June 21st, 2017
by Natascha Riegger
Since 2007, the Schader Foundation and the Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt have been working together to produce exhibitions that bring the social sciences and art into dialogue with each other. The latest exhibit, HUMAN UPGRADE, presented select works by Susanna Hertrich and Hannes Wiedermann.
Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, the physical connection between humans and technology has increasingly taken concrete form. We have not only continually refined the enhancement of human mechanics using prosthetics, but can now even make technical apparatuses part of the human body via surgery or external attachment to the body. In the HUMAN UPGRADE exhibition, Susanna Hertrich and Hannes Wiedemann engage with this development via creative and documentary media. Their work succeeds in highlighting new research fields in the arts, design, and science as well as in social subcultures where participants are using their own bodies as a field of technological experimentation.
In recent years, the concept of self-optimization itself has become a research subject within the social sciences. Where are the limits of the human body and its possibilities? If humans increasingly combine the physical and intellectual elements of their bodies with technological elements, what impact will that have on society?
Prostheses for our sensory organs, microchips in our bodies, titanium extensions for our bones, none of these would have been regarded as socially acceptable in previous times, but today many people no longer consider such things unnatural. The process of self-optimization continues to make headway, with technical, chemical, surgical and even genetic changes, interventions, and enhancements being employed to improve and develop existing abilities. At the same time, however, this quest for perfection raises many questions – philosophical, political and sociological in nature – that highlight the necessity for a social debate about these topics. The developments in these fields will inevitably also become a topic within the ethical-religious discourse, seeing as humans are taking “creation” into their own hands.
While the desire for correcting and improving human nature is as old as humanity itself, today we have reached a point where we’re no longer focusing simply on aesthetic -creative or possibly medically necessary measures, but on the issue of improving and further optimizing that which nature has given us. Strictly adhering to the motto “be a better being”, we’re all striving for individual improvement and harbor the wish to become a “better human being”.
The artistic work of Susanna Hertrich and Hannes Wiedmann reflects our current reality, this striving for improvement, and critically questions the social, political and physical consequences of the newest technology. While Hertrich’s artistic approach involves extending the human sensory apparatus through computer-controlled prostheses, Wiedemann uses photography to document the cyborg and biohacker scene in the US. Members of this scene experiment with magnetic and light implants as well as implanted data storage devices, in order to test the limits of enhancing the human body. But all of these changes and non-disease-related interventions are increasingly turning the human body into a construction site. Such developments also raise the question: Where do the boundaries of the human body truly lie? And where does the boundary between creative self-design and auto-aggressive self-mutilation lie? There is no universal answer to this question; it is a question that each person must answer for themselves. The role of the social sciences will be to provide options and support to help people form their own opinion on this topic.
The answers provided by the film makers on the topic of “be a better being” were also addressed within our exhibition, with Evelyn Runge bringing a selection of the competition films to be screened as part of our programming.
This was the selction of short films to enrich the exhibition:
11 Years by Simon Begemann
Would you want to live another life? A rich old man uses all his money to get his mind and soul transferred to an artificial
young and healthy body that he may use for eleven years, while his old body is kept safely in a cryogenic vessel. He meets a young woman and falls in love with her, so he hides the truth. But what will he do when his eleven years are over?
Enact by Regan Avery
Enact appears like an advertising for an app that helps you be the person you want to be. Do we wait for such a solution or should we be frightened about?
Children of the Singularity by Megan May Daalde
The documentary focuses the relationship of a fathers and his daughter. If developments in artificial intelligence, robotics, and genetic technologies continue at their current rate, children growing up today may be navigating very different forms of human experience. Children of the Singularity invites young people raised by advocates and inventors of post-human technologies to reflect on these rapid developments during their formative years.
Natascha Riegger is scientific consultant at the Schader Stiftung. She steers projects focusing diversity and integration. Furthermore is she responsible for the accompanying program in the Art Gallery.