myBorg: a cyborg manifested is a series of photographs that includes computer generated imagery.
Inherent in every object, space and ritual is an ideology fundamental to our culture and sense of identity. The object, ritual or space – the manifestation of the ideology – does not, however, appear to be laden with such political or ontological baggage, because it appears neutral to us. This kind of neutrality, or naturalness, might appear as a sense of simplicity, as a type of common sense, or even truth. This is nevertheless a construct that relies on foundational dichotomies, such as man/woman, nature/culture, human/animal and human/machine; and is made possible by the structure of our language itself. On the other hand there are objects and rituals that seem to defy this naturalness. A foreign custom (for westerners) for instance, like eating fried insects or building a house out of cow manure. These things have a tendency to appear as unclean and unsafe when posed within a set structure of established truths. They are polluted, and pose a possible threat.
In “myBorg: a cyborg manifested,” I use computer generated imagery to visualize a set of “ruptures” in this set structure, the structure being the western “culture-language continuum” that defines our here and now. The rupture, a kind of Freudian slip caught on camera when the structure in a split second loses its equilibrium, isn’t plainly revealing to us its covert sinister identity, however. Rather it takes form of something that is neither unclean nor natural, but somewhere in-between, in a limbo state, unclassifiable. It is a cyborg.
The cyborg breaches several of these foundational dichotomies upon which our sense of self is constructed. And by breaching these distinctions; leaking across the boundaries between human and animal, between machine and man; it is revolutionary to its core – yielding a power in which some, like Haraway, see great potential, for liberation, for rebirth. But even Haraway is aware of the nature of this bastard child, stating that:
“The main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism. But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their fathers, after all, are inessential.” (Haraway 152)
But are they really? Can we really claim that there is no ideological baggage from the Manhattan Project present in our nuclear power plants? Isn’t this idea that technology is ideologically neutral the same as we’re being told about science? Science is of course itself a child of this very structure that we’re talking about. Its narrative about the world is entrenched within a western cultural paradigm.
Still, the subtitle “a cyborg manifested” is more than a pun on Haraway’s famous essay. The cyborg is of course “manifested” in the sense that it is demonstrated and revealed to us. By means of modern technology, fueled by the myth of photographic indexicality, it is conjured into hyper-reality, and shown plainly, as something that both is and is not. A virtual object, real, yet uncannily unreal. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, it is “manifested” in the psychoanalytic sense, where the manifest content of the hallucination, the rupture itself, conceals a latent message, a sinister premonition, about the frequent disillusioning fate of all revolutionary offspring: the abduction into mainstream culture and consequent stripping of revolutionary potential. After its abduction the cyborg is sold back to us, as a commodity like any other and becomes an object of our desire, especially our scopophaelia, where the clean, white simplicity of the product design makes it into a mechanical “pin-up” for hungry eyes. On the other hand these cyborgs repulse us, because they transcend the foundational dichotomy between man and machine. In the middle, lingering between these attractions and repulsions, lacking a category for classification, is the point of another rupture, one that is not present in the image, but in the structure of our own language. This rupture can reveal to us inherent ideologies in the world around us: how, this scopophaelia is engaged in our desire for objects of pure symbolic value and how this again is tied to Western culture’s fantasies of the perfect form, which in turn subscribes to a dubious discourse of cleanliness we find not only in our Greek ancestry but more recently in the ideologies of wartime Germany. The ideological leap from Bang&Olufsen to Bergen Belsen might be shorter than we like to admit.
The problem with Mats Sivertsen's photographs, currently on view at Gallery Four, isn't readily apparent on first viewing. Well, perhaps «problem» isn't the appropriate word here. «Distressing» might be a more appropriate descriptor, but it's an unseemliness that sneaks up on you from behind like a consummately professional mugger in the night: Before you even realized you've been marked, you feel a calm breath on the back of the neck and a sharp blade pressed against the throat.
– Bret McCabe, Baltimore City Paper, 10.03.2010, on the exhibit at Gallery Four (ref)