Multimedia artist Pauline Batista (Brazil, 1988) explores the interconnection of technology and human body and its implications in the perception of our identity. In her artistic practice the body acts like a resource in order to investigate genetic engineering and artificial intelligence in the philosophical dialogue on post-humanism.
In your opinion, how is the female gaze changing the representation of women in photography and art today?
For me it becomes about allowing for a plurality of vision and a less dualistic approach. I will take a tangent and address a slightly different problem in representation, as the disproportionate representation of women in art (or any diversity of perspective at that) is yet another symptom of a larger neglect in representation overall – a neglect which can be exacerbated in the digital age.
In broader terms, the portrayal and treatment of the female body within the scientific field and everyday life. In the medical field I have had personal experience of the treatment of yet undiagnosed ailments as being rather quickly categorized as psychosomatic (caused or aggravated by a mental factor such as internal conflict or stress). I think there is a tendency to this diagnosis when it is a female patient, rather than deeper investigation into possible causes. Were it not for my own instance on more tests I would have not gotten past initial and wrong diagnoses. There is also the issues of algorithmic biases, as well as general biases in relation to the female body. Caroline Criado Perez book, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, looks into gender data gap for example when constructing car crash tests, and medical trial data.
“The body is our general medium for having a world.” Maurice Merleau – Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception (1945)
What role does the perception of the body, both as a subject and as an object, play in your artistic practice? What does it mean in relation to your work?
It absolutely plays a large role not only in my work but life as well.
I have two main concerns when it comes to perceptions of the body. The first is the ability of the body to acquire knowledge. In this context, the distinction between information and knowledge is important. We currently operate in an information and data paradigm. The recognition of the entire body as a place where knowledge can be created is imperative. Especially when brain-body duality is increasingly pushed and scientists compete in the race to map our brains––as if the brain alone could contain all the answers to what being alive might mean.
My second concern is around the idea of bodies as objects to be mapped and understood at every level. This can result in our bodies being coopted and controlled. The idea of optimization comes in as we are all living in a world that is made for ‘healthy and functioning bodies.” We are told that our bodies are not normal if we aren’t functioning in a certain predicted way. If we can’t manage to work certain hours, if we suffer from fatigue… These are things that need to be ‘worked on’ to benefit us in being able to participate in society. This participation, which is voluntary, renders us both master and slave to our own enterprise, which is materialized as our bodies and their ability to create capital. These ideas are discussed by philosopher Byung-Chul Han. Under the current neoliberal system of productivity, we need to be healthy so we can essentially exploit ourselves.
Going back to my work, I quite enjoy working with materials which are very much tactile. My own experience while creating the work is one which is slow and in many ways unproductive, as I often play with the materials far longer than photographing them for example.
The encounter between the world of science and technology and the world of art lead us towards an endless research of answers about our identity, our response to the reality and our imminent future. Why do you think it is still important to investigate the implication of the post-human?
There are so many great philosophers and writers who have explored and are continuing to explore the implications of the post-human. I can’t speak to the importance of my own exploration given that I am highly influenced, and explore ideas laid out by so many thinkers and writers like Rosi Braidotti, Donna Haraway, and Byung-Chul Han. And have found myself over the last few years drawn to revisit sci-fi greats like Ballard and Le Guin.
My own interest has many tentacled arms and is incredibly entangled in my own experience in the world of hospitals and diagnosis. Things aren’t as easily dissected and categorized as we have made them out to be, including our bodies. Having this encounter of interests inside of art is an attempt to remove some of these boundaries around topics to discuss ideas. I am in no way in search of any empirical truth, but rather, the opening up of more possibilities of imaging.
For me, art can then function as a form of fiction in the same way as Sci-fi writers use otherworldly scenarios to raise pertinent questions. While my work can sometimes seem rather gloomy in terms of the fears it raises, I want to believe in the idea of the post-human as a possible utopian space of more acceptance for the many ways of being outside of the human. As a space to reimagine our future and our own roles as part of the organism of Earth.
GALLLERIAPIÙ recently held your first Italian solo show, Is Your System Optimized?. Where did this title come from?
My projects usually take a fairly long time to develop. I have been living with this title for over a year before the show even materialized. It provided for me a framework within which to operate and think through ideas around my different strands of research which often transect topics. The title was a bridge, related to the terminology of technology as well as to our own bodies as systems increasingly perceived as need of optimization for reasons of productivity. It was also quite obvious to me I had picked the right title as the months leading up to the show I had many computer issues and regularly received the message “Your disk is almost full (save space by optimizing storage).”
There is something that we would like to know… At the end of the day, Is Your System Optimized?
I wish! Much like everyone else I also subscribe to so many of the things which I am weary of. I have my own attempts at optimized productivity, yet I am increasingly convinced that il dolce far niente might be the most radical way out.
Photo courtesy of Pauline Batista.
WRITTEN BY MICAELA FLENDA