Art for Cyborgs, 2014-2016
Art for Cyborgs is a hybrid project made up of photographs and texts, which together constitute the first guide to the Louvre to focus on the visitors’ experience inside the museum as well as the exhibited artworks. For the first time in history, millions of people a year visit Le Louvre not to admire its collections first hand, but on their screens. Works that have endured for centuries are now confronted with first-time visitors who refuse to look at them with their own eyes. Contemplation has given way to capturing, facilitated by all manner of digital devices; genuinely Cyclopean devices that roam the museum’s corridors storing everything they see in their inexhaustible memories.
The decision to select Paris and the Louvre as the focus of this guide was not arbitrary: they are the world’s most visited city and museum respectively, where visual consumerism is at its paroxysmal peak.
Focusing on the visitors’ experience inside the museum is a pretext to reflect upon the rise of a new species: the cyborg, a being with cybernetic processes integrated into its very organism; processes that rework its tools of perception and adaptation, thus engendering a new way of living and being in the world. The cyborg is the hybrid creature paving the way toward a new economic and social era: cybercapitalism, a system that realizes perfection when it transforms individuals into both consumers and products. This is achieved by means of different control mechanisms whose economic and ethical consequences are momentous.
Art for Cyborgs explores the main issues at play at this transitional time, before it too, like humankind itself, becomes an anachronism.
From the Introduction:
I enter the Louvre as if entering an ant’s nest, having shared the queue with countless other cyborgs anxiously waiting for the moment they can use their devices to take photos of the inside of the building. The low buzz of their conversations transforms them—in my delirium—into a swarm of bees flying from all corners of the globe towards a pyramid-shaped beehive to fertilize the Queen, inundating the network with the sperm released during their climax in Mona Lisa’s room.
Taking photos. It’s all about taking photos. Not talking, looking, thinking, or listening. A new sense with which to develop my relationship with the world. And yet, as one sense develops, another must fade. Photography could be sight’s greatest ally, but we no longer take photos to look at them: photos are an act of affirmation before the world, a kind of social behaviour, a filler in the face of silence or wonder, two of humankind’s most transformative experiences, both of which risk extinction. Photographs fill the holes of our existence and help create the illusion that we are doing something with our lives; they feed the sick man who believes himself to be invincible, immortal, and self-ruling. In an era of uncertainty, they offer a solid surface to cling to, an icy surface that prevents us from being exposed to the depths where, like the hunter’s fire in a winter night, the revelation awaits us.
It is the hand that veils or unveils, that screens or reveals, the hand that, all too often, spits out answers without having listened—with the eyes—to a single question.
The Department of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan Antiquities:
The human being who resists transforming into a cyborg is doomed to become an obsolete anomaly, a pedestrian heading down a dead-end track in the history of evolution. Technology is turning them into antiquities and, sometime in the near future, they will be looked upon with the same astonishment we feel when we confront those immovable ancient statues. As well as boasting a considerable representation of Etruscan and Roman works, this Department’s best pieces range from the Greek archaic period and its quest for ideal beauty, to the sensuality of the Hellenic period.
Greece is the birthplace of the Western world –from there scientific thought, democracy, and philosophy. The numbers with which Pythagoras worked are the same ones that now nourish the electronic devices that shape daily life. The digital world, however, involves a gradual and subtle substitution of philosophy for mathematics. When man abandons his ethical principles and lets himself to be governed by his devices—that is, when the motivations for his actions cease to be dependent on an evaluation of their consequences, but rather on the very ability to perform those actions—, he becomes more machine than man. While the cyborg may imagine itself to be free in its infinite combinations of movements, but in fact its movements are controlled by external laws, and the scope of its field of play determined by others. Neither science nor democracy have perfected themselves to the same degree as capitalism, which hails the transformation of citizens into cyborgs: those beings that are at once consumers and products.
