DFA 2014 – BioDesign

The Dallas Fashion & Art Show 2014 – “Man as Machine”: Utilizing Multi-Media, Visual Art, Fashion, & Technology as an Expression of Evolutionary Biological Consciousness

“And it is no dream, no fantasy, it is the awareness of the essential form with which Nature is, as it were, always toying and in the course of play brings forth the infinite variety of life.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, To Set Form above Nature, pg. 3) Through out the many years of evolving thought on the organism and science, philosophers and biologists have contemplated the ideas on what the driving force might be in the movement and form of nature. What pushes the life momentum and why? Is there an underlying connectivity to all living things, which can be defined as consciousness? Is technology speeding up the rate of consciousness? What creates form and structure in terms of different life systems and how might our understanding of the inner workings of these life systems influence our (human beings) drive to recreate the mechanics of the organism into art, performance, fashion, and technology? The Dallas Fashion & Art show, “Man as Machine’ will reflect these ideas, mainly whether ‘Man’ (the human race) as a mechanistic system, creates physical properties and develops technology that not only reflects the mechanics and design of nature, but also can extend the reaches of even our biological design.

The Organism as a Mechanism

The organism has been compared to a machine throughout history beginning with Newton and then being furthered by Charles Darwin in relations to his On the Origin of Species. Darwin believed and coined the idea of ‘Natural Selection’. This idea being that nature preserves favorable variations and rejects injurious ones to ‘evolve the species’. We could view ‘evolution’ itself as a mechanism. In his book, On the Origin of Species (Ch. 1), he gives reference to ‘Newtonian Mechanics’ or ‘classical mechanics’, which Newton observed the concept that the physical universe abided by a ‘set of laws describing the motion of bodies under the action of a system of forces.’ Newton’s findings would have a huge influence on the field of mechanical engineering, which would then influence the human race to move into the ‘Industrial revolution’. This would be our first huge shift from hand production methods to machinery, which in turn influenced production efficiency of textiles. However, we can also see the influence, for the first time, of ‘mass production’ and the potential loss of the uniqueness of individual design. While Newton took more of a hard scientific approach towards the organism as a mechanism, today the idea of consciousness and a broader knowledge of the inner workings and interdependence of all living matter can also be looked at as an intricate and beautiful mechanism. In the book, On Growth and Form, D’Arcy Thompson discusses the viewpoint of whether organisms can be studied as ‘machines’ or the contrary, that the properties of life elude the engineering viewpoint. Thompson discusses the idea of mechanism (that the organism is governed by a system with significant, purposeful, and integral parts to create the whole) as the more sound understanding of modern science as compared to vitalism, which adhered to the idea that living organisms contain a soul. While these concepts may be the basis for the ideas behind the DFA show, each artist is at liberty to ‘play’ with these concepts, by either supporting or rejecting them.

Consciousness Defined

Wikipedia defines consciousness as ‘the quality or state of awareness, or of, being aware of an external object or something within oneself.’ As well, Aristotle spoke of the ‘examined life’ and of ‘natural history’ which is defined as the idea of ‘wholeness’, of a unity in structure such that the parts all contribute to the effect or purpose of the whole and no part may be removed without some damage to the whole – this being his view of both living beings and the best works of art.  While consciousness is difficult to measure, it seems to be part of the biological function of feelings that are created from our experience with the outside world. If we are to look at consciousness in the primal sense we can see it as an interconnectedness of the system and design of the universe and the relationships between all bodies affecting one another. Raoul France describes this relationship in his book, Germs of Mind in Plants, in the idea of heliotropism:

The green leaf stem needs the light as much as the leaf itself, but places itself modestly in the shade, through a ‘quiet calculation’ that always maintains the leaf perpendicular to the light for sustenance of the whole. It is this ‘life’ phenomenon that when we come to consider this we shall find that behind it all there is a deep purposefulness. For what would become of the plants if all their parts sought to stand away from the light or fought for the same need? The leaf would be in conflict with the stem and all would suffer. The different parts have subjected themselves to a higher purpose: the furtherance of their best existence. (France 67)

On a more enlightened scale, our level of awareness can affect consciousness; therefore education and study of world cultural groupings can affect our potential understanding of the world and influence our internal barometer and decision-making. The World Wide Web is giving our more civilized nations an instantaneous ability to communicate, where in culture used to be defined and practiced by group isolation and geography, now we can communicate and share goods and services individually and immediately.

