Anastasiia Raina is a multidisciplinary artist, writer and designer based in Providence, RI where she is currently an Assistant Professor-in-Residence in Graphic Design at RISD. For inquiries email: email@example.com
Posthuman Polymythology is an anthology of essays and visual work spanning a spectrum of contemporary concerns and narratives: from posthuman warfare and speculative birth control, to commodified techno-bodies. The book re-imagines what constitutes design today: it explores what lies beyond the materiality of objects, and makes the biotechnological matter of chemicals and encoded genetic information yet another medium of a design vocabulary. It examines antagonisms generated by radically transformative biomedical research that challenges universally held notions of what it means to be human. The text of Posthuman Polymythology has also been translated into a DNA sequence, thus defining a set of synthetic genes representative of each chapter. By creating a synthetic DNA string from the text, I was interested in developing a transgenic organism that express the information contained in my thesis. Thus reimagining a book as a continuously evolving being, rather than its conventional static format.
singing the body electric
1. unexpected intrusions
2. dancing the wrong side out
3. casual sexy pose#5
4. step across this line
5. chimerae neo
6. the mouthless dead
dreams of electric sheep
7. ‘are you real, samantha west?’
design fiction or: a modest proposal
for impossible non-solutions
7. hacking the hormone
the transforming principle: from the
new man to the posthuman
9. ordinary shapes
10. isolating the human
11. synthesizing the code
Using the techniques that make up the stock of digital manipulation — cut, copy, paste — I compose pieces of scans to build up the image. I pursue a desire for the unity of the self while coming to terms with its relentless fragmentation.I scan the pages of the Harper’s Bazaar archive with a handheld scanner. By extending the scan to my own body, I appear to squeeze myself into the magazine. The imperfections in the texture of my own skin and misshapen body parts juxtaposed with the glossy magazine images seem to promise yet another solution to all of my womanly problems, while simultaneously failing to keep this ridiculous promise. Joined together by flattened screen space, my physical body and the flattened women on pages of the magazine are trapped in an unlikely spatiotemporality. In the tension between the small fragments and the overall image they make up. It is a self-portrait —or perhaps the disintegration of the self-portrait.
dancing the wrong side out
The act of ‘skinning’ has acquired a new meaning in the age of 3D media. It refers to the application of a surface to an object. While this usage of the word stands in opposition to its traditional meaning of removal of the skin, its archaic meaning, involving the covering of a wound, has been partially restored. However, the transgressive element of the application of design to skin arises with an ideological departure from its aesthetic conception as a conventional surface in the first place, toward the use of skin as a design material that can be used to shift the borders of organisms and re-imagine the separation of the inside from the outside, the material from the non-material, the real from the phantasmic, and the private from the public. In this project, I survey the digital body from the point of its potential, and peel away its outer layer with what feels like a febrile chaos. The misshapen and unruly body blurs and melts the human contours that we identify with and are so attached to, revealing a landscape of geometrical definition intermingled with amorphous blobs. The entity wants to be all that remains when stripped of its veneer: a body of pure movement, intensity, speed, energy, and desire. This flesh is at once the foundation of things and the apogee of formlessness.
casual sexy pose #5
The figures I have created for this project seem simultaneously natural and sympathetic, and yet disconcerting. They inhabit the zone of the ‘the foreign space within’ or the ‘unfamiliar within familiar’, creating an experience of simultaneous solidarity and revulsion. The Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori has famously referred to this phenomenon as the uncanny valley — a theory that describes human uneasiness when faced with extremely human-like robots. By using stock digital bodies, I explore the language of commercial ultra-humanism. On offer are a wide range of skin tones and features that can be applied onto a basic idealized model: I opt for Asian hair, and dark skin texture for Michael (a white skinned male model), almost as if I am a buyer in the underground trade of illicit corporeal goods.
Alternatively, this version of ‘we are all human’ seems reminiscent of a Benetton advert. It exemplifies, perhaps, a knee-jerk pan-humanism and becomes yet again an unwilling instrument for the language of virtual capitalism, the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Hyper-realistic avatars come preconfigured with stereotypical gendered poses. But with a click of a mouse, I paste the ‘feminine’ Casual Sexy Pose #5 on to Michael 7 — a model that is a ‘perfect fit for any render or animation as a hometown military hero, a business tycoon, a professional athlete, construction worker…the possibilities are endless’, the website assures me. I apply Z Man Power pose on to Victoria 7, who ‘is stunningly beautiful, with increased details and has an unlimited amount of morphing capabilities, making her incredibly versatile. I have attempted to use this project to ask a question I ask myself: Whose body is it, and what exactly is being performed?
step across this line
Further continuing to explore digital technologies that provide a platform for the peculiar social processes of techno self-composition, I began to trace the seams generated by the melding together of stock bodies. This resulted in drawings that preserve the record of the composite figures in the form of virtual scars formed by the digital wounds created during the merge of identities.The tantalizing promise of the unattainable but nevertheless realistic, sexualized, and idealized bodies of digital capitalism is in instantly lost upon their transfiguration into the scars. Any hope of attaining the perfect non-body similarly vaporizes, leaving behind it the marks signifying this constant, never-ending search.
