we are metastable, supersaturated, pre-individuals that are always in a period of transition being affected by that into which we become: technology, biology and consciousness. 

  • Martin Heidegger – Dasein, resoluteness, Sein-zum-Tode
  • Alfred North Whitehead – Superject, Precognitive being
  • Mark BN Hansen – Affect, Prehension
  • Gilbert Simondon – Supersaturated being, preindivual
  • Bernard Stiegler – Transindividual

They also speak of technology that breaks down the subject/object polarity, that ensures that no human “subject” is free from and uncontaminated by the natural or physical world, while conversely, no “nature” or “materiality” is ever purely passive, purely an object. Every “object” has a certain degree of agency, and every “subject” has a certain degree of materiality.[1] The affectivity of information is actualized in the materiality of biology. Biology is becoming an information science. Doing a self-portrait of the precognitive self cannot ignore the biological self. Biology is more than just flesh, but is made up of a symbiotic ecosystem of matter, information, molecules and bacteria. Bacteria, is a hyper-specialized, intelligent life form that can cure cancers, filter poison, resist the most extreme conditions and even modify their genes to produce light through bioluminescence. They can also create groups or ‘swarms’ that act as one organism called biofilms that can strengthen concrete and self-repair clothing tears. Up to four kilograms of our bodyweight is made up of bacteria without which we cannot exist. This is called our microbiome. Our relationship with this microbriome is becoming more prevalent as synthetic biology is using bacterial DNA and the amazing capabilities of this specie to enhance and alter human DNA for the benefit of survival and adaptation.

The work brings together the bioharmony of our precognitive self expressed through a biological materiality, that is not the self but is the key agents that work together in actualizing the self. To achieve this, I created a 3D scanner with Kinnect to create a three dimensional, thus information self-portrait. This was then cut into sections and cut from layers of acrylic sheets. Each intermittent layer was replaced with a layer of agar on which bacteria is grown. Agar is a nutrient substrate that feeds bacteria in laboratory environments. Bacteria was harvested and collected from my daily routines and rituals. Elements like handrails down subway stairs, my hands after being out in the city, the windowsill of my apartment I look through every day, my toothbrush, insides of my mouth, my wine glass, tables at school and other situations where swabbed and transferred to petri dishes to grow. They were placed in a DIY incubator and kept at 37ºC, which is optimal for growth.

Once the acrylic-agar sculpture was complete and the bacteria was left to grow, the bacteria was inoculated across to the agar plates of the sculpture, from where it was left to grow for an additional couple of days in the new enclosed and temperature controlled environment. The plates were filled with colonies of bacteria that turned the objective matter of the sculpture into a subjective living organism that was essentially a version of me. The sculpture was giving materiality through information, but also the potentiality of consciousness through living organisms. The result was metaphor of a self that was represented by biology, information and matter, but none of them where the actual self, only bits of information about a self that could become.

[1] Gilbert Simondon

 

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