Consciousness as Light

In the theater, an actor is only seen when they come into the light. Their words have no meaning without seeing the subtext on their face therefore; the very function of light is what it does for everything in its realm, to define the physical and spatial qualities of the scope of the thing it illuminates. In the book, The Feeling of What Happens, by Antonio Damasio, he states that:

Light is about consciousness. Consciousness is in effect the key to a life examined, for better and for worse, to know our thirst, our hunger, our sex, our tears, our laughter, our kicks and punches.  The flow of images we call thought, our feelings or words, our stories, beliefs, our music and our poetry, our joy and our pain. On our survival level it helps us to stay alive and develop a concern for self. On our most complex level, consciousness helps us develop concern for others and improve the art of life. (Damasio 5)

Today, light can be manipulated in various ways to be used as part of the spectacle of performance but also as part of the meaning of the art itself. Light projection onto a back drop/cyclorama or body mapping onto the human form can give the mystical sense of character transformation on stage. This fusion of live performance whether acting, dance, music (or all three) and technology can be seen in the art medium of ‘multi-media’. Coined by Bob Goldstein for his art, light, and music show, ‘Light works at L’Oursin’ in 1966. This sort of combining of media gives richness to the overall experience and stimulates a full cognitive response.

 Yayoi Kusama, Light and Infinite Space

“The light at the root of all things, a materialization of a state of rapture, I myself had experienced in which my spirit was whisked away to wander the border between life and death” – the beautifully expressed words of Yayoi Kusama. She is a Japanese artist and writer that came to the United States in the early nineteen-sixties and is best known for her work in painting, sculpture, performance art, and light installation. After growing up in a strict Japanese household, and being much of a wallflower herself, she felt compelled to come to the United States to pursue her passion in art. She followed the work of Georgia O’Keefe and in the mid-sixties began experimenting with mixed-media using outdoor environments, mirrors, and light. Her work, like the times, took on a psychedelic quality:

Thousands of illuminated colors blinking at the speed of light – isn’t this very illusion of life in our transient world? In the darkness that follows a single flash of light, our souls are lured into the black silence of death. The kaleidoscope of our lives and joys, and the great, radiant drama of human life: a paper thin instant, dependent upon denial and disconnection at one-second intervals.  The psychedelic lights of a moment ago – were they a dream? An illusion? (Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, loc 448)

She was of course heavily influenced by the social upheaval in the US during this time and became a forerunner for the avant-garde art movement. She contemplated the definition of form and her work quickly became renowned for its ideas on infinite space. Her work, Fireflies on the Water, has been described as an ‘infinity room’, giving the viewer a feeling of floating in space. The viewer walks in the room and onto a ledge surrounded by water and mirrored walls with tiny white lights hanging from the ceiling all around the room. One cannot help but be entranced: the very experience evokes consciousness.

Art & Cybernetics

The invention of the computer in the twentieth century, we can say, has been to date, the most complex system replicating the mechanics of the organism. A man by the name of Norbert Weiner, a Harvard graduate with a PhD in mathematics had a huge influence on a generation of scientists and engineers in the field of cybernetics. In fact, Weiner created the field of cybernetics during his work for guided missile technology during World War II. He had studied the response of simple organisms to more complex animal organisms and carefully realized that these organisms could change their response based on their environment, (the ‘fight or flight’ response). This would spawn the next generation of cyberneticists to extend even the reaches of our biological system. The media lab at MIT has been formed and influenced by these ideas and designs. The programs use is to blend creativity, ingenuity, and technology or cybernetic design. Neri Oxman is one of the brilliant minds that is an assistant professor in the department and is best known for her work in environmental design and digital morphogenesis. Her work is an inspiration for the Dallas Fashion & Art show, ‘Man as Machine’ because of the way her point of view and creations blend art, beauty, cybernetics, and biological design. One of her pieces in particular, a chaise lounge done in multi-colored 3-D printing, by the name of Gemini Alpha, is built to replicate skin. It uses a few different synthetic skin-like rubbers to make up its amazing and practical design. “Gemini is about the complex and contradictory relationship between twins,” explained Oxman. “This is mirrored in the geometrical forms of the two-part chaise and the dualities that drive their formation, such as the combination of natural and synthetic materials. The twin chaise spans multiple scales of the human existence extending from the warmth of the womb to the stretches of the Gemini zodiac in deep space. It recapitulates a human cosmos, our body, like the constellation, drifting in quiet space. Here the duality of nature is expressed through the combination of traditional materials and state-of-the-art 3D printing. Stratasys’ new multi-material color 3D printing capability has allowed me to create a rich dialog between sound and light, rigid and flexible, natural and man-made materials and high and low spatial frequencies in ways that were impossible until now.” (www.finance.yahoo.com) Neri also blends her ingenuity of biological design to extend to wearable fashion. This past year in 2013, she collaborated with Iris van Herpen to create a skirt and cape for fashion week. They called it ‘tech-couture’.