Following the meshes of scarred techno bodies, where one body merges into another, I began to noticed that perhaps these scars are not scars at all. These borders carved out of flesh are instead outlines of a skeletal structure that emerged de novo from the progenitors. A mutation, perhaps? Another branch on the phylogenetic tree? A unique creature, embodied by scars, composing a narrative of becoming the other.
the mouthless dead
With the robotization of the contemporary battlefield, the only residue of humanity in war can ironically be found in its bodily destruction. Given the corporate capture of democratic institutions, it is hardly surprising that even the extermination of humans by the state has acquired a kind of industrial efficiency. The business of war, accompanied by rapid technological advances, has resulted in ever new ways of probing the depths of our inhumanity.Keyboard cowboys operate remote-controlled weaponry and create heaps of disposable, humiliated and dismembered bodies in faraway lands.
However, killer drones are merely the first step toward the complete externalization of human brutality in war. As the singularity approaches, even the corporeal costs of war will be borne by artificial agents. The day is not far when the override of humanism by ‘unmanned’ agents will be complete and, in the words of the war correspondent Chris Hedges, war will become a force that gives them meaning.
By rendering images of mutilated synthetic flesh, I confront the viewer with an assemblage of techno-bodies endowed with sentient materiality. This work thus reveals the invisible cloud-dwelling robotic proxy-soldier through a physical form fit for destruction by the war-makers.
hacking the hormone
The goal of this project is to design an open source protocol for estrogen synthesis as a form of disobedience, protest and reclamation of our own bodies. By creating a speculative guide that looks into the present and the future of DIY estrogen production, we imagine a world where every woman can print her own customizable birth control. Open-access estrogen allows women to exercise greater control over their bodies by circumventing governments and other systems of power. We want to ask: What are the biopolitics governing our bodies? How can contemporary and future technology emancipate us from the combined forces of the insidious nexus between capitalism and reaction.
In this project, I attempt to make biological processes and their technological outcome more visible. By using Short Tandem Repeat (STR) analysis, a tool used in forensics that evaluates specific STR regions found on genomic DNA, I translate 13 genetic loci into a 2D grid of hypothetical agarose DNA electrophoresis gels. By connecting the DNA bands on the gel with straight line segments, I am able to create a distinct 2D shape that I subsequently transform into a 3D structure by rotating it about the horizontal gel axis. The 3D shape thus generated serves as a unique formal fingerprint for the person whose DNA was used for the STR analysis.
the transforming principle
Using my own blood, I outsourced the extraction of my body’s cells to a biology lab where I witnessed and recorded the process. My red blood cells and platelets were removed from the sample, and the remaining population of cells was isolated for genetic analysis. The cells were opened up under highly controlled conditions and their DNA and protein content was collected separately. in this project, I used the insides of my own cells, the most intimate part of my biology, to examine my relationship to other humans, to other forms of life, and to the concept of deep time.
In my own DNA, I identified a gene that makes humans distinct from every other species on the planet. This gene, known as SRGAP2C, is the product of a gene duplication event that occurred about 2.5 million years ago, coinciding with the evolutionary time period when humans started developing a larger brain and branching away as a species from the now-extinct ancestor australopithecus. This gene, which is known to hugely increase synaptic density in the cortex, is postulated as a potential explanation underlying the evolution of human intelligence.
In the age of anthropos, industrial progress changed the Earth in ways that are comparable with deep-time processes. Today perhaps it is more appropriate to measure time in years it take a plastic bottle to biodegrade or the years Chernobyl or Fukushima radiation will poison the atmosphere. In the post-anthropocene epoch, biotechnology has become the sublime force, constructing and controlling the fearful something that is greater than ourselves, and changing human beings themselves into a deep-time fixture on this planet. As contemporary humans, we bear the stamp our lowly origin ever more starkly, differing only by one chromosome from a chimpanzee. And yet, human intelligence and technological ingenuity have altered the very notion of time, grand enough to only be impacted thus far by the planet’s twists and turns of geological and organic processes. This profound development calls for us to reconsider deep time, not as an abstract past related to a distant future, but as the synthetic uncanny reality of the post-anthropocentric everyday.
synthesizing the code
Motivated by the research on information storage, and potential uses of DNA as a replicable medium to store huge amounts of data in a single cell and potentially become a repository of the human knowledge, I have decided to translate the text of my thesis into its unique nucleic acid fingerprint, or DNA code, by reverse engineering the process that creates organisms from genetic code. I extracted the four essential DNA nucleobases A,T,C, and G from each chapter of my thesis. Each DNA string was subsequently manufactured at an oligonucleotide synthesis facility. The DNA samples were then subjected to electrophoresis on an agarose gel, and visualized under ultraviolet radiation.
In doing this, I have created a set of synthetic genes representative of each chapter in the text. I propose to use these DNA sequences to develop transgenic organisms that express the information contained in my thesis. For this purpose, I have chosen the Axolotl, or Abystoma Mexicanum. This salamander is routinely used as a model organism in biological research, because of its ability to regenerate its limbs, jaws, and even vital organs like the brain. Scientists hope to use evidence gathered by studying these creatures to eventually endow humans with the ability to regenerate body parts. Naturally occurring mutations in the section of the genome containing the thesis conclude the sequence of manipulations that articulate the whole project. For me, this work raises questions of naturalness and authenticity. Can the transgenic salamander ever be ‘itself’ again? And how do we regard its former condition that lies underneath?
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