Towards the Human Spore

2012-13 / Authors: Špela Petrič and Robertina Šebjanič / Thanks to: Boštjan Bugarič (design), Urs Gaudenz (microinjector) / The project is supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia and the Municipality of Ljubljana Department for Culture

Produced by Kapelica Gallery

Humalga: Towards the Human Spore is an art and research project proposing an alternative, constructed evolution of the human species. It explores a biotechnologically engineered post-technological vehicle, which grants humans the resilience of simple, undifferentiated organisms while preserving the human phenotype, behavior and culture.

Biotechnologicaly the proposal involves creating a trans-species, the humalga, by genetically hybridizing and modifying the human and alga in such a way that both organisms appear as morphologically distinct living entities, which xenogenetically alternate as sexual (human) and asexual (algal) generations. The paper argues that as a composite projection, the humalga is a heuristic tool that alienates us from the normal, continuous, anticipated future, and by doing so allows us not only to observe paradigms and contexts, which define humankind, but is also as an application of a novel discourse, terRabiology. As well as questioning the limits of current scientific knowledge, it urges us to consider the contemporary views of the body and to rethink the impact of such speculative proposals on art and society.

Throughout history, the acceptability of particular technologies was based on their current understanding and moreover on the context in which they were/are used (for example atomic energy, X-rays, selective breeding); oscillations between utopic and dystopic extremes are not uncommon. Have the last 20 years of cultural immersion in genetic iconography alongside frequent exposure to the topic through popular media caused a shift away from the conservative bias or have they perhaps strengthened it? Can we foresee a future where the disposal of trans-species taboos will be thought of as a survival strategy or are humans destined to biological development at an ordinary (‘natural’) pace, regardless of their abilities to overcome the Darwinian evolution? If humans find it strange to eat tomatoes containing the genes of a mosquito, how do they grasp a human-plant hybrid? The images of half-human half-animal beings are characters of myth, art history and science fiction, but any life-like depictions of such organisms evoke repulsion. What are the roots of this uncanniness?

In contemporary society biotechnology has taken the place of a discursive medium through which a pleiad of social critiques, philosophical discourses and utopic/distopic visions are articulated. By the alienation of previously inalienable aspects of life, humans appropriate, transform, and commodify the very basis of living organisms and hence call into question the existence of species’ essences, including those pertaining to themselves.

The humalga follows the premises of critical posthumanism developed by scholars seeking alternatives to circumvent the shortcomings of humanist thought and deliberates the concept of a ‘human essence’, the historic prerogative which still facilitates a dualistic, structuralist understanding of the human in relation to his/her (un)natural environment. By its potential existence, the humalga works towards dissipating many of the dualities that dictate the current conception of what it means to be human. The body/mind, man/woman, reductionist/holistic approach to knowledge, human/nature binaries are all put into question by this sister species which simultaneously engenders both AND neither, its multiplicity breaching the established codes and destabilizing the subject. The humalga calls for a radical shift in the moral values towards an inclusive society and consequently incites the reconstruction of our current socio-political structure.

Through the use of a composite projection, the humalga dares to imagine realities that are sought but not necessarily yet articulated. Our urgency to create a symbol of an alternative, albeit impalpable future may stem from a deep-rooted awareness of the persistence of human culture seemingly in a deadlocked position with itself. The materialization of the humalga, the ultimate mythical goal of the project Humalga: Towards the Human Spore, would prove beyond doubt the impenetrable state-of-being is just an illusion promulgated by cultural inertia.

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