Friday, November 30, 2012

The Body Argument

The body has long been a subject for artists. Twentieth century artists, such as Anthony Gormley, took a renewed focus on the body.

Twenty first century artists continued to look at the body for inspiration:
“The Body Argument” at Emanuel Layr (Contemporary Art Daily)

I'm not going to review that show. I just liked the title and it made me think about the body as a machine.

Science has also long focused on the body as a subject. Centuries of trial and error have brought us to a place where we have a fairly keen understanding of its functions. Although we still have far to go, we have come to a point where we have delineated numerous parts and what they do. This is in no small part due to how we view the body metaphorically. Science views the body as a machine. In fact, science has come to the conclusion that the body is not merely comparable to a machine, but is a machine. We just didn't realize this all along. Not just the body, per se, but the brain as well is merely a machine performing a function. Everything we call ourselves as individuals is the emergent result of various electrochemical reactions in our brains. This view has even entered into our common language, re. "I'm just not wired that way".

Image Credit:

Whether we are litterally machines is not something I have the space, nor desire, to argue here. I would like to briefly point to a difference between the 'artist's' view of the body, and the 'scientist's'. The difference is largely due to the difference in approach rather than any particular agenda in most cases.

Like I mentioned above, we have analyzed the body into various parts. Liver, heart, kidney, blood, skin, muscles, brain etc. We have determined what each part does, and how it fits into the whole such that it all appears very mechanical. Machines are made up of smaller parts that each have a specific task in respect of the whole. The difference between a machine and the human body (other than the fact that machines had to be invented) is that a body grows while a machine is assembled. The body starts as a whole and develops the parts we've distinguished. A machine is built from parts already constructed.

The point I'm trying to make here is that an artist will typically approach the human form as a whole. Science, on the other hand, views it for its distinguishable parts. (Honestly, I got distracted while I was writing this and forgot where I was going with it :D)

Anyway, I found an interesting connection between an artist and a popular movie. The artist Stelarc, who often attempts to extend the uses of the body with technology, has been growing an 'ear' on his arm and intended to inplant a speaker in it. That, coupled with a bluetooth mic in his tooth, he can connect to his phone and basically turn himself into a phone. The other image is of the recent movie remake of, "Total Recall". The main character had a phone device implanted in his hand with which he could touch an ordinary pane of glass and see an image. It just struck me as an interesting coincidence that plays of the idea of body as machine. It's like the physical manifestation of a metaphor.


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