THE GLOW OF POSTHUMANITY: An interview with artist Carlos Saez
On June 19th, 2021, an Afterglow overtook Shanghai. In the warm summer night, man and machine came together to celebrate a new reality where art and fashion mingle: ENG at Tx Huaihai.
Two years after our first opening, the new wave continues to gain momentum with the opening of our second location, imagined as a futuristic new location where art, culture(s) and creation become one.
Designed to be a new entertainment centre for our generation, our second store also represents a new step in our path of discovery through art, music and where fashion is a way of expressing our true self.
For the occasion, multidisciplinary artist Carlos Saez curated “Centinela” and “Aquamarina Bubbles” , two installations that symbolizes the new realities for the world, from technology reproduction to the connection it built between humans.
As he works on his next audio-visual project bringing together hacked hardware and self-developed software to create new audio-visual instruments, he tells us more about how he brought his art to life for ENG, from the idea of morphological freedom to why obsolete devices are not trash.
Tell us more about these two installations you imagined for ENG.
Although there are two parts, they are connected to each other. “Centinela”, or “Sentinel”, is an arthropod-like living machine creature.
That family of animals is characterised by its external skeleton, something that can be easily linked to a robot. Their structure provides very good balance, which is why these characteristics have been recreated by robot designers. I liked the idea of capturing these similes between the machines we create and nature, as it is something that happens a lot – as is the case with DNA and computer code. I think that it helps us understand machines as nature and therefore part of ourselves.
On the other hand, there is the “EGGS” installation, understood as the eggs of this machine. Again, the idea of a machine that can reproduce biologically raises the idea of machines as part of our natural environment. EGGS is an extract from my installation Dual Mismo, a piece that proposes the dualism between reality and virtuality as two colours united by a chromatic scale.
It could be said that both parts together propose fluidity between concepts that we sometimes assimilated as opposites. I think this is largely how we should begin to understand the present.
This collaboration with ENG comes with unique circumstances – a global pandemic, travel restrictions... How did you approach it?
It was a challenge for me. Given the circumstances, it was impossible to travel to China to develop the work there. This ended up leading to a quite poetic work process, in which a dead technology is resurrected thanks to other more advanced technologies. An abandoned car engine was 3D-scanned in China. I designed the legs up from this scan turning it back into a living being. Once again, the project went from the physical world to a virtual plane and returned with an improved physical form.
Throughout your career, you have been exploring this boundary. How did your interest begin?
My generation grew up with very stimulating audiovisual content. I remember being obsessed with series like Dragon Ball Z, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and later Evangelion. Not only the animation but the characters, landscapes and stories in them were really inspiring. Many of the ideas that I now work on were already present in this series, such as morphological freedom.
I always felt strongly attracted to worlds created by artists and I ended up creating mine with toys and drawings at home. But then in school, I would say I wanted to study medicine like my dad. After graduating, one day my mum asked me why I still had held this idea of studying medicine. She showed me there was a way to turn this creative impulse into useful energy.
You created Cloaque.org in 2012. What were some of the most memorable collaborations on this platform?
Maybe the most memorable collaboration for me was the one with Claudia Maté. We created the website together and it was one of my favourite fusions of all times. Everything that lives and develops outside of your control may have the ability to teach you and that’s what Cloaque.org did with every post. This project was the result of my interest in the relationship between humans and technology, something that I continue studying today.
What was your focus at the time? How has it evolved?
Back then I was most triggered by information technologies and the idea of the worldwide connectivity. I feel like I am still working in the same field but from a different perspective every time. This is the reason why my constant medium change. Maybe ten years ago my work was more web based and now the digital and the physical are faded.
In Human Appearance Optional, you explored the idea of morphological freedom. To do that, you went back and forth between taking photographs in the physical world and generating remoulded images through software. What is the significance of actively participating in this feedback loop?
I am attracted to things of undefined provenance. Especially when we talk about creation tools. I love when some of my sculptures look more virtual than their renders. Combining physical techniques with digital ones helps to find hybrid shapes and textures, disconnecting them from any provenance. I think these exercises create a landscape where the real and the virtual are no longer a dichotomy but two points in a gradient.
In How We Became Posthuman, N. Katherine Hayles observes that "the separation between information and materiality allows the construction of a hierarchy in which information is given the dominant position and materiality runs a distant second.” As you gave tribute to abandoned technological apparatuses through the series “Hardware Fetish,” was it a part of your agenda to respond to that hierarchy?
I think there is a hierarchy between body and mind, no matter what kind of machine it is. My intention is to eliminate the perception of immateriality that is attached to technology, as exposed by Jennifer Gabrys in her book Digital Rubbish. There is a false idea of lightness that accompanies all the devices we consume. In this sense, it is important to treat the obsolete hardware, not as garbage but as archaeology of an accelerated post-industrial world. These remains contain a social, political, and of course environmental footprint that we must review.
For you, what does it mean to be posthuman?
Posthuman and transhuman have always referred to the idea of the improved human (H+), thanks to our own technological advances. Having reached a point where the speed of technological progress is faster than what we can absorb, we should consider that perhaps the best advances we can make is at a social or environmental level.
Why is that?
The is no point in developing the most advanced technology if it is only going to be accesible to a specific segment of the population, or if its use contributes to the degradation of the planet. Perhaps the posthuman thought has more to do with an awakening of the consciousness, resulting from the advances in information technologies that we have already achieved.