— Editors' Introduction —

Human Identity in a Posthuman Age

Mads Haahr
Department of Computer Science
Trinity College, Dublin
Ireland

Elizabeth Drew
School of English
Trinity College, Dublin
Ireland

When working on the inaugural issue of Crossings, we found that one of the most striking aspects of the final selection of papers was the constellation of themes and the multitude of ways in which they intersected. Although this issue addresses a quite different range of technologies and works, the themes they call into play and the interplay between them is no less exciting. Furthermore, a glance at the table of contents reveals a shift in the balance of content compared to issue one. We have slightly fewer full-length papers, but there is a new type of contribution: the artist's work-in-progress statement. We plan to make this type of contribution a regular feature of Crossings and hope that it will help us cover as much creative as academic ground.

The multitude of convergences between art and technology catalogued here thus far point to a greater trend in civilisation: a perceived or projected shift in the notion of human identity from the ‘skin-encapsulated’ [1, p.183] self toward a relationally determined sense of collective identity. This shift is manifested in part through technologically enabled modes of collaboration and the enhancement of the body. Matthew Causey addresses this shift via a discussion of posthumanist philosophy and practice. Stelarc's art challenges assumed notions of human agency by his radical and obtrusive augmentations of the body.

The role of interfaces and the mapping between different means of expression is explored in several papers. Joseph Rovan, Robert Wechsler and Frieder Wei present a system for mapping dancers' movements to music as a case study for effective mapping strategies. Stelarc's walking machine interfaces to the human body in a very physical way: it translates the movements of the operator's two-legged human body to the movements of a six-legged giant robot. Jean-Paul Longavesne's contribution – the first in a series – comprises a remarkably comprehensive account of the development of interfaces generally used in the technological and digital arts since the 1960s. He addresses the implications of these developments for aesthetic theory and proposes a formal framework for description and categorisation of interfaces. Elisa Giaccardi addresses the crucial issue of the design of interfaces for interaction as an ethical consideration.

Both Giaccardi and Mchel Mac an Airchinnigh call upon ancient Japanese poetic tradition in their explorations of the possibilities of technologically enhanced art forms. Renga and renku (‘linked poems’) are collaborative poetic forms in which the continually shifting development of interwoven themes indicates the primacy of process and becoming over the fixed, authoritative text that marks contemporary western expectations of poetry. Haiku, the Japanese poetic form best known in the West, evolved from the three-line seed stanza at the beginning of the renga process into an independent, individually created work. Mac an Airchinnigh draws upon the concision and distinctive structure of haiku as he envisions the application of scientific and mathematical methods and computerised tools in order to form a greater understanding of poetry as process rather than product. Giaccardi draws upon a different aspect of the renga tradition in her discussion of a mobile computing environment for the collaborative creation of visual art. The shift toward ancient collective art forms evident in these papers is part of a greater trend to use technology to enable greater collaboration in the artistic process. In the previous issue of Crossings, the increasingly important role of communities was identified by Ed Tan as a key characteristic of the most advanced cultural functions and practices, and Pierre Lvy's vision of a new civilisation relied on a new type of intelligence described as collective. The question is whether, as was apparently the case when haiku became independent of renga in Japanese, this change in artistic process signals a fundamental shift in identity from dominant individualism to a more collective, relational and process-oriented model. The implications of such a shift, which are often either idealised or derided deserve thoughtful consideration. From a western individualist viewpoint, however, the idea of a closely interconnected humanity – a type of technologised Gaia – can appear somewhat disconcerting. If the Internet (or one of its successors) comes to form the backbone of a new humanity, will it still be possible to retain individuality? Will we want to?

These questions do not have simple answers, and as participants in an active culture, we are ultimately responsible for creating those answers ourselves. This issue features several projects developed through and for multidisciplinary collaboration, placing the emphasis on designing tools to enable group collaboration as well as individual empowerment. Indeed fostering a sense of empowerment through connection is a major aim of most meta-design projects. Those who are now exploring the new interfaces – people like Stelarc, Longavesne, Rovan, Wechsler and Wei – are essentially designing some of the languages through which humans will communicate with machines (and therefore, each other) in the future. The nature of these languages will define how we communicate and collaborate, and consequently be decisive in the future shaping of our civilisation. In her paper, Giaccardi dwells on the importance of ethical responsibility during every act of creation, because such acts are ultimately the creation of civilisation. This could hardly be more accurate, and it is therefore a delight to be able to present so many interesting thoughts on the nature of interfaces and the collaboration through which they take place.

References

[1]
Macy, Joanna R. ‘The Greening of the Self.’ World as Lover, World as Self. Berkeley, California: Parallax Press, 1991.

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