On being Human and Other Speculative Beings – Alexandra Boaru

June 14, 2022 11:25 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Alexandra Boaru

Master 2022

29.06.2022 – 29.07.2022

On Being Human and Other Speculative Beings. A Parable of Becoming

by Alexandra Boaru

I once wanted to become a plant and I was satisfied with that. Thinking of the myriad possibilities of underground roots. But then I began to wonder if there wasn’t something else, something more than just “plant”. Is plantiness a spectrum? Are some plants more vegetal than others? 

And if so, if species are a spectrum, then a carnation can be a bit of a badger, too. I am also part tulip and part giraffe and other beings. “All” is included in “All”. I want to become – whatever that might be but I want to BECOME, to fulfil the act of becoming which is not linear but circular as you become and become once more and again and again.

I wish for there to exist a being that does not require classification. To be neither plant nor animal, neither human nor fungi. I want to be “all” and at the same time just “be” with no need for justification. 

I propose an alternative where species are on a spectrum. There is no temporal delimitation in being one or the other, but at the same time you also don’t own the autonomy of becoming at your own will. It is a continuous circle of change and exchange that is chaotic and has no rules. To be an amorphous being in a continuous flux of transformation, your material body to be a frame. This could be a system of beliefs projected into a blob of consciousness.

We are not made of anything – or at least everything we are made of is not purely ours, but rather a shared domain. The matter we are made of is not defined by any physical borders. I can float from one being to any of a multitude of possible beings. Living as a singular-multitude. Like passing through checkpoints and collecting stamps showing you’ve been there.  

Transspeciesism is all a unity. My body that was formed at this specific time is secluded in gelatine and surrounded by other gelatinous shapes that are also inhabited by other beings. I will not stay like this for long, and soon parts of me will belong to others, but again not for long, and I will be reconstructed from things that I have never owned. 

The viscosity of species means that there is no ownership of the body or, rather, of the matter that we inhabit. I float freely between and in-between beings. My hand is the kidney of a horse while my skin has stretched from my ankle to a bird whose feathers are now crowning my head. What can my body be for others? I am a conglomerate of replaceable components that don’t change because they malfunction but because they have to serve others. But don’t despair for I’ll get new ones. New for me, that is, as they have been previously used and inhabited by others.

The body is not a stainless steel machine. As I walk down the street I am permeated by many. Bacteria and germs climb my legs as if they were the Tower of Babel, spores and pollen enter my nasal cavity making me sneeze, and when I see a cat lying in the sun, I stop and stretch out my hand, my palm, my fingers to make contact with its warm body. Continuing my walk, I bump into a fellow human being and, brushing our shoulders one against the other, we make a verbal exchange. We are all in a continuous encounter, in an open system, “bodies” on top of “bodies” in close proximity, moving at a constant pace.  

Reshaping codependence 

How did we come to see codependence as a weakness?  I wish for it to be seen as something to aspire to, in a speculative world where I can happily share my needs with algae, bacteria, chairs, swamps and other humans. To be inside a common ground, a lump of matter that is warm and protective, and not just being inside it but also creating it with your own being, your flesh and thoughts. 

Sincere beings are what I talk about when I talk about the components of a Sharing System. Their unique presences dissolve inside each other simultaneously and they exist because of one’s existence. I allow myself to fall into a black hole and be consumed by many and live a thousand lives simultaneously. 

There is so much potential in negotiating my own presence with other beings. I don’t need to always be present as bodies can be flexible and grant each other time off from time to time and there can be days when I sleep a lot, almost hibernating, but only if I allow and agree on being porous and altered. 

This model of the ecological body can be described through one of my favorite games as a child: cooking in the bathroom. I used to lock myself inside that white-tiled room and cook up my own concoction from toothpaste, detergent, soap, mouthwash and everything else to be found up in the cabinet or underneath the sink. It was unplanned, unapologetic and chaotic. This is the pure representation of continuous symbiotic becoming.

A blob of trust and exchangeable mater.

I understand why some might be reluctant to embrace transspeciesm as your singular becomes a singular-multitude. We are too attached to our bodies and see prosthetics or replacements as a need not as something desirable. The narrative goes as follows: you unintentionally lose a part of your body, be it internal or external, and are presented with the option of a man-made synthetic replacement. And that’s it. But what if such replacements occurred in a form of perpetual motion regarding the functionality state of your body, exchanging thoughts and parts with chairs and bees. I am not talking about a Frankenstein’s entity or a jigsaw puzzle of collected parts but rather what I have in mind is a gelatinous blob in which everything floats about freely. You are a traveling consciousness. An amniotic sack filled with all the goods of animate and inanimate, human and nonhuman. (Donna Haraway imagined a similar system, hers being more like a hot compost pile of critters, swimmers, flyers, diggers and walkers.) Some might argue that in certain cases an unfair exchange might happen, resulting in the receiving of a “defective” part. But can there be such a thing as “defective” or “not functional” in a context where everything is repurposed from one exchange to another? Your kidneys and fingers will not be kidneys and fingers for the next owner as they will be the transformed matter of what that specific being, animate or inanimate, requires in that specific time and space frame. 

Today I woke up with my roots wrapped around my pillow. My hooves were cold as the blanket was too short to cover them. How did beings understand each other before this “chimeric” revolution? Species are fluid. There is no such thing as a definitive form and I like to call this in-betweenness. It feels like we are all living in and at the same time making up a warm uterine, slimy, blob-like environment. My hand is someone’s leaf, your eyes are someone else’s lungs, and the veins that flow inside my body become roots from time to time. We are all part of the same oozing concoction. 