Revitalization as Part of the Story

Norbert Weiner’s ideas on city/community organization from centralized to decentralized locations in order to distribute population in the case of an atomic war, shaped a movement from cities to suburbs in the 1950’s. The invention of the atomic bomb was actually meant to create world piece however, after dropping the bomb on Hiroshima, it instead created a massive threat of nuclear war and the fall out of its ramifications.   If this was the evolution of the organism in the mid-twentieth century, then has the invention of the Internet somehow influenced the revitalization of cities? While the possibility of nuclear war still exists it is not as much of an imminent threat as it once was. The establishment of the United Nations, while challenged by the ‘cold war’ has created weapon regulations to help reduce that potential threat, therefore could this be the possible flux back into cities especially urban sections that contain the beautiful architectural housing of the past?

Our location for the event plays into these concepts by establishing the event in an area of Dallas that is going through just such a ‘revitalization’ being driven by artists and innovators. The location is at 333 1st Ave. in Dallas, the Paul Morgan studio. It’s 1950’s architectural design juxtaposed against the open New York loft interior, sets the stage for the multi-media exhibit in addition to giving the patron free reign to walk from section to section. Located right at the foot of the Deep Ellum area and Exposition Avenue, the site of many new industrial buildings turned into cool urban living spaces.

Multi-Media Performance Art: Singularity ‘Man as Machine’

In order to integrate the idea about ‘singularity’ into a performance art piece, we must first define what the singularity is. The singularity is a point in the fairly near future where artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence. John von Neumann first proposed the idea in 1958, but has been commercialized and made widely known by Ray Kurzweil. He is best known for his idea ‘the law of accelerating returns’, in which the speed of technological change increases exponentially in general accordance with Moore’s law. Moore’s law states that transistors on an integrated circuit doubles about every two years. While there are certainly holes in Kurzweil’s argument, it is difficult to deny based on not only his predictions but also others such as Gorden Moore, David House, and Stanislaw Ulam. Moore and House are founders and high executives for the Intel Corporation and are leading the way in our development.

Evolution has been seen as a billion-year drama that led inexorably to its grandest creation: human intelligence. The emergence in the early twenty-first century of a new form of intelligence on Earth that can compete with, and ultimately significantly exceed, human intelligence will be a development of greater import than any of the events that have shaped human history. It will be no less important than the creation of the intelligence that created it, and will have profound implications for all aspects of human endeavor, including the nature of work, human learning, government, warfare, the arts, and our concept of ourselves. (The Singularity is Near pg 40)

This type of undeniable and vivid information seems to be fairly accepted in the technology world. In the art and design world it is undeniable that information is becoming ‘interactive’. This type of interactive media will more then likely be used to escape normal tensions or used to augment reality. As spoken of earlier, 3-D printing and biometrics is already a part of our world and will continue to grow as the barrier between technology and the body merge. While the justice system and intellectual property still exists in our physical world, it is difficult to deny the speed of consciousness that the Internet including social media and our information highway are doing to transform many of our current systems. The DFA show is a perfect example of this speed of consciousness and law of attraction in practice. Our process and therein, product will be an experiment on not only everything included, i.e. people, visual art, fashion, performance, and technology but also the process itself is a measure of the rate of cosmic determinism. The actual performance that will incorporate this fight between man and machine and the evolution of our linear development towards artificial intelligence will be the ethos of our show. It will incorporate contemporary movement, live music, and body mapping to tell the story.