The Winged Victory of Samothrace
You carve yourself little space among the dozens of other visitors on the stairs leading up to the stature, and hold tight onto your camera. To take a photograph or to be photographed: your fellow visitors act as if there were the only two possible roles, and your life progresses in a land completely ruled by images. Walking through the Louvre is like walking through the annals of history, and, above all, watching as it collide with the present. Because the world around you is no longer made up of objects, animals, plants or people, and the ship of history has turned into a mere set; the world is comprised of photographs.
Photography might be the opium of the people: a substance in liquid state, and extremely volatile. But then there are other, viscous kinds of photos, which leave their mark without having been fully understood and come back to life when you least expect it, like the sand you find in your pockets months after returning from the beach. The same thing happens with many of the paintings in the royal collections, which formed the core of the museum when it opened in 1793. Ever since the first paintings acquired by Francis I, the military conquests, purchases and donations have enriched an ever-expanding heritage representing European artistic movements since the 13th century to the 1848 Revolution.
And yet, the gradual increase in the museum’s resources goes directly against the big bang we live through in the 21st century. Every day, the universe is created anew in a great blast of images that invade our screens and become stuck to the cyborg’s vital memory. Every day, the universe is built and expands in an endless explosion fuelled by photographs. Every day, we lose a little more control over a stream of images, making the search for sense all that more difficult.
And yet, identifying themes, common points, echoes and imitations enables us to infiltrate this relentless stream and get closer to the heart of the dormant questions. Before taking photos, we must untake photos: undress the codes that govern the world and which inadvertently provide the serum of oblivion.
Department of Decorative Arts
Walking through the Napoleon III apartments—both a testimony to and testament of Old Regime extravagance—helps us to envisage how humans used to entertain themselves: that is, in the company of other humans. The presence of machines was limited to the rarest of occasions. For example, the taking of a photograph was reserved for exceptional and therefore special events. The apartments are located at the heart of the Department of Decorative Arts, which encompasses all kind of crafts and materials, from jewellery and ceramics to furniture and tapestry.
One hundred and fifty years later, humans have switched up the pace. Theirs is the era of immediacy— that is, a time lacking in time—and as such, photography has become the blood that circulates through the veins of our social networks. Watching a video even a couple of minutes long has become an ascetic exercise requiring the kinds of discipline and training monks employ to reach a higher state of mind, an epiphany. And reading a book, whether in paper or electronic form, has become a test of true determination in an environment in which the distractions produced by so many devices would have stopped Ulysses tying himself to the ship’s mast; would have made sure he paid no attention at all to the sirens’ song. Men, like cockroaches, boast astonishing powers of adaptation. However, the logic of their devices teaches them to act according to the action/reaction rule: any time for reflection has disappeared. And without it, the cyborg becomes a predictable piece of data, a replaceable good, a piece of code that thinks it has a life of its own.
Detox Exercises aim to question the technological inebriation we currently experience in our daily lives, and to promote attitudes that allow us to reflect on how we experience art, and to achieve a responsible use of technology.
The exhibition program includes more than 40 detox exercises.
- Containment Exercise:
Visit a museum and look at one artwork. Just one.
- Discovery Exercise:
Go to a museum and follow the first group you see. Every time you cross paths with a new group, follow it, leaving the previous one behind. Repeat the action indefinitely. Look at what the people in each group are looking at and take photographs—if permitted—of everything you see. The exercise is over when a group leads you to the museum’s exit. Go back the following day and repeat the game. You can also play with fellow visitors –each of them must begin following different groups.
- Empathy Exercise:
Approach a museum guard and ask him or her what their favourite artwork is. If possible, also ask why. Look for that work in the museum. Repeat the exercise with all the guards you come across. Write down the name/title of every artwork, and—if permitted—photograph them. Publish a guide or a poster including the photographs and the guards’ words. Visit the museum and gift one copy to every guard in the room. You might call it: “Artworks loved in secret”.