***********

Introduction to a Parable

text by Ioana Mandeal

  I thought trees stood up straight… I only found out just now. They actually stand with

  both arms in the earth, all of them. (…) Do you know how I found out? Well, I was in a dream,

  and I was standing on my head… leaves were growing from my body, and roots were sprouting

  from my hands… so I dug down into earth. On and on… I wanted flowers to bloom from my

  crotch so I spread my legs.

Devoured by recurring dreams of human cruelty, one day Yeong-hye, the main character in the novella The Vegetarian, develops an irreversible repulsion to meat eating and decides to transform herself into a tree. Detached from all basic needs, the protagonist gradually distances herself from her family and the world, from voracious violence and its intolerance, from social conventions and norms, and from her own human essence, until she eventually becomes an entirely vegetal being. To be mistaken for vegetation itself becomes for her the supreme act of defiance against humanity. Above all, a story about identity, body and self-discovery, The Vegetarian explores the fundamental issue of individual freedom when faced with the realization, at times overwhelming, of what it is that makes a human.

I once wanted to become a plant… the artist Alexandra Boaru tells us through the written words and images of her bold testimony accompanying the project. While conventional metaphysics provides us with an extremely reductionist reading of plants in relation to the values – of spirit and reason – western civilization places at the center of its thinking, the vegetal beings personify the most essential connection life is able to forge with nature. Through its uninterrupted interaction with the elements, the very existence of plants is a cosmogony in action. “Botany, in this sense, has to describe all the forms of life capable of photosynthesis as inhuman and material divinities, domestic titans that do not need violence to found new worlds”. And yet modern philosophy has marginalized them, always placing man at the center of creation. The fact that plants exist in perfect opposition to and segregation from the combined universe of man and beast in no small measure has to do with their very metabolism: the plant kingdom is the only sphere of existence that does not depend on the intervention of other beings for its survival. The generalized parasitism and cannibalism on which the entire living domain is based is therefore entirely alien to them, for they turn everything they touch into life.

In an era so convincingly framed by science in terms of the Anthropocene, our attention should perhaps focus more on how to put an end to the idea of human exceptionalism underlying this concept.

What would it be like to live in a continuous cycle of morphing species, giving you the chance of immortal life but without the freedom to choose what you become or when you transition? This is the impossible question underpinning Alexandra Boaru’s investigation. An exploration of what human nature can still mean would appear today – when the entire planet is navigating so many multi-layered crises, somber outlooks and disillusionments – to be more relevant than ever. In seeking to redefine the human condition, the artist weaves a fictional, deeply personal and perfectly utopian fabric: a speculative universe in which the laws of evolution, of biology and genetics as we know them are turned completely on their head.

Without a set boundary between species, Alexandra creates a symbiotic system of cohabitation based on the random and mysterious fusion of different kingdoms. Thorn-flower-porcupine: just one example of the associative chain of involuntary connections illustrating the continuity of life on the hypothetical spectrum of the entire biosphere. Here the human encounters non-human animals, flora and even slime molds – in other words, myxogastria, those gelatinous and as yet still not fully understood creatures, which, lacking any kind of nervous system, are paradoxically endowed with a form of intelligence that allows them to change their morphology over successive life cycles. A terrestrial model of transformative, self-generating perpetuum mobile.

From the micro to the macroscopic, Alexandra’s project constitutes an expanding universe; a parahuman system of progression spanning a range of potentially endless variations. It could be that the artist is seeking to invent a new type of Darwinism that is radically different in terms of its holistic-transgressive vision. And if this is true, then Alexandra is not alone in this endeavor. Inspired by the genre of speculative fiction, as well as prolific theoreticians like Donna Haraway and her Cyborg Manifesto (1985), the artist indirectly advocates the need to contest limitative contemporary paradigms of the relationship between man and nature. In order to mold the anthropocentric narrative into a perspective more conducive to other means of existence, the “chimeric revolution” Alexandra proposes opens the door to an alternative dimension as a place of metaphysical admixture. “I am a travelling consciousness”, she writes. The result is less an imaginary genetic laboratory for an improved Human 2.0 than a hybrid multiverse in which the evening out of the trophic chain reveals the fundamental interdependence between humans and all the other creatures with whom they cohabit within the same space.

I think we could all take a short vacation from being human by becoming something else from time to time, Alexandra tells me, quoting Thomas Thwaites, the famous artist who set off on a journey of transhumance in the company of a herd of goats.

In the mixed media installation presented by the artist, the reflective, intimate, confessional tone of each individual artifact allows us to intuit that the different moments on this journey of becoming-through-images are all fragments of a self-portrait. A camouflaged self-portrait. And in order to create her universe, Alexandra Boaru divides herself in two; her body becomes both object and subject of research, both agent and observer – a physical framework upon which can be built ad infinitum. Like a biologist impassively observing the recording of new species descending on us from a(n) (im)possible future, the artist captures snapshots of these fluid creatures during various stages of their development like in a specimen catalog of sorts. Amorphous or viscerally chimeric, altered or augmented, the human form speaks to us of fragility and vigor, oneiric calm and cosmic communion. At the center of this complex mechanism of regeneration is the Mother of Children, the being that reigns protectively over all the seeds in its universe. To cite the author Emanuele Coccia, the seeds on this speculative planet are what vegetation is on Earth: “If it is from plants that we ought to enquire what the world is, this is because they are the ones who ‘play the world’ [font monde]”.

In other words, they represent a cosmic necessity – or, to use Alexandra’s term, a blob of consciousness.

Curator: Ioana Mandeal

Master2022 Jury: Miruna Radovici, Daria Ghiu, Lea Rasovszky, Veronica Negrilă, Ioana Mandeal

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This post was written by Galeria Posibilă

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