Multi-Media Performance Art: The Meme

We will also be looking at the concept of the ‘meme’ in modern day view. This concept, established by Richard Dawkins in his book, The Selfish Gene, argues that ‘cultural evolution’ has just as strong of an influence as ‘biological evolution’ does as compared to genes on outcome of life force and essential form. The modern day ‘meme’ travels virally, like the spread of the flu, as a cultural symbol that can move through the internet (social media, email, etc.) quicker than any other time in history. Therefore what does this mean for cultural symbols and practices at all? Culture for centuries has been defined by a population organized and influenced by geography, so how might our new schema influence our language, religious beliefs, communal practices, etc.? To approach a contemporized rhythmic understanding of “man as machine,” we are utilizing the Internet and all of its wide use of imagery. Many avenues of art and cultural expression dwell in a fascination with the symbiosis of form and function in this crowd-sourced entertainment.

The name of this ‘meme’ driven piece is called Six:Sixty:Twenty. For Six:Sixty:Twenty, a collection of images will provide the crowd-sourced narrative for our primary source material. “Six Word Stories” are a constantly growing library of short narratives in the tradition of Hemingway’s “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Some stories are heartbreaking and some hilarious, creating vivid images and sparkling with athletic editing. Six:Sixty:Twenty gives physical movement to an otherwise isolated medium. Six words to craft the narrative, Sixty seconds to explore and personify the words in our bodies, and Twenty minutes to perform the selected narratives of strangers’ lives.

Final Thoughts

Throughout the semester of study and research for writing and production, I have struggled with this concept of ‘Man as Machine’. There has been a level of contemplation that has been, at times, very uncomfortable. I have thought about the fact that I do not want to become a machine, I like being human, with all my foibles, flaws, and capacity for boundless love. But then it struck me, ‘that is what pure consciousness is’…. weightlessness, boundlessness, timelessness, pure informational without judgement, or placement as in many of Yayoi Kusama’s artistic expressions of infinite space. New concepts are always frightening especially one’s of this nature that seem so incredibly foreign. However our history and DNA is the perfect diary to provide us with the means to push our way through the unknown and continue to explore, which is so instinctive within all of us. Through the process of achieving great art and producing a tangible body of work that reflects our evolution to our current state and potentially beyond, I use my own aptitude for consciousness. We as a human race can look at the past in phases that still exist within us, our DNA, but are much faster and are happening, compared to say the rein of the Old Testament era or the Dark Ages, exponentially. When I think about our ability as human beings to adapt, then I am comforted, and the largest lesson I learned this semester is that great art does just that, helps humankind to adapt. The work being done at MIT in the Media Lab is inspiring, as some of the most brilliant minds find ways to not only replicate our biology but extend it to rebuild bodies and therefore dreams. It is up to us, as teachers, organizers, artists, innovators, musicians, designers, dancers, and engineers to lay the foundation of thought to produce something tangible, textual, and sensual to reflect upon and create our evolutionary biological consciousness. As we step into the unknown and take a deep breathe, we also step into the light.

Bibliography Page

Coyne, Patrick, “Content Will Always be King.” Communication Arts Interactive Annual 20 March/April 2014: 6-10. Magazine

Damasion, Antonio, The Feelings of What Happens: Body and Emotions in the Making of Consciousness. Orlando: First Harvest Edition, 2000. Print

France, Raoul Heinrich, Germs of Mind in Plants. Chicago: Charles H Kerr & Company, 1905. BiblioBazaar, LLC. Reprint

Kurzweil, Ray, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. New York: the Penguin Group, 2005. Print

Darwin, Charles. The Origin of the Species. Introduction, 1859. weblink: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/origin/introduction.html

Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene – Memes: the New Replicators, 2006, p. 189-201

Beralanffy, Ludwig von. Modern Theories of Development: an Introduction to Theoretical Biology, 1962, p. 1-27

Waddington, C.H. The Strategy of the Genes: a Discussion of Some Aspects of Theoretical Biology, 1957, p. 11-58

Thompson, D’Arcy Wentworth. On Growth and Form: the Complete Revised Ed., 1991, p. 1-